Cosmopolitan Lifestyle Director Ashley Oerman Talks Writing, Networking, and Birth Control
By: Valeria Ramos
In 2017, Ashley Oerman joined Cosmopolitan as the Senior Wellness Editor, becoming Hearst’s first editor to work on both print and digital teams. Today, Ashley is Cosmopolitan’s Lifestyle Director, overseeing the brand’s food, home, money, career, and health content online and in the magazine. Her work has reached millions of eyes across the U.S.and internationally.
In a recent episode of our podcast, we spoke to Ashley about how she got her start in the editorial industry, her advice for aspiring writers, and what it’s like to work at one of the country’s most beloved publications.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue writing?
I always knew that I wanted to write for magazines, but I didn’t realize it was something that I could do because of where I grew up—you don’t meet too many magazine editors in Iowa. But I interned at college newspapers and College Fashionista and I somehow landed a winter internship at Cosmopolitan during my senior year.
I interned under the editor who oversaw the Cosmo body pages and it was love at first sight. It was the first time I had ever been to New York—the cab driver dropped me off in front of a pile of garbage just as I arrived, so I jumped right into the New York City vibe! I was there for a month and then I flew back home to finish out my senior year and searched for jobs in New York City while I was living with my parents in Iowa, which was quite an adventure.
What was your first job out of college?
My first job was at a fashion and beauty site called The Bloom which was owned by the XO Group but has since closed. Unfortunately, I was laid off after eight months when the site closed, so I got a real taste of how volatile the industry can be, but it was a great experience. I was the only editorial assistant on the site—it was just me and my side director—so I had tons of hands-on experience.
What drew you to writing about health and wellness?
The internship at Cosmo was sort of an epiphany for me. I love health journalism. I’m like that friend who won’t miss any opportunity to be a know-it-all and this was the ultimate way to do that! I loved that internship, I loved interviewing experts like gynos, dermatologists, and researchers and translating their information into human speak. I also weirdly became obsessed with birth control and reproductive rights (and I still am), so this career path just made total sense for me.
What is a typical day at Cosmopolitan like for you?
It’s pure chaos, but it usually starts with editing some digital content that’s going live that day. We’re doing a lot of home decor content right now, which is exciting, but it’s honestly really hard not to shop on the job! A couple of times a week, we have wall meetings where I see how the magazine’s current issue is shaping up. Then I’ll move into editing a print story or two or brainstorming ideas for future issues. Usually, there are lots of meetings involved in my days. Magazines are very much a team sport and you have to be a team player and communicate all the time.
How has the magazine industry evolved over your career and how have you adapted to the change?
When I started my career, digital and print were totally separate. Today, so many brands have their teams doing both just like Cosmo does. In my career, I went from a digitally-focused editor to an editor who does all of the things! The processes with print and digital are very different. Print has more steps to work through, but the goal of both platforms is the same–we want to give our readers the things they need to be successful humans in the world.
What is the company culture like at Cosmopolitan?
It’s great! When we were in the office, I would go to work and consider everyone a friend. If I had questions about TikTok, videos, or art, I could go to anyone and they would be happy to talk me through how to do any of those things. We’re a close-knit team. Everyone works so hard and I think that bonds us. We all adore our readers so much and want to do the best for them—we’re all working towards one goal.
“Magazines are a team sport. You have to be a team player and communicate all the time.”
Health and wellness have been a focus in your career. What is it like reporting on such a dynamic industry and how have you seen it change over time?
It has changed so much! When I was at Women’s Health from 2014 to 2017, wellness was just starting to become a buzzword and it evolved to mean everything and nothing at the same time. In terms of my career, the biggest thing I try to remember when covering health or and wellness is to be skeptical of products claiming to benefit your wellness and I stick with sources that I trust. Anything can be marketed to be a wellness product and, while CBD bath bombs are lovely and probably do benefit your mental health in some way, they might not be directly correlated to your health. I sort of have this old cranky man living in my brain that is is skeptical of new trends, so I always follow up with research.
What are the wellness trends that you love and hate?
One trend that I love is that so many companies are developing birth control services that you can be delivered to your door. In a perfect world, everyone would be able to access birth control without insurance or a copay from a pharmacist. Unfortunately, that’s not a world that we live in yet, so I recommend it to anyone who needs birth control but doesn’t have the resources or the insurance to make it happen.
I don’t pay too much attention to trends that I hate, but detox tea has become my nemesis. Anytime I see it, I just want to tell everyone these teas aren’t regulated by the FDA, there’s no way to know what’s in them, and also why are we trying to drink tea to lose weight?
How did you become confident in your writing and reporting skills and develop a unique voice in your career?
It takes time and it takes practice. I had amazing mentors and I sort of went through boot camp with my team at Women’s Health and then again at Cosmo. I try to take constructive criticism (and criticism that doesn’t feel so constructive) as a learning moment and an opportunity to better myself. Even when all those notes in red make you want to crawl into a hole, you always come out stronger on the other side. You just learn, and you keep going, and one day you look up and you’re like, ‘Oh, it didn’t take me long to write that at all and I actually think it’s good!’
What advice do you have for advancing one’s career in the editorial industry?
I don’t think it’s bad for a career to take time. I went from Editorial Assistant to Assistant Editor, back to Editorial Assistant so that I could work at Women’s Health. Taking that step back ended up being a move that changed my career because I learned so much in that role, and I don’t think I would have been ready to advance at a brand like Cosmo. So, it’s not necessarily about quick advancement. However, if your skills are developing and you’re ready to grow, the key is to network. If you want to climb quickly, reach out to new people and learn about their jobs. When you make friends in the industry, those people will think of you when a position opens. That’s the biggest thing you can do besides keeping your eyes on your paper and working to improve your skills.
What career advice do you wish you’d heard sooner?
It’s taken me a long time to understand this (and it’s something I’m honestly still working on), but you don’t need to burn yourself into the ground to prove that you’re good at your job. If you are a strong team member, that will show whether you work until 9 p.m. every night or whether you sign off at 6 p.m. Sometimes it takes a little extra time and elbow grease to get the work to where it needs to be, but that shouldn’t be the standard you live by. I’ve seen a lot of people go so hard until they’re like, ‘I don’t even want to do this anymore because it’s not fun, and I’m tired, and I’m sick, and this is not how I want my job to make me feel.’ So, setting boundaries is totally fine. You’ll get the work done anyway–it always gets done.
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