Marisa Meltzer and Busy Philipps on Glossier, Corporate Feminism, and Girlboss Lore
Last week, in a column for Vanity Fair, the journalist Marisa Meltzer declared the era of the girlboss over. “It’s been about a decade since the girlboss caught on,” she wrote. “The whole moment of their fame feels embarrassing and a bit absurd but also, in retrospect, unfair.” If that’s the case, then Meltzer’s new book, Glossy: Ambition, Beauty, and the Inside Story of Emily Weiss’s Glossier, functions as a sort of postmortem, a probing, inside baseball-esque examination of the millennial pink makeup and skincare giant, whose valuation reached $1.2 billion in 2019 before Weiss stepped down last year in the wake of extensive layoffs and plummeting sales.
Meltzer, whose previous books have examined such phenomenons as Weight Watchers and the Nineties riot grrl revolution, draws a compelling portrait of the company’s enigmatic and somewhat cagey founder, who fashioned herself a tech mogul as much as a beauty visionary and spearheaded a tidal wave of women-led and purportedly conscientious businesses. “Whenever feminism gets in bed with capitalism, it doesn’t usually end super well for the women involved,” Meltzer told her good friend Busy Philipps last week when the two got on Zoom to discuss Meltzer’s book. “Yet capitalism,” the actor replied, “seems to always be fine.” Over an hour, the pair discussed eyebrow transplants, pre-publication jitters, the ethics of profile writing, and what to wear to a splashy book launch.
BUSY PHILIPPS: Hi.
MARISA MELTZER: How are you doing?
PHILIPPS: I’m good. You look cute. Are you exhausted? Have you been doing nothing but press?
MELTZER: I’ve been doing a lot of press. You just get sick of hearing yourself try to sound smart.
PHILIPPS: Yeah, I know what you mean. I would imagine you get asked the same kinds of questions, so you come up with an answer in one that you’re like, “Ooh, that was pretty good.” And then by the time you say it for the 17th time, you’re like, “It doesn’t make sense.”
MELTZER: Yeah. I’m afraid that I’m going to start contradicting myself by trying to change the answers.
PHILIPPS: But things like that change over time. The way that you feel about anything changes, right?
MELTZER: Yeah. This book was written before Barbenheimer and Taylor Swift and all of these moments where people are like, “Women are really important and they’re spending money on things and going to things and sharing them together.” You and I know that’s true, but suddenly people are like, “What’s your take on Barbie?”
PHILIPPS: I feel like Barbie happens and for one second, the world is like, “Wait a minute, maybe the things that girls like aren’t so dumb after all?” But then they forget.
MELTZER: Yeah. I just try to savor it. This is what it must feel like to be a straight man where things are just marketed straight to you all the time. I just can’t imagine what that must feel like, to have your interests not be considered niche or specifically for your gender.
PHILIPPS: Or frivolous.
MELTZER: Yes, exactly. I was actually very pleased with the cover of the book, but there was a moment where we were like, “If we do this book in pink, are men going to ever want to read it?” Can you imagine being like, “There’s this book, I’ve heard it’s great and it’s interesting, but it’s not really a color that I feel applies to me, so I’m not going to get it”?
PHILIPPS: No, I can’t. It must be fascinating to be a man.
MELTZER: Yeah. I think it’s its own kind of prison, probably.
PHILIPPS: Do you know how many fucking babysitters have tried to steal this book from me? I came home and she was just fully halfway through the book and she put it next to her stuff as if she was going to take it. I was like, “Girl, no.”
MELTZER: Where was Cricket [Phillips’ daughter]?
PHILIPPS: Sometimes Cricket takes a call and she FaceTimes with her cousin and my niece’s friends in Arizona. It’s so funny. Last night I took her to see a movie and then afterwards I was just here and I thought we were going to hang more and then she got a call.
MELTZER: She’s a little girlboss.
PHILIPPS: She is a little girlboss.
