Finishing college is one of the most exciting life moments for many of us but what happens next is not always what we imagined. We talk with visual director, Milena Mallory, about managing expectations and adapting to life in the "real world".
Do you remember your first week in LA?
I don’t remember everything that happened but I remember the feeling of being here. It was exciting. I had just graduated from school and I was onto bigger and better things, at least it felt that way.
I wasn’t really that nervous for some reason. I just felt natural.
What was the reason for coming out here?
I wanted to work for Darling despite the fact it was in LA. [Laughs] I didn’t want to be in LA.
It wasn’t appealing. It’s a very “you” centric city. People care more about themselves and their work than other people, at least that’s the experience I’ve had with people other than my friends.
That’s what people told me when I was coming out here but I haven’t had that experience, and I wonder if it’s because people are thinking of “Hollywood” specifically.
My roommate works in film so I get a lot of that. And working in media with Darling you encounter some it.
Why did you want to work for Darling?
One of my friends in college was good friends with one of the editors so I began following her on Instagram. I always wanted to work for a magazine but I just hated that magazines weren’t empowering women. I didn’t connect with the stories they were telling.
I wished that there was a magazine that accepted different types of women because I never felt inspired by anyone that was like me. There was nothing that spoke to me because I’m half black, curvy… I’m all these different things and that’s not represented in fashion. That’s not represented in anything.
I wasn’t necessarily thinking about this issue in regards to myself but I saw how other people were being affected by it. Although now I see that the media has affected me but I just didn’t realize it. I think movies affect me more than magazines.
Do you think that’s changing? I feel like there are more shows coming out now like Love and Togetherness that feel more real.
There’s still a long way to go but I think people like Lena Dunham, and others who are trying to represent different types of people are helping.
There are still a lot of women who feel negatively about themselves, and men still feeling like they can treat women a certain way. I think that has affected me a lot, the way men treat women in movies.
Do you think that is more apparent in LA on a day-to-day basis than Arizona?
In Arizona I didn’t go out very much to bars, it was more to coffee shops, but here in bars it feels like people are trying to one-up each other.
The first thing people ask you is, “What do you do?” Yeah, you can get to know someone by knowing what they do but I don’t want to be defined by my work. That’s one thing I notice here. When I go back to Arizona and friends don’t ask me how work is I’m like, “Wait, don’t you care about me?”
It’s always the first question here and everyone’s trying to figure out where you are in comparison to them. Everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up and people judge you based on what ranking you’re at.
What’s the first question you ask people when you meet?
“What’s your name?” [Laughs] Now, I do ask what they do.
I think I read about this somewhere that people ask that because our brains need to compartmentalize information. So when you start narrowing it down you can understand more. It’s almost etiquette to start with that question because if you come in asking, “What’s your star sign?” People will be like, “What the…?”
And you want to know are they creative? Are they in accounting? A lot of times there are things associated with a profession.
A lot of times I’ll be out at a bar and a guy will be like, “Oh you work for a magazine that empowers women…?” Some guys think it’s cool and others are like, “Bye…”
That’s a good way of weeding those guys out.
Yeah, exactly! I don’t need that.
Did you have any idea what you wanted to do when you finished school?
I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do but when I found Darling I knew I wanted to work there. I wanted to have a positive impact on people.
I’m super passionate about people and them feeling loved. You can’t live without that love.
Do you see where you could take this experience with Darling?
I had this dream to work at Darling and then I accomplished it, which was super exciting. Now I’m going to have a new dream.
I’ve started to understand that dreams don’t always align with reality so it was kind of a hit when I started working, not in a negative way, you just have this glamorized version of life and when you’re dreaming you don’t see any negatives.
I think it’s important now that whatever I pursue in the future I’m realistic about the good days and the bad days, and know that there are going to be people that are hard to work with…
And that all comes with experience. You can’t rush it. What are some of the things you’ve learned working at Darling?
I’ve gained so much working at Darling. It’s hard to pin-point a couple of things. I would say I’ve gained a lot more confidence professionally and personally. My communication skills via email have improved. [Laughs]
This is key!
I know. It’s important how you come across over email.
I feel like when you graduate you’re so excited about life that you’re kind of willing to do anything to “make it”. At some point you need to realize what you’re worth and what your time is worth.
Knowing your worth is a really good piece of advice. Is there any other advice that come across in your life that you follow?
A couple of things come to mind, just from my own experience. When you graduate college you feel like you’re going to do so many great things and the world is your oyster and you’ve been working so hard to get to this point where you’re finally able to pursue what you want to do.
What shocked me was that being in the real world is way more difficult than school. Not just financially and living on your own, even if you’re doing what you want to do it’s still work. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about realizing reality. I think that ties into Instagram because on Instagram it’s easy to compare yourself to other people and think that there’s an idealized version of life.
With my Instagram there’s all these shots with nice light and that’s not my life. [Laughs] It’s just the things that I enjoy.
I just don’t want girls to think that they’re not good enough or they can’t pursue what they want. They have to realize that people who seem to have it all aren’t happy 100% of the time.
You need to be doing something you love to get you through those shitty days.
And even if you’re not doing something super fulfilling I think it’s important to find something that is fulfilling for you. That could be going to the movies, or volunteering your time somewhere. Do things that make you happy.
That’s something that’s been a struggle for me. It’s super important to take time out for yourself and realize the things that make you happy.
Just to switch gears a bit. You live in Koreatown, what do you think about it?
I really love the apartment that I live in. The outskirts can be a little sketchy at times but I love the central location. I can easily go to downtown, Silverlake, Echo Park…
If you walk around near my apartment there’s a lot of cool architecture, the Bryson’s right there.
Do you have any favorite bars or restaurants?
I’m not really good with Koreatown but I really enjoy going to Echo Park. I go to the El Chato taco truck a lot, but that’s not a specific area.
I really like Ledlow in downtown. Monday nights they have fried chicken but for brunch they have this breakfast croissant sandwich which is to die for. It’s beautiful inside.
What does LA mean to you?
Right now it means home. It’s a means of living in a way. My job probably wouldn’t be a job without places like LA.
I’m still trying to decide if it’s the place for me, but it’s the place I want to be right now.