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If These Walls Could Talk
The beige Birkenstock and shiny pink stiletto of newsletters is staring life’s most profound questions squarely in the face. Well, that, and perfecting our ground stroke.
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.
We don’t want to spring anything too extreme on you, but who’s ready for the Spread Commune? The idea came to us between battling ant invasions, tugging up wheelbarrows-full of weeds, de-Cheerio-ing floors, detecting the source of that mysterious kitchen funk, and scrolling Wirecutter for a replacement clothes dryer this past glorious, relaxing summer weekend. A question began to take shape: Maybe the problem wasn’t life. Maybe it was….the house? Then Anne Helen Petersen, that most versatile of Substack theorists, hit us with, “How Your House Makes You Miserable,” arguing that things went downhill when we let our single-family homes become all the things. In the HGTV-era they’re supposed to embody our personal taste, be competitively tasteful and tailored to our every interest and activity, but they are also (for most of those lucky enough to own one) our single greatest investment, one whose resale value we obsessively Zillow: “Even if you have no intention of selling in the near or even semi-near future, there’s persistent pressure to make your space amenable to a theoretical someone who isn’t you, the person who very much lives there right now.” Then we finally got around to listening to Ezra Klein’s interview with Kristen Ghodsee, author of Everyday Utopia: What 2,000 Years of Wild Experiments Can Teach Us About the Good Life. Klein loves to talk about how hard and unnatural modern nuclear-family parenting is (same!), and to dillydally among ideas about radical alternatives while attempting none of them (same!) and Ghodsee is full of fascinating insights on how the (relatively young) ideal of the single-family home has left us disconnected from each other, overusing resources, and raising kids in the most challenging way possible…and bada-boom-bada-bing, by the time they signed off we were ready to hand in our house keys. So back to that commune: We’re thinking…turf (no need to mow!), a big pool that’s perfectly flat and shiny, because it’s only an illusion of a pool. (The slide accessory, however: so real and so fun!) We won’t need to lock our doors; heck, we won’t even have doors! Because our dwellings will be airy, in a palette of hot pinks plus the occasional pop of pale yellow or vibrant turquoise; everyone gets a heart-shaped bed and a fuschia Saarinen tulip table. Our toothbrushes will be gigantic. And every night will be ladies’ night! Oh, wait…
There’s more than one answer to these questions,
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. OK, so you’ve got a heart-shaped bed. Now, locate that heart-shaped button on your screen and give it a push. We won’t take you for granted.
“I remember thinking, I shouldn’t have had my kids.”
At 14, Barb watched her mother lose her mind. When they reached their 40s, the same fate befell one of her eight older siblings…then another...and another. Would Barb be next? In “The Vanishing Family,” the New York Times Magazine’s Robert Kolker—the man responsible for 2022’s viral “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” as well as the Oprah-endorsed book Hidden Valley Road, which made him particularly well-suited to this feature—delivers a story more terrifying than any horror movie: The call isn’t just coming from inside the house, it’s coming from inside one’s own genetic code. The villain turns out to be inherited frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Those who suffer from this ultra-rare brain disease—one person in the story compares its effects to the Benjamin Button-ing of the mind—have a 50 percent chance of passing it down. Kolker’s story is thoroughly and sensitively reported (six of the family’s nine siblings participated), masterfully told (the ending took my breath away), and entirely worth wrecking yourself over. And though Bruce Willis’s family hasn’t revealed whether or not he has the inherited form of the disease, which accounts for about half of cases of FTD, news that he’s battling frontotemporal dementia sure makes Tullulah Willis’s recent as-told-to in Vogue hit differently. The heart goes out.—Rachel
Read it here.
She came. She saw. She conquered.
This text came through this morning from loyal friend-of-Spread C.: “How many times a day do you think about Barbie? I’m averaging around 5, which is right up there with how often I think about climate change.” For those of us still lying awake at night pondering the countless ways Gerwig, Robbie, et al. managed to thread the most impossible of needles—airing Barbie’s feminist/cultural dirty laundry while also vindicating her—and spontaneously guffawing at lines like, “To be honest, when I found out the patriarchy wasn’t about horses I lost interest,” I give you what may be TIME’s all-time greatest act of service. “An Exhaustive List of (Almost) Every Single Reference in the Barbie Movie” provides answers to everything from, “Why does Ken’s battle dance feel so familiar” to, “What did they mean by ‘Are you Shining with a real Barbie?’”—Maggie
Read it here.
