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Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
The Marilyn Monroe and James Dean—think “American Classics,” not “Gone Too Soon”—of newsletters is grieving past-life friendships and Rorschach-ing reproductive material. Just another Tuesday...
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, big ideas, deeply personal examinations of women’s lives—and none of the advertiser obligations. Welcome to the Spread, where every week two editors read, listen, and watch it all, and deliver only the best to your inbox.
After a summer of excuses and generalized kvetching, your Spreaditors have returned to the land of the living—by which we mean child-free home offices from the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We are here, standing tall, and bringing you a Classic Spread in hopes of earning your eyeballs and maybe even a tiny bit of actual cash (maybe?) for the season ahead. If you are a new subscriber asking, What’s this Classic Spread you speak of? we are here to tell you that it isn’t (but also kind of is) the pimento cheese dip or lox schmear you may be envisioning: A Classic Spread serves up a robust mix of buzzy personal essays, on-the-money profiles, mind-bending meditations, twisty narratives, investigative feats, and not-a-moment-too-soon explainers, with the occasional “market” recommendation or gossipy riff for good measure. Then we run it all through our handy dandy Cuisinart Spread Processor™️, and bada-boom: A feast for your reading pleasure. And this week, we we’ve got all the goods*.
Eat your hearts out,
Rachel & Maggie
*Or at least we think we’ve got it all? But because we are women and therefore need validation, we’re just holding our breath and hoping some of you will heart this newsletter! (Was that too forward?! Trying to Put. Ourselves. Out. There. This. Fall.)
When a magazine slaps a “controversial” trend story on its cover, you’re usually in for a lot of new data and expert opinions deployed to back up the article’s thesis. So when New York does a splashy cover instead based almost completely on feelings and vibes and anecdotes—and by a sparklepuss writer like Spreadfave Allison P. Davis, no less—it’s going to be FUN, right? Well, this week’s left me weeping in the shower…while my one-year-old watched from her high chair on the other side of the glass and my almost-three-year-old banged at the door. (Yes, we’ve moved a second high chair into the bathroom.) Woohoo. “Adorable Little Detonators” unpacks how devastating it can be to adult friendships when one pal becomes a parent and the other stays childless (by choice or otherwise). “Babies, those little assholes, really do show up in our lives like a popular girl transferring into school in the middle of the semester,” she writes. “Their sudden presence, though welcomed, coveted, hard won, and considered a blessing to their parents, throws the social order into disarray.” It’s a hard feature to pull off, and APD, who writes, heartbroken, from the perspective of the child-free by choice, does so with much self-awareness. The reams of vignettes she includes will be achingly familiar to anyone on either side of such a disintegrating friendship. And there’s no upside, no silver lining, no hopeful coda. Just the very real grief over perhaps the saddest trade-off that comes with parenthood, and the fatalistic realization that no matter how determined you are that your baby won’t affect your friendships, you’re destined to fail. Unless, that is, you can swing round-the-clock child care! Because those people don’t miss a beat! I’m doomed.—Rachel
Read it here.
R U Faux Real?
