If you’re an aspiring writer who would rather be travelling than doing anything else, meet Saumyaa Vohra.
As a child, she was always a language person and preferred poetry and fiction. With age, journalism came into the picture. She was drawn to features, fashion, travel, food and beverage much more than reporting crime and politics.
As a Lifestyle Editor at GQ India, what do you enjoy the most about your job?
I have really enjoyed pretty much everything about my job. I know it’s not a luxury which everyone has, not even everyone who is in the media space. I am lucky because I am working with a brand that I have sort of grown up having a lot of admiration for. I like the fact that it is a men’s magazine that never wears into toxic masculinity which is very rare because a lot of male publications can sometimes cross that line. I think there’s value for everybody in that magazine. If I am writing a travel piece or a feature story it has nothing to do with gender, it just has to do with a curious, intelligent, interested reader. So, I really like the fact that I’m in a world where I know content is no longer that gender-specific.
What are some changes you have observed in people’s perception towards lifestyle, writers or maybe you know in a higher level like fashion oriented couriers?
One of my biggest troubles was the fact that I came in as an outsider. I had come from a film academically oriented college from Delhi. I was not used to the fashion space. All I knew was that I wanted to really, really write and I think for a long time I saw myself as somebody who wrote for a very different kind of magazine - "this is important writing and this is not important writing" and I saw myself as an “important” writer.
But I think over time I realised that the one place I get to write purely is in a magazine space. So finally enough when I applied to Cosmo, I literally wrote to The Editor Nandini Bhalla where I said,” I am sure you are not going to read this but if you do here is my resume”. And I was surprised she wrote back to me in a day and she was like, “maybe next time, write a nicer email and when can you come for an interview?”
I had simply told her that I am a decent writer, I know I want to write and I can write so she could take a chance and she did! So, open your eyes to the fact that what you have here may not be the original platform from where you started off.
As a Lifestyle Editor you must have freedom but at the same time there might be some restraint because ultimately every company has some guidelines, so I mean how do you balance that out?
I balance out the guidelines with my own voice! The important things happen. When you are younger and you don’t have the understanding your point of view is that this is important so why can’t I say it but as you get older and you work with the industry more you realise you need to look more towards the big picture and at the end of the day while we think it’s very important for your voice to be exactly as you had intended it, you also realise you function in a world where everybody is looking for something that works for them.
We noticed your passion and love for travel and life in general, does the work-life balance get difficult to achieve? What would you advise someone struggling for the same?
Right now I have a good work-life balance but that has not always been the case. There were times where the life part was very small and the work part extended into almost 12 to 15 hours a day. I think it’s really important to have time for yourself no matter who you are or what situation you are in. Also, what you choose to do with this time is up to you. Less value shouldn’t be placed on your time if you do or don’t have a family. You have to literally set linear clear cut lines of when to be available and when to not. And I think a big mistake I made before Conde Nast was to be too available. I would pick up a call even if it was at 2 a.m., because I was terrified of missing the call.
When I moved into my second job, I encountered one person who was working with me and this is something that I learnt from him because I was very fascinated with this quality of his. I remember coming into the company and sending him an email at 7:45 p.m. on a Friday and somebody from my team told me, “Don’t you know he doesn’t respond to emails after 7.” And I was like “What? How can he do that?”
The problem that we have is that we expect the company to create boundaries for us but those boundaries need to come from ourselves. There is a big difference between being arrogant and being unavailable.
I think the advice I would give to anybody who is entering the media is to value your time and if you work with the company that doesn't value your time, leave.
In your article titled ten New Year’s resolution, you stated that it's more important to appreciate things versus to achieve more. How have you implemented this in your own life?
The one thing that last year did was that it really pushed through the slowdown. Until 2020 everybody was just sort of running through life and they had so much to do so there was no time to stop. For me it was like either I have to be at events or I have to be somewhere else and the problem for me was it never really created an environment where I could pull back and just be like home.
I don't need to meet a friend every second day of the week. I don't need to make sure that I have XYZ things during the week. I just need to do a lot less and I'm setting up a lot of goals for myself that are not even necessarily goals I need to meet.
The important thing was that it just kind of made you realize that look around you everything is so uncertain, you're sitting here and you're setting goals for yourself about like I want to be CEO of my own company by 2022 or you know I want to weigh a 10kgs less by the end of the year or whatever it is, while there is a pandemic and it's touching the lives of people you know. It's not some vague thing that is far away.
To everyone, don't suddenly say, “oh okay, we paused and we stopped still for 2020 and we appreciate the things and everything was great but the vaccine is out so back to the batteries”. I think it was a teachable moment for all of us.
The media industry you know has been obsessed with the zero figures for a long time. Why beauty standards are indeed evolving the need for perfection is still very much there. What are your thoughts on the youth’s obsession with achieving perfection, as defined by society?
To be very honest, I think you said it yourself as well. I think that overtime it is great being alive in this generation that has really changed. But if you asked me this question twenty years ago, I would have said, “Oh, I wish that kids would realize that their bodies are beautiful” or “I wish that the media would have more representation” and everything.
I remember when I was growing up and I was watching Bollywood in the nineties or whatever. It was a very different environment. You’d see models were all a certain complexion or figure or height. They don't look like you.
I think the internet can be credited for this. Beauty influences are not all skinny, fair women who look conventionally beautiful with like extreme flowing hair, which was sitting and giving you advice. They are bigger women, they are darker skin women, and every bit is beautiful.
It’s a great time for Gen Z because they are the ones who are really going to grow up with this utopian idea of whatever you are, whatever you look like, there are millions of people who will find you beautiful. And that was a kind of belief that we were not given when we were kids, by the media or by whatever, because when we were kids, we were told that this is what beautiful looks like.
And in 2021, I think the narrative is “beautiful looks like you”.
So whoever you want, whatever you look like, don’t worry because you are beautiful, and there are a lot of people who are thinking.