Jessica Barron

Introducing /

Modern Muse

Our first Modern Muse of 2018, Jessica Barron is the Editor in Chief of the health and fitness web destination, Livestrong.com.
She shares her story, and some of her favorite Bailey looks here.
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Modern Muse /
Jessica Barron
With a background in journalism and online media, Jessica took a love for fitness and turned it into a career
helping women (and men) of all kinds nourish the healthy lifestyle they look for.
Tell us about your background and how you got here? Have you always loved health and fitness?

When I was a young girl I was not a big fan of health and fitness. My parents divorced when I was five, and I was raised by my single mother and grandparents. Consequently I spent a lot of time as a latchkey kid sitting in front of the TV. Gym class was my worst nightmare, and I completely dreaded the Presidential Physical Fitness test where your scores were taken (in front of the whole class) on one minute of sit-ups, the 600-yard dash where my stomach would ache from both and my head would hurt from the humiliation. I was woefully out of shape.

In high school thankfully peer pressure led me to join the Cross Country team and through a lot of painful hours I eventually became better at running, and in college I played women’s rugby because I loved the cameraderie. After college, I immediately started working in digital media and the long hours spent hunched over a computer and the kitchens stocked full of free snacks and junk food got the better of me.

When I worked at Yahoo leading the team that chose the content for the front page, I spent much more time reading articles about how to get fit than actually working out.

Through qualitative research, I learned that our readers of all ages from twenty-years-old to over 80-years-old actually felt good when they saw and read articles that helped them to live healthier and feel better. I decided I wanted to work in fitness and nutrition, and went to work for Beachbody, where I started my fitness journey in full force. I lost 20 pounds in a fitness program test group doing a fitness martial arts program and eating a high-protein diet. Yes, it was nice to feel great in my clothes, but more importantly I realized I felt better than I had ever remembered in my adult life. I had more motivation and more energy and less anxiety. Then I was inspired and ran my first half marathon, the Long Beach Half.

When I left Beachbody to join LIVESTRONG as VP of Content, I worked with the team to develop an 8-week fitness program and meal plan to help thousands of people to get fit and feel better. I’m so passionate about the work we do at LIVESTRONG and Leaf Group. We create content and products that make people’s lives better and more enriched.

What drove you to follow your dreams as a young woman?

My nana, who was a first generation American from Italian immigrant parents, was a huge influence on me. She told me stories about growing up poor in a family of fifteen children during the Great Depression and not always having enough to eat or having clothes to wear to school.

One time she and her sisters climbed into a dumpster outside of a shoe factory so that they would be able to salvage shoes for the whole family. They shoved newspaper inside of them to make the shoes fit, and there was only one problem -- the shoes were all for the left feet, so the girls kept their legs crossed under their desks hoping their classmates wouldn’t see they were wearing two left shoes.

My nana graduated at the top of her high school class, but was not able to attend college because her family did not have extra money and her father did not think it would be the right financial investment to send a daughter to college. My nana encouraged my interest in reading and writing and wanting to help provide a voice to people who weren’t always heard. I wanted to graduate from college so that I would be the first in my matrilineal line to accomplish this -- and I did it!

Throughout much of my childhood, my single mother was a waitress, working long hours to make ends meet for our family and suffering from back pain and constantly dieting herself and looking for recipes for fast and healthy meals to make for my brother and me. At LIVESTRONG, we provide the blueprint to simple healthy living, and essentially our mission is to help busy women (and men) solve the types of issues that my mother faced as a single mom. With LIVESTRONG’s MyPlate app to help inform her about food choices, my mom would hopefully not have needed the Cabbage Soup diet!

What are the greatest challenges of being in your position as a woman in a leadership position?

LIVESTRONG is a website with 70% female audience, and more than 50% of our audience is made up of millennial women aged 18-34. It’s a tremendous responsibility for a leader of any gender to run such a large media business and stay true to our audience and grow the business as part of a public company. I led the brand and business through a challenging transition from a more clinical health site to a true healthy lifestyle site that provides the blueprint to simple healthy living. In my time as GM, I’ve had seven consecutive quarters of year-over-year traffic growth and 6 consecutive quarters of year-over-year revenue growth for my site and business. I’m proud of that. Many businesses aren’t ready to hire women in top executive positions, so I’m glad to work at a company that does employ women in leadership roles. I’m thankful to have had male bosses at Leaf Group and a female mentor who championed my success and promoted me to my current role in leading the team.

