|Photo by Kristin Booker|
For several years, Charla and I worked together at InStyle Magazine. Our offices were on either side of then managing editor Martha Nelson’s, and, because Charla was the magazine’s Today Show contributing editor and because one of my responsibilities was to insure continuity between magazine and television content, we spent a good deal of time together. We were not close friends but we had a lot in common: we were from the Chicago area, we had gone to journalism school, we were magazine addicts, and we followed the advice from long-time Glamour editor Ruth Whitney to never underestimate the intelligence of the reader even if what she was reading was mostly fluff. Because Charla genuinely loved women and wanted to help them, she never would. And, though I preferred covering hard news to celebrity journalism, I never did either.
There was something else we had in common: we were both busty. Growing up I wished I had smaller breasts- a more boyish silhouette- but would never chance surgery. Charla, who didn’t favor cosmetic surgery (quoting fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, “Do you want to look 70? Get a face lift”) had had breast reduction as a young woman. I mention this seemingly obituary-unlikely fact for a reason: it is both revelatory and prophetic. From very early on, Charla believed in taking whatever steps you needed to make yourself attractive. Looking your best not only made you feel better but it was critical to “your personal and financial survival," she said. That philosophy got her in the door of the highly-competitive world of women’s magazines and eventually up the corporate ladder and onto the best seller-lists.
Charla’s colleagues and friends have enumerated her virtues in their remembrances; they said she was kind, generous, funny, fun, hard-working, driven, down-to-earth and “fabulously glam"--to quote current Glamour editor Cindi Leive who recalled Charla as the first person she knew to have highlights. I would add another attribute to the list: Charla was savvy. She was her own brand long before personal branding became a goal. With her trademark high-lighted hair, brightly-colored skirted suits (the rest of us were wearing black pants and jackets), and gold-inked, gold-embellished stationery (she was a master of the thank-you note) she set herself apart. Her savvy went farther than that, however. She could read the cultural winds and reduce them to sound bites, write cover lines and brilliant book titles. HOW NOT TO LOOK OLD: Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter and 10 Times Better. Who could have said it better?
Charla would never reveal her age, except to say she was over 40. It was her mission, she told Gayle King on Oprah radio in 2008: "I don’t think we should be asking women how old they are. Nothing good can come of it. It just pigeon holes women. I don’t want to contribute to sexism and ageism. We have to look out for ourselves in this youth-obsessed culture." In a job market like this, women over 40 are the first to go, she said. So she filled her books with tips on how to look younger (Have your eyebrows professionally arched. Brows are an instant face lift, she wrote) and truisms (Nothing ages you faster than yellow teeth). She showed readers five ways to "look thinner before dinner": start with a properly-fitted bra. (She wore shape wear every day). She understood the stuff she was suggesting dealt only with the top layer—she acknowledged she wasn’t talking about inner beauty but outer beauty. “I’m not suggesting changing your core—your values, your brains, your wit, the things that makes you different and unique.” Her mantra was looking good makes you feel better. “It gives you the confidence you need to exist in the world-- and to survive.”
Well, at least the first part is true.