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Betty Ford's Bathrobe Boogie
The Duke’s and Grey Poupon of newsletters is going balls to the wall on grown-ass women in doll garb, FLOTUS fascinations, and—gulp—actual triplets.
Are you watching Showtime’s new original series The First Lady, which intertwines the stories of Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson in a very Margaret Thatcher-adjacent performance), Michelle Obama (a somewhat miscast but still mighty Viola Davis), and Betty Ford (a bizarrely ageless Michelle Pfeiffer) and finding it to be just…OK as a piece of prestige television—but also irresistible? Same! The period costumes, the behind-the-White House drah-mah, the starry supporting cast (Kiefer Sutherland in his third presidential turn; Clea DuVall in a role that seems oddly similar to her Veep part, but with fewer Secret Service pantsuits; and at least one Fanning sister, to name just a few), and of course the FLOTUS-inherent themes (Politics! Feminism! Interior decor!) supersede the fact that the vibe is very 1990s Masterpiece Theatre. Ya with us? No? Fine! At the very least, please join in for a little game of casting first ladies for future seasons of this joint. We’ll go first: Jill Biden? Mary Steenburgen! Melania Trump? Elizabeth Banks! Pat Nixon? Laura Dern! Nancy Reagan? Julia Roberts! Dolley Madison? Kirsten Dunst! Barbara Bush? Glenn Close! Martha Jefferson? Greta Gerwig! It is now occurring to us that we’ve just name-checked enough white women to fill former Wing girlboss Audrey Gelman’s new global village-themed store, which we keep referring to as “It’s a Small, Small World!” but is in fact called the Six Bells. Yep, I guess we’re done here.
New Yorker Staters, this is your week to remind your state reps to pass the Adult Survivors Act, which would allow civil suits against sex crime offenders. If you need a reason to get riled up enough to take action, our idol/friend E. Jean Carroll’s latest newsletter-slash-rallying cry should do the trick.
Wishing you a happy Lawn & Garden Month,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Do you open this email every week, agree with one of the above casting choices, and/or simply want to do us sisters a solid? Please smash the heart button on this post, and if you’re really feeling generous: Share us with a friend or even all of your “friends” on social media!
PPS: Thanks to all who have weighed in on what to name SpreadBaby! If you haven’t yet shared your two cents, respond to this email or jump into the comments here. The countdown is real, and while there are some solid contenders, no clear winner has taken the cake!
I’ve been duped!
And I’m not the only one. In a shocking Mother Jones feature by journalist Kiera Butler, the American Pregnancy Association—a robust online resource for pregnant women—is revealed to be the website equivalent of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy hotlines, the ones that lure in women with talk of “options,” only to provide disinformation about abortion and/or surreptitiously run out the clock in states where abortion windows are getting tighter and tighter. The APA site is also packed with legit information about pregnancy milestones, which makes it often the first place pregnant people (myself included) land when googling, say, “How often should my baby kick?” Butler reports that CNN and even the New York Times have pointed to the American Pregnancy Association as a mainstream source. But the site’s benign and useful content is designed to draw countless women in, while concealing the APA’s underlying anti-abortion mission. Butler reports on scenes from the front lines of the abortion debate that are by turns harrowing and also humanizing of anti-abortion advocates—like when she attends an anti-abortion conference where women are trained to dupe vulnerable callers who dial into the aforementioned hotlines. Her piece was a gut-punch for someone who considered herself too smart, too educated—and a media-woman herself, after all—to fall prey to a site disseminating disinformation. I bet the Gray Lady feels the same way. (One aside: Throughout the piece, Mother Jones refers to anti-abortion activists as “pro-life,” which I’ve always thought was marketing-speak from anti-choicers. I know they prefer “pro-life,” but why kowtow to their wishes? The more direct—and, yes, uncomfortable—label, “anti-abortion,” is more accurate and would force the majority of Americans who believe abortion is necessary and should be legal to face the reality of their cause. Maggie, Could you point me to an explainer?)