It’s all about relationships.
Ah, Texas Monthly. You’ve been bringing me Beef State reads I didn’t know I needed since we met back in 2006 (when I was an intern at a rival city/regional magazine) and this month you really did the dog (that is, if that idiom means what I think it means judging by the way my parents use it?). Thank you for uniting two of my most enduring loves: real estate lookie-looism and magazine profiles of doyennes with power bouffants. “The Queen of Highland Park,” by Tom Foster, is a lengthy, twisty portrait of 83-year-old Dallas super-realtor Allie Beth Allman, featuring many dollar signs (Mrs. Allman’s company brought in $3.8 billion in sales in 2021) and beaucoup backstabbing (musical chairs among agents, two local bloggers jockeying for scoops), as she fights to stay on top of the agency heap as social mores and technology evolve. It’s accompanied by over-the-top photographs of Allman looking riiiiich and showing off her First Lady style, one of which inexplicably features her kneeling on a perfectly plush cornflower-blue bed that is not her own? The bed belongs to “friends and former clients”? Texas, y’all!—Rachel
Read it here.
So now we have to plan their playdates, too?
All the experts say that when faced with a tsunami, the safest thing to do is not to fight it. Just go with it. Let it take you where it wants to. It’s going to anyway. So I think it’s best that we all admit that, for the foreseeable future, all roads lead to The Pink One and that, intentionally or not, in writing about men finding much-needed friendship on the great pickleball court of life, the New York Times’s Michelle Cottle has really just penned another Barbie op-ed. Because what is Barbie if not a movie about male fragility? I think the “male loneliness epidemic” is legit, and at least moderately concerning, yet I’ll admit that stories about how hard men find life these days often bring on a weary eye roll. Then I remember that I have two sons who need to be able to make friends past the age of elementary school, so I soldier on and keep reading. Cottle says their kind does not bond the way mine does—by using our words—but rather via Activities! Hobbies! Playtime! (Indeed, what Cottle calls “the go-out-and-play” approach to helping one’s dude meet more bros so that he can stay sane does sound suspiciously like summer camp sign-up week.) To put Cottle’s advice in Barbie parlance, here are some “doing” things you can send your men out to try with other men: Ride invisible horsies. Rollerblade. Surf. Choreograph dance-off moves. Or Beach. Yeah, they could definitely Beach.—Maggie
Read it here.
Big protagonist energy.
Even if you’ve never read Lucinda Rosenfeld, you may remember her as the media-anointed cool-girl novelist in the early 2000s. For example: She played herself in a fashion feature in Talk magazine. She enlightened Esquire readers on behalf of women everywhere. She participated in a shopping story in a women’s magazine (somebody: what magazine is this??). But it’s taken her till summer 2023 to process in print what happened when she was a 20-year-old sophomore at Cornell: an affair with her professor. The entanglement was totally consensual and between adults; it was an exercise of Rosenfeld’s newfound independence. Yet there was a power imbalance, he was married—it was, you know, not great. And here we are, thirty-three years later and in the shadow of #MeToo. In the New Yorker, Rosenfeld boldly and beautifully lays out her memories and the conflict she felt (and feels) surrounding the relationship. Then, on Meghan Daum’s podcast The Unspeakable, she takes apart the essay and gets into what kids today would call main character energy. Could that be what all those editors were responding to in the ’90s?—Rachel
Read “My Adventures in Deconstruction” here.
Listen to “The Ballad of the Nineties Bad Girl” here.
Yeah but are you gonna take it for, like, ever?