We’re touchy about fake maladies around here since, as we’ve shared before, we—okay, I—was maybe patient zero (does that work here? let’s just go with it) in the infamous tale of Grey’s Anatomy scammer Elizabeth Finch. But damn, y’all, Finchie’s got nothing on Kaitlyn Braun, a totally-not-pregnant person who tricked numerous doulas into assisting in the “delivery” of a stillborn baby she said was conceived by rape. In Cosmopolitan, Sarah Treleaven, a writer and true-crime podcaster with a bit of a niche chronicling women who make sh*t up, interviews just some of the doulas duped by Braun, and I gasped aloud at how audacious her lies were—and how brazenly she took advantage of their kindness and care. “It appeared that Kaitlyn had found a perfect target: people whose entire job is to believe women—to address their pain instead of dismissing it, to hear them, help them, and support their choices no matter what.” (How is this scam even possible, you ask? Partially because much of the doulas’ coaching work is done remotely, by phone.) As in the case of Finch, Braun—who is awaiting trial—is assumed by the writer to suffer from “factitious disorder,” a mental illness in which people fake illnesses for attention. In a very different story that the Drift first released in July, writer B.D. McClay—who suffers from symptoms initially diagnosed as IBS, exactly the kind of condition that some view as legit and others, not so much—eloquently probes the line between fake and real illness, delving into Reddit threads on which self-appointed online detectives try to disprove the sickness claims of people they deem “munchers” (as in Munchausen Syndrome). It’s a complicated, totally worthwhile read, and McClay brings up points I hadn’t considered before, but which rang so true: Now that in the “progressive,” more compassionate view of illnesses such as chronic Lyme, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and even long Covid, “great pains are taken to point out that just because something’s ‘in your head’ doesn’t mean it isn’t real,” does it even matter if an illness can be proven? Also: Don’t we all “manage” our doctors here and there, choosing our words and our demeanor to convince them we’re not exaggerating or pill-mongering, that our pain is real? (Dare I say, that we’re not hysterical?) In this sense, says McClay, even legitimately sick people have become, on some level, fakers.—Maggie
“The Never-Ending Pregnancy of Kaitlyn Braun” is on Apple News here, and will surely land on Cosmo’s website in a matter of days. Until then there’s always…print!
Read “The Bad Patient” in the Drift here.
“Embryos are like acorns.”
This week, Ron %$#@-ing DeSantis endorsed child-support payments…for embryos. I’ll wait while you finish retching. You back? OK, proceeding! Both Maggie and I paid to have embryos made in a lab, then transferred into our wombs, and we’ve both long been interested in all post-Roe embryo-related conversation—cultural, political, moral, legal, and, to a lesser degree, scientific (I mean, let’s be honest here!). Lucky for us, journalist Sara Harrison is on the beat, big time: She recently dug into the embryo-adoption industry and now, for Elle, has assembled an interesting snapshot of how a handful of pro-choice women think about their embryos against the backdrop of the personhood debate. “An embryo is not any one thing,” Northwestern bioethics professor Katie Watson told Harrison. “It’s the ultimate Rorschach blot upon which we project our deepest personal fears and hopes, as well as cultural ideas and ideals.” Now, I’d really like to read a comprehensive article about the reproductive-medicine industry’s post-Roe push to enshrine women’s legal rights to abortion…now that they need it to keep their work safe. Does this piece exist? You know where to find us! (And if you don’t, the answer is in the comments or right here!)—Rachel
Read “What Is an Embryo in a Post-Roe World?” here.
As I shvitzed into my seltzer at J.Crew’s steaming-hot (like, literally) 40th anniversary party in NYC last week, an old buddy opined on Jenna Lyons’s decision to, as Matthew Schneier puts it in this week’s fashion issue of the Cut, “sacrifice control and risk tabloid-style humiliation for attention and possible gain” on The Real Housewives of New York. Said my friend, who is way more fashion-wise than me: “I mean, what was she going to do post-J.Crew? It’s not like she could have started her own label.” Really?, I thought. Why not? I may not be the gingham-printed prepster that many readers of The Kingdom of Prep presume me to be, but I do have almost unlimited faith in the powers of Jenna Lyons. The first meaty Lyons story to emerge now that the show is out reviews its effect on her eyelash business (up!); catalogs her non-beefs with her reality peers; and serves up a detail that really caught my eye (Schneier—or should I call you Matt?—you really got me with this one!): Her new GF, photographer Cass Bird, says she’s not hanging out with TV Jenna or Private Jenna...the apple of her eye is “Judy.” The designer shed her real name, Judith, almost as soon as she left home—she’s said she invented the name Jenna on the fly, when a college professor was doing roll call. I was always struck by the boldness that reflected, but also what seemed to be her desperate need to escape a person she didn’t want to be anymore. Something about Judy, combined with the only photos I have ever seen of Lyons laid bare—no glasses, no lipstick, no lashes—tells me this woman still has the power to surprise…and to sell, sell, sell: Why else did I google, mid-read, her “well-loved marled sweatshirt,” the only item she wears in the interview that I could possibly afford (the Birkin and the “strands of diamonds” are on hold for now)? Rachel, to get the sweatshirt you gotta book a flight to El Cosmico in Marfa…Spread Retreat?—Maggie
Read it here.
