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2012 September 6

Atoosa Rubenstein, Uncensored

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(NEW YORK) Has it already been six years since Atoosa Rubenstein, then at the top of her game as editrix of Seventeen, announced, in a flurry of press, that she was ditching her position? Where has she been, and what has she been up to? The Daily headed to Long Island to find out!

You didn’t want to be interviewed in February. What changed?
On the eve of having these babies, it seemed like the right time.

You’re expecting twins!
Yes, and my daughter Angelika just turned four. Being a mommy is great—it’s like having a magazine with an audience of one. I’m nervous about the twins! It wasn’t planned. Apparently when you’re old—I’m 40—you can have twins easily because your eggs are just dropping. 

So, what’s up?
It sounds so stupid, but I’m doing all the things you want to do when you’re working. I’ve been living the life that I think writers and editors talk about and put in their magazine and assume their readers live. When I was younger, I always thought that being an editor-in-chief was such a fabulous life, but I’ve realized that it’s really no life at all. I wasn’t able to enjoy anything because I was working all the time. I certainly wasn’t able to spend time with my family. My husband and I were married for 10 years with no children. I had no time!

And now...
I’m fornicating! I’ve been out of the industry for six years, and we’ll have had three babies in that time. That’s a pretty good track record. I just celebrated my 14th wedding anniversary, which I’m really proud of. That’s tough to do in New York! If I was working all that time, I’d probably be on to my second husband. I’ve been learning about myself in a deeper way. I’m also constantly taking classes and gaining insight into who I am.

What kind of classes are you taking?
There’s a place called the Open Center on 30th Street that offers anything from a class about the poet Rumi to another that was about gazing. My husband I sat there and gazed at each other. We were sobbing! I’ve also done a lot of different types of yoga.

Do you still go to Red Lobster?
When I was working I was so unsophisticated about my diet, but once I stopped working, I took the time to enjoy life. But I still go to McDonald’s all the time! I hope my babies don’t come out liking Egg McMuffins. I’m so healthy for the most part, but I just can’t say no to them during my pregnancy.

Was it your choice to leave Seventeen?
One hundred percent. It was a big surprise to the people at the top, but I told them a long time before it was announced. There were many efforts to keep me there and happy, but I needed to leave. There was spin put into place so it didn’t look bad for them. Articles came out that people on my staff thought I was unmanageable, but my track record stands for itself. I completely revitalized a brand. I was one of the first people to have a reality show. I was given huge opportunities in the company. But there still wasn’t anything that could keep me there. I had everything I wanted, and I was really miserable. For many years, I thought my relationship was the reason I wasn’t happy.  I had never been a big drinker, but I started to drink. I was also shopping too much. I was doing things in my personal life that suggested I was not happy. Someone once said to me, ‘What if it’s not your husband? What if it’s your job?’ My husband and I went to Indonesia when my contract was up. I was stalling, because I made a lot of money. I remember thinking that I would sign again if they paid me two million dollars a year. But it wasn’t just a personal crisis—I was bored.

Bored? As EIC?
Early in my career, magazines were actually discovering stars. I remember being at Cosmopolitan when we put Jennifer Aniston on the cover. All of us in the fashion department were like, blah! We couldn’t believe that there was an actress on the cover of our magazine.

What happened during contract negotiations?
It wasn’t like there was a big conversation—I just walked in one day and said that I was leaving. It got a little ugly. I had a great relationship with Hearst. I started as an assistant, and I revived Seventeen. And I wasn’t sure why I wanted to leave, I think my decision took them by surprise. Then, they wanted to have a percentage in my own business for a certain amount of money, but I didn’t want any ties. In retrospect, I realize that I didn’t want any commitment.

What happened once you left?
My ego was so inflated, which is what happens in that position, and that’s how my boss (Cathie Black) made me feel, bless her. My first day after Hearst, I could barely catch a taxi, so I walked down into the subway station and asked to buy a token. The man in the booth said, There are no tokens anymore! Get a MetroCard! It took me a year to become down-to-earth. 

