Are all women destined to turn into their mothers? For her piece in Comfort Zones, the head of content at Refinery29, Gillian Orr, questions the inevitability of the sentiment. On a shopping trip with Jigsaw’s editor-in-chief Ana Santi on the King’s Road, she predicts her mum’s reaction to her story…
How was this story out of your comfort zone?
Generally, I write about arts and culture, politics and health, so writing something personal – especially about my family – was out of my comfort zone as I haven’t really done that before.
How will your mum react when she reads it?
I think she will actually be really chuffed because - and I'm sure she won't mind me saying - she’s a bit of an attention-seeker! The idea of a story about her featured in a book, she’ll be really happy with. Even though it’s not always the most positive…
Are you two close?
Yes, but I think mother and daughter relationships are one of the funniest, and trickiest at times. We get on so well and have so much fun together, but we have our rows. That’s why I think the Ladybird film spoke so well of that relationship. There’s so much love there, but also so much annoyance. And it’s one of the less examined relationships, culturally.
You say in the book that you “revel in your differences” – what are they?
I’ve ended up in a job in media and writing, and I read a lot. My mum has no interest in that sort of thing. Same with music. She’ll listen to a bit of Abba, but I love music. I used to be a music journalist – it’s a big part of my life. My mum probably has two CDs. She loves the theatre, I don’t. We never agree on films. Sometimes she says to me: “I don’t know where you came from”. And we don’t really look the same. She makes a joke about picking up the wrong baby at the hospital… I mean, I do smoke and drink like her. And she’s fun-loving and loves a party, so I did get that from her. And we do love a big chat and a laugh.
Speaking of your work, what does being head of Content at Refinery29 involve?
I oversee anything editorial that goes out – articles, videos. We have a news meeting every morning - obviously we’re female-focused so we think about the issues affecting women, and we try to relate the bigger stories of the day. For example, with Brexit, we did a piece on women who regret voting Leave, or what women around the world think of it – they all think we’re nuts. But just because women read lots of books and are interested in the news doesn’t mean they don’t want to know who Jennifer Lawrence’s new boyfriend is. You can be a whole person and enjoy all of that.
Given Refinery29’s editorial range, what are the campaigns you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of the taboo-tackling we’ve done, like breaking taboos around mental health and periods. We’re currently doing a campaign called Your Vagina's Fine. It’s calling out “vaginal rejuvenation procedures” promoted on social media, which are unnecessary procedures offered at private clinics and targeting women by claiming to “reshape” or “tighten” your vagina. Leading gynaecologists are aghast that this is happening, but it’s not regulated so we’re trying to say to women, you don’t need this, you’re ok. It’s massively on the rise and more and more clinics are offering it.
We ran a week-long editorial in January called Lonely Girls' Club. It started by telling the story of one chronically lonely 27 year-old. But we were overwhelmed with the response – so many people engaging with it – so we decided to do a whole week, exploring everything from personal stories to the psychological effects it can have. We had people on our comments section and Facebook page talking about meeting up – and they didn’t know each other!
For International Women’s Day, you interviewed 29 young women about what the word “feminist” meant them, but also about their clothes, which was intrinsically linked to their identity. How do you project yourself through your clothes?
I’m quite silly, and I laugh a lot. But I don’t want my clothes to look like that. So to balance that side, there’s a lot of black, a lot of minimalism. Nice cuts and quality of fabrics, basic pieces that are nicely done. I like to think I look chic and stylish… So it makes my loud laugh more acceptable! Otherwise it would be too much…