After heading up social at Paper, InStyle, and Mac Cosmetics, the writer and brand strategist is stepping out on her own.
By Michael Cuby
Photos by Davey Adesida
For Issue 04: Hacking It, Byline teamed up with Urban Outfitters and Dickies to highlight individuals who have paved their own paths and unlocked new levels in their respective industries. These creators defy the system by making their own rules, and in other words, they're Hackers.
As far back as Peyton Dix can remember, she’s always had an affinity for telling stories. “Recently, I found my journals from childhood, and I kid you not, I have one from every single year. Every feeling I ever had, I wrote it down,” she tells me one recent morning. “It was so funny to look at those now and be like, Oh, I’ve always been a storyteller. Though, at that point, some might have called me a fibber. A liar. A drama queen, if you will.” (She exaggerates each descriptor.) “But I was just like, ‘Oh, I’m the main character of my own story!’ That’s powerful.”
To know Dix is to not be surprised by this statement. The 29-year-old Los Angeles native does indeed have a knack for storytelling. (The more dramatic and deranged, the better. I have a comprehensive archive of her most unhinged voice-notes if you need further proof.) But Dix doesn’t talk just to talk — she’s turned storytelling into a successful, multi-pronged career. As a freelance social media strategist, content creator, writer, producer, director, and consultant, storytelling is at the heart of all of Dix’s work. And in a digital landscape that tends to privilege the biggest and boldest personalities, Dix, the type of whip-smart, naturally funny influencer who squirms at the mere suggestion that they are an influencer (at least until a lucrative brand deal comes calling), has carved out an exclusive space for herself amongst its ranks.
It’s a rather humid Tuesday in Brooklyn, and Dix, sitting in the sunlight-drenched dining room of her fourth-floor apartment, right on the border of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, is talking about her childhood. Thinking about the first time she was made aware of her storytelling gifts, she settles on a memory from second grade science class. “I was really bad at science, so I wasn’t paying attention, and I got moved like five times because I kept distracting other people,” she recalls. After placing her next to Claire, the quietest person in class, the teacher assumed she had tamed the beast. But, according to Dix, “I had Claire hooting and hollering!” Once again, the teacher had to pull her aside. “But instead of getting me in trouble, she was like, ‘It’s so incredible that you’ve found a way to connect with every single person,’” Dix continues. The words stuck with her. “The genesis of what I do, and what makes me very good at what I do, is my ability to connect and share with others… I think I’ve been able to show up in that way both online and IRL and use that to build a career out of it.”
Dix’s professional career started with a series of internships (“all unpaid, of course”) before she landed an assistant job at the now-defunct Outline. There, she quickly made an impression on the CEO, who, after seeing Dix’s thorough Instagram documentation of a particularly reckless weekend, asked to speak with her. “He sends me an email saying, ‘Let’s talk about social when you get in on Monday.’ And I’m obviously like, Slay. I’ve been fired. That’s it. That’s a wrap!” Except, in the meeting, the CEO complimented Dix on her “online voice” and then asked if she’d be interested in helping the brand establish one of its own. She wasn’t getting fired; she was being entrusted with more responsibility. Dix, naturally, was both shocked and relieved. “It was so empowering and affirming to see how much ‘voice’ matters, and that mine was one that felt worth hearing,” she gushes. It was one of the first times she had considered the digital social space as its own territory to be conquered — as long as companies were open to her personal brand (which she describes as “bisexuals, celebrities, and horny culture things”), she knew she had the magic formula for ultimate victory. As she says, “I was being taken seriously, even while cracking a joke or two.”
Dix would go on to do similar work at other brands — most notably, as PAPER Magazine’s Head of Social, and later, as InStyle’s Special Projects Editor, a role erstwhile Editor-in-Chief Laura Brown created specifically for her. She felt valued and respected in these positions, but Dix still “got called into the principal’s office a lot” for some of her more risqué posts. “It was with love,” she assures me, “and for some of the things, I’d be like, ‘Yup! That [post] is archived for sure.’” But sometimes, she did feel the need to push back, to stress to her superiors the importance of risk when courting engagement. When necessary, she’d just show them the analytics, which continually improved under her leadership. I have the receipts to show this is working, she’d tell them.
But as she helped these brands, Dix found that she was reaching a ceiling in her career, at least as far as media was concerned. “You kind of max out at Head of Social or Social Director, and I’ve been both,” she says. “Then, it’s like, Well, where do I go now?”
