Paula Goldstein is an influencer, creative consultant and founder of Voyage d’Etudes, a series of travel anthologies. With a background in online publishing for some of the most directional titles in London and Paris and a stint as fashion director at Refinery 29, her entire career has played out in the digital world. Now living in Los Angeles and expecting her first child, here she discusses navigating female sexuality and childbirth in the social media context.
Naked & Unfiltered
I was really late to the social media game—I was the last person I knew to get an iPhone because I loved my Blackberry. When I finally made it on to Instagram, I didn’t really consider it from a ‘personal brand’ perspective. I suppose my feed is not what’s expected of someone who is a fashion editor or into street style. There’s a lot of nudity because I’m a naked person. But that ‘nudity’ is definitely not pictures of me in perfect bikinis on perfect beaches, like you can see on countless other accounts. There’s a rawness to my nakedness—there’s nothing filtered or polished. And I think that’s why it jars with some people. It’s a strange thing—a sliver of skin can somehow be more provocative on social media than a G-string bikini. Petra Collins got banned from Instagram for wearing swimwear which showed her pubic hair—apparently that was considered over-sexualized. But girls who are shaved and wear bikinis can be all over Instagram.
Some of my pictures could be seen as provocative, especially the more revealing ones. No-one has ever criticized me to my face, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think people judge it, particularly when I was younger and working at Purple [French fashion and culture magazine known for its highly charged sexual content]. Nudity and sexuality were at the forefront of what I was doing, day in, day out. It didn’t seem strange at all to be overtly sexual. There’s definitely an argument that being sexual in that way—especially when it’s influenced so heavily by the male gaze means you can’t be feminist, but I actually think that most young women go through a period when they are trying to understand who they are sexually. Sometimes that involves a form of expression which might make them feel uncomfortable when they’ve come out the other side. But what it means to be empowered is that you have the freedom to go through that journey and work out what it means to you personally to be a sexual individual. And I definitely went through that online.
I love clothes and style, but I don’t obsess over them at all. I feel very happy in my own skin and my own body and I think that’s also what drove me towards the West Coast—a level of feminine nudity is much more accepted here. My friends do hang out naked and it’s not a strange sexual expression or about showing off or anything like that. I’ve always seen my own nudity as a human expression and I think most people that know me wouldn’t say I’m overly sexual. Of course I’m not stupid, I know provocation on social media attracts some weird attention and creepy men, And that bothers some people, but it doesn’t really bother me. If a douchey guy comes on to me and advances in a way that feels aggressive or unwanted, either on or offline, I’m very comfortable with telling them to bugger off. It’s almost impossible to embarrass me.
Authenticity vs. Reach
I also post a lot of scary feminist manifesto stuff and and anti-right wing politics and of course, pictures of dogs. Basically, it’s a whole collection of things that you’re not ‘supposed’ to post. I’m still struggling with the whole thing if I’m really honest. I was joking with my boyfriend that if I did certain things and followed a certain format, my Instagram would work much better. He totally disagreed. So I conducted an experiment. I got him to take a picture of me in a pretty dress with a pretty background from far away. It got three times as many likes as any of my other pictures and I think I proved the point.
“People are constantly saying, this person is ‘wrong’ for doing this and this person is ‘wrong’ for doing that. This or that person is a ‘joke’. The truth is that everyone is just trying to make their own way.”
There’s a toss up for sure. In this world, should I be following a mainstream formula to make myself heard and thus make my voice more important in the long run? I am starting to think about it slightly more as a business, but I’m not suddenly going to start posting generic latte shots. You can definitely build your voice and create a brand in a different way. My friend Cleo Wade, for example, has built and incredible following by posting female-positive affirmations. There’s a way of branding so you don’t feel like you’ve completely sold your soul.
