Breadcrumbs to Candyland
The Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers of newsletters investigates large derrières, small-minded publicity stunts, and the trick to getting hours of therapy via premium cable.
It’s that time of year! Specifically, the pre-summer time when we repeatedly stream Call Me by Your Name as background candy while scrolling the internet for mid-priced caftans—these bods were born ready—and, you know, get all of our work done before cracking our first rosé. For you angels among us who can’t separate the art from the Armie, or who just need some variety in your queue of hot/young/Euro viewing material, Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends has fully arrived on Hulu after a whole lot of windup. It’s from the same team that made Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, into her first TV series; this time around, an even chunkier chunk of the story is spent lounging and engaging in moody sex at a vacation home (in the novel it’s in Brittany; in the show, Croatia). Will Conversations best Normal People in screen form? Your two-woman jury is still out. But IOHO, Conversations was the better book—so we’re keeping our knees (er, fingers, tee-hee!) crossed. While we’re talkin’ streamers, and before we get into THE WEEK IN WOMEN’S MEDIA, a quick rec: The new season of A Very British Scandal stars Paul Bettany and Claire Foy—getting to play an irresistible man-eater for once in her life—and has it all: sex, royals, infidelity, amphetamines, faked signatures, shipwrecks, and also an economy of storytelling that you will not find elsewhere on TV. The entire juicy tale, which unfolds over years of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll’s lives, is told in three hour-long episodes and basta! If that’s not hot, we don’t know what is.
Please pass our Negroni aka the remote,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Another thing we enthusiastically recommend: Smashing the heart/“like” button on this post! Not only does your “like” make us look good, it helps out with our standing on the Substack platform. Please don’t make us sing it!
Betting their bottom dollar.
Anyone remember when I briefly lost my mind last week and had to ask Maggie to set me straight on the whole Kim-dieting-to-fit-into-Marilyn’s-dress thing? Well, it happened: I made the wild claim that perhaps Kim K. had done a lot to normalize non-skinny bodies, and even argued we should be THANKING her for being brave enough to pull back the curtain on that process. BRAVE. Well, on the cover of last weekend’s New York Times Magazine, I got my comeuppance, in the form of a humbling, incredibly produced feature on the Brazilian butt lift, a shockingly popular procedure in which unwanted fat is liposuctioned out of one or more parts of the body and redeposited in the posterior. The story is written by Sandra E. Garcia with great tenderness and respect for her subjects, all Black women whose trust she obviously gained during an exceedingly vulnerable time in their lives, and accompanied by unforgettably raw photographs by Naila Ruechel. As a magazine feature, it’s a feat in conception, access, photography, and tone, tightly centered on the mixed blessing of recovery facilities in South Florida where patients who can’t afford high-end plastic surgery or post-op care check in to be looked after while they heal. What it does not do is cheapen the experience by zooming out into the cultural forces (Kardashian and otherwise) that are responsible for the butt lift boom—and that usually grab all the attention. But what struck me most was how many of the subjects Garcia interviewed were having this major surgical procedure as a prelude to starting their own businesses or some other endeavor: The women felt they couldn’t do the thing they wanted (even professionally) until they achieved a certain body shape…and yes, my mind swerved back to the Kim-verse. Will that mentality be her lasting legacy?
Should you find yourself pulling up on The Kardashians this week, or lured in by the clickbait of Kim’s new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover (no link here: google if you must!) do read this feature first. It’s only a couple thousand words, but quietly says more about the interplay between beauty, race, ambition, womanhood, and economics than any I can remember.—Rachel
Read “Butt Lifts Are Booming. Healing is No Joke.” here.
Just a casual walk with Joan and Caitlin.