So she eventually left media, accepting a job in beauty at MAC, where she was largely tasked with creating and producing campaigns. Again, she found certain aspects exciting — she’s particularly proud of her work on last year’s Black Panther capsule — but also found herself yearning for more autonomy. It didn’t help that she’d started taking on outside projects from companies like Amazon and Instagram, dabbling in the influencer arts that have now become her bread-and-butter. Though the money was great, it was “fucking exhausting” to juggle it all alongside her traditional 9-to-5. “I started being like, Why not invest in myself more?” she remembers wondering to herself. “This content doesn’t all need to be for the brand I work for. It fully can be just for me. It’s my voice anyway. I can pick and choose what I give out versus what I take ownership over.”
These days, as a freelancer, Dix has taken full ownership of her work and, to hear her tell it, is “the happiest [she’s] ever been.” “It’s so much more relaxing to make my own schedule around my personal needs,” she notes. Right now, that includes getting her hair braided in the middle of the day in anticipation of an upcoming trip to Los Angeles to see Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour — though, sadly, not the birthday show. But lately, she’s been prioritizing daily workouts. She alternates between morning gym visits and evening yoga classes (“one’s for my brain, one’s for beauty”), but at both, expect to see her clad in head-to-toe Aritzia, snapping countless pictures in the dirty bathroom mirror.
Working outside the typical 9-to-5 framework has also helped her maximize productivity, allowing her to work on specific projects when it makes most sense for her brain. Though she typically records her front-facing sponsored social content during the day “when the natural light is making [her] skin glow,” as a self-proclaimed “night-thinker,” Dix balks at the idea of doing consulting work before the sun has set. She sends emails and takes meetings during normal hours, but, “If I’m building a deck for somebody, that’s evening work,” she insists. “A show needs to be on or something while I’m just creatively pulling in assets and moving things around.”
On the other hand, Dix has quickly found that she is a “bad boss” to herself. “I’m so Type-A on other people’s time, but I’m not Type-A on my own time,” she says, admitting that it’s been “an uphill battle” to self-motivate without a supervisor constantly breathing down her neck, tracking her progress at every step. Still, she regularly reminds herself that it’s important to give yourself grace. “What is it that Alexzi said?” she asks, referring to our mutual friend, who recently shared a TikTok offering some incredibly sound advice. Some days you won’t slay, she remembers. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but some days, I don’t slay. And that has to be okay.”
And when it’s time to buckle up, she has a system. Dix is extremely well-organized. Her immaculately arranged (but deceptively simple) home office looks like an Architectural Digest photographer’s steamiest wet dream. And as proof that some things never change, she still documents everything in the many notebooks you’ll find laying around her house. (The only difference is the pen she uses. Don’t bother asking her about it though. It’s one of several products she proudly gatekeeps.) She’s also started to work with friends more; in Fort Greene, she feels lucky to live in close proximity to a number of fellow freelance creatives, myself included. “I sometimes need the pressure of eyes on me to do the performance of working, like sitting up straight, stretching, getting my little coffee,” she explains. Working alongside friends, she gets that and someone to show the occasional meme. “We can hold each other accountable when I can’t do it myself.”
Oddly enough, the shift inside work has also had repercussions outside of it — mainly, in her desire to go out. “Because my job was so stressful, I was like, ‘I need to be out in these streets! I need to be missing until 4:00am!’ I just was going, doing, and not resting or actually reflecting on what feels important or good to me,” she says of her past hard-partying days. That inclination has largely disappeared. Not that she’s suddenly become some recluse. “I’m still out here!” she clarifies. She’ll always be a main character, so seeing and being seen will always be on the menu. “But I feel more conscious of the time that I give away.” Now, instead of blacking out on cheap tequila shots at a dingy dive bar, she might settle for a chilled glass of wine and a movie.
Of course, that’s if she’s even in town. Since breaking out on her own, Dix has barely stayed in New York; her airline miles are surely racking up. “Now, I can be like, ‘I’m not going to be free during September because I want to go to London and Greece.’ And then I just do that,” she says of her new ability to jetset at a moment’s notice. “I’ll be like, ‘It’d be great if we can start this contract in October,’ and people have been like, ‘Okay!’ Because if you’re going to work with me, then you’re going to make it work.” (A week after our interview, Dix would, indeed, be on a flight to London. From there, she has plans to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Greece.)
When asked about the future, she does seem to hesitate before answering, seemingly daunted by the prospect of looking too far ahead. “I still feel like my life is so ripe with potential, for things my brain hasn’t even thought of yet,” she offers finally. “Maybe it’s opportunities that haven’t come my way yet. Like, I got asked about ghostwriting the other day, and I was like, ‘Wait! Maybe?’” She lets out a hearty laugh, amused at the possibility. “I mean, the project was not right. I’ll just say that. But it was the idea that there are just so many things that might stimulate my brain that I haven’t even gotten to yet.” Her only requirement? Getting to tell a good story.