The Melanin Edit: 'Allure' EIC Jessica Cruel Is Empowering Black Women On A Mainstream Level

The Melanin Edit: 'Allure' EIC Jessica Cruel Is Empowering Black Women On A Mainstream Level

Jessica Cruel picked her career path in a way that one might imagine she would if she were a fictional magazine editor: She decided she wanted to be a journalist by taking a quiz.

The career quiz, which was a part of a class she was taking in high school, intrigued Cruel. Still, she knew if she were to become a reporter, it wouldn’t be for a newspaper. “I had this dream of wearing a really fly suit, living in a big city – because I’m from a small town [in] the south – [and] working in some big, fancy building,” she says. “I landed on fashion magazines.”

For her senior project, Cruel oversaw the publication of a magazine she named Onyx, including facilitating photo shoots and writing an editorial letter. Onyx, she says, was designed to serve Black teens.

Cruel became the editor-in-chief of Allure in 2021, achieving a lifelong goal after amassing the necessary tools to land the job in various roles throughout the media industry. In her current role atop the masthead of Conde Nast’s beauty magazine, she’s worked to bring the publication from “on high” and make it more accessible to readers, including Black women who look like her. She’s also worked to usher the brand into the digital era with last year’s announcement that the Allure would no longer have a print edition.

As a high school and college student, Cruel says she wasn’t ignorant of the fact that magazines weren’t very diverse. Still, she was motivated by the thought that she could contribute to changing the makeup of the industry. An internship at Self introduced her to the idea that this could be done through covering beauty.

“I was so impressed by the science of it all. It felt so accessible,” she says. “I think fashion always felt out of my reach. I’m Black. I got natural hair. I’m curvy as hell. And I’m from Georgia. I never felt like I fit into fashion, but then I got to [Self’s] beauty closet and I was like there are so many things here that I can use and that feel welcome to me. Even the people in Georgia can go to the Walgreens and get the thing that we’re recommending, for a price they can afford.”

"I think fashion always felt out of my reach. I'm Black. I got natural hair. I'm curvy as hell. And I'm from Georgia. I never felt like I fit into fashion."

Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Allure

Being a native Southerner who grew up in Albany, Georgia, informs a lot of Cruel’s perspective as an editor. As a Black woman working in mainstream media, she’s often worked for brands that her friends don’t read because the content feels like it wasn’t created with them in mind.

Cruel is also no stranger to working with writers who have felt their works have to incorporate explanatory commas to educate non-Black readers at the expense of alienating Black audiences. This awareness inspired Cruel to launch the Allure vertical The Melanin Edit when she was still the content director at Allure. “I just thought, my friends don’t read Allure, but they would if they knew there was a vertical just for them,” she says.

The Melanin Edit was inspired by Unbothered, a Refinery29 vertical that was created to cater to Black readers, shortly before Cruel began working at the digital publication as deputy beauty director in 2018.

This year, Cruel oversaw the launch of an inaugural live event for Allure’s signature Best of Beauty tentpole. For 27 years, readers have turned to the magazine to figure out the best beauty products. In 2023, beauty editors tested more than 8,000 products before deciding on the winning 391 items. Cruel, who says she’s been craving an opportunity to have some face-to-face time with Allure readers, sees Best of Beauty: The Live Event as a way to do just that.

Last month, celebrities such as John Legend were on hand for the event, which also featured “master classes” and a chance for readers to visit a Conde Nast magazine’s beauty closet just as Cruel did as an intern for Self.

Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Allure

“I believe we are doing a great service by making [Best of Beauty] modern [and] doing it in a way that can keep this legacy alive. The way it was built 27 years ago wouldn't necessarily allow it to survive and thrive in this year so we have to upgrade,” Cruel says of the event.

The beauty editor uses her social media platforms to continue this work of making beauty more accessible, especially to Black women who look like her. Recent Instagram Reels have chronicled her receiving treatments, including Hyperdilute Radiesse filler for necklines, a Pico laser to address dark spots and texture, and a Kobido face massage for an “instant flush.”

“I think every treatment people have been able to get for years, we should also be able to get, and we should be able to get safely and to our desires,” she says. “Unfortunately, the science hasn’t caught up yet to give us everything. It’s really important to me that what we convey is the safety of it all. What’s the safest way for you to get it? I’ve been turned away from treatments before, even as a beauty editor. That was many years ago, but I don’t want anyone to ever feel like that. I want them to be able to come to Allure and be like I read on Allure that this is okay for us.”

Beyond this, she’s also using her social media accounts to make the role of editor-in-chief more accessible and relatable to other thirty-something women who are navigating their own corporate jobs, as well as dating and homeownership. As much as she shows herself attending galas, she also wants to be honest about how she navigates life at the top of the masthead by going to the gym in the mornings, cooking dinner for herself at least once a week, and managing her anxiety with Lexapro.

"I think so many of us are in the same place in corporate America, finding our way, becoming bosses [and] leveling up."

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Featured image by Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for Allure


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