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Jewel Toned: The Heart Series with Karen Firsel

Jewel Toned is a brand committed to supporting the curves and dreams of all women. As much as our shapers tone your incredible curves, we believe the stories behind the women who live their dreams set the tone for our culture as a brand and as women. 

Our latest project, Jewel Toned: The Heart Series, explores women with strong feminine qualities in a variety of inspirational ways. Our inaugural interview is with Karen Firsel.

Heart Series Jewel Toned Shapewear

Firsel is a media maven and mother of two, whose CV includes production for Ann Curry, Anderson Cooper, and Oprah (the one and O-nly). We spoke with Karen about her early days in television, her transition from news to lifestyle, balancing a career and family, and her thoughts on media for the current moms and future mavens in us all.

I was born and raised in Chicago, I attended University of Illinois for college.

When I was in high school I went into my college counselor session, she said, “So what do you want to do with your life?” I told her “I’m going to be the next Katie Couric.”

She looks at me and says, “That’s not gonna happen. Oh, no you’re not! TV, that’s so rare that it actually works…” I remember that conversation, so I just worked really hard - I was a broadcast journalism major at Illinois and was very fortunate to find good connections with my first internship which was Peter Jennings World Nightly News, and my second internship was with David Letterman in New York.

I really found a lot of myself there: I realized I’m not a small town girl, I am a city girl. So when I graduated from college, I moved to New York within a week and a half I remember I got my first job at Inside Edition which, if they offered me a dollar a day I would’ve taken it. I remember making $500 a week in New York, in 1997 and my parents were like, “You realize you’re losing money at that job, right?” But that’s how you get your start in TV.
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So, I transferred from Inside Edition to MSNBC, and the day I transferred: John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash. So, I was like, this is the biggest story of my career! And, obviously, it wasn’t, but Michael Rubin was my EP, and he just threw me to the wolves and it was the best thing he could do.
They were down producers, he looks at me, and goes: “Do you know how to produce?” So I was like, “Yes,” (of course, I didn’t know, at all,) but I was like “Yes - I do,” and that was it, I got promoted three or four times at MSNBC because
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[P]eople believed in me, and I believed in other people, and it was just this really nice trajectory of how to support a team, and again, we had email but it wasn’t like it is today - there was no Facebook there was no Twitter, there was no Instagram: it was real, journalism. It changed a lot throughout my career.
And then 9/11 happened… within three or four hours [of the second plane impact], my EP amassed all of us in his office on 14th street and I hadn’t heard from my brother… We put together a documentary within 24 hours of 9/11… That was a very very hard time for me, I saw footage that will never air on TV, and that will never ever make it to the Internet… I went downtown and the world changed, it absolutely changed … A lot changed after 9/11. Then I started up the Anderson Cooper Show and Connie Chung on CNN, and then The War broke out, so between 9/11 and The War, I feel like I’ve covered some of the biggest stories of my generation.
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What was the turning point that triggered your shift from hard news to Oprah?

And then I was on the phone with The White House, and it was The Oprah Winfrey Show and I was like really ready to come home. I changed as a person, both good and bad, from 9/11. I missed my family, so we had an interview and a week later they called me in… I felt like The Oprah Winfrey Show was the gold standard, and I got there, and I was very out of place. It’s a culture that has been driven by women who have been there forever and I came in very late. I also came in from the New York side, and I felt like I was covering 9/11 and The War. So it was a very confusing thing to transition to … makeovers.
Two weeks we were spending on makeovers and I had just spent two weeks at Ground Zero, so it was a very different type of atmosphere.
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9/11 is a commonality. It’s a beautiful commonality, because I think, right after that so many people came together, and it really helped people decide what they want to do. Like, for me, it motivated me to come back to Chicago, come back to my family.
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Working within media through the Digital Age, where do you see the most room for growth when it comes to media and body image?

I think girls are still focused on fashion magazines, and the body images of those women and the models are obviously so unattainable. I think we do have a lot to move from in the right direction, in terms of those types of images that are just bombarding us. I do feel - listen, I have it on my phone - they have those apps where you can make your skin look flawless and you can really change so much of a picture so much so that you’re like, “That doesn’t even look like me!” 

So, I think it’s really important for women who are parents or who have any sort of power within the media, I think there's a parent component, then there's a media component, where authenticity is really important. Personally, I want to look great on camera, but i want my daughter to see that i’m eating, that i’m working out, that it’s not a crazy amount of this fixation of perfection.
Karen Firsel Jewel Toned Shapewear

I think every single person should have their imperfections because that’s what makes us different and awesome. 

What's your advice to young girls who want to make a social impact in today's culture, or older women who think it's too late?

Someone asked me the other day about some media personalities that I aspire to or look up to and I only had a couple on my list and they’re with... The Today Show. Listen, I love the Kardashians because I love the business around them, I love that the sisterhood is so great - but we don’t have a great amount of role models in terms of media to focus on.

My daughter is a huge soccer player, I love that the women’s team did so well and won The World Cup.

I think that’s amazing, I think those are our idols for these girls… girls who are athletic, girls who are working as hard as they can, or girls who are running companies, or people who are working - I think that’s where the role models should come from; in the media there aren’t a lot of really good role models for girls - even for me, I was like, "that’s a hard question…" like, well I love Maria Menunos, because I do love her, and then I love Tamron Hall, but then I was like…

Ellen is an amazing person to aspire to because her entire being is about thoughtfulness and kindness and she’s really taught tolerance, which is the most important thing we have to teach our kids is tolerance.

I’m open to whatever makes people happy is what should be the norm, as opposed to just a standard. I think the media has to, and we all have to keep the needle moving forward:

in terms of finding the right role model for these girls. The fashion magazines are not going away, the reality stars are not going away, but you’ve got to sort of weed through that to get to the good stuff.

Last question: What fuels your Jewel Toned Heart? What sparks that special something inside... and what does that mean to you?

I think authenticity is really important to me. I think individuality and being exactly who you are and if it’s not who everyone else around you is, that’s okay. I think, being myself and sort of bending the rules or bending the what people want to box you into makes me feel the most happy happy; because that means being a product of being authentic, being myself, and being able to not conform what I think other people think I should be or want me to be.

I’m fueled by love in my family.
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I’m fueled by my friendships. My girlfriends are very important to me. There’s a group of five of us who have gone through preschool through now together, and we’re all still friends. We’re very different; I say we have more commonalities than we have differences, but we are still as tight as ever through 40 years of friendship and I feel very lucky to have that group of girls. We tell it how it is, we don’t judge, we are so different, but at the same time we can come together and rely on each other and just knowing you have really really good friends who are there for you and understand what you’re going through, I think that fuels a lot.

And coffee.

I’m impressed with you all. I love what you do. I love women being entrepreneurial in spirit and just again carving their own path, changing the game, I think is really important, and I think there’s a place for everybody.

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Karen is the first in a line of legendary women who fuel our Jewel Toned Hearts, stay tuned for the next installment - until then: stay beautiful, stay true, be uniquely you.

Keep up with Karen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram 


Kari Elam
Kari Elam

Author



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