Whether pinning pundits on talking points during Starting Point or exploring volatile topics in CNN documentaries like “Black in America,” and “Unwelcome: the Muslims Next Door,” Soledad O’Brien lives up her to her reputation as a tenacious journalist with a distinctive brand of sharp wit. (In fact, The Daily Beast recently penned her, “cable television’s morning thunder.”) Yet this Harvard graduate houses a gentler side that nurtures and transforms the lives of young women across the country when the din of the daily spotlight is off.
Recently honored by The New York Women’s Foundation for their philanthropic work, O’Brien and husband Brad Raymond mentor and financially support the educational pursuits of 20 young women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford schooling on their own. The inspiration for the initiative came when O’Brien was covering Hurricane Katrina, and was deeply moved after connecting with a young woman who was struggling to stay in school in the disaster’s aftermath. O’Brien and Raymond—the latter of who is the head of an investment bank firm—paid for the woman’s tuition and supplies, which ended up setting a precedent for more students the couple would soon sponsor with the Soledad O’Brien & Brad Raymond Foundation.
“It quickly became clear that it wasn’t just about paying bills for tuition and books, these girls had to be mentored for long-term success,” O’Brien tells YouBeauty. “I have a lot of friends who share these values and a constant influx of people I meet who would make ideal advisors, so I began connecting them with the girls, and the foundation just grew from there.”
The New York native takes an active role with the group. Talking with the women weekly keeps their daily struggles close to mind. In helping the women to overcome adversity, O’Brien believes the ripple effect stretches further. “Our strength is not in scaling. It’s completely investing in a small group, and giving these women a chance. As we consistently see in studies, when you invest in young women, they return to their communities and affect transformational change,” says O’Brien.
The immigrant daughter of a Cuban mother and an Australian father, O’Brien says she was influenced by the teaching background of her parents, which instilled the value of education as the greatest economic equalizer. O’Brien and all five of her siblings attended Harvard. Yet the 46 year-old journalist says that similar opportunity for others is growing scant in the present economy. “You simply can’t hold a middle income job today that realistically pays for a tuition bill at the same time, and young women are being forced to sacrifice the very thing they can least afford to lose—an education,” says O’Brien.
A strong sense of personal mission powers O’Brien through each day, which involves an always challenging career, as well as the demands that come with mentoring women who must often navigate onerous obstacles. “For me, it’s all about finding a voice for people as a journalist, whether it’s for coalminers, Muslims or women at Ground Zero. In the same way, I feel I’m giving these young women a voice in their own lives, by giving them an education,” says O’Brien.
And yet a high profile career, growing philanthropic foundation and marriage are not the only elements O’Brien juggles daily. She is also mom to four children, including a set of twins; two girls and two boys who range in age from nine to 12 years old.
With the nearly impossible logistics that she battles while juggling all of her roles, we couldn’t help but wonder: How does she look so alert, awake and with-it for live television every morning at 7am? And how do we get in on the secret?
“First, I have to thank my parents, who are in their 80’s and look great!” says O’Brien with a laugh. “But the best skill I have is the ability to fall asleep anywhere, anytime—in fact, if you hand me a pillow right now, I can show you—and I find that there is nothing that makes me look better than catching some sleep however I can get it.”
O’Brien also credits a long-trusted beauty team with turning her bright-eyed in the mornings, no matter where her work may lead her, or at what hour.
Wendy Evans, who has tended to O’Brien’s tresses for 10 years, says that transitioning from relaxing treatments to keratin straightening more recently has coaxed the journalist’s hair into behaving more compliantly. “With keratin as opposed to relaxer, hair maintains a more natural wave pattern, is more resistant to humid weather and responds to heat styling better,” says Evans, who adds that they shampoo once a week with a sulfate-free shampoo and follow with hydrating conditioner. Regular trims to keep hair free of split ends and deep conditioning help turn O’Brien’s hair shiny with health.
Yet unlike many on-camera personalities whose careers can be tracked (and often are) with a slideshow of rapidly changing colors and cuts, O’Brien prefers to play it on the quiet side. “We don’t want the hair to be the thing the audience concentrates on—and time is often of the essence, so having a go-to style that works is our strategy,” says Evans. “And if we’re outside and the weather is inclement, we just baseball cap it!”
For O’Brien’s everyday look, Evans applies a light protein crème before blowdrying with a paddle brush, concentrating the nozzle in the opposite direction of growth to build volume. The stylist then passes a flat iron set at 450 degrees quickly over the roots to smooth, and then alternates curling sections with one inch and 1.5 inch curling irons for a more natural-looking curl. “Soledad doesn’t like a lot of product in her hair, so I just use a dry paste to smooth down flyaways and a light hairspray to set,” explains Evans.
Makeup artist Deborah Bell, who has worked with the journalist for over a decade, then adds her magic. After waking and cleansing at home, O’Brien preps her skin with a hydrating seaweed cream before coming to the studio, where Bell adds another layer of oil-free vitamin c moisturizer on top. An illuminating primer to fill in fine lines and add glow first sets the canvas, and just-waking eyes are given special attention with rich eye cream. “On the occasion when Soledad has indulged in too much sushi the night before, we get the big guns out!” says Bell, of a peptide tightening eye cream formula that instantly quells puffiness that can be triggered by eating salty foods.
Foundation is key to skin that appears flawless in today’s high definition television age, and Bell uses warm formulas that enhance O’Brien’s golden undertones. Creamier, luminous foundations are used in colder weather, while assignments in tropical locations like Haiti call for sheerer switch-ups. And the two have settled on a color palette they think looks best on camera. “Soledad wears corals, pinks and plums beautifully—and we prefer topping lipstick with gloss because it comes across on camera as softening the entire look,” says the makeup artist.
Yet even with all of the hair and makeup tricks up her sleeves, O’Brien says the best beauty advice is to nourish yourself from the inside out. “I work out, try to eat well, and prioritize sleep every day,” says O’Brien. “It not only makes me look better, but it helps me be more present in all other areas of my life.”
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