Cat Marnell's 'How to Murder Your Life' Is a Brutal Look at Addiction Vs. Ambition in the Beauty Industry

Marnell's new memoir is a gutting, beautifully written account of her rise — and subsequent fall — within the glamorous world of fashion and beauty publishing.
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Cat Marnell. Photo: Christos Katsiaouni

Cat Marnell. Photo: Christos Katsiaouni

Before aspiring editors could break into the notoriously competitive world of fashion and beauty publishing by becoming Instagram famous, vlogging on YouTube or starting a blog, hopefuls had to get their foot in the door the old fashioned way: by interning at a big name magazine, preferably one under the Condé Nast or Hearst umbrella. 

Such was the case for Cat Marnell, the creative, perky and enviably pretty writer who dreamed of working as a beauty editor since she was a child, when she'd hand-draw issues of Beauty Queen Magazine (complete with cover lines) in her bedroom. While her talent and obsession with joining the ranks of staffers at Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour and Allure should have been a recipe for success, Marnell's ambition was no match for her struggle with addiction. A dependence on prescription drugs snowballed into full-blown junkie territory, and years of abusing heroin, cocaine and PCP led to several stints in rehab and the mental hospital, derailing her career in the process. Despite losing her dream job at Lucky, the trust of her industry colleagues and, most importantly, her sanity, Marnell's powerful work earned her the respect of top editors like Jane Pratt and Rocco Castoro, who gave her the platform to become one of the most talked-about (and controversial) voices on the internet. Marnell's new memoir "How to Murder Your Life" is a brutal, beautifully written account of her rise — and subsequent fall — within the industry ranks, and how she navigated her double life through its darkest days before she decided it was time to get (semi-)clean.

Growing up in a wealthy Washington, D.C. suburb, Marnell idolized the glossy, glamorous publishing industry and its biggest players from afar, eventually landing a gig in the Vanity Fair fashion closet one summer between semesters in college. This was in the early 2000s, when print was still in its heyday and Condé Nast still called 4 Times Square home, and despite the menial tasks she was given, Marnell was instantly hooked. Of course, the fact that she was strung out on Adderall — prescribed by her psychiatrist father — kept her from getting bored, and after bouncing from Nylon to Teen Vogue to Glamour as an intern, she became a full-time employee after graduation as Lucky's beauty assistant. 

Instead of riding the high of her exclusive new job, where she found a true mentor in then-boss Jean Godfrey June, she sunk deeper into pill-fueled psychosis, causing her to hallucinate at the office and completely lose her shit on an advertiser-sponsored press trip. Even after surviving the Condé Nast staffing cuts during the recession (when she was promoted to the role of associate beauty editor) and completing a work-mandated stint in both a psych ward and an expensive rehab facility, Marnell self-sabotaged by doctor shopping and staying up for days on benders. Eventually, she left Lucky for good, and while her next series of gigs would skyrocket her to literary celebrity status, they also nearly cost Marnell her life.

HTMYL Cover (1)

Marnell ironically became the first beauty and health editor at Jane Pratt's then-fledgling site XOJane, where she quickly became an internet sensation by spinning stories alluding to her heavy drug use into service-y web content. (Her greatest hits include: "NEW YORK FASHION WEEK: Why I Slept Through It Last Time, and Why I Sort Of Want To Again"; "SORRY, JANE, I WENT CRAZY FOR A WEEK: 3 Beauty Products To Snap Me Out Of All That"; "SUMMER OF HOTNESS VIDEO TUTORIAL #1: My Full Body Shave (Uh-Huh!) Double Dip Self-Tanner Technique — REVEALED"; and "WORST BEAUTY EDITOR IN THE WORLD: I Snorted A Line Of Bath Salts In The Office Today Edition.")

Often her posts included manic videos filmed in the middle of the night while she was wired on Angel Dust or amphetamines, and she'd disappear for long stretches of time, leaving both her audience and her employers to fear for her safety. Pratt and HR at Say Media walked a line between giving Marnell a platform for her unique voice and enabling her addiction — the health insurance they provided payed for her prescriptions — and after another mandatory trip to rehab (and a blitz of media attention from the likes of Page Six and New York magazine) she parted ways with the site for good. She briefly penned a column for Vice called Amphetamine Logic before famously scoring a lucrative book deal, and it wasn't long before rumors started swirling that she'd blown her entire $500K advance on drugs.

Marnell still hasn't completely given up her prescription drug habit, but after shipping out to the Rolls Royce of rehab clinics — Hope Rehab Center in Thailand — she managed to birth her memoir, which is a gutting, riveting read that peels back the shiny facade that often cloaks the fashion publishing business. At its core, "How to Murder Your Life" is a cautionary tale about how even the most gifted, determined talents can fall victim to the grip of addiction, but it's also a peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of this competitive industry, and how the shiny world of magazines isn't as glamorous as it often appears. At the end, one thing is for certain: Marnell's storytelling abilities prove why so many of her editors took a chance on her despite the liability she became, and why she's cemented her spot as one of the internet generation's cult-favorite writers.

"How to Murder Your Life," from $16.45, available at Amazon.com.

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