Val Monroe, the former Beauty Director of O, The Oprah Magazine, has taken her eponymous “Ask Val” column to a new platform, a newsletter titled, “How Not to F*ck Up Your Face.” Through the newsletter, Val looks to impart her decades worth of beauty industry experience to help women (especially those over 50) feel happier about their appearance via articles that aim to encourage women to look at their reflection in an entirely new way. Topics in the weekly newsletter address everything from common complaints about how one looks to solutions for resolving conflicts to practical advice from Val. Here, Val Monroe answers some questions about her new endeavor, which launched March 9.
BN: What made you decide to do this?
VM: My friends were always asking me questions about treatments and skin care and makeup; and though I was always happy to share whatever I know, I was surprised by how little they know. Which made me think that maybe after nearly 16 years as the Beauty Director at O, The Oprah Magazine, I actually did know something helpful. And after I left the magazine (in 2017) I’d been traveling a lot, mostly back and forth to Tokyo several times a year, where my son and his wife and my little granddaughter live, but when the pandemic hit, like everyone else, I was grounded. Searching for ways to feel useful, I started writing. And the response was so vigorous and supportive I didn’t want to stop.
At first I thought I wanted to write a book. But I’ve written a couple of books, and writing a newsletter is a lot more fun. As I told a friend recently when she suggested a book: I love riding my bike. But I don’t want to ride my bike up Mount Kilimanjaro. This newsletter is the Amalfi Coast. I hope everyone enjoys the scenery as much as I do.
Beauty News: What type of subscriptions will you offer readers?
VM: You can sign up for the newsletter for free but you also can subscribe for $5 a month, $50 a year, or as a founding member for $150. I didn’t expect anyone to join as a paying subscriber when I started, but quite a few generous souls subscribed as a gesture of support, for which I’m very grateful. At some point I may file the archives behind a paywall, but for now, all posts are available to everyone who signs up.
BN: How are you building your database?
VM: I originally posted a question on Facebook, asking if my friends might be interested in a newsletter. I received a pretty robust response, so I assumed whoever responded would sign up. It appears many of them did, so that started out as my database. Then, when I’d been publishing for around three weeks, Substack (substack.com), the platform I use to publish, put me on their homepage, which boosted my traffic that week about 600 percent.
BN: How are you sourcing topics? What topics can we expect?
VM: At the end of every newsletter I ask readers to send in questions, and I’ve received enough questions already to last for months. Women are genuinely curious about beauty issues that seem to intensify as we age and how to feel comfortable about our aesthetic choices. Our culture, especially our beauty culture, is still very youth-oriented and ageist, in spite of some authentically well-intentioned efforts to be more inclusive. So far I’ve written about how to learn to look at yourself without objectification—an extremely useful exercise in self-compassion; about the beauty of crows’ feet, and what part they play in communicating happiness; about how to reduce unwanted facial hair; about the mechanisms behind why kindness makes you more attractive…and I’ll continue to address those kinds of topics as long as readers are interested. There’s a mix of philosophical topics and very day-to-day practical ones.
BN: Are you using social media to get the word out?
VM: I let friends on Facebook and followers on Instagram know when I put up a new post; I’ve gotten a nice response from both. Substack takes care of all the publishing aspects, from distribution, to collecting sign-up and subscription statistics, to monitoring traffic, to generating payments.
BN: What is the newsletter’s point of difference?
VM: My goal is to shift our thinking in the beauty arena from self-criticism to self-compassion. That intention saturates everything I write about, from such practical information as how to minimize hyperpigmentation to what it feels like to suddenly seem invisible as we age. There’s no other publication I’m aware of with that intention as its platform.
BN: Do you have sponsors?
VM: I don’t have sponsors, as I want to be free to publish without feeling beholden to anyone.
BN: What is the two-year plan with the newsletter?
VM: I’d like the audience to grow for one purpose: to help women feel more comfortable with their appearance as we age, no matter what kinds of aesthetic choices we make.