When the June issue of the Atlantic showed up with its cover—and so many, many pages—devoted to the subject of Joan Didion, months after she was so widely eulogized and dissected following her death at Christmastime, it felt at first a little late and tonally odd. I didn’t jump on it. What more was there to say at this point? Yesterday I forced myself to crack it, and by the end of the first paragraph I was in deep. It takes time and space to process the death of a writer who looms as large as Didion does, obsessing so many of us, and especially to do it the way Caitlin Flanagan set out to: Road-trip style, searching for Didion’s wraithlike presence in a tour of the homes the writer once inhabited, starting at the large Sacramento house Didion’s parents bought when she was in high school, hitting up her sorority house at Berkeley, and finally cruising to her house in Malibu. Somehow I got 10 minutes into the piece before it hit me: Hang on, I know someone who once lived in one of Didion’s former homes! How could I have mentally misplaced this detail? I worked with her in my first “real” job, at Vogue, and her backstory could not have been more colorful had it been penned by frequent Didion party guest Nora Ephron. I wondered if it was a house I already knew, from staring at the famous photo of Didion on a deck overlooking the ocean, cigarette in hand and drink perched nearby, standing next to John Dunne and a grammar-school-aged Quintana Roo, but I don’t think I ever asked; the girl and I became friendly—on top of everything else, she was cool and nice—and it seemed uncouth to ask about something I could only have learned through gossip, which would have revealed me to be just another basic star-fucker, stuck in the literary gloss of her parents’ real estate. But for me, that brush with Didion was more alluring than the double-barrel names and Balenciaga “Nightingale” bags (v.1.0) nonchalantly carried by other young scions swishing around the 12th floor of 4 Times Square. Now, given that long-harbored daydream, Flanagan’s story feels something like kismet. Though I’m sure the many critics of Flanagan and/or Didion will find much to pick away at, I preferred to let it wash over me, a smile plastered on my face as I enjoyed its unexpected detours—California governor Jerry Brown’s mattress on the floor; Flanagan’s cup of McDonald’s coffee at a franchise built on land sold by Didion’s wealthy family. The pleasure of Flanagan’s wit and incisiveness layered upon Didion’s wit and incisiveness? A gift. Hot tip: It’s an amazing 51-minute listen on Audm, perfect for that long walk you need to take anyway. And if it leaves you hankering for more Flanagan—Rachel and I both agree that, having read this, we would now like to read a straight-up profile of Flanagan herself—this Thursday, the 19th, at 12 ET, the Atlantic is holding a live virtual talk between Flanagan and culture editor Jane Yong Kim.—Maggie
Read “Joan Didion’s Magic Trick” here.
Register for the talk here.
“We were all ugly.”
The first line of Kaitlyn Tiffany’s report on “femcels” in the Atlantic—which is having a very Spready week, congrats—is a gut punch. Why is it still so radical, so painful, for a woman simply to describe herself as ugly, or fat, or undesired? The word femcel is now bandied lightly around social media as a meme-y way to describe feeling unattractive, but femcels—involuntarily celibate women who believe they are too unattractive to be desired by men—are quite real, and gather by the thousands online to share their pain and anger, “trying to figure out how to live without the kind of romantic love that our society has deemed a pillar—maybe the pillar—of happiness.” And while the femcel’s lonely, angry male counterpart, the dreaded incel, has channeled his feelings of rejection into disturbing language and threats of violence against women, involuntarily celibate women are mostly turning their resentment—you guessed it—inward, into self-flagellation and/or extreme-makeover plans to “looksmaxx” themselves via plastic surgery. The potential origin point of their anger is fascinating: They aren’t just angry about living in a society whose lookist standards they don’t fit; they’re angry about the feel-good, millennial-pink, liberal body-positivity—“a style of feminism that challenged traditional beauty standards mostly by asking those who fell short of them to feel beautiful anyway, regardless of their lived experiences.” They reject the age-old assumption that “any woman can get sex from men,” and that every woman has sexual capital—all she has to do is use it. That’s a lie, they say, and they’re not going to pretend otherwise. It struck me as the wildly extreme version of something we talk about a lot here: That telling women to feel beautiful doesn’t make it so—and in fact can breed a toxic resentment. And while the story was, on the whole, saddening, I do respect the freedom they find in angrily rejecting the cultural exhortation to feel or think different. Stop lying to me, or telling me to lie to myself, says one of Tiffany’s sources: “I’d rather be able to talk about being ugly than just try to convince myself that I’m pretty.”—Maggie
Read “What Do Female Incels Really Want?” here.
About my budding friendship with Gwyneth…
What was with me last week?! Seven days ago, I floated a new sensation I was experiencing: A kinship with Gwyneth Paltrow, who’d filmed an oddly wooden Mother’s Day segment paying tribute to her college-bound Apple on the Spread’s official favorite newsmagazine program, CBS Sunday Morning. She was ostensibly raising awareness about the “diaper tax”: 35 states tax diapers as a luxury good, with some of the poorest states—my birthplace of Mississippi, looking at you again—taxing them a sickening 7 percent. I did find it a little fishy when she sent CBS viewers to Goop to learn more. Last Tuesday, I couldn’t find any info on diapers there, which is why we linked instead to Baby2Baby, which is providing low-income families with diapers and—extremely urgently—organizing to help families during the current crisis-level shortage on baby formula. (A disaster that, as you know, is affecting women and babies up and down the income spectrum. Though I hope to breastfeed SpreadBaby when she arrives in July, I’ve already begun making semi-extreme arrangements to make sure I can access formula if we need it—not an unlikely event, despite what these boobs might think.) Anway, less than 24 hours after I heaped praise upon its goddess, Goop Instagram’d a promo for its new disposable “Diapérs,” made with virgin alpaca wool, amber gemstones, and amber and bergamot infusion, sold at $120 for 10. People were…confused. Even for a company that sells $1,800 rose-gold fragrance flasks, $380 crystal whips, and $100 anti-aging scalp serum (I, for one, would never leave the house with my scalp looking a day over 35!), this seemed a tad extreme. The next day Goop revealed: Gotcha! It was a stunt…Um, ha? Not only did that expensively produced self-spoof fail to land, in my estimation, it was a waste of brain space at a time when GP should have been rallying her wealthy friends and customers to dig out and donate the high-end formula many of them likely stockpile and GIVE IT AWAY TO BABIES WHO NEED TO BE FED RIGHT NOW. This is not a drill, Gwyneth! (And can someone please quickly recommend a dupe for the GoopGlow peel pads that I’ve come to rely on?!) —Rachel
Breadcrumbs are a two way street!
