Beauty & the blog

Nadine Haobsh had a glamorous job on a glossy magazine. Then she began to dish the dirt on her colleagues and her world imploded.Or did it? David Usborne tells a cautionary tale for the internet age

Ms Haobsh, who is pleasingly perky in looks and personality, is definitely in a class apart, however. These are some of the things she did right: she concealed her identity and gave herself a sexy-sounding pseudonym, Jolie. The blog on which she shared her thoughts and feelings about the job she loved and the glossy magazine world she inhabited became "Jolie in NYC". On it, she set about dishing a little dirt about her more or less glamourous workplace, always peppering her prose with disarming self-deprecation.

Her scribbling was fairly anodyne stuff, the sort of gossip she would share with friends over a cocktail anyway. She talked about the new Sephora beauty shop that had just opened on Union Square, about how sane women became monsters whenever the magazine had a charity beauty products sale and, more than once, about all the free stuff she and her colleagues were always getting at work.

True, she may have said too much about the giveaways delivered to the magazine, ostensibly for product review purposes. "My boss," she wrote once, "regularly gets Marc Jacobs wallets and coats, plane-ticket vouchers, iPods, overnight stays at the Mandarin Oriental, year-long gym memberships and, of course, all the free highlights and haircuts your poor dyed, straightened and styled hair can stand."

A week ago today, however, her formula for survival and self-amusement abruptly fell to pieces, which brings us to what Haobsh did wrong. Her mistake was to do all of the above and then - silly, silly - allow herself to be outed. Too many people (mostly friends in the industry) knew that she and Jolie were one and the same and - as quickly as lipstick melts in the sun - the New York Post soon found out too.

It was last Thursday when the Post ran its story, "The unmasking of 'Jolie in NYC'". Haobsh was in trouble. Her bosses at Ladies' Home Journal had known the article was coming and had already "let her go", citing her lack of respect. As it happened, Haobsh had just been offered a new, even better job at Seventeen magazine. But then they backed away from her, too. Ouch.

"The night before the article came out, I was devastated," Haobsh told The Independent. "I went out with my friends and I was crying. I was nervous about what was going to happen to me."

In those first numbing hours, Haobsh voiced surprise and contrition, both to friends and in her blog. "It's been a tough couple of days, mostly because I let down a lot of people who I care about and respect," she wrote last Friday. "To all you would-be bloggers out there: even if you truly are 'just being funny' or 'don't really mean it', think before you write. And definitely don't write about your industry: things will absolutely be taken out of context or interpreted incorrectly, and that's just not fun for anybody."

On the face of it, Haobsh was giving sound advice - she was hardly the first employee to be burned by blogging. The anecdotes about workers being fired because of what they have written in personal blogs multiply daily. According to most legal experts in the US, there is almost no protection for those who love to scribble indiscrections on the internet, never mind what the US Constitution says about the right to free expression.

"Say you're writing, 'My boss is a jerk, I can't stand him'," says Lisa Esposito, an employment lawyer in Florida. "If that boss wants to terminate your employment, they can."

Personnel departments everywhere are rushing to forge policies to try to keep bloggers quiet. IBM recently issued strict guidelines to all its employees. Companies that have already sacked workers for cyber-disloyalty include Google, Microsoft and Delta Airlines. The latter fired one of its flight attendants after she posted a photograph of herself on her blog, standing in vaguely sensuous attire in the aisle of an empty jet. It was the absence of passengers that Delta didn't like - bad for its image.

No wonder, then, that Haobsh was fretting. But then something strange - though not entirely unpredictable - happened. Because of her plight, Haobsh suddenly became even more notorious than her cyber-alter ego, Jolie, could ever have been.

CNN wanted to talk to her. MSNBC wanted to talk to her. So did the New York Sun (and The Independent). ABC News is in line to see her and so is People magazine. Far from being in the wilderness, she has in fact arrived in some kind of publicity Shangri-la.

Haobsh, by her own admission, is the midst of one of those can't-believe-your-own-fortune moments. She plans, as all her blog fans know already, to write a book about the beauty industry and the beauty magazine world. In fact, it's been in the works for two years already.

She also reckons that her new-found fame will help establish her as some kind of beauty-products pundit. "People don't trust the magazines and want someone to tell it how it is," she says. Indeed, on the afternoon we speak, she is rushing off too see executives at MTV. Apparently the music network is considering giving her a job.

Could it be that the whole sequence of events, crammed into a few days, might have been deliberately scripted precisely to achieve this sudden fame and opportunity? "I can honestly say I never thought it could end up like this," Haobsh says. And it is hard not to believe her. She occasionally mangles her words and complains she "can't even speak anymore", so overwhelming has been her experience. "This could end up being the best thing that has ever happened to me," she says.

Time will tell and, thanks to Haobsh's decision to keep the Jolie blog live, anyone who is remotely interested will be able to track her fortunes online. (And, eventually perhaps, in the pages of her book.)

Even this morning, a quick glance at her latest blog entry reveals more good news. The young woman who seven days ago was a mid-ranking beauty editor at a mid-ranking women's magazine has been taken on by arguably the most important talent agency in the United States.

"I guess I can let the cat out of the bag: I signed with the William Morris Agency, and will be finally (finally!) working to turn the beauty book I've been plugging away at into a reality," she writes. "As you can imagine, our little Jolie is tickled pink."

In other words everything that Haobsh did right that turned out to be wrong has, in the end, turned out to be oh-so perfectly right. Go Jolie.

The world according to 'Jolie in NYC'

Wednesday 18 May 2005

Yes, I actually get paid for this

So, I got back from my spa weekend in Arizona last night. It was as predictably phenomenal as three days of spa treatments, palatial suites, and gourmet food can be.

Beauty is even more decadent than fashion, since beauty companies have so much more money to throw around on press trips, free products, and gifts. I took a trip six months ago (again to Arizona) and the company flew us there via private jet. My boss (and sometimes even I) regularly gets Marc Jacobs wallets and coats, iPods, overnight stays at the Mandarin Oriental, year-long gym memberships, and all the free highlights and haircuts your poor dyed, straightened and styled hair can stand.

Wednesday 6 July 2005

Everything for a dollar

For a beauty editor, there are no two more horrific words than "beauty sale". A beauty sale happens twice a year at magazines, when the beauty department rounds up all sorts of products and sells everything at a major discount for charity. It is a monstrous day of carnage, where civilised women morph into wolves, dumping entire drawers of products into bags.

Sunday 10 July 2005

The beauty editor conundrum

In addition to the manicures (for research) you get boatloads of products. Magic bags arriving at your office every day stuffed with moisturiser and lip gloss might seem like the coolest thing in the world. But after only a few months, it gets really, really old. (I promise.)

Thursday 14 July

How to Be Fabulous

Wondering how to break into fashion or media and live a life of glamour?

1) Be insanely connected, discreetly wealthy, or pretty-in-a-Ralph Lauren-kind-of-way. Live in East Hampton or date Jerry Seinfeld.

2) Use your connections, money or looks to get an internship fetching coffee for a "name".

3) Work your ass off for five years. Annihilate any bitches who stand in your way.

4) Give earnest and faintly amusing quotes to media gossip sheet.