It can however, be hard when you work on creative projects. I know I’ll get paid more for doing something that I’m the face of than something I’ve put my heart and soul into as a creative. You’ll struggle to find money to make an art film, but you’ll be able to get money for a picture of yourself wearing someone’s jeans. In saying that I would never, ever poo poo anyone who does choose to follow a more mainstream formula. That’s the biggest problem with this industry. People are constantly saying, this person is ‘wrong’ for doing this and this person is ‘wrong’ for doing that. This or that person is a ‘joke’. The truth is that everyone is just trying to make their own way. There are people that I’m definitely confused about in terms of the amount of followers they have and I sometimes don’t understand why so many people think they are interesting. But at the same time, all power to them.
The Digital Sisterhood
I think on the whole the digital community is pretty supportive, but I’ve also been lucky to have been a journalist and an editor beforehand and have those real relationships with people who do a similar job. I do have some online-only relationships—Guardian writer Sophie Heawood and I have a social media-only relationship and she’s very supportive and gives me such great advice. I don’t think that there is any thing fake about our relationship, she’s a very smart women and I look up to her and her writing. I think you can create a real sense of community with other human beings through social media, but you also have to realize that to go any further you’ll have to meet in real life at some point.
The whole concept of Voyage’s d’Etudes is that we’re all members of the same girl gang, we just haven’t all met each other yet. I do think like-minded individuals, particularly with what’s happening politically at the moment, are finding each other more and more on and offline. The women’s march on Washington is galvanizing so many circles of women who are connecting their friends to other friends. The political situation, especially in America is taking this weird social media world and making it tangible.
I really want to create positive female media opportunities—be that telling stories through film or a documentaries. I’m working on a documentary at the moment about what it’s really like to be a mother and all the stuff they don’t tell you. The biggest issue is how everyone tries to judge you–it’s like conceiving somehow opens you up to public criticism. Some days it feels like other people want to take over my life.
“Women struggle with so many things because of hidden prejudice—that most of the time we don’t even realize and perhaps even internalize ourselves.”
I was at the airport recently in the lounge and I asked for a glass of wine. The waitress said no because I was pregnant. She decided that I wasn’t allowed. After I protested and said that I was completely fine to have a glass of wine—and indeed that my doctor had given me the all-clear for one or two glasses a week, she then asked if my husband would let me have the wine and told me I should check with him first. I kind of understood the initial reaction because people read so many scaremongering articles. So perhaps she was checking with me because she truly believed I was damaging my unborn child. But then asking if it was ok with my husband once I’d expressed my choice. Which year are we living in?
Women struggle with so many things because of hidden prejudice—that most of the time we don’t even realize and perhaps even internalize ourselves. I’ve definitely felt that more keenly since I’ve been pregnant. People feel justified in talking to you or indeed talking about you as if you’re not there. It’s like you’re a puppy. People comment, ‘you’re really big,’ or ‘you’re really small’. I mean would you ever go up to a non-pregnant person and say anything like that? You would never say how fat or thin a woman was at any other time of her life. Whether that bump is ‘healthy’ or ‘Oh my God you’re drinking a cup of coffee’. If my friend wants to eat McDonald’s then that might not be the best choice for her—but she knows that. Of course there is an unborn child and another human being to think of and there are certain things that I definitely wouldn’t do during pregnancy, but the culture of judging other women’s choices—because that’s what they are, choices—is just not on. In America, women are told not to drink during child bearing years unless they are on birth control. In Italy my pregnant friend was advised to drink two glasses of wine with dinner every night. So it’s up to a woman to make her own decision on which advice she wants to take.
“The culture of judging other women’s choices—because that’s what they are, choices—is just not on.”
Most women are also very, very scared of labour, because the media had told them that they ought be very, very scared of labour. There’s a really amazing documentary called The Business of Being Born about how all the fear-mongering has helped the medical and pharmaceutical industries sell us more things that we don’t really need. The more scared you are, the more medical check-ups you need, the more you need another IV in your arm, the more you need to have an epidural, the more you need to have a caesarean—each one of these things, particularly in America, adds up to an additional cost. To have a caesarean in LA costs something like $35k, but some women truly believe they don’t have the capacity to give birth.
