The Nicollette Sheridan and Marcia Cross of newsletters is experimenting with “grounded exaggeration.”
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.
Is this a safe space? Like, are you here to honor our needs and act in alignment to what feels right within the scope of our lives? If not, we are unsure we will be able to hold the emotional space that you’ve become accustomed to moving forward. Yes, despite our year and a half of trauma-bonding here on Substack. Because, crucially, that’s a boundary. This is not a space for narcissistic or toxic behavior—unless the narcissism is coming from us, in which case: We have been diagnosed! We are centering our own narrative as we work through it. Are you questioning our medical condition? Self-care, you see, is paramount—at long as our inner children are the ones being self-cared for. And our inner children are giant—don’t even think about size-shaming them! What’s our attachment style, you ask? Um, no, that is a boundary. (Ok, fine, it’s anxious/preoccupied.)
Splashes cold water on faces…shakes heads back and forth like Tasmanian Devil or—for you dog people out there!—a Border Collie after an impromptu dip in an alluring pond.
Ooooooh-kay! We’re back, thank god. All that therapy-speak? Just an experiment that felt needed after a particularly harried spring break. (It didn’t do the trick—still harried!)
Thankfully, the online mags are taking on this emo-linguistic jujitsu. In Bustle’s “Is Therapy-Speak Making Us Selfish?” writer Rebecca Fishbein gets in with the experts to find out how boundaries run amok can actually be damaging. And over at Refinery 29, Meg Walters recently traced the roots of the trend, which has mushroomed all the way into people breaking up with their real-life friends using a self-care script (as with everything, TikTok is to blame/credit/squint at). Sheesh, whatever happened to ghosting?
And now for the news! And by that we mean…well, you know what we mean.
We treasure this season of our friendship,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Our therapists tell us to ask for what we want, so here goes: “Like” this issue—and give us the validation we seek—by smashing the little heart button. Well, that and upgrade to a paid subscription! Everybody knows that nothing is more affirming than cold, hard cash.
Our uteri, ourselves.
The New Yorker has published a lengthy personal essay by writer Anna Holmes about her struggle with fibroid tumors and the complicated decision to get a hysterectomy as the final step to alleviate the excruciating pain and extreme bleeding that have tormented her for years. Holmes writes clearly (and graphically) about the anatomical aspects of the tumors and their symptoms, and movingly about why her decision to have her uterus removed was so difficult, even as a feminist—she was the founding editor of Jezebel a zillion (16) years ago—with no intention to have children. In a twist, body drama has become one of the New Yorker’s strongest subgenres (remember Gary Shteyngart’s highly emotional penile saga?) and this is an important entry: Not only are fibroids—which affect Black women at three times the rate of white women—rarely written about, they are also outrageously understudied. Still, if you can believe it, Holmes’s is my second favorite essay about fibroids. In her book Thick, Tressie McMillan Cottom writes so evocatively about her traumatic uterine suffering that I mentally flash to it whenever I think about my own sometimes-traitorous womb…loyal readers of this newsletter know I think of it frequently, thanks for sticking around. (Thick, a treatise on beauty as it pertains to race, money, and class, is one of the wisest and stickiest books I’ve read in the past decade; if you’re a fan of Tressie—and I’m sure you are if you are here!—and haven’t read it, well….right this way to the Spread bookshop.) And while we’re on the topic of how the female body is egregiously understudied, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to Vagina Obscura queenRachel E. Gross’s latest for Nautilus, “Why Doctors Can’t Name Female Anatomy”—a gut-punch: “At some point in medical school, doctors-in-training learn that vulva is the umbrella term for the external female genitals, and are shown a diagram of its major landmarks,” she writes. “There is little formal training on the vulva beyond knowing, generally, where it is.” That one hit me where it hurts.—Rachel.