I’m Ozempic Curious. I’ve been reluctant to get into this in Spreadlandia because of the airtight feminist alter ego I’ve constructed here, a vision of a woman perfectly at ease with her own corporal spread, so to speak—wait, what? You never bought that, you say? You’ve known I was riddled with body insecurities all along? In fact, I regularly disclose said insecurities here? OK, moving on. My BMI, which my doc cheerfully informs me is officially “overweight,” does not qualify me for a prescription. Even if it did, I doubt my overpriced yet shoddy freelancer’s insurance would cover it. Nevertheless after rabbit-holing down the (rumored-to-be-Ozempic-related) transformations of this famous person and this one and this one and this (well, media-famous) one—and marveling at a beloved woman in my life who has truly been spiritually and physically rebooted by her own meds-induced shrinkage—I’ve done my fair share of late-night internet creeping in search of an, um, workaround source. My primary hesitation, other than the obvious $$$, is the phrase repeated in every Ozempic story: After they stop taking the drugs, most people gain the weight back. Unlike those with far greater amounts of weight to lose and/or weight-related health conditions, I don’t need Ozempic. Am I really going to commit to taking it indefinitely? Now, in the flood of near-daily Ozempic press, comes Olga Khazan in the Atlantic with, to me, shocking news: The two big leaders of the (drug-free) diet industrial complex are betting big-time on…weight-loss meds? Both WeightWatchers and Noom are pivoting, as they say. Not only will they offer programs to help people on the drugs curb calories (injections make it easier to diet but, yeah, you still have to diet), both companies are also setting up telehealth operations through which to prescribe and distribute (and profit from) the drugs themselves. (Relatedly, this Wired interview from May with WW’s ballsy new CEO, Sima Sistani, is a great read: I found the way she pushes back on the current dictum that fat is healthy and must be accepted both artful and resonant.) But I was perhaps most taken aback by this: When Wired interviewed two scientists who helped discover GLP-1, the hormone that semaglutides (Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro) act on, they discussed a study that found that even 70 percent of those who took Ozempic for its real use (to treat diabetes, duh) stopped taking it after a year or two. Why? One scientist posited that people find it unsustainable because it takes the joy of eating out of life. “[Maybe] once you've been on this for a year or two, life is so miserably boring that you can’t stand it any longer, and you have to go back to your old life.” “A bewildering array” of obesity meds coming down the pike are forecast to leave Ozempic in the dust. Maybe one comes without the risk of a flavorless life?—Maggie
Read “People Just Want to Lose Weight” in the Atlantic here.
Read “What the Scientists Who Pioneered Weight Loss Drugs Want You to Know” in Wired here.
In the eye of the beholder, and so on and so forth.
When I first set foot in women’s magazines in 2012, I was bewildered by the “themed” issues at Elle (and all of our competitors): May was always…The Beauty Issue! September…The Fashion Issue! From the comfort of my $23,000 Moncler puffer ballgown, I couldn’t help but wonder: Wasn’t every issue of a beauty- and fashion-mag (even one with dazzling features! #featuresdept4life) a “beauty” and “fashion” issue? The boring truth turned out to be that these themes were merely grabs for large categories of advertisers. Philosophical-lit mag the Point, however, has dedicated its summer issue to Beauty, and something tells me they didn’t have Unilever or Procter & Gamble in mind. In the package: A raw and moving piece from Rachel Wiseman about her pregnancy loss (at five months) and the work of French artist Sophie Calle (“To confront beauty is, inevitably, to confront longing and the possibility of loss,” Wiseman writes); an essay with the can’t-not-click title “The Right to Beauty,” about living in Amman, Jordan, by Ursula Lindsey; Jessica Swoboda on #morningroutines and the millennial aesthetic. My favorite of the lot is by Becca Rothfeld: “Unnatural Gifts” investigates beautiful women from life and literature whose allure goes beyond the sum of their physical parts. To which I say: Maybe it’s Maybelline?—Rachel
Read the full issue here.
And now for a rec from our Spreaditor-in-Training…
What teenage girl hasn’t screamed, ”I hate you, mom! I'm never going to talk to you again!” Okay, maybe you didn't, but I’ve always been known for my dramatic flare. Standard teenage rebellion isn’t what’s up in Fortesa Latifi’s recent Cosmopolitan article, however. She investigates the rise of total estrangement from family: In a 2020 survey, 10 percent of Americans over the age of 18 had cut ties with a parent; 8 percent with a sibling; and another 9 percent with extended relations like grandparents and cousins. Latifi speaks with young people whose parents abused them, rejected them for coming out as LGBTQ+, and raised them in conservative churches. Each had hit a breaking point. For the queer and non-binary Ant, that came after their mother denied that the shooting at Orlando’s LGBTQ nightclub Pulse had happened, and their dad responded to the tragedy by using a slur against queer people—even as Ant tried to locate someone they had recently dated, who had planned on going to Pulse that night. Afterward, Ant felt profound relief; others saw the move as a path to future connection, a necessary period of reflection, “like cutting hair to make it grow longer.” —Tess Abraham-Macht
Read it here.