Beauty Spotlight on: Emily Barth Isler
Welcome to the fifth installment of Maya Chia’s Beauty Spotlight series. Today, we’re turning things around and shining the spotlight on the person who usually curates this blog series, beauty writer, journalist, and author Emily Barth Isler.
Emily has been writing about clean/green/organic/sustainable beauty since 2010, when she started a blog with a friend, because they just wanted to talk about beauty products all day. They got really interested in ingredients, how they were sourced, and what made products good for the earth and for customers, too. From there, Emily struck out on her own and became a freelance journalist, covering women-led, ethically-made beauty brands and products for publications like Allure, PopSugar, Organic Spa Magazine, and on blogs for several retail sites and beauty brands.
Emily also writes books for teens and tweens, and her first novel, AfterMath, came out in September from Lerner/Carolrhoda, and was called "a gift to the culture" by Amy Schumer and "pretty close to perfect" by Judith Viorst. AfterMath also won the 2022 Mathical Book Prize, was featured in a panel at the LA Times Festival of books in 2022, and was also chosen as Nate Berkus’s Nate’s Reads book club pick for the month of April, 2022!
AfterMath deals with the lasting impact of gun violence in communities, as well as themes of grief, resilience, friendship, and family, and sadly it's getting more relevant every day in light of recent mass shootings. Emily is quite involved in several gun violence prevention organizations and donates a portion of her proceeds from the book to said orgs. (Examples here and here!)
For this month’s Beauty Spotlight, Emily tells us about work/life balance, saving voting rights in the U.S., and, of course, her favorite Maya Chia products!
Maya Chia Beauty: What's your "sliding doors" moment? Some time when your life almost took a totally different direction.
Emily Barth Isler: I auditioned to be in the touring company of a Broadway show the summer before I started college. I even got a callback-- and if I’d gotten that part, my life would’ve been dramatically different. I would’ve deferred attending college for a year (or two!) and then, when I finally went, who knows if I would have chosen a different school or, even if I had still gone to Wesleyan University, would I have met the same people, had the same experiences, become the self I am today??
I learned so much in college and had so many important, formative experiences, and one of the most life-changing things is that I met my now-husband there, that first semester. He’s my best friend and I can’t imagine if our paths hadn’t crossed there at that time. I’d like to think, in that kind of soul-mate way, that we would have met regardless, but life is so big and so mysterious, I don’t know if we would have met otherwise. I am SO grateful I didn’t get that part in that play-- it would’ve been a cool experience, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t have gone to Wesleyan that fall, wouldn’t have gotten into the a capella group where I met my husband, and might not be where I am today.
MCB: What's your biggest regret?
EBI: I wish I’d started writing as a career sooner. In some ways, I think it’s silly to “regret” this, because every part of life leads us to wherever we are now (as I re-read this it sounds horribly cheesy!). I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason,” because sometimes, bad things happen for no reason, or good things happen randomly, but I do think we can use every experience we have to get to the next phase or learn an important lesson, or simply use it to become a kinder, more empathetic human. I’m working on being kinder to myself, letting myself off the hook for the things I didn’t do or the choices I made in the past that I’d make differently given what I know now. Life is so short, and we literally cannot go back and change things, so I am working on not fixating on the things I wish were different.
MCB: How do you hope to change the world?
EBI: As an author of books for children, I really hope I am contributing to the culture of talking about hard, important, and sometimes-taboo things. I think books are such a great way to start conversations, which is why I love writing for kids of all ages. One of my favorite quotes about the role of books in culture is by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop:
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
I also really love TV and movies and plays, but I do think there’s something special and intimate about the first-person experience of reading a book and the feeling that the author is communicating directly with the reader, and that the reader can take away from that whatever they particularly need. It’s magical!
MCB: What is your favorite Maya Chia product and why?
EBI: I have several answers to this question, because I have several favorite products!
First, I’d go with my OG answer, which is the Chia Waterless Wonder Balm. The texture is great, the moisturizing properties of it are incredible, but what really gets me is the smell. It’s the best. I realize more and more as I get older and more honest with myself about what matters and what I care about that scent is just really important to me. It’s a luxury, but I think it is so much more powerful and evocative than I once believed. I used to kind of hide behind other things about products, and let scent be this secondary, icing-on-the-cake kind of detail, but really, when it comes down to it, the sensory experience of something that smells wonderful is super important to me, and I no longer think it’s shallow or silly to admit that! Scent is powerful-- it affects our moods and our outlook, and I’m here for it.
Next, I’d say the Straight A Serum. I was scared to try Retinol, but when Maya Chia launched this one, I decided that if Susanne made it, I had to try it. Well, I started seeing results so quickly, I couldn’t believe it. My skin just looked healthier! I haven’t been without it since. (And yes, it smells good!!).
Then, Maya Chia introduced The Super Lift Vitamin C-More Serum and I thought, do I really have room in my routine for this? Yes, yes I do, apparently! I don’t like to start a day without it as the first layer of skincare, under my SPF. I love the immediate “tightening” feeling it gives me, and then the longer-term results, like brightening, evening of skin tone, and seeing less fine lines.
And then there’s the Power Fol hair serum, which has legitimately changed my hair. I see a difference long-term in the density of my hair, but also short-term; any time I’m going to do a zoom event to promote my book or go somewhere special or fancy, I use the hair serum to give my hair volume and bounce and it really makes a difference!
MCB: What is something you're really proud of?
EBI: I am really proud of my work/life balance. Not on a daily basis-- goodness, no, because most days are not balanced well!-- but if I take a step back and am able to look at it all from a distance, I do feel like I’m doing okay with the work/life balance. My husband and I really love spending time together, and we really enjoy hanging out with our kids, and we both enjoy our respective work, too. Like everyone, we constantly make choices about work and priorities, and I’m happy with how we’re finding the balance between our family life and our work lives. That said, I feel like I should recognize my immense privilege here, because having work/life balance is itself a privilege, and also is the result of huge privilege to even be able to think about work/life balance, let alone to feel like I'm achieving it. So, as much as I am proud of that, I also recognize that not everyone-- especially in America, where we do not support parents and women and basically anyone enough!--can even entertain the hope to have work/life balance.
That said, I’m also really proud of my book! My first novel, AfterMath, came out in September, 2021, and darn it, I’m so freaking proud of how it turned out! The road to publication was L-O-N-G and hard, and I’m trying not to forget that as I celebrate the huge success of the book now that it’s out. Writing a book is hard. Getting it published is hard. So I’m proud that I did it, and I have another book coming out next year!
MCB: If you could change one thing in someone else's life, what would you do?
EBI: I’m working with a group of women on changing other peoples’ lives by protecting their voting rights, and thus also protecting their rights to things like abortion, gun safety, LGBTQ rights, etc.
I’m really, really excited to be part of the leadership of a Giving Circle through The States Project to raise money to change the balance of power in state legislatures. We focus on the state legislature because a relatively small amount of money can shift power in state houses, which can yield rapid and meaningful change for people across the country. State legislatures are where gerrymandering and voter suppression begins, and where issues like abortion, gun safety, and LGBTQ rights (just to name a few that are important to me!) are going to be decided over the next few years. My giving circle is called Flipping Seats and Taking Names and you can get involved by donating even a tiny amount to restore justice and voting rights to places where citizens’ voices aren’t being heard.