MELTZER: Hey, here’s my question for you. What do you think of girlbosses, as someone who wore a pink suit on the cover of the book? I think it was a moment where there was pressure to do that or look that way. Did the girlboss moment for entrepreneurship trickle down to the entertainment world?
PHILIPPS: I don’t know about that. You have to remember that I was shooting the cover of that book and the Harvey Weinstein stuff hadn’t even come out yet.
MELTZER: Right, I think that’s when Me Too started.
PHILIPPS: It is, because I was so fucking pissed. Remember? All of the articles were about James Franco. I wrote an entire book about my life and all anyone wants to talk about is one well-documented incident with James Franco that I’ve talked about publicly before.
PHILIPPS: I really had to fight for the cover. Covers of books are weird. Have you been super involved in the creative direction of the covers?
MELTZER: My philosophy is generally that you have to pick a few things that you’re willing to go to battle over and the cover can be one of them. But I lucked out, where the first idea for this cover was basically what the cover is now. They kind of nailed it. And the book before, the Weight Watchers book [This is Big] went through a lot of different iterations. I think I always want a cool cover. I want to be the person that writes My Year of Rest and Relaxation and has that cool girl cover.
PHILIPPS: And that cover is so cool.
MELTZER: I am the woman who writes fun, very smart, but gossipy books and it should have a pink cover and stuff like that. But it’s actually this deeper thing of coming to terms with who you are, what your voice is, and who your fans are, which in some ways, your book publisher and the designers can see and intuit better than you. You and Cricket went to that Glossier opening in New York, right?
PHILIPPS: Birdie [Phillips’ other daughter]. You know, Birdie could open a fucking Glossier. She’s obsessed with Glossier. She was an early adopter, by the way.
MELTZER: What was it like? Were there other teenagers there, or was it all press people and Birdie and you?
PHILIPPS: I don’t know who anyone is because they’re all famous on TikTok and Twitch and whatever else exists. Snap? I don’t know. It felt like children to me. I was really like, “Wow, I’m old.”
MELTZER: What did Bird buy?
PHILIPPS: What hasn’t she bought? She has everything.
MELTZER: What do you wear makeup-wise? Do you wear any makeup when you’re not working?
PHILIPPS: Not really. I mean, we go out, you and me, you’ve seen me with some makeup on.
MELTZER: Yeah. I’ll put on blush so I look less like I’m dead.
PHILIPPS: That’s Birdie’s whole thing. She’s like, “You need to wear blush.”
MELTZER: I resisted blush. I didn’t wear it once until maybe 2010. In the nineties, you would never wear blush.
PHILIPPS: Okay, so It’s funny that, in the book, you talk about how there are no books about female CEOs in the tech space. Why, other than the obvious reasons? Are there even that many women to write about?
MELTZER: Well, I think there are a lot of women in business who just aren’t talked about because they work for internal. It’s some sort of B2B company or they don’t have sexy or easily explainable jobs. They’re not consumer-facing. And also, when you think about women that get attention in a business press type of way, those are people who are paying publicists. [Others] are not necessarily going to retain a publicist to pitch them to Forbes. Which is why someone like Emily Weiss, or the people from the Wing or Outdoor Voices, did get a lot of attention, because their jobs were very consumer-facing, easy to understand, and they also–
PHILIPPS: Put themselves at the center of it. Especially in the beginning.
MELTZER: Exactly, yeah. They were having people pitch those stories, having stylists put them in designer clothes. You have to play if that’s what you want. And it worked for them, but then it also led to this thirst for blood of wanting to take them down, I think.
PHILIPPS: Well, right, because everybody wants to take women down.
MELTZER: Yeah. And they were selling this corporate feminism that doesn’t necessarily stand up to the magnifying glass. Whenever feminism gets in bed with capitalism, it doesn’t usually end super well for the women involved.
PHILIPPS: Yet capitalism seems to always be fine.