Sometimes it does feel like women leaders are walking a tightrope. Developing my own personality and authenticity as a female leader was one of the toughest challenges I faced and I still work on today to try to find the right balance between being strong enough as a leader pushing my team to achieve without coming across as “abrasive” or “shrill” or “bossy,” (which, I should point out, are words attributed to women far more often than men).

When I became an executive, it took me a few to feel fully comfortable embracing and expressing my own unique style that I had had earlier in my career. I wrote an article for Fortune last year about Why It’s OK to Wear Yoga Pants to Work. I had always read and been told that female leaders dress in a specific way for the office (i.e. pencil skirt, pumps and button-down blouse with structured blazer), and I was starting to break those rules. For example, when I was considering dying my hair pink I wondered how it might be perceived. While I do still sometimes have worries about perception, I have ultimately decided to be fully myself. While I may not look like most of the other people in the room presenting during our C-suite meetings, I bring a unique perspective and point of view to the table that often brings new ideas for connecting with and engaging our customers.

What advice would you give a young woman looking to break through in digital, journalism or health and fitness?

It’s an important job! Are you truly passionate about journalism? The hustle is real. Be passionate about what you do, and be sure to live your mission. It’s essential to care about what you do, so that you’re able to stay focused and apply your full attention in order to put in the long hours needed to develop your expertise.

Make yourself valuable to your boss and your team by offering to help out wherever (and whenever) needed. Be sure to demonstrate and communicate -- with metrics and stats whenever possible -- how the work you have done has helped your boss and team and company achieve its goals.

Be confident in yourself and stay humble . It can be hard, but try to laugh at your mistakes and have true humility. Never stop learning! I learn something new every day from the people on my team. It keeps life fun and interesting.

Be sure to negotiate for your salary or ask for that promotion. Remember to cite those specific metrics about how you have moved the needle.

Finally, you be you -- everyone else is taken! Don’t be afraid to unabashedly be yourself and stand out from the crowd. Develop and work your swagger and your authentic voice, identity and look. I’ve been to so many conferences in recent years where male speakers and panelists have full on swagger and people pay attention to what they’re saying. It’s crucial to nurture and grow your confidence as well as your own unique voice and personality so that people will remember you and your message. Don’t say “just” in email or in conversations. No more “I’m just emailing you to...” You are doing this. You are owning this! You are killing this! You are no longer “just” doing anything.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up at either 6:30 or 7a.m., depending on whether I’m going to go for a run or take my dogs for a long walk. I meditate first for 20 minutes. Usually, I run either 3 or 4 miles, and soon it will be longer because I’m training for the LA Marathon! Afterward I eat breakfast, check my Google calendar, check social media feeds and catch up on any urgent emails. I almost always make a green smoothie with spinach and arugula and protein powder or overnight oats with cashew milk and blueberries. I arrive at work between 9-9:30a.

My work day is usually booked with 5-6 hours of meetings -- sometimes up to 8 or 9 hours. These are made up of everything from daily stand-up meetings to discuss priorities and see how the traffic is pacing, finance and budget meetings, MyPlate app marketing meetings, editorial planning meetings, branded advertising idea meetings, one-on-one meetings with team members and calls with partners and potential partners. I often eat lunch at my desk or in a meeting. I try to get outside to get some sunlight and take a quick walk, even if it’s just a spin around the building sometime in the afternoon.

Some days I have interviews with social media stars or fitness influencers, but that is not every day. We do also do fun things at work: One day last month I attended a goat yoga class and held an adorable baby goat. Last summer my team and I took a ride in the Barnanas car. I also take my team for active offsites such as bike rides or to try the plant-based Impossible Burger.

I generally aim to leave work by 8 or 8:30p.m. I spend time with my dogs, read, do a bit more work email and then try to head to bed by 10:30 or 11p.

You have a lot of females here at Livestrong.  How do they influence the growth of the overall company?

