Essence Gant, M.S.W.’11

Beauty and Style

By Carol Olechowski

An M.S.W. degree led Essence Gant to an unusual career: as beauty editor at BuzzFeed.

Essence Gant
 Taylor Miller/BuzzFeed

Gant, who earned a bachelor’s in social work at Albany State University in Georgia, pursued graduate study at UAlbany “because I love advocacy and empowering other people.” Courses at both institutions “heightened my sensitivity to people and our basic human needs, like inclusion. And the endless writing that comes along with studying social work, especially in grad school, sharpened my writing skills and written voice.”

At UAlbany, “I absolutely adored professors Nancy Claiborne and Robert Miller,” recalls Gant. “They were so brilliant and awesome. I love teachers who encourage conversation and who approach work with an open mind. Both of them were great at that. They were challenging and very smart, but not to the point where you felt intimidated or like you couldn’t approach them. I also assisted [now former] Dean [Katharine] Briar-Lawson my second semester. Being able to work under her and observe her was inspiring.”

Two days after graduation, Gant became editorial assistant at Hype Hair. A few years later, she went to to cover women’s entrepreneurship, “but after only about six months, I started looking again because I really missed the beauty-and-style space. A friend texted me the job description for my current role, and there was no doubt in my mind that it was for me. It just felt right, so I applied, interviewed, and here I am. It’ll officially be two years May 19.”

Gant’s favorite part of her job is “talking to people who’ve been left out of the conversation.” She explains: “Black people have played such an instrumental role in the shaping of beauty and pop culture, but they are often erased from the narrative when the very trends that they set make it to the mainstream. I love being able to give that long-overdue credit.”

As an example, Gant cites “one of my favorite posts, ‘Here Are 19 Photos Of The World’s Most Beautiful People.’ It featured photos of everyday people, not celebrities or models, and they were all people of color.”

BuzzFeed, she adds, “is such a cool place to work because I don’t have to approach my job in the traditional angles style-and-beauty editors take. I encourage readers to take ownership of their hair, skin, and makeup preferences and do what makes them feel their best.”

Advice for students interested in blogging or editorial work

  • “Take courses that require writing, especially creative writing, that will help you find your voice.”
  • “Volunteer to assist a blogger with a wide audience.”
  • “Network. Catch a bus to the city. I’d do this and go to media events I found online. It’s how I met the blogger I’d end up interning for part time in grad school. She then recommended me for my first job.”