MELTZER: Marching forward.
PHILIPPS: Regardless of the fact that it’s literally killing us all.
MELTZER: Yeah. I was just reading that there was a Wirecutter thing about them testing all the period products for mysterious plastics and forever chemicals. And they all came up with them. I was like, “Should I go to Europe or should I just be free bleeding?” Luckily, I think menopause is not far, so I probably don’t have to think about these things for too long. Although I did get my period at your house the last time I was there.
PHILIPPS: That’s right. You really did. And you were like, “Fuck, I need a tampon.”
MELTZER: And then I found out that you have a virtual tampon merch store.
PHILIPPS: Well, Birdie is a consumer, and direct-to-consumer speaks to her gen. I don’t know, shit just shows up at my house on a subscription basis. She just does it.
MELTZER: The thing that I’m most jealous of in your house, beyond the Pebble ice maker, is the sheer amount of Babybel cheese.
PHILIPPS: Listen to me. I was working with them so they sent me a ton, but I do always have Babybel. I’m also a client.
MELTZER: I’m a client of Big Dairy.
PHILIPPS: Fucking love it. Oh my god. What’s going to happen, Marisa?
MELTZER: I don’t know. I was just going to ask you how your eyebrows survived the nineties.
PHILIPPS: Grit and determination, I think. Also, I never really over-plucked. I was blessed with a naturally good eyebrow shape, and then I just grew them out. I was fascinated by Chrissy Teigen getting that eyebrow transplant. Have we talked about this?
MELTZER: No, but I too have followed that. That’s wild.
PHILIPPS: I love it. It’s so fantastic. I have friends whose eyebrows never came back from the nineties.
MELTZER: How much is an eyebrow transplant?
PHILIPPS: Not having done any research, I bet you it starts at $3,500.
MELTZER: Oh, I was going to say $35,000.
PHILIPPS: No fucking way. Now I have to Google it.
MELTZER: Anyway, my whole point is that if I had that money in front of me and–
PHILIPPS: Wait. Ready?
PHILIPPS: The exact price for your eyebrow transplant will vary based on your needs. On average, this procedure may cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000.
MELTZER: Oh, you really know your shit. I’m really impressed.
PHILIPPS: For someone who does not get plastic surgery, Marisa, I really know how to price it out.
MELTZER: Usually, I think things are cheaper than they’re going to be. I just think I’d rather buy a Max Mara coat or a really–
PHILIPPS: My god. I saw this outfit in the window of Max Mara in Stockholm and I have been thinking about it nonstop. It’s this long silver skirt. Have you seen it?
MELTZER: No, but I’d like to see a picture.
PHILIPPS: [Shows picture on phone] And then a chunky gray sweater and then just fucking black boots. Oh, I want it.
MELTZER: Fall clothes. Also, we need our treats to get through life. I just got platforms a couple of weeks ago just to keep up the moods.
PHILIPPS: Should I buy it right now while we’re doing the interview? Is there a Max Mara in SoHo?
MELTZER: No. There’s one uptown on Madison.
PHILIPPS: I’m not going uptown. Actually, I might go uptown tomorrow because Cricket is doing this art camp that’s pretty cool where they’re going to different museums.
MELTZER: Yeah, very Upper East Side lady dropping the kid off at camp to go pick up some fall items.
PHILIPPS: She’s shopping like someone who’s not in the middle of a strike. Anyway, are you excited for the book to come out, or are you nervous? What do you feel? This is your fourth or fifth book.
MELTZER: Fourth. Although they’re all scary because it’s just all different. And the world you’re putting it into, even if it’s a few years later, it feels like everything is different. I have really good self-control about not reading things about it.
PHILIPPS: That’s great.
MELTZER: I’ll read a major review or something, but I probably won’t read this because I’m here participating in it. You know what I mean? Mostly I think I just have good boundaries, but it’s still scary, and exciting. I’m going to concentrate on the fun parts, like thinking about someone I hated in junior high reading about it and thinking I’m successful, or what outfits I’ll wear to my book stuff.