If you’ve ever heard the saying “If you want to get something done, ask a busy woman,” it’s completely true. The women on my team (and the men too) hustle and work hard. They are solving incredibly important challenges, like how to create an app -- LIVESTRONG’s MyPlate -- that actually helps motivate people to eat healthier. Or an app -- MyQuit Coach -- that helps people quit smoking.

 Employing a team that is about 50% women and embracing a diverse team with a culture that values all the members of the team’s input in our editorial, product feature prioritization, and overall brand vision helps us develop content and an app that is relevant and engaging to both women and men. My team members certainly influence me, both ideas-wise and style-wise! Many ideas from women on the LIVESTRONG team have helped us to gain more viewers, followers and traction for our brand, from creating our Stronger podcast and hand-lettered motivations about body positivity for Instagram to fun graphics for foot selfies at events to developing our Stronger Women interview series and our Simple Healthy Eats recipe videos and Future of Food chef dinner series.

Biggest highlights since joining Livestrong?

There are so many to recount in the past 5 years, but here are some of my favorites:

Creating the 8-week STRONGER Challenge with 35-minute workout videos and meal plans to help anyone get fit with no equipment needed.

Launching Simple Healthy Eats recipe videos which have nutritional info on calories, fat, protein and carbs and gotten more than 15 million views on Facebook, primarily from millennial women.

Prioritizing an opportunity to advance and change the conversation around women and appearance and body issues with a roundtable discussion with female fitness influencers called #Imperfection.

The Stronger Women interview series and getting the opportunity to interview Arianna Huffington.

Our “Future of Food” chef dinner series and study about pesticides in foods Americans eat most often.

Speaking on and moderating on panels and serving as a mentor at several Create and Cultivate conferences where I have provided advice to women on how to create the careers of their dreams.

Achieving seven consecutive quarters of year-over-year traffic growth and 6 consecutive quarters of year-over-year revenue growth for my site and business

Soon I will be publishing an experiential first-person piece exploring a sustainable fish farm in Mexico!

What does the future look like for Livestrong?

This year will be an important year for LIVESTRONG. We redesigned our website for 2018, and it puts much more emphasis on our original photography. This year is our 10-year anniversary, and I’ve been working with the team more than half of that time! We are planning some game-changing experiential healthy living content and offline events that will inform and inspire people to live healthier lives.

We aim to bring attention to under-reported topics such as plus-size fitness influencers and sustainable seafood farming.

For example, LIVESTRONG is sponsoring a Body Positive panel at the Create and Cultivate conference for millennial women in Los Angeles in February. At SXSW in Austin in March I will be moderating a panel on “The 2 Foods You Eat Every Day That Contain Hidden Pesticides” (spoiler alert: coffee and wine -- aim to buy them as organic as often as possible). For the first-time ever, this summer we will be inviting our readers to attend a Stronger weekend with us as a day-long conference of fitness classes, influencer talks and healthy recipe and food demos.

How do you tackle work/life balance?

As tennis legend Ana Ivanovic said when I interviewed her for Stronger Women, “In my experience, it’s very hard to get balance. Someone said to me once: 'In life you can have everything, but not at the same time,' and that's really true.”

During the week, I regularly work 10-11 hours per day, and on the weekends I try largely to un-plug and dedicate my time to my husband and my friends as well as my yoga and running practices.

Looking back on your life, what moments have defined you as a woman?

My friends, family and colleagues are so important to me. They inspire me in so many ways and I’ve had close friends in my life including friends I’ve known since grammar school and high school who I make sure to keep in my life. I went to Vassar College on a full scholarship, and I’m so grateful for the quality education which helped to inspire my life of curiosity. Education and access to education is so important. I was editor-in-chief of my college newspaper, The Miscellany News, and led the team that brought it online for the first time in 1994. I’ve been a longtime online writer and blogger. In 1998, I started a blog called poprocks.com and a guy I had never met wrote a song about me.

When I was 28-years-old my younger brother committed suicide. That has caused me to be very interested in issues of mental health and anxiety, particularly among men. Last year I ran the Boston Marathon as part of team Clif Bar and raised over $5,000 for suicide prevention.