Also from the Spread’s bustling reproductive-health desk: This week New York Times science writer Azeen Ghorayshi reported on a new study that shows some embryos marked “abnormal” after PGT-A testing (that’s preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy) can actually result in healthy babies. This is big news: Many fertility clinics refuse to transfer “abnormal” embryos during IVF, mostly for liability reasons, even for couples that are out of other choices (due to the extreme expense of IVF cycles and/or because they simply have had no luck in producing “normal” embryos). As someone who was on the Teacups ride that is IVF for years—and as one of the lucky ones for whom normal embryos were produced and transferred—PGT-A testing was always part of our math, one that I was convinced was the end-all, be-all of my ability to have biological children. Here’s hoping that this study will mean more choices for more fertility-challenged women going forward.—Rachel
Rachel, I’m not sure this is quite the explainer you were looking for but this lays out NPR’s guidelines for the language surrounding abortion (which,as we’ve noted before, has only gotten more complex and emotionally charged in the era of the “pregnant person,” when some consider even the use of the word “mother” to be based on biased assumptions). NPR acknowledges here that “pro-choice” is an accurate description: Its supporters want women to have a choice; opponents do not. But pro-life is “murkier,” in that “the very strong implication is that those on the other side do not value life at all.” So NPR uses neither term—on air, hosts are told to “use ‘abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)’ and ‘abortion rights opponent(s)’...It is acceptable to use the phrase "anti-abortion", but do not use the term "pro-abortion rights.”—Maggie
Read “The Disinformation Campaign Behind a Top Pregnancy Website” here.
Read “Study Raises Questions About Genetic Test for ‘Abnormal’ Embryos” here.
Welcome back to the dollhouse.
Loyal readers may recall that last week I unleashed my pent-up pandemic frustrations on the topic of LoveShackFancy, the antediluvian Girls Just Wanna Have Fun answer to apocalypse dressing. Shortly thereafter, writer Kristen Bateman popped up at Elle to declare that LSF is not the fashion outlier I assumed it to be, but rather part of a moment. One to which, as a cranky 40-something, I am demographically immune but nevertheless fascinated/irritated by: “Dolls Are Ruling 2022,” the Elle headline proclaims. Rachel, get me my pills! Doll-inspired fashion, apparently, is providing escapist relief from the hardcore politicizing of the last two (make that 10) years, freeing girls and women to celebrate lavishness and decadence unconstrained by political correctness. It seems worth pointing out here that a quick Google reveals Bateman to be not just a reporter, but a believer; she runs Dollchunk.com, a site that “celebrates the celestialness of being puffy, the bright supernal outlook of all things rotund and happy” by selling $125 lavender cocktail rings in the shape of plump babydoll heads with eerie crystal eyes (IG account @dollchunk). Mysteriously, this was not revealed in her Elle story! Nevertheless, as every lifestyle reporter knows, three’s a trend—and Bateman cites many more than a trio of incidents of doll culture to substantiate her argument. One of these is the Fall ’22 collection of Rodarte, presented in a lookbook starring famous adults including Mackenzie Davis, Mandy Moore, and Natasha Lyonne posing in lace-up ballet shoes and costumes best described as ’80s prom fashion (Pretty in Pink) meets Brooks Shields’s Lolita (Pretty Baby). (Since I already accused LoveShackFancy of being a desperate gasp of the antebellum South last week and nobody struck me with lightning, this week I’ll go all in: Anybody else notice how Rodarte has always been the Emperor’s New Clothes of designer fashion, selling up-leveled thrift store goods at a Bergdorf Goodman price tag to a consumer who seems to not know any better?) Anyway, Bateman quotes a trend forecaster asserting that Baby Doll is the next stop on the trend train, now that ’90s and Y2K-inspired fashion are losing steam: “The shift toward an interest in doll culture is telling of our emotional state and how we want to dress in expressing it. That nostalgia for a time we had more comfort and whimsy—as well as the escapism of the world a doll subculture could provide—feels far away, but is also majorly important to so many childhoods. We just want to tap back into it.” And she supplies an intriguing theory: The children of the ’90s and early 2000s who grew up bombarded with ads for Barbie, Bratz, American Girl, and Polly Pocket—in which consumerism and fashion were intimately linked—are now coming of age, designing clothes that satisfy their generation’s specific nostalgia. But she also cites the saccharine-sweet trans TikTok star Hal.Baddie, who calls herself and her 320.5k followers “dolls,” and who argues that “being a doll is about expressing femininity and being proud of the power that comes with being feminine.” Here’s one more phenom for you: TikTok’s viral “American Girl Doll Teeth Challenge” involves posing with one’s mouth slightly open to reveal the bottoms of the front teeth. You know, like Molly or Samantha or Kirsten. Lo, the many thousands I have spent on orthodontia to correct exactly this appearance! Such is my general knee-jerk skeeved-ness by “doll-like” affectation that the whole thing makes me want to invest in a three-piece gray chalk-stripe suit, grow a 5 o’clock shadow, and start dressing like Johnny Depp on the witness stand.