The thing is, the baby is going to come out. It’s going to happen, even if I didn’t see a doctor once during the entire pregnancy and just hung at home…Eventually the baby would come out! Pregnancy here is dealt with like an illness. You have to treat an illness, you don’t have to necessarily treat pregnancy. Of course you can try and make it as comfortable and as positive as possible. But you are not sick and that’s something I think that the medicalization of pregnancy has somehow instituted in both men and women’s psyches. For my daughter, these are the things that I need to be angry and loud about, because until things change, her generation will still be a long way from equality.
I come from Essex, which is obviously very glamorous. I kind of stopped going to school when I was about 15 and by 16 I was thrown out, so I ended up in art school because it was the only place that would let me in. Then I decided that living in Essex was really depressing, so I Googled courses that you could start in London aged 17 and it just so happened that the London College of Fashion came up. They let me in with only a year of art school and from there I did a year of Fashion Portfolio, which introduced you to all elements of fashion and then two more years of a BA in Fashion Promotion.
My dad died when I was 20 and it changed how I felt about a lot of things. I decided it was really important that I got a ‘proper job’ and managed to I got a role as an assistant at Dazed when I was 19. I didn’t aspire to work in magazines and I didn’t want to be a journalist, but I got the job and that’s how it started. From that assistant role, I went on to run digital development basically because no-one else wanted to do it and at the time the content was seen as irrelevant. Of course, Dazed Digital is now a powerhouse, but back then it wasn’t seen as a priority.
We worked on the launch of Nowness and Anothermag.com and during that time I met [Founder of Purple magazine] Olivier Zahm in a nightclub in Paris. As you do. It was a really bizarre situation—the Eurostar had completely closed down and I was stuck in Paris for six nights with Rob my associate publisher. Olivier had decided he was charmed in the way he is with all women and let Rob and I work out of the Purple office as we had nowhere else to go. After a while Olivier realised I was more than just a pretty face and we started talking about what I did and the fact that Purple magazine needed its own website.
We emailed back and forth, helping him articulate his digital voice and what came out of that was Purple diary—really just a Tumblr at the time. I guess it was the first Instagram of that generation, the first real insider view of the afterparty and the fashion industry’s morning after— rather than just the step and repeat board images.
“There definitely wasn’t a pre-ordained plan. Throughout life I’ve never really had a gameplay. I’ve had a series of really extreme things that have happened to me which have led to very fortunate things.”
After two years at Dazed, I moved to work at Purple having been incredibly inspired by Caroline Gaimari, the magazine’s badass director. It was an incredible four years. But after a while, I decided it was quite a strange place to be working as a woman. It’s such a masculine voice and while Olivier is amazing, he’s very pure and specific in his aesthetic and what he’s interested in. I think being a younger woman, there was a real enjoyment of being such a sexualized environment—that whole Lolita thing and ‘I don’t care that I’m a bit messed up, because that’s rock and roll.’ But then I started pulling myself together and I didn’t want to be just some skinny girl hanging out in New York nightclubs anymore.
So I left and set up Voyage d’Etudes which was much more about travel and the different people that I met on my journeys. From there I went on to be fashion director for Refinery 29 in New York, which was an amazing experience, but I just don’t think I have a corporate bone in body. After a year I ran away to the West Coast and made a book in San Fransisco and then somehow got pregnant, started making films and working with women’s charities in L.A.. I’ve ended up doing everything that I always wanted to do, but I’m not really sure how it all happened.
There definitely wasn’t a pre-ordained plan. Throughout life I’ve never really had a gameplay. I’ve had a series of really extreme things that have happened to me which have led to very fortunate things and I’m very open in terms of meeting people and taking advantage of opportunities. I would say that from my experience that when opportunities land at your door, you have to just go for them—while you’ll never know exactly where they will lead, you can be sure that one day you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.