A League of Our Own
There’s no crying in newsletters! In round three, we celebrate celeb bods, American heroes, and the lady who might have been Hemingway. Plus: Do we smell an Oscar for Connie Britton?
We know. All the yammering about bad art, good art, gorgeous kidneys, subpoenaed group texts, and email sign-offs has left you in a fugue state. (In case you missed it, congrats and here’s an explainer in podcast form.) We offer you the same pep talk you’d get from Cher—if you happened to be pre-meltdown Nic Cage with a prosthetic hand, a wardrobe of skintight tanks, and an aptitude for baking: “Snap out of it!” A real art friend would tell you to move on, and we’ve got…interesting profiles aplenty, searing reporting galore. You want Short-Stack recs? We’ve got many. And oh yes, just for you, we’ve got mooooore!
Rachel & Maggie
This house of insanity is running on your taxpayer dollars.
A high school freshman is woken up in her bedroom at 3 a.m. by a strange man in a shirt that reads “Juvenile Transport Agent.” Terrified and sobbing, she’s hustled out of her parents’ home and taken to Teen Challenge, a treatment center slash reform school with an extreme Christian agenda. With 60-plus interviews of people within this secretive organization, the New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv, master of narrative storytelling, meticulously reconstructs the tale of Emma’s “treatment” (including a series of truly bizarre disciplinary actions lifted straight from Bible verses) at one of the 1,000 Teen Challenge centers across the US and abroad—centers that are both completely unregulated yet largely supported by state and federal grants. For her first six weeks in the program, Emma is forbidden to speak, or to touch (she has to stay six feet away from everyone else), and she’s told to wear a skirt and flip-flops…to make it harder for her to run away. How could she run away? Aviv writes. “She didn’t even know what city she was in.” This is a gut-wrencher that, let’s just say, will refresh your memory on the policies of George W. Bush.—Maggie
Anderson on Anderson: A match made in magazine-profile heaven.
Now let’s say you’re invited to be on Oprah / And you don’t have a problem / But you want to go on the show, so you need a problem…
I’ve had this haunting, hilarious song in my head since 2009, when my slightly older, significantly cooler coworker Heather and I left work at Boston magazine “early” (at 7 p.m.) on a ship night (!) to see Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed play at the new ICA. I’ve been pitching Laurie Anderson profiles ever since. But New York magazine passed circa 2010-2012, and Elle passed circa 2012-2017—because, I was told, Anderson is basically always at it: It was hard to make a case for the why now. So I heard the angels singing—in a Lou Reed growl, natch—when this story appeared in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times Magazine. And by the great Sam Anderson, no less!
Friends, the piece is worth the wait. Sam Anderson spent two years getting to know the poet/performance artist/human that is Laurie Anderson, and the result is the definitive portrait of an inimitable American icon (now 74) woven together from intimate scenes, fascinating history, fizzy quotes from fellow artistes (Marina Abramović, Iggy Pop, Julian Schnabel), and Sam Anderson’s own evocative version of poetry. The profile is also incredibly and cleverly structured; the more-famous Reed, Anderson’s late husband, is not so much as a name-check until the next-to-final section.—Rachel
The most patriotic I’ve felt…ever.
What might Anita Hill say to Christine Blasey Ford? This week, with the third episode of Because of Anita—a new four-part podcast hosted by professor/activist Salamishah Tillet and former Glamour EIC Cindi Leive—we now know. For me, these were 55 highly emotional minutes, as Hill and Ford for the first time publicly discussed their shared experience of testifying against a nominee for the Supreme Court in front of the U.S. Senate—and the world. They delved into the responsibility to tell the truth, what it means to be American, and “the before, during, and after” of each of their seismic testimonies with astounding grace and humanity. By the end I was ready to stand up and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed by Katy Perry’s “Firework.”—Rachel
Rachel, You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine. When I heard Blasey Ford say that if not for the example set by Hill, she’d never have even thought to testify against Brett Kavanaugh, I got chills. Neither of these women “won”—both of the men they accused now sit on the Supreme Court, and will for the foreseeable future. But showing other women that this could be done? What a victory.—Maggie
Two girls, fat and thin.