PHILIPPS: Oh, that’s fun. Do you have outfits planned?
MELTZER: I think I’m wearing this black classic Chanel dress and then I’m attempting to get this dealer in LA to let me borrow a bunch of eighties costume jewelry.
PHILIPPS: I love that. Are the people involved in Glossier nervous about the book? Did Emily Weiss think you were writing a takedown?
MELTZER: I think she probably struggled with that, but I haven’t heard anything from Glossier or her, so I can’t really say. I reached out for an official comment, emailed the press people and gave them a deadline, just so I could be like, “I tried.” And nothing. So who knows? I think the book is very fair, but criticism is weird these days. It’s never fun to be criticized or written about, but also we live in a time where being a journalist is often demonized and people don’t like hearing thoughtful criticism.
PHILIPPS: Have you ever done a profile of someone that you then heard from after like, you got it all wrong, fuck you?
MELTZER: No, not that intense. But there was someone recently, and I feel like you might have met her before. We’ll leave her name out of it, but she seems like she goes through her press with a fine-tooth comb and told her reps that she’s pretty sure she didn’t say something, but it was all recorded, so I had to go back and show the transcripts. Similarly, once I interviewed a European actress who was dating someone who had been on a television show that you also were on. The show might have rhymed with “Schmawson’s Meek.”
PHILIPPS: [Laughs] Got it.
MELTZER: It seemed they would soon announce that they were breaking up, and it seemed like things were a bit odd with her and the way she talked about the relationship. And I asked her if she was in therapy, which is something I often ask people in interviews. And she was like, “Yeah.” And I heard through the editor that her rep called and was angry and wanted the tapes to confirm, because she was claiming I made it up or something. It’s always shocking what people get really sensitive about.
PHILIPPS: Oh, yes. Isn’t that weird? Since the beginning of time, celebrities have had to juggle that piece of it. What they share, what is up for public consumption in terms of promoting their movies and things. Even for you to promote this book, you have to do Interview. It’s all such a machine, because the public is trained [to think] that they need personal information in order to invest.
MELTZER: Right. Which is why the girlboss moment existed, because it was this way for them to talk about themselves as business people and, not talk about them[selves] personally. I think with social media, even normal people are now like, “Here’s what I want the public to know, here’s what I don’t want the public to know”—questions that probably only famous people really had to deal with. There’s that old adage: “A gentleman only appears in the newspaper born, married, or dead.” Those days are over.
PHILIPPS: Those days are over. Do you think you would turn this [book] into a TV show?
MELTZER: Yes, but I’m not interested in writing it. I’m not interested in becoming a screenwriter. I don’t think I’d be very good at it, or at least I’m not with this project. I already know the book I’m working on next so–
PHILIPPS: You do? Wait, have we talked about it?
MELTZER: A biography of Jane Birkin.
PHILIPPS: Oh yeah, that’s right.
MELTZER: Yeah, I would love for someone to turn that into a TV show, for sure.
PHILIPPS: I wanted This is Big to be a movie. What happened?
MELTZER: The rights are available now.
PHILIPPS: They are? I’ll do it. I’ll write it. But I can’t be her because I’m not really Jewish.
MELTZER: You should convert so that you can have a fucking amazing Bat Mitzvah. A really old psychoanalyst who I used to complain about not having hobbies to was like, “Have a Bat Mitzvah now.”
PHILIPPS: Did you do it?
MELTZER: No. I’m not that interested in organized religion.
PHILIPPS: I don’t know if I am either, but I like traditions. And I like the traditions of Judaism.
MELTZER: Do we think we could get Drake to play at your “I’m Jewish” Bat Mitzvah celebration?
PHILIPPS: Isn’t there that Housewife that’s sober? She converted to Judaism, right?