OK fine, you brought it up—OK fine, I did—and I’ll take that one on, too. My mui, mui politically incorrect take is the same as that of Johnny’s former therapist: Sounds like a case of mutual abuse in a substance-fueled toxic relationship that should have been dissolved long ago—not exhumed from its shallow grave years later in courthouses on two sides of the Atlantic by two people who have a lot of hair to style and children to parent, i.e.: better things to do than fight over who did which drugs at the wedding, and who chopped off whose finger, and how many MRSA infections ensued in said stitched-back-on digit. (Sidebar to the sidebar: How does someone with private island-level cash and Johnny Depp-level healthcare get THAT many MRSA infections? Jaysus.) A friend texted after Depp took the stand to ask if we are now supposed to feel bad for Johnny Depp, to which I say: NO! This ex-couple should be issuing us an apology, for draining us of the energy it took to maintain minimal interest in them both for so long, when the truth is they are both at fault and probably insane. Okay, over and out, Rachel! Whatchu got, girl?—Maggie
Maggie! I’ve never known you to produce quite such a tear. I am here for it, and for you—I got mama’s pills ready and waiting—now and in perpetuity. I think you’ve covered every inch of the downside to the dollhouse aesthetic, so I’ll just add that I find Johnny and Amber’s court shenanigans to be wildly second fiddle to the Blac Chyna-Kardashian trial that’s also playing out right now. Like JoAm (is this a thing?), the Blac Chyna and Rob Kardashian relationship was a toxic rat’s nest with nowhere to go but asunder, but unlike with JoAm, the Kardashian bench is deep and deeply entertaining. These ladies are bringing it in court, and I highly recommend reading every dispatch from the peanut gallery, including this one from yesterday when Kylie Jenner took the stand.—Rachel
Read “Dolls Are Ruling 2022” here.
Check out the Rodarte collection here.
My parents—both the eldest of four children—have always been fixated on birth order, though they generally lead into their frequent mentions of such dynamics with something like, “You know I am not a big believer in birth order theories, but…” As the eldest of two daughters, I’ve always wondered how both our actual birth order and their many theories about our birth order shaped my younger sister and me—who do play out some classic older/younger sibling dynamics. And now I’m sure I’m passing on this kind of subconscious bias in my own parenting. But I’d never really paused to consider the importance of birth order when it came to siblings born mere minutes apart: How could 90 seconds’ difference from siblings determine anything about how a child is treated or turned out? For that matter, how do you even remember who was born when, let alone prioritize based on it, when you have an actual litter of children clamoring for all the same needs, all at the same time. But y’all. The Point—the trendy lit mag mostly defined by the fact that it’s not the other trendy lit mag, the Drift—just published an essay of biblical proportions: About monsters and men and women and birthright and dentistry. This is writer Charlie Tyson’s opus on being the third of three triplets—born mere minutes apart—and the ramifications thereof on his life and his sibling relationships within a hierarchical Jewish family. Throughout Tyson’s upbringing, he was considered smaller, lesser, weaker than his brother and sister, especially his brother, David, who as the eldest was expected to be the leader to an extreme. But in a twist, the gentler, more creative Charlie ends up winning, in his way—as the writer in the family, the story that will prevail is his. Wherever you fall on your family tree, treat yourself to this weird and wonderful and searingly personal (and at times borderline gruesome!) read.—Love, your big sister, Rachel
Read “An Untimely Birth” here.