Further proof that when it comes to women’s bodies, damned if you do, damned if you don’t: 1 Two ladies we love and don’t hear from a lot these days spoke up about their changed bodies—one got thinner, one fatter—and what it’s like to have your own body-fat percentage be considered part of the public domain, heaped with admiration and/or derision. Or, in both of their cases, a bewildering mix of the two. First, we got two Big Fancy Profiles on Adele via simultaneous covers on American and British Vogues2. Go for it, readers: Both are splashy profiles involving day drinking with Cockney-accented riffs on therapy, divorce, astrology, and a hot new man. Both also talk a lot about Adele’s body. Admit it, we all remember the May 2020 Instagram post heard around the world: Adele had shed, we now know, 100 pounds—and had declined to document her “journey” along the way. Talking to writer Abby Aguirre in Vogue US, she’s matter-of-fact about why fans felt betrayed: “Visually I represented a lot of women.” Still, it was tough to be on the receiving end of all that baggage. “The most brutal conversations were being had by other women about my body. I was very fucking disappointed with that. That hurt my feelings.” It was hard not to see Lena Dunham’s Instagram post—written days after the Adele extravaganza was published—as some sort of call and response. Dunham, who just got married, writes movingly about the reverse: As she’s put on weight in recent years, people want to know why she no longer looks like Girls girl-in-chief Hannah Horvath—a body that itself was relentlessly scrutinized. Dunham writes, “It’s ironic to have my body compared to a body that was also the subject of public scorn, an echo chamber of body shaming.”
Okay, I’ll come clean: When Adele first showed up as a sliver of her former self, the Rachel-and-Maggie text chain blew up. How did we feel about this? What message did it send? Also [whisper voice]...didn't she look like she was having a helluva lot of fun in this new bod? Meanwhile, as Dunham kept dutifully posting photos of her next-to-nude curves, I applauded her body positivity while also wondering (in the safety of my own head) whether I believed: Could any woman really feel good about putting on a noticeable amount of weight in front of millions of prying eyes? Both of these reads force me to reexamine, yet again, my own biases about the shoulda-woulda-coulda of women’s bodies, and about what I have the right to expect from the women I admire. But also: Why are we so invested? What do I care what another woman weighs?—Maggie
The math is quick on this, MB. We’re invested because we are inexorably invested in celebrities, and painfully invested in our own bodies! Celebrity + body = kryptonite. At the height of her Girls fame, Dunham’s omnipresence drove me bonkers, but lately I’ve found myself thinking about her warmly and with some frequency: The comfort level she’s long had with showing off her un-Hollywood body continues to feel absolutely radical. The older (and fatter) I get, the more I appreciate it. The thing about both of these women that hits home is the mental health aspect: Adele’s workout obsession stemmed from a desire to outrun her anxiety. Dunham admits that at her thinnest, she was struggling with addiction and depression. We as a culture are so worshipful of the almighty XS, we turn a blind eye to how and why bodies get there. Dunham, in particular, never lets us look away. I wish her and new husband Luis Felbera a lifetime of happiness! And I hope she’ll continue doing body shots into her nineties. As for Adele, gah. She does seem to be having fun. Especially in the British Vogue shoot, which combines the two style elements I try to incorporate into my own look as much as possible: An incredible blowout and a whole lot of gold.—Rachel
This should be a movie. This too!
Trip Gabriel’s New York Times piece on Southern-drawling, Republican-trolling lefty activist Lauren Windsor—who poses as a right-winger to draw out unvarnished (and unsavory) views from powerful capital-R officials like Tommy Tuberville—inspired in me a tangle of feelings. Among them: Did I miss my calling? (I too have a gift for laying the twang on thick in service of extracting information! I too can rock a big-ole blowout with serious panache3!) Most of all, I thought: I need to see this as a movie. I’d cast Connie Britton as Windsor, with Emerald Fennell attached to write and direct. Let’s go with Lucas Hedges as right-wing foe James O’Keefe—it’s high time he taps into his smarmy side.
Elsewhere: My goodness this story by Sydney Page for the Washington Post. The real-life tale of an interracial college couple who broke up in 1979 due to racial dynamics…and after 42 years apart reunite as sexagenarians, it’s The Notebook meets If Beale Street Could Talk. Who’s with me?! Barry Jenkins would be an obvious choice to direct, but I’d mix it up and hire Jenkins’s romantic partner, Lulu Wang (The Farewell), who has a knack for wringing filmmaking perfection out of family heartbreak. For the leads: Florence Pugh as young Jeanne Gustavson. Stephan James as young Steve Watts. Will we age them with makeup or cast another pair of actors for their present-day selves? My inner jury is still out.—Rachel
Fierce Texan rises from dustbin of history.
