Our favorite Instagram insider, Eva Chen, opens up to actress, author, and Parents' columnist, Jenny Mollen, about social media, preschool lunches, accident-prone toddlers, and a whole lot more.

By Jenny Mollen
July 31, 2019

There's landing a dream job, and then there’s Eva Chen, who has nailed several. Currently the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram, she’s been the beauty editor of Teen Vogue and the youngest editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine, handpicked by mentor Anna Wintour. She’s the New York Times best-selling author of the Juno Valentine children’s series; the latest book comes out in October. Eva met her husband, Thomas Bannister, when she was 20, and they’re raising Ren, 4, and Tao, 2, in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It’s no wonder that more than a million people, including me, follow @evachen212 to glimpse her life, but what is surprising is how relatable her day-to-day wins and losses can be. Eva lets us see the toys, the ruckus, the early mornings, and her makeup-free face at night after she ditches a party and makes it home for bedtime. She is also a friend of mine (my kids, Sid, 5, and Lazlo, 2, are similar ages to hers), and a few days after her Parents cover shoot, we sat down over berries and gluten-free scones to catch up.

Jenny: After breakfast I need to write. I’m finishing my first novel.

Eva: I have a book coming out in October, Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure.

Jenny: I don’t know anything about children’s books!

Eva: They’re hard because they have to be tight and match the illustrations. But signing books is wonderful. Maybe I don’t need a third child if I just keep doing book tours where I get to squeeze delicious, chubby babies! I do think about having another baby—it’s a problem. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be writing a memoir. You’ve written two! But I don’t know how to fit it in. I could wake early to write, but I like to sleep.

Photograph by Juco; Wardrove Styling by Shiona Turini; Set Styling by Marguerite Wade for Walter Schupfer; Hair and Makeup by Aliana Lopez; Manicure by Riwako Kobayashi for Atelier Management; Child Wrangling by Melanie Sawyer

Jenny: I need nine hours a night.

Eva: That’s my ideal, but last night I got five. Tao woke up covered head-to-toe in vomit. We had to strip his sheets and give him a bath.

Jenny: When I was younger, the idea of kids vomiting was my birth control. It seemed horrifying.

Eva: Some of my Instagram followers who don’t have kids ask, “Do all kids vomit this much?” And I’m like, “I think so.” If it’s not vomit, it’s something else.

Jenny: You’re going to be up at night no matter what.

Eva: But it doesn’t bother you when it’s your kid. You’re like, “Whatever, vomit on my face.” I just wish I could take their sickness and be the sick one. I’d do it.

Jenny: Oh, totally!

Eva: A lot of moms follow you on Instagram.

Jenny: It’s moms, but also girls who don’t have kids, which is so interesting.

Eva: We’re at a cultural point where being a mom is fascinating whether you are 20 or 60. I think it’s part of the women’s empowerment platform. Chrissy Teigen’s followers like to see her parenting adventures, and she’s real, with a funny voice. People love Jennifer Garner’s cooking show on IGTV whether or not they have kids. I think people are curious about parenthood and want to research as much as they can, to see what it might be like to be a mom one day. I try to show a real representation of my day-to-day life. I’ve always been an oversharer, and I truly love being a parent.

Jenny: I post constantly, but I block my kids’ faces. I don’t want them to be recognized, and I also don’t want to have to explain the mixed message of “Don’t talk to strangers,” but it’s okay to talk to people who know who you are because they see your face on social media every other day.

Eva: You have to decide what’s right for you. People ask me all the time, “Should I put my kids on Instagram?” I have complete respect for people who are not posting their kids. I get why you wouldn’t show kids’ faces. But my own kids are hams. If there’s ever a time when they’re like, “Don’t take a picture,” I won’t. Also, I started a private Instagram for each kid, which only family sees. But people judge your decisions no matter what. I have friends whose kids have never seen a screen, and I get it. But Ren and Tao love Peppa Pig, they love Ask the StoryBots, they love Octonauts.

Jenny: [does computer voice] StoryBots.

Eva: Or the “Creature Report” song!

Jenny: I sometimes walk through Tribeca singing “Creature Report.”

Eva: Ideally, parents watch, too, and it’s a conversation starter. That’s how I mean my books to be. Cleopatra and Frida Kahlo appear in my Juno books, and I hope kids see them in other contexts and say, “I know who that is!”

Photo: Juco
Juco

Jenny: How are you with food and your kids?

Eva: Your lunches [@dictatorlunches] are healthy and balanced. And you did a whole Instagram Stories series about the junk in children’s food. I agree with you, but I give it to my kids anyway. Ren and Tao aren’t picky eaters—they’re spirited children with opinions. Tao used to eat anything, and now he’s harder. I’m looking forward to sending them to a school where lunch is provided.

Jenny: That’s my worst nightmare! Sid is going into kindergarten, and no outside food is allowed. So I am going to have to let go. I’ve done what I can do.