Why were you so disinterested in working again?
There were several reasons, but one was that I didn’t find a potential boss who was as brilliant as Cathie. I really liked working for her. She was very ballsy, and she let me do anything I wanted. She’s so smart. Anything less than Cathie felt like a step back.

Are you two still in touch?
Yes. The last time I saw her was the night before she resigned from her job as chancellor of schools. She’s like my mother in many ways. I was destructive to our relationship in the same way that kids tell their mom fuck off. I didn’t treat her as well as she treated me, but I was going through an adolescence. It makes me sad to think about it. It reflected poorly on her that I didn’t stay, but I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time. She’s probably a bit disappointed in me, but I hope that will heal over time.

Have you fixed that relationship yet?
All’s well that ends well, but at the time it was quite ugly. I was used to getting good publicity because I was always straightforward with the press. I thought of her like a mother, but she wasn’t my mother—she was running a company, and she had to protect her assets. It probably doesn’t matter now. My team is still there. One editor I hired, Ann Shocket, is running the magazine. She’s lovely.

Thoughts on Cathie’s gig as schools chancellor?

It’s amazing how you can use the media to destroy somebody. She would have been fabulous in that position. Maybe she didn’t have the right team advising her regarding what works and what doesn’t with that crowd. It was unfortunate, because she’s brilliant.

Why do you think the media was so into you?

I’m honest! I tell you the truth about what happened, and many people don’t do that. People give the glossed-over version, but I don’t give a crap. I’m f*cking 215 pounds right now. Is this the time to be doing anything with The Daily? Probably not! Come on. But that’s me. Honestly, I really have no idea why. I haven’t really thought about it. I’m just a nut bag.

You were one of Gawker’s original targets.
That’s because I’m me, I’m not prim and proper. I am a little crazy and I recognize that, but I’m harmless. I did put myself in the magazine, because it was the only way that I knew how to communicate.

Were you resented because you were so young and successful?
I felt a lot of good will, generosity, and kindness, but once Gawker came out, things became harder for me.

I thought a lot of things that they wrote were unfair. Someone wrote that I looked like a drag queen. They wrote that I have hairy arms, which I do. They published photos of my wedding and my late father-in-law. It seemed like Gawker wanted to be for the little people, but why would you be so little? I’m a person, too.

What was the Gawker impact?
It made me very famous, and that was very uncomfortable. What Gawker did was almost the beginning of my end. I became really recognized on the street. I’m sure most of those people were just saying, ‘There’s the editor of Seventeen,’ but I was hearing, ‘She has hairy arms, she looks like a transsexual, she smells!’

What do you think of magazines now?
I don’t. I sometimes like New York, and I’m a toxic New York Post reader. I read Vanity Fair, but sometimes that gets too highbrow. But I’m a woman with disposable income, dying for information, and I’m not getting it from magazines. They’re not really an important part of my life. Sure, I pick them up, but it feels like old news. And so little digital progress has been made since I left. These overpaid executives need to change what they’re working on. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but as a reader, I’m not doing anything digitally with magazines.

Do you ever look at Seventeen?
I have, although I don’t do so regularly. It hasn’t changed a ton. I do feel our team raised a certain generation of teens, and they ask me all the time why I’m not doing something for them.|

Will you ever return to work?
I hope so, but I feel like I’m sitting it out at the perfect time, because it’s so boring. I took a few meetings, but now, I only want to do something that could be very successful. I’m so knee-deep in my family. The only thing I miss is working with a team and being creative,  but I don’t think there is a real opportunity to be creative in the magazine industry right now. It seems to be mostly about cost-cutting.

Helen Gurley Brown was one of your first mentors.
We were kindred spirits. One day, she walked up to me and said, ‘Pussy cat, we have the shortest skirts in the office!’ People ask me how I let myself get so huge when I’m pregnant. But when I was skinny, I lived it up and dressed like a total slut. I visited Helen up until recently. She was an original! She would weigh herself in the office naked. She was so unembarrassed to be herself.

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