Look Rachel, I think your movie picks are smart but if Netflix isn’t onto this one, somebody’s asleep at the wheel. Ever heard of Gertrude Beasley? Me neither. A century ago, she had a shot at being canonized alongside the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Instead, after her memoir The First Thirty Years was published in 1925, Beasley mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again—more or less until her book’s republication last month. Now it’s widely available for the first time in 96 years4. In Texas Monthly, Michael Agresta writes about a “long overdue moment of reckoning” for the Texan, whose memoir about growing up poor in rural Abilene would be a barn burner even today: “Thirty years ago,” she writes, “I lay in the womb of a woman, conceived in a sexual act of rape, being carried during the prenatal period by an unwilling and rebellious mother, finally bursting from the womb only to be tormented in a family whose members I despised or pitied, and brought into association with people whom I should never have chosen.” For these and other revelations, Beasley paid an unthinkable price. What was it? You’ll have to read the story to find out.5—Maggie
Love, loss, and the $2,000 bike I rode.
This week, Culture Study newsletter writer Anne Helen Petersen6—whose piece “Blue Marriage and the Terror of Divorce” seems to have struck quite a chord last week!—talks to Samira Rajabi, an author and professor of media studies at the University of Colorado, about grief, ambiguous trauma, and, yes, Peloton. Rajabi—tried-and-true academic by day, unabashed Cody Rigsby fan by night—serves up insights that will delight fellow leaderboard devotees: “Users are invited into their power,” she tells Petersen. “As Kendall says, ‘they can knock you down but they can never knock you out.’...As Robin tells us, ‘I am not here to be police, I’m here to become powerful.’ This language is almost tailor-made for bodies suffering from trauma.” (This isn’t Petersen’s first home-spinner rodeo: Clock her opus on the celebrity of the instructors.)—Rachel
Because she said so?!
We had yuge plans to ignore former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s tour de mea culpa (she wrote a book, like they do), but then New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi got into the mix and, well, here we are. Like all Nuzzi profiles, this one feels insidery and sly, and also finds a way to get Olivia Nuzzi herself into the story. After Jan 6, Nuzzi prodded Grisham to make a splash by swiftly announcing her resignation—via Nuzzi, if the journalist had her druthers: “Grisham leaked the news of her resignation to CNN that evening. ‘I swear,’ she told me at the time, ‘you really made me think.’” For political-media nerds, it’s a thrill to catch a glimpse of the combative/familial reporter-source machine as it churns—and delivers.—Rachel
Well, Maris, we’d certainly like to read it.
The Short Stack, aka, wait…there’s more!
TikTokers on the town with Rebecca Jennings! (Vox) // Cannonball! (Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, The New York Times) // Diane Williams on pissing with the big dogs. (Merve Emre, The New Yorker) // Constance Grady explains why the Spread won’t be covering Franzen’s latest (Vox) // Alt-lit enigma Marie Calloway: Where is she now? Who was she then? Scaachi Koul investigates. (Buzzfeed) // Olga Khazan asks: Is Slack the great equalizer? (The Atlantic) // Breaking news: Superman is bi; also seemingly has no mouth? (USA Today)
Correction: In last week’s newsletter, we misspelled Gary Shteyngart’s last name. Sorry, Gary. The Spread won’t let it happen again.
American Vogue and British Vogue did two totally different sets of photos with two different photographers (Alisdair McClellon and Steven Meisel, respectively), and got Adele to spend a day each with two different Vogue writers (Abby Aguirre and Giles Hattersley, respectively). Two shoots, two writers? Big flex. Hashtag only at Vogue! At other publishing houses, if you can’t milk a single shoot for the cover of four different mags at this point, you’re not doing your job.
Rachel, this is your second reference to your hair in this issue. Is this where you want me to tell our readers that, yes, you do have crazy good hair? Aw, thanks, Maggie! We can talk about your cheekbones next week.
Maggie! This is cold! Or maybe just bold? Either way, here I go a-readin’.