[box] Lois Alter Mark is a writer making her impact in the world through StyleSubstanceSoul, the blog she publishes with her two best friends. They say that style, substance and soul combine in amazing ways to create the eSSSence of a woman. They have coined eSSSence in the same way that Over My Shoulder Foundation (OMSF) has coined MENTOROLOGY.Both those words have taken on their own lives and now exist in a web of magnetic meaning. Both those words become action-initializing and thought-provoking reasons to fight for a cause and shout from the rooftops why the concepts are important. Today we give you a glimpse into the life and world of the dynamic and inspiring Lois Alter Mark.[/box]
So, Lois, what was the pivotal moment when you, Amy and Susan decided to launch your website?
Four years ago, the three of us were disgusted with what was happening in the world – yes, it was an election year! — and we decided it was time to stop shouting back at the TV and actually do something. We wanted to set a good example for our then-teenage daughters (and son!), and show them they had the power to make a difference in the world by taking action and making their voices heard. We started StyleSubstanceSoul specifically because we believe in the power of women to get things done and we knew if we could build a strong community of women, we could make an impact.
We define Mentorology as “the art and science of mentoring” here at Over My Shoulder Foundation. Do you think that there is an art and a science behind the eSSSence of a woman?
I think there’s probably more of an art to “style,” a science to “substance” and a spirituality to “soul.” You need all three to be complete. Our tagline is “look good, feel good, do good,” and each of those is a very important component of being a woman. The “do good” aspect is the one that’s most important to us – and the one that sets us apart from other sites – but it’s really the individual way style, substance and soul combine that makes up the essence of a woman.
Out of over 100,000 applicants, you were selected to go to Australia with Oprah. What was it like meeting Oprah? Can you boil down the eSSSence of how her work has mentored your own?
I was chosen as an Ultimate Viewer after writing about how Oprah had inspired and mentored me over the past 25 years, with StyleSubstanceSoul being the most tangible expression of that. Oprah is all about “living your best life,” and that’s what we try to help women do with StyleSubstanceSoul. Just like Oprah, we feature our favorite things and lots of books and authors but, most importantly, we also showcase women who are involved in charitable projects, we introduce readers to causes and we offer easy ways to do good. For example, in our Click a Day section, you can just click a few buttons and, without any cost or even getting off your couch, you provide free mammograms to women who can’t afford them, help save the rainforests and protect endangered animals. It’s so simple. We also started a flip flop recycling project, Formerly Flip Flops, where readers would send us old flip flops and we’d forward them on to UniquEco, an award-winning company in Africa which upcycles them into jewelry and pieces of art, keeping them out of landfills and building a sustainable economy in Nairobi. In our Shop with a Conscience section, we feature small, women-owned businesses that are eco-friendly or socially-conscious, or that re-use, recycle or give back in some way.
I am overwhelmed that Oprah acknowledged StyleSubstanceSoul, and it’s still surreal that the three of us got to accompany her on the trip of a lifetime. Meeting her was amazing. She is exactly who you think she is – warm, down to earth, real. When you talk to her, she locks eyes with you, listens closely and asks questions that make you feel she really hears you. She is so generous – and I don’t mean what she gives away. One afternoon, she made a speech to all of us, saying that nobody was there by mistake, that she knew every person’s story and that each one of us was there for a reason. That was so powerful to me because there I was, thinking that all these other people had overcome huge obstacles and struggles, and all I did was start a website for women. I will always be grateful for her words, for the amazing people I met on the trip and for the extraordinary experience.
Lois won the People’s Choice Award in the Op-Ed category of the 2012 BlogHer Voices of the Year ceremony for her story, “It’s Time To Re-Think Pink”. Cancer is actually the thread that tied Dawn to Lois in the first place. Dawn’s friend Johanna was diagnosed with stage IV of a rare EGFR rare cancer mutation. Johanna started a campaign called Put a Cork in Cancer for its cure – starting with her own roots in Boston’s restaurant industry. Lois, where are your roots? And how do they affect the work you are doing now?
My roots lie in a close-knit family from New York City, where I was raised by liberal, hard-working parents who always encouraged me to follow my dreams and help others. They made me believe that anything was possible, and that I had nothing to lose by trying. Thankfully, I have no personal ties to cancer but when I read Johanna’s story, I knew I had the power to help spread her story and her cause. That’s what we try to use StyleSubstanceSoul for – to make women aware of what’s going on out there and what they can do to help. I believe people in general want to do something to make the world a better place, but they don’t know what to do. If they can do something as easy as donating corks, we’ve given them a practical, manageable action that will make a difference. I was very proud of winning the People’s Choice Award because it meant people were actually reading the piece and learning new ways to look at and donate to breast cancer charities.
You’ve built a multifaceted career including work as contributing writer for the Huffington Post, Flicks for Kids Editor on NickJr.com and the co-author of Wonderplay. What is it that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of the incredible community we’ve built with StyleSubstanceSoul.com. Our readers are doers, and there’s nothing more rewarding than when they email us to tell us how they’ve taken action after reading something we’ve written. We’ve had teachers start their own flip flop recycling programs, and readers become mentors in the Afghan Women’s Writing Program. Readers have sewn dresses out of pillowcases for girls in Africa and collected toiletries for girls in need here in San Diego. They’ve written letters to politicians and boycotted companies selling sexist t-shirts. The list goes on and on, and this is how change happens.
Can you tell us a little bit about how mentoring has impacted your life, and how you can envision mentoring growing in the future?
When I was getting my master’s degree in public relations at Boston University, I did an internship at Sack Theaters and was mentored by Sherry Natkow, who became a close and dear friend. I spend time with her every time I go back to New York. She is smart and creative and compassionate, and I still learn so much from her. I’ve tried to do that for other women in every job I’ve held, and hope we are doing that through StyleSubstanceSoul.com. I am a huge believer in the importance – and power – of paying it forward. In fact, Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx, was a big inspiration for us when she was on The Oprah Show years ago, and we would love to have her as a personal mentor. Just throwing that into the universe – hey, as my parents always taught me, it’s worth a try!
Thank you, Lois, for the time you spent with us in this interview about Essence, Mentoring and Writing.
If you like Over My Shoulder Foundation, please SHARE your mentoring stories, consider donating to our non-profit and don’t forget to follow Over My Shoulder Foundation on Facebook too, especially this January during National Mentoring Month.