“How do you even verbalize this horrendous act of an OB/GYN from a super-renowned place like Columbia?”
Reporters Bianca Fortis and Laura Beil took on that challenge for ProPublica, and the result is stunning. Hot on the heels of the New York Times’s masterpiece podcast The Retrievals—I will keep mentioning this until every single one of you has listened to all six episodes (and, ideally, called me to talk them through)—comes their all-too-real tale of abuse within another revered medical institution: An OB/GYN at Columbia allegedly abused at least 245 women over more than two decades, while Columbia looked the other way—and then worse. Briskly paced and expertly structured, the story will have your jaw on the floor and the rest of you on the edge of your seat—they’re cliches for a reason!—and that’s before you take in the heart-stopping portfolio of 23 of the women who’ve come forward, shot by photographer Hannah Whitaker and produced by New York magazine. Steel yourselves.—Rachel
I’m on the hunt for the perfect shoe/pant combo for fall—don’t tell me we don’t tackle the important stuff around here!—but all the visual references I can find feature women with the thigh circumference of my freshly minted kindergartener. Studying how the hemline of their jeans relates to the thickness of the sole of their loafers (not a double entendre) is not helping me solve this problem. I spent an embarrassingly long time yesterday looking for photos of well-dressed bodies vaguely like my own—as Goldilocks never said, not too big, not too small, just kinda…regular—to study, and I’m not being especially self-deprecating when I tell you: this body type has been scrubbed from the internet! Today I got the latest installation of denim aficionado (and long-ago cubicle pal!) Jane Herman’s new all-things-jeans Substack, and could not have been more grateful for this week’s subject matter: Mom’s Jeans. Which, she points out, is a very different thing than Mom Jeans. Yas, this! Now Jane (or Hillary, or both!) can we get a post detailing shoe/pant combos puhlease? Preferably with diagrams.—Maggie
Read “Jane on Jeans” here.
Since affirmative action was struck down this summer, I’ve been turning over a related question in my heads: If race can no longer be considered in college admissions decisions, what about gender? Of course, New York Times Magazine staff writer and Spread Fantasy Mentor Susan Dominus was way ahead of me. For their education issue, she went to town (specifically to New Orleans, but more on that in a minute) on the numbers—there are more girls than boys at every Ivy League school except Dartmouth, at many state schools, and at most liberal-arts schools; the gap is even more dramatic at community colleges and HBCUs—and then unpacked how those numbers affect both admissions chances and student experience. The short answers: At private institutions, which don’t have to follow Title IX to a T, boys have a large (and presumably hairy) leg up at getting in. Any daydream you might have of a female-dominated school being a place where girls are more thoughtfully catered to is just that, a dream; in fact, when the gender balance shifts toward the gals, schools try to woo boys by investing in dude stuff like, ugh, football. This photo, from the corresponding portfolio by Maggie Shannon, was taken during move-in weekend at Tulane University, where a full two-thirds of last year’s freshman class was female.—Rachel
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We recently joked to our friend who is an excellent cook, decorator, and dresser that she was a #tradwife. It did not go over well. (We live, we learn.) But the term continues to gain steam, and our vote for winner of the #tradwife convo goes to Brooding columnist Kathryn Jezer-Morton, who points out that a term that seemed, at worst, regressive and dumb, could be something a lot darker: “You might come for the calming visuals of someone kneading sourdough and pouring milk from one big glass container into another big glass container (they love doing this) without realizing that you’re actually consuming covertly white-nationalist content.” Read it here.
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