Stuck in the middle with you.
Long ago, my college roommate referred to our little foursome of forever-after friends as “middle-aged.” We were about 29 at the time. I spit out my wine through my nose. I was shocked! Incensed! Scarred, even. I have a crap memory, but I remember her use of that phrase like it was yesterday. Who you calling middle-aged, Susie? Today, I realize two things: A) At the time, I was still single, but she was already a married mother of two, i.e., tired. So very tired. And B) Sixteen years, a marriage, and two babies (for me) later, I’m too tired to fight it anymore. Jessi Klein’s new essay collection is titled, I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife & Motherhood. Picture me, lazily waving the waiter over to my table and ordering three. (Props to whichever marketing genius figured out “midlife” would sound so much less aggressive to my late-Gen X ears than “middle-aged.”) This week, Klein made the rounds; the Cut has an excerpt, Vanity Fair ran an interview with Klein by writer Jane Borden. Refresher: Klein is the bespectacled cool nerd who stood onstage next to Amy Schumer to claim an Emmy for Inside Amy Schumer (Klein was head writer) before publishing her 2016 essay collection, You'll Grow Out of It. Now she’s the showrunner and EP on the upcoming Molly Shannon/Vanessa Bayer QVC spoof I Love That For You, which will stream on Showtime starting April 29, forcing me to start paying for the Showtime sub I signed up for that free trial for, strictly to watch The First Lady. (Do ya ever feel less like a human than a deeply algorithm’ed demographic?) Klein’s writing has the tone of sharp TV dialogue. What it lacks in poetry, it makes up for in perspicacity—especially about womanhood, as you might expect from one of the brains behind the priceless “Last F**kable Day” skit. Pondering her initial reluctance to write about motherhood, Klein realizes that doing so forces her to reckon with her own internalized judgment of the value of maternal musings, which you may share more than you think: “I invite you to investigate your gut reaction to the term ‘mommy blog’,” she writes in the excerpt—and my nose crinkled at the stink of the mere suggestion. But writing about motherhood also forces her to come to terms with every mother’s ambivalence—even that of her own mother, who sounds pretty damn idyllic—about the job: The messy, repetitive, boring, all-consuming and (if we’re being honest here) rarely really delightful work of hanging out with your own young kids. A sentence which I will deny having ever written when they are old enough to read it.—Maggie
Read “Your Mother Hated Parenting Sometimes, and More Hard Truths from Jessi Klein” here.
Now that’s entertainment!
In 2017, the New Yorker ran a feature on “a bohemian social media movement” known as #VanLife by Rachel Monroe, a very good writer. In 2019, Bachelor in Paradise sweethearts Dean and Caelynn embarked on their own #VanLife, posting about it with great frequency and much sponsor support on Instagram. Though I have zero interest in either road trips or camping (not to be confused with summer camp; I will forever be summer camp’s most enthusiastic enthusiast) and am highly susceptible to motion sickness, I avidly consumed these bits and bobs of #VanLife culture as they came at me, swept up in the life-as-a-rolling-stone romance of the thing. Just as I thought we had moved on to CleanTok or Tinder Swindlers or whatever, the New York Times Magazine rolled up with a first-person #VanLife journey from the hilarious Caity Weaver. This assignment may have been a little dated but no matter—it’s a perfect match for the former Gawker and GQ writer, who gives meta first-person journo-comedy her signature precision and heart. I feel the need to add a disclaimer here: Aspiring writers, please don’t try this at home! Or at least don’t expect to be paid for these kinds of self-referential antics for a while. Weaver makes this dance look easy; what she’s pulling off is high art.—Rachel
Read “I Lived #VanLife. It Wasn’t Pretty.” here.