Travel is one of my biggest passions. I love meeting and learning about people from other cultures. In 2002, I traveled on my own to Vietnam to explore the places where my dad had been stationed during the Vietnam War in 1970. This summer I’m planning a trip to Italy to visit the small village, Pettorano Sul Gizio in L’Aquila Province, where my maternal great-grandmother lived before immigrating to America.

Between 1999 and 2017, I’ve been to the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert 15 times. I love the creativity and freedom that the event inspires, and I’ve still never seen anything else like it in the entire world.

I also enjoy pushing the boundaries of technology and media. In 2004, I co-hosted a radio show on a pirate radio station, Pirate Cat Radio in San Francisco with one of my best friends. In 2005, I met my future husband in a meeting held in a conference room named Aphrodite when we both worked at Yahoo in Sunnyvale, California. In 2006, I ran the team that chose the editorial content for Yahoo’s front page, at the time the most popular website on the internet.

Music is one of my life-long passions, and I’m a bit obsessive about a few indie rock bands and electronic DJs. I’ve danced onstage at Belle and Sebastian concerts at least 8 times from the Ace Hotel Theatre, the Hollywood Bowl, the Berkeley Greek Theatre, the North Park Observatory, the FYF Fest, Royal Albert Hall and Royal Hospital Chelsea. And let’s not even get me started about dancing with my friends to Flume and Diplo out under the stars at a music festival -- it’s pretty much my favorite thing in the whole world. I also (perhaps embarrassingly) have a love for karaoke! In 2008 I won a karaoke contest onboard a Holland American cruise ship in the Baltic Sea.

Tell us about your relationship with personal style and how it’s evolved throughout your career.

At the beginning of my career in my twenties I had a weird and completely eclectic sense of vintage thrift store style in a mixture of decades from 1920s to 1980s with genres of mod and punk and goth all mixed and matched in. Some days I was really put-together, but there were definitely more days when I was a hot mess!

I can’t tell you how many pairs of platform shoes and crazy strappy heels I have worn that have ripped my feet and ankles to shreds. Today I appreciate classic comfort and great fit so much more, which is why I fell in love with Bailey44! As a petite woman, I appreciate that the clothes fit and flatter me without alterations.

I still have a bold sense of style, and I’m definitely not afraid of color.

If there was a Jess Barron uniform, what would it look like?

Bright red or hot pink lipstick is an essential part of the “Jess Barron uniform.”

I am also a huge fan of layering because layers help me to feel both warm (has anyone else noticed how cold it can be in office buildings?) and put together. For the past 20 years, I’ve always had a vintage leopard print faux fur coat -- and usually more than one -- in my closet.

Outfits in the “Jess Barron uniform” include: Distressed vegan leather moto jacket or soft frayed denim jacket over a floral dress or blazer or tunic and wrap over black leggings. Or I’ll wear a long tulle skirt with an army jacket over it.

I almost always wear black ankle boots or vintage Nikes, and occasionally a pair of killer heels. I work long days and I like to be comfortable. There is quite a bit of athleisure wear in my wardrobe because I’m often rushing to fit in a walk at lunchtime or a yoga class. I’m obsessed with the Bailey44 Icons blazers and the entire Staycation collection. The pieces are so flattering and soft.

Who is your Modern Muse?

I find inspiration from so many of the women and men in my life, from my team members and colleagues and my close male and female friends as well as my sister-in-law and my 17-year-old niece.

I’ve been friends with Selena @missysuicide since we met in 1999 when we both worked at a music start up company, and she has a fun punk, pin-up girl aesthetic. Gracie @gwilzz, a designer and artist on my LIVESTRONG team has a relaxed surfer style and she created the coolest La Croix costumes for our entire team at Halloween. (We won the office costume contest!)  Lia @liahaberman and Bryce @brycechristian have taught me so many tips that have raised my social media and selfie game! Other colleagues at Leaf Group keep everyone else on top of our games, including Jessica Parker @noaccountingfortaste who works on Society6 and is incredibly savvy about vintage clothing and Fox @wildarcticfox who does PR for LIVESTRONG. My husband, Chris, @christito, is a graphic designer, artist and photographer (he photographed me wearing all my fave Bailey44 outfits at the LIVESTRONG and Leaf Group office), and he has a great sense of style. I’ll often ask him which colors are best for me or for advice on pulling an outfit together. He always knows!