Chelsea Leibow is a freelance public relations and communications professional specializing in products "from head to vag." (Her LinkedIn title currently reads “Patriarchy-Smashing PR Priestess.”) She made a name for herself as the head of PR at THINX, and in January 2017, opened her own shop working primarily with women-led companies in the sexual health and wellness space. Current and past clients include Dame Products, Elvie, Lunapads, Lovability, and Nox Shop — and if you’ve heard of any of these revolutionary brands, you can thank her. She promotes companies that are changing conversations, so we decided to have a conversation with her.
You run your own business working in public relations, a career notorious for burnout, in an industry that is still seen as extremely taboo. How do you take care of yourself, refilling your energy and protecting your boundaries?
I'm constantly working on all of the above! Learning how to take care of yourself while owning a business (small as mine might be) is a lot of trial and error. I think the biggest lessons I've learned in the last year and a half are first, to ask for help without shame and second, to forgive myself for overworking or messing up.
I'm a pretty stubborn, prideful human (such a Taurus), so it's sometimes really hard for me to relinquish some control and to delegate to other people who are better at certain tasks than I am. Learning how to let go of shit I can't control is a skill that I've worked on honing recently, and it's done WONDERS for my overall mental health when it comes to work. I think boundaries can be extremely hard to set when you're in the first year of your own business because you want to say “yes” to everyone and everything for fear of "the well running dry." I definitely learned that the hard way and have experienced a lot of burnout by overloading myself with projects.
Now, I'm trying to work smarter instead of harder. I can bring so much more value to a client when I'm not running on empty 24/7, which means I can charge more for projects I truly care about because I'm giving a level of service I wouldn't be able to match with six other brands on my roster. I'm also trying to set rules for my schedule — little things like not checking work emails after 8pm. most nights. Freelancing is exciting because you get to set-up your ideal work conditions, but you can also very quickly get trapped in a sinkhole of working around the clock without coworkers or a physical office to differentiate your work time from your play time. Set intentions about your schedule, and then try to stick to them. And if you don't always stick to them? Acknowledge it, but don't beat yourself up. It's all part of the process.
What inspired you to work exclusively with companies that sell product and services that have been deemed "controversial" or "taboo"?
I didn't really start out aiming to do that! It's something I've fallen into because they're the topics I'm passionate about. When I started working at THINX, periods were just becoming a buzzworthy topic, and I believed in the larger mission of creating space for menstruating people to have open and honest conversation about it. I think I continue to get work in the "taboo" women's health space because clients know that I don't shy away from these types of products or missions. My favorite type of product is a product that acts as a gateway to open bigger cultural conversations. I just want people everywhere — women and femme identifying folks especially — to feel comfortable and empowered in their bodies and their choices.
What puts the biggest smile on your face about what you do?
Honestly, the community building aspects of what I do are the most exciting and rewarding for me. I do more traditional PR, and that's how I'm most well-known, but I've been doing a lot of social, event, and content work recently that is making me feel really fulfilled. I'm happiest when I get to orchestrate something that brings community together to share experiences and helps make folks feel less alone. That's so gratifying.
Is there a piece of advice that someone gave you that has shifted your outlook or your perspective on something?
My therapist loves to remind me that our decisions in life aren't linear, and that's something that's really shifted my perspective, since I'm such a goal-oriented person. It's quite difficult to break out of a "linear" mindset because the way humans think about time is linear, but our careers, our love lives, our friendships — all of those things can ebb and flow. Point A doesn't always get you directly to Point B. In general, I get a lot of anxiety about my "next steps" or "next big thing," so I'm trying to chill out and live more squarely in the moment and relish my accomplishments right now. I love what I do right now, but I realize this probably won't be my only career. Who knows what I'll be doing in 10 years, or 20 years? That used to scare me, but now it's exciting.
Femmes have traditionally been taught to downplay and shrink themselves, allowing other people to take up space. Your job is to literally help promote other people — have you found that this makes it easier to promote yourself?
I'm kinda kidding, but this is a constant struggle. Imposter syndrome is something so many femme identifying people struggle with, especially millennials, and I'm definitely one of them. I wish I had something more empowering to say here, but this is still a really difficult thing I don't have an answer to. Surrounding myself with really supportive people has definitely helped me feel comfortable taking up more space, but I'm still trying to find a balance between healthy humility and constant self depreciation.
Your not new to talking things taboo, and fertility is a topic that still isn't talked about to young uterus-owners until they're ready to have a family. Why do you think that is?
It wasn't until pretty recently that these were conversations even being had in mainstream channels, so I'm optimistic that this is changing! About a month ago, I helped put together an event about sex and age, where all of the panelists were older women talking to a crowd of (mostly) women in their 20s and 30s. It was eye-opening. It shocked me that I work in this space, and there was so much I didn't understand about how our bodies change post-menopause. I think that creating more space for different generations to interact is extremely important. In tandem, social media is becoming a safe-haven for young uterus-havers to find resources and get informed. There are more people talking openly about these topics than ever, and community (however small) is the first line of defense against patriarchal agendas that aim to keep us uninformed.