While the print New Yorker was in its second-week-of-double-issue lull, writer Helen Rosner grabbed Mountain Goats man John Darnielle for a sit-down in Brooklyn. For the uninitiated—and I realize fewer and fewer are uninitiated now that he’s been touring for 20 years and his song “This Year” had a pandemic renaissance with a mainstreaming effect—Darnielle functions as much as a preacher and a nurse-for-the-soul to his fans as a front man, and there’s always a gem or two in an interview with him. This time, I found delight when Darnielle and Rosner agreed that with security and wisdom (i.e., age) come stronger ideas (just a liiiiittle bit of measured reverse-ageism for you, Maggie!). The cherry on top was that this chat reminded me to go back and reread my favorite portrait of Darnielle and his fans—many of whom are young, I should note—written by Stephen Rodrick and published in New York in 2009 with the headline “God & Worshipper: A Rock-and-Roll Love Story, of Sorts” which you can find here.—Rachel
Read Helen Rosner’s “John Darnielle Wants To Tell You a Story” here.
In her new-ish obit column, The Afterward, Susan Orlean writes a glorious tribute to Collarwali, an exceptional tiger who was responsible for proliferating about one percent of her species’ Indian population. I don’t only appreciate the Collarwali portrait because the tigress was physically robust (I am not a small woman!) and a great mother (come July I will be a parent of four!) and regal as hell, but because it turned me back onto Orlean—my first creative-nonfiction crush, whom I even lured to the basement of Boston University’s College of Arts & Sciences building to give a talk to our chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, for which I was clearly president. In the past couple years, I’ve generally only bumped into Orlean vis-a-vis the attention she’s attracted for her drinking, which has gotten more coverage than any of her journalism, and this little piece reminded me of her incredible gifts as a writer, not just a Twitter boozer. Will you take me back, Suze?—Rachel
Read “The Ultimate Tiger Mom” here.
The over-the-shoulder boulder holder is going up, up, up…
Inflation, rising energy costs, supply chain issues—it all sounds vague and impenetrable until you go to stock up on your old standard bra and suddenly find it costs $30 more than the last time you bought it. The Wall Street Journal does what it does best, breaking down rising costs that forced my own favorite bra manufacturer, Journelle, to sharply raise the price tag of its bestsellers, in this case the Natalia. The breakdown, by Suzanne Kapner, is a reminder of the complexity of manufacturing in the era of globalization: The Natalia has 16 moving parts. The bra components come from Europe, molded cups from Tunisia; metal rings, wires, and boning from Italy. Sixteen seems like a lot until you consider the Vitamix that’s been sitting in my shopping cart for weeks, waiting for me to press buy—imagine the factors that go into pricing that? So here’s the brassiere breakdown: As we’ve all read, Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine are putting pressure on Europe to lessen its dependence on Russian oil and, believe it or not, that’s taking a heavy toll on…bras. It’s driving energy costs higher, even after they’ve tripled or quadrupled in recent years. The energy costs of Journelle’s Italian lace supplier have quadrupled since 2019; the lingerie brand now pays as much as 40 percent more for both lace and elastic trim than it did three years ago. Energy costs also increase the cost of dying fabric—heat keeps the water at a constant temperature and sets the color—which has quadrupled since January 2020. Evil underwire costs 20 percent more than it did in January 2020; hardware, like metal hooks and rings, is up 25 percent. And the cost of paper—boxes and shopping bags—varies by the day; every three months, the price increases by about 30 percent. Peruvian suppliers now ship their cotton in burlap coffee sacks because they can’t find boxes. And even worse than energy costs and supply shortages are shipping prices. The cost of air freighting a pair of molded cups to Europe from Asia is about 82 cents. In 2019, it was 10 euro cents. And here’s the kicker: Even though some analysts think the price rises are beginning to taper off, once the costs of goods go up, it’s hard to get them to come back down. So the Natalia could be $98 for good. Good news for the itty bitty titty committee: The less architecture your boobs require, the cheaper (in theory) the bra!—Maggie
Read “This Bra Cost $68 For Years—Now It’s $98. Here’s Why.” here.
**And finally: The Met Gala is Monday. Who are you wearing? **
Note to the writers’ room: Betty Ford had a drinking problem—uh, yeah. That's the one thing all people know about this woman, and the point of the show seems to be reminding us that there's so much more to her than that. We don't need her to be clutching a cocktail glass in every.last.scene to GET IT.