How it started: “OMG yes, we should do that! Can’t wait! I’ll text you to find a date.” How it’s going: Radio silence. Like “ghosting” and “catfishing,” the ancient art of stringing people along now has a zeitgeisty name, and it is “breadcrumbing.” (To be clear, the kids have been onto this term of art since 2016, and it has resurfaced here and there every couple years since, but it arguably hit critical mass in the early months of 2022 and the point is: Your newsbreakers over here at the Spread, at least, had never heard of it before.) Breadcrumbing can happen in work relationships and friendships, but is at its most insidious in the dating realm, where ’crumbers drop a tasty morsel of interest—that long-awaited text; the IG “like”—juuuust when you’re about to give up on them. “This tantalizing trail keeps you hot on the heels of the breadcrumber, even though they have no intention of maintaining a real relationship with you,” writes Kayla Wratten in something called Wellbeing magazine (on Apple News). I cringed, reading this, thinking of the many people—not quite friends; I think of them as acquaintances with potential—that I’ve left hanging…indefinitely. Oh god, was I “emotionally abusing” these people, as Wratten writes? Or was I—were we both—just…very busy? I submit that if we’re going to go around accusing otherwise-nice people of breadcrumbing, we should make room for a second term: mutual breadcrumbing. For it is not just me failing to meaningfully commit to everything from a shared family weekend away to a simple 45-minute coffee date. The person on the other end is often breadcrumbing me right back. (Or so I thought? Ack!) Look, Rachel: My enthusiasm isn’t insincere (OK, it hardly ever is), it’s just that my eyes are bigger than my plate: I want more stimulus, more new friends, more new experiences, but…where am I going to put them? Potential pals, I know you deserve more than crumbs. The interest is real. It’s the follow-through that leaves room for improvement.—Maggie
Maggie, May I propose a radical alternative take on breadcrumbing? I think breadcrumbing, in many cases, probably including yours, might be a form of self-care. Zing! Ding! Booooooo-yah! Yes, that’s the sound of me celebrating myself for using one slangy Gen-Z-adjacent internet concept against another. (Want to hear it again? Zing! Ding! Booooooo-yah!) I think breadcrumbing can be a healthy way to stay engaged in and curious about your community and the individuals who make it; every time you (or I) say, “When are we going on that trail walk?!” to a cool-seeming acquaintance, it’s because we really like her and we’d like to go on a trail walk and would make it happen were there twice the hours in a week. We’re simply flexing our optimism and maybe laying the groundwork for a future friendship, you know, once all of our kids have been neatly tucked into top-tier colleges. It’s the adult-friendship equivalent of saying, “I’m interested in you!! You’re cooler than most!!” And then the next time, “Still interested, still cooler!!” In short, those people whining about crumbs should go out to their local bakery, buy a full loaf of brioche, and shove it directly into their mouths, chunk by chunk. Brioche is delicious; it should lift their spirits.—Dr. Rachel
My couch or yours?
I’ve been longing for a New Yorker-style profile on Couples Therapy analyst Orna Guralnik since I “met” her on my TV screen in 2019, and now, here it is, in the actual New Yorker, by Alexandra Schwartz. And it’s everything I wanted it to be! One of a kind on television—reality or scripted—Orna is brilliant, gorgeous, and chic as shit, with a strange super-humanity and deep concentration radiating outward. Which is why her Showtime documentary series, now in its third season, which follows actual couples as they work out their relationships (or don’t) with her help, is some of the best television I’ve ever seen. She’s a totally aspirational figure at least from where we—and her clients—sit: And the article paints a compelling picture of her life, albeit with a gaping, romantic-partner-shaped hole in it, as Orna refuses to talk about her own love life lest it affect the way her clients think of her.
In spite of that missing piece, Schwartz gets at the magic trick of the Orna show—one that sounds impossible to pull off, lip service at best, but that succeeds brilliantly: Through the couples on TV, Orna and its producers really do aim to help couples watching from home. Eye roll-y as it sounds, I think of my own marriage, on its best days, in part as a product of Orna’s counsel. My husband and I processed every episode of the first two seasons together, often spending more time talking about them afterward than the 30 minutes it took to watch the ep. Fair warning: Light viewing, this is not. Like therapy itself, you have to be ready to dive in. (Which is why we’re saving season 3 for a long weekend.)—Rachel
Read “Real Talk” here.