Eva: You’ve helped inform his choices, and, hopefully, he’ll make the right decisions. But don’t underestimate the effect of osmosis from other kids. Ren, for instance, never had the word princess in her lexicon. Now she’s like, “I want a princess dress.” I’m like, “Where did you get that word? Who uses it?” I want her to be a warrior. I’m that weird mom shouting, “Pretty isn’t everything, pretty doesn’t last!” The other day when my dad told Ren, “You look pretty,” and she replied, “I’m smart and brave,” I felt like crying, I was so proud.

Jenny: What are your parents like?

Eva: My mom and dad moved to New York City from Taiwan via China in the late ’70s, so I’m a first-generation American. For immigrants, so much of the experience is about survival. If they’re strict, it’s because they’re trying to make a life. My parents were super loving, but not in a traditional Western way. The hugs and kisses that I give my kids, I didn’t get that. But I will say it’s been nice seeing my parents, who live near us, cuddle Ren and Tao. They tell the grandkids, “We’re so proud of you!” I never once heard my parents say that growing up. My mom actually said it to me recently, and I was blown away, like “What?!” Chinese culture is not about extravagant compliments. There is a tiger-mom stereotype for that generation where they show affection with actions, not words. It’s definitely a stereotype; not all Asian parents are like that. Our current generation, obviously, is different.

Jenny: Walk us through what happens when Eva Chen arrives in Paris for Fashion Week.

Eva: Everyone waits for Fashion Week; it’s like the Olympics. I go to two or three shows a day. I take meetings. People are curious about Instagram. A large part of my job is listening to feedback from fashion insiders and taking that back to the product team and saying, “We need to work on X.” For instance, we’re testing Instagram shopping so people can natively check out within the app. Instagram touches about 1 billion people, and helping to shape it is amazing.

Jenny: I use you for questions such as, “Can I post milk coming out of my nipple?” That’s when being friends with Eva comes in handy for me.

Eva: Oh, yeah, you did text that to me. I don’t think I answered, except to say, “I need a minute to process this.”

Jenny: Do designers give you clothes?

Eva: I usually like to wear my own. That way I feel less guilty if I get them messy. It’s not all glam. I still try to eat dinner at 6 p.m. in Paris, where places don’t open until 7:30. I want to watch The Bachelor, take a bath, and read a book—or write a chapter!— before I go to sleep.

“I adore designing for tiny humans,” says Chen, whose creative vision is behind the Juno Valentine by Janie and Jack collection. “Ren’s tulle skirt was inspired by Marie Antoinette. It’s the dress equivalent of a rainbow cake.” Photo: Juco
Juco

Jenny: I recently talked a friend into having dinner at 5:30. Going out at 9 p.m. is friendship endship.

Eva: You have to enjoy the changes you go through from 20 to 30 to 40. I am unapologetic about the fact that I want a station wagon. I can talk to you about chamomile versus mint tea. I know about mortgage rates. I also love a calendar invite, as you know.

Jenny: If things change by 30 minutes, you just send a new one! How often are you out of town?

Eva: It’s not terrible. I have this personal rule where it has to be “four sleeps” or less. If it’s anything over that I try to bring Ren. I’m almost never away on weekends. I’m with them and dying of exhaustion.

Jenny: And complaining about it on social media. This year is going to be crazy with both of our little ones starting preschool.

Eva: The hardest thing for me is getting my kids to eat in the morning. They don’t want to sit still. Tao is so active. We have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and the other day he climbed to the top.

Jenny: Laz is like that. Last night he ran into a wall and got a giant blue knot on his forehead. As he was walking away from us—because he didn’t want an ice pack—he bumped into the same wall with his other side.

Eva: That sounds like Tao. I think kids are better behaved at school. Ren’s teachers are like, “She’s such a good listener.” But she is not like that at home!

Jenny: I think the safer kids feel, the more they act out. Does Ren dress herself? Sid won’t put on clothes.

Eva: Usually backward, but yes. Sometimes I help her get her head through the hole. But she’ll do pants and socks. A lot of people assume that Ren is into fashion because of my background, but she just started showing interest.

Photo: Juco
Juco

Jenny: What about feeding herself?

Eva: She’s terrible. But if you were able to have someone spoon food into your mouth, wouldn’t you do it? How efficient would it be if I were texting while you shoveled food into my mouth—I’d save 20 minutes a day! Ren has an older friend, Riley, who is 6 1/2 and was like, “Ren, you still eat like a baby?” so those social cues help. When Ren was potty training, Riley was like, “Let me show you how to do the bathroom.”

Jenny: Well, with parenthood, you’re never sitting around bored.

Eva: I would love to sit at home and be bored. I would love that.

This article originally appeared in Parents Magazine as 'Eva Chen Leads, and You’re Invited to Follow.'

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