MELTZER: I don’t know. I don’t watch The Housewives.
PHILIPPS: Me neither.
MELTZER: I find it really stressful. It doesn’t relax me. The kind of TV that relaxes me is The Great British Bake Off or British mysteries or horror movies.
PHILIPPS: You’re on your own there. I don’t like anything gory and I don’t want to see blood.
MELTZER: I’m fine with all of that. I’ve been watching a lot of trashy nineties serial killer movies at home to get my mind off of my life, like Kiss the Girls.
PHILIPPS: Oh, I really did like that movie when I was younger.
MELTZER: There were a lot of those movies. I think they were all the fallout of The Silence of the Lambs.
PHILIPPS: Ashley Judd was in most of them.
MELTZER: Did you ever audition to be the woman-in-peril in anything?
PHILIPPS: No. I was too young. I missed that whole thing. Do you know what my very, very, very first audition was? Girl, Interrupted.
MELTZER: Really? The Brittany Murphy role?
PHILIPPS: No, I would’ve killed that part. For the Elizabeth Moss part.
MELTZER: I think you would’ve been good at the Brittany Murphy part if I’m being honest.
PHILIPPS: Yeah, me too. That wasn’t an option. And actually, I don’t even know if it was a real audition. I think it was maybe a favor to my new agents just to give me a shot.
MELTZER: Did you ever audition for anything else that was huge, like The Notebook ?
PHILIPPS: That Julia Roberts movie.
MELTZER: Mona Lisa Smile.
PHILIPPS: Yes, Mona Lisa Smile.
MELTZER: I love that movie.
PHILIPPS: They were into me for the part in The Life of David Gale, that weird movie with Kevin Spacey and Laura Linney, where he’s a guy on death row who’s innocent and he’s going to get killed. I’ve lost two parts to Melissa McCarthy.
MELTZER: What was the other one?
MELTZER: You auditioned for that role in Bridesmaids?
PHILIPPS: I did the chemistry read. Melissa McCarthy was much better, I’m sure, than I would’ve been, but none of the other parts were really right for me in that movie. This is a fun game, by the way. You know what I fucking screen tested for? You’re going to die.
PHILIPPS: Hustle and Flow.
MELTZER: For the Taryn Manning role?
PHILIPPS: Yeah, and I screen-tested with Terrance. It was Terrance [Howard]. It was a very intense experience in my life.
MELTZER: Wait, this just reminded me of something related to Cougar Town, which is that Courtney Cox has that home goods brand. She developed it with one of the people in the book, Nick Axelrod-Welk, who was at “Into The Gloss.” Have people approached you about doing a beauty line? Maybe this is your strike project.
PHILIPPS: It’s kind of like a bigger, weirder question for me because authenticity isn’t just my fucking brand, it’s a value that I hold in very high regard, and I just have never felt like I have to add more shit into the world.
MELTZER: It has to be the right thing.
PHILIPPS: Maybe I missed the boat.
MELTZER: Well, maybe it’s your ceramics. Maybe you become a ceramics mogul.
PHILIPPS: Maybe I can start mass-producing ceramic pigs.
MELTZER: Well, what starts as pigs can become cows.
PHILIPPS: The possibilities are endless. What’s the rest of your day?
MELTZER: I have another interview and I have a ton of emails to catch up on.
PHILIPPS: I have a thousand emails currently in my inbox.
MELTZER: That would give me a heart attack.
PHILIPPS: I’m just trying to not focus on it.
MELTZER: I practice inbox zero, so I’m crazy.
PHILIPPS: But does that mean you reply?
MELTZER: No. I delete things.
PHILIPPS: When are we going to go to Paris?
MELTZER: I’m going for two months for book research in December and January.
PHILIPPS: Okay. I’ll come then.
MELTZER: Let’s go and we can further discuss your outfit for the book party.
PHILIPPS: I’m going to go get that Max Mara skirt.