“Internet famous” Julia Allison is not your typical girl from the North Shore.
And she readily admits that her path has been unconventional. Raised on Sheridan Road in Wilmette, where rocker Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy was her friend, Allison—nee Julia Baugher—attended New Trier and Georgetown, where she took time off to work for then-Congressman Mark Kirk on Capitol Hill.
She headed to New York to become the next Carrie Bradshaw, working as a TV commentator and writing for magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Time Out New York. But above all she was known for her pervasive and controversial Internet presence. In 2008 she appeared on the cover of Wired, which dubbed her “Internet famous.”
We caught up with Allison, now 31, to talk about her Bravo reality show “Miss Advised” (about three so-called relationship experts trying to find love), and more.
What do you remember about going to New Trier?
I was not raised to be on a reality TV show! The North Shore valued education. I loved New Trier, and I did everything, from the synchronized swimming team to debate. I wasn’t particularly good at anything, but I was enthusiastic! I had a column my senior year, and I’ve had one ever since. At Georgetown I started a column, “Sex on the Hilltop,” that got quite a bit of attention, and I sold the TV rights to Aaron Spelling. That’s how I got the TV bug.
Julia and Family: Robin Baugher, Peter Baugher, Julia and Britt Baugher
What did you learn from doing the show?
That I have a lot more to learn! You can’t expect a relationship to solve your problems. I probably should have gone into therapy years ago. I had serious self-esteem issues that were precluding me from being in a happy, healthy relationship. During the show, I dealt with them. The irony is, a reality show led to me being a healthier human being, psychologically.
Do you have any regrets about how your fame—or “microfame,” as some called it—played out on the Internet?
I’m in a good place now. You learn your lessons the way you’re meant to learn them—some that I learned were very painful. People did not understand what I was doing. I’ve always been fascinated with technology and social media, and how they can be used to convey a narrative. It’s amusing to watch the rest of the world catch up to what I was doing 10 years ago. I used my life as an art project. I could have done more to convey that. I regret that some people took it for a fascination with fame.
What did you hope to accomplish by sharing your personal experiences on the Internet, like the blog Jakob and Julia you had years ago with your then-boyfriend Jakob Lodwick (founder of CollegeHumor.com and Vimeo)?
It was incredibly tame, but at the time it was seen as scandalous. We were somewhat open about our relationship, but there were no nude pictures or anything. We would write about our fights. I think it’s great to push those boundaries. You always compare your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel. I wanted to bring the behind-the-scenes to the forefront, so people could learn from it.
But, in “Miss Advised,” you show your vulnerable side, and how much some of the online attention has hurt you.
It can be very dispiriting. But that’s part of being a public figure. (Even Kate Middleton! They find something wrong!). If something stings me, I need to think about why that’s stinging me.
What’s your goal with your writing?
I want to reach young women, touch them, help them feel less alone—to teach, entertain and inspire. I wrote about my college bulimia in 2009, and I still get emails about it. Sometimes I call myself a hacker—not of computers, but of life, and my career. I approach things in an unconventional manner. The lesson for women is to be scrappy, aggressive, even masculine in your career—but NOT in your relationships!
What advice do you have for young people about using the Internet?
Know what you want to achieve. Be honest with yourself (I wasn’t, for a long time). If you’re using it to prove something, people will sniff it out, and you will get burned. It’s difficult to change perceptions. Proceed with caution.
You’re working on a book now. What’s it about?
I’m not sure. Maybe mistakes. I’m exceptionally talented at making them.
“Miss Advised” is on Bravo on Monday nights at 9 p.m. through August 6, and the entire season is available on iTunes for $9.99. For more on Julia Allison, follow her on Twitter twitter.com/JuliaAllison or visit her website juliaallison.com.