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Mental Health Inspo in Lipstick

Beauty influencer Christina Grasso supports women with eating disorders through her nonprofit org—and through messages scribbled on mirrors in Hermès red.

She goes by @thepouf on Insta, so we couldn’t decide whether to do an intro about The Weeknd or a shower poof. Either kinda works, because beauty influencer/content creator/mental health advocate/model Christina Grasso certainly has enough gravitas to be nicknamed after a definitive piece of grammar…but she also knows her way around a literal poof, having spent years as a social media editor for beauty brands.

Turns out, “The Pouf” has a different origin story. “When I first went to college, I was very quiet,” says Grasso, now 33. “At the time, I was very into bouffant hair so people just referred to me as ‘the girl with the pouf.’ And it just stuck.” As someone “recovering from anorexia, which I developed at age 12,” Grasso is the cofounder of The Chain, a nonprofit supporting women in the fashion and entertainment industries coping with eating disorders.

Q: You used to work in fashion PR, then ran social media for StyleCaster  and later for beauty brand Flesh. What are you working on now?
In April of 2020, I was laid off from my job at Flesh due to the pandemic. I was very lucky in that I had signed with Wilhelmina [Models] as a content creator a couple weeks prior and had that to fall back on. During peak Covid, more traditional jobs (as I was accustomed to) were quite scarce, so I quickly pivoted to working as a full-time content creator, which I had been doing previously on a part-time basis for years. I’ve now been working for myself for over two years, and recently signed with Ford Models as a digital creator.

Prior to Flesh, where I worked as the digital content manager for over two years, I cycled through various jobs in fashion as an editor, writer, social media editor, and PR assistant. Though my experience has been very eclectic, I’m grateful that it prepared me well for the job that I have now, which includes a little bit of everything: creative direction, photography, editing, writing.

Q: You co-founded The Chain for women in the media, fashion, and entertainment business who have or had eating disorders. What does “The Chain” mean, and why did you create it?
The name “The Chain” is an homage to the Fleetwood Mac song. I’m a lifelong Stevie Nicks fan, and when I was going through treatment I felt very discouraged that I wouldn’t be able to have a successful career in fashion and beauty and sustain recovery, which is valid.

But her own story of recovery (from addiction) was the first time I felt like it could be possible for me, too, because clearly she’s figured out how to stay healthy in an industry with its own set of challenges. Ruthie [Friedlander, her co-founder at The Chain] and I chose to focus on our industry specifically because there are so many extra challenges unique to our field and yet nobody was talking about them in a productive way, or even at all. We want to provide a safe space for our colleagues who struggle, and encourage our members to continue the conversation in their respective communities. 

When the pandemic hit, we had to pause our in-person events and began consulting more with brands and publications on eating disorder- and body image-related topics. Over time we’ve pivoted to prioritize that service as we feel it’s the most impactful use of our time, and there’s so much work to be done regarding this conversation as a whole. Of course, we still provide one-on-one support and peer mentorship as needed.

Q: You mention recovery. Do you consider yourself in “recovery” from an ED? If so, how did you get there?
Yes, I am. But it’s something I’m actively still working on, and I don’t consider recovery a destination. It’s a constant process and I don’t think there will be a day where I wake up and can say, “Aha! Recovered! I’m done now!”

That said, I have come a long way. I’ve spent a lot of time in treatment and in hospitals over the past decade, and as unpleasant as those experiences were, they saved my life.

Q: Any other techniques you use to manage your general mental health issues, like when you’re feeling stressed or anxious?
I’m lucky to have a great support system—family, close friends—and I usually turn to them for a good laugh. I have a really silly sense of humor, so that always helps. Otherwise, music is an outlet for me, as are art and writing. And I’ll try and get some fresh air or practice mindfulness. The latter of which is not my forte, but I’m working at it!

Q: Have you always been open about mental health? Have you had any stigmatizing responses to speaking about it openly?
Actually, no, not at all. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve started to become more open, and prior to that I wouldn’t touch the subject with a 10-foot pole—both in general, and with regard to my personal experience. I’ve really only had positive responses, to my knowledge, but I try to ignore any noise either way.

Q: What do you think the connection is between beauty and fashion and mental health?
It’s interesting because I’ve always been fascinated by the link between creativity and mental health. I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the topic, and it seems that many of the most celebrated creatives have had a history with mental illness. I can’t speak to this from an academic standpoint, but I do believe there is a strong correlation, for sure.

Q: How can we use beauty/fashion for good on the mental health front rather than negative, as it’s often used, or specifically has been used in the past to propagate a certain type of limited sense of beauty?
The possibilities really are endless. A lot of us in this industry have the privilege of having a platform that can be utilized for good, even if it’s just going out of one’s way to remain kind in tough situations. I really believe that it’s crucial to find a means of giving back in some way when working in this industry; otherwise, it can be easy to lose touch.

Q:  I love how you write mental health messages in lipstick. What are your favorite beauty products?
The Cream by Augustinus Bader, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, Chanel Baume Essentiel, Hourglass Unlocked Mascara, Hermès lipstick in Rouge Casaque.

Q: You have a way of doing “inspirational” quotes that aren’t dorky or overly earnest. What’s your feeling about inspo in general, and where do you get inspo from?
Everywhere! Books, music, religion, podcasts. My current favorite podcasts are Absolutely Not with Heather McMahan and Anything Goes with Emma Chamberlain. And yes, I’m very conscious of not getting too cheesy. I try to convey a good message in my own voice, which is quirky, self-deprecating, and a little sarcastic. 

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to misconceptions of mental health generally or about eating disorders (EDs) specifically?
The author Glennon Doyle has said: Sometimes people who need help look a lot like people who don’t need help. With EDs specifically, the idea that they look a certain way with regard to weight is false and dangerous and that’s a message we really try to drive home through The Chain.

Q: What else are you into? Do you play instruments? Avid reader? Love animals? Know every word to the songs in “Oklahoma”?I have long-haired cat named Stevie and love standard poodles. I play the piano, I draw and paint, I’m an amateur photographer, and I was a dancer for many years. I speak Italian and sometimes I knit. I love to read and flip through photography books and old editorials for inspiration.

Q: Favorite…movie? Book? Color? Clothing brand  Music? Insta accounts to follow?
Favorite movie: Center StageThe Hunger, Belle du JourThe Beguiled, and Girl, Interrupted

Favorite book: Wasted by Marya Hornbacher, Just Kids by Patti Smith, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and the thesaurus

Favorite color: black for clothing, neutrals for home decor, and red/ballet pink just in terms of colors I like

Favorite clothing brands: The Row, YSL, La Collection, Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens, The Frankie Shop, Simone Rocha, St. Agni, The Vampire’s Wife, Tibi, Peter Do, Khaite, old Céline

Favorite music: Fleetwood Mac, Nick Cave, Fiona Apple, James Blake, Maggie Rogers, Lorde, Florence + The Machine, The Eagles, Lady Gaga, Vivaldi

Favorite Insta accounts: @sainthoax, @betweentwobooks, @manicpixiememequeen, @unknown_dark_genius

Follow Christina Grasso on Instagram at @thepouf and The Chain at @thechain.

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