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The Devil Really Does Wear Prada

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Want a career in fashion or beauty journalism? Forget writing skills -- think Queen Bee aggression.

"I'm sorry, who are you? I don't believe we've met," says my editor to me about five minutes before I leave her magazine premises and my job as her fashion and beauty intern for good. I've been in the job for a day and a half.

A knee-jerk reaction you might say, but I only needed this short amount of time to know that there was little opportunity for me in an environment where the chief editor had no clue who I was, the web editor used her lunch hours to consult her plastic surgeon, and the editorial assistant felt it catastrophic that her fingernail couldn't be manicured because it was in plaster.

Many probably had some reservations that Lauren Weisberger's 2003 New York Times bestseller The Devil Wears Prada, and 2006 film of the same name (starring Meryl Streep) were a tad far-fetched in their overly-catty representation of the fashion and beauty magazine industry, both after all being categorized as light-hearted stylish comedies despite their rumored basis on a real life scenario. Sadly however, such a scenario is not so comical when its reality is experienced, with many large and well-known publications valuing over skills of writing and creativity an individual's ability to be artificial and aggressively theatrical in their appearance, manner and role within an editorial team.

Speaking to others who have undertaken fashion and beauty internships, it is clear to see that the process is a matter of survival rather than enjoyment.

"Unfortunately my [work] experience was quite similar to what you described as it was in the body and soul section -- so full of catty women who weren't very friendly at all. Needless to say I haven't been in touch with them," says Annabel Smith who undertook a placement at a national newspaper following her time as a student at Leeds University.

For an intern trying to break into the business, experiencing this environment for the first time can be soul destroying -- their mere existence is only acknowledged if another member of staff wants something. So why do some fashion and beauty journalists feel the need to intimidate office newbies or interns through ego-fueled theatricality? And why is there such a strong desire for a clear staff hierarchy within their offices? (The intern being placed at sub-basement level).

Women can sometimes be rude or difficult when interacting with other women in order to assert authority. Professor Fiona Wilson from the University of Glasgow claims that research has found some women to have "Queen Bee Syndrome" when in managerial positions. This theory is based on a beehive containing one superior Queen Bee surrounded by other subservient bees (known as drones).

Traits associated with Queen Bee Syndrome include a woman distancing herself from other female colleagues, or refusing to help other women climb up the workplace hierarchy. A woman may use this tactic to retain power, or (if she is in a mixed gender office), because she feels that aggression or an "alpha female" approach is key to progression and promotion in male dominated territory. During my brief stint as a health and beauty intern, the main thing that struck me was the frequent evil glare administered by my colleagues against the atmospheric office backdrop of eerie, tense silence. As psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig explains:

There are multiple social cultural reasons for this kind of behavior. There are fewer women in top spots of employment compared to men. Women in positions of power may see other younger women with their life ahead of them as a threat. For that reason they do not wish to embrace or encourage interns. Instead, they see a newcomer as a potential replacement for their own position.

Discussing her research and communication with others on this issue, Dr. Ludwig also mentioned that both men and women generally found that working for a male boss was more enjoyable. In men and women the marked boundaries between social and professional life are also very different. In women, it is far more complex. One minute two female colleagues can be speaking intimately about personal issues, the next they can be talking about hard business. Because of this, emotions can run higher in a female-dominated environment, meaning the potential for more misery.

"We are also less accepting of 'bitchy' women than we are to aggressive, power-orientated men. Men are generally less intimate, less competitive, and less likely to think of another employee as a threat to their territory or position. This may be due to self esteem, which also appears stronger in men," she added.

Interns considering a fashion or beauty journalism career shouldn't take the awkward silences and catty comments too seriously... in some instances they clearly (and unfortunately) come with the job. Female employers may pay close attention to your writing and research skills too, though sadly not necessarily for the positive reasons you're thinking.