RB, You and I should really consider working together someday, we are quite aligned! I, too, was thinking about poor ole Shteyngart’s shtump, vis a vis Holmes’s hysterectomy. Remember back in our very first Spread, we railed about how highbrow media is happy to let vaunted male writers talk about their bits, but rarely invites women to do the same? Well, the bluntness with which Holmes references her Always Maxi Size 5 Extra Heavy Overnight Pads with Wings, and the blood—gah, so much of it, blood-soaked leggings and sheets and mattresses, and the “gush of blood [that] fell out onto the floor”? Well, props, New Yorker for publishing a piece that is more unapologetically accurate than any women’s magazine would currently run.—MB
Read “The Unexpected Grief of a Hysterectomy” here.
Read “Why Doctors Can’t Name Female Anatomy” here.
With mifepristone’s future on the line, another grim reality.
“The fact that most doctors like me—and even my colleagues in obstetrics and gynecology—don’t know how to perform abortions is one of the great scandals of contemporary medicine in the US.”—Laura Kolbe, M.D., writing in n+1. Read it here.
Life moves pretty fast….if you’re a celebrity getting a divorce?
Sometimes I wonder whether Ali Wong is living her life at hyperspeed, or if mine is just moving at a particularly glacial pace. (Rachel, you’re not the only one with unhealthy parasocial relationships, I guess.) Seems like 10 minutes ago, Wong splashed onto the scene as the bulbously pregnant pint-size dynamo in red glasses whose whole act was about procreation and marriage. Then, last year, she gave us the follow-up special, where she talked an awful lot in exceedingly pointed jokes about wanting to cheat on her husband and you could kinda see where this was headed. But not how fast it would get there! Lo and behold, separation, divorce, singledom, dating—kapow! In a blink, Wong is back, and remarketed as Single Ali, she is conspicuously not wearing glasses. Why does the loss of the glasses bug me? More generally, why do I resent the speed with which Wong zigs and zags? Anyway, her comeback story is part of a comprehensive and really pretty great series, “It’s Over,” that the Cut has produced on D-I-V-O-R-C-E (what, I’m the only one who watched George & Tammy?). The package also includes an excerpt from Maggie Smith’s new book, about the poem she wrote that went viral, bringing an unlikely midlife success to her door—and eventually spelling the end of her marriage. And it delves into the art of the Celebrity Divorce Reveal, which is the reason why it suddenly seems like everybody’s going splitsville (from Reese to Joanna Goddard) because now you can’t just slide a breakup under the radar, ya gotta announce…and then, a la Reese, erase that downer post from your grid, with a quickness!—Maggie
Find all of the “It’s Over” stories here.
Read “My Marriage Was Never the Same After That” here.
Read “Reintroducing Ali Wong” here.
Read “Everyone Announces Their Divorce Like a Celebrity Now” here.
I’m not great at articulating the cultural dichotomies that swirled around my childhood in Mississippi in the ’80s and ’90s, dichotomies that—despite me “getting out” for college (thanks to my open-minded and well-resourced parents) and moving to the North, where I made a career and a family—affect my self-identity to this day. If I were doing therapy-speak, I might call the whole exercise triggering (and I will be doing therapy-speak later this week, in therapy—buckle up, Robert!). But Monica Potts, who grew up in Clinton, Arkansas, and wrote a new book centered on her town called The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America, recently excerpted in the Atlantic, does a bang-up job: “When it came to liquor, there were two modes…alcoholism or abstinence. This paralleled the bifurcated morality I saw everywhere: girls were either virgins or whores; students were either geniuses or failures; you could go to church or you could be a sinner. The town seemed to operate in two modes—the buttoned up propriety of the churchgoers, who held power in the county, versus the rowdy hillbillies…The rigid divide allowed no room for subtleties or missteps.” The excerpt paints a dire picture of the realities girls in rural/conservative America live with—a dynamic that ultimately promotes teen pregnancy, poverty, drug addiction—with not just empathy but intimacy: Potts has been there; these girls were her closest friends.—Rachel
Read “How Rural America Steals Girls’ Futures” here.
Pre-order the book, out April 18, here.
Naomi is holding Choupette, y’all.
Kids, can we put aside our mixed feels about the Vogue-iness of Vogue—the fashion hierarchy, the absurd popularity contest/hazing ritual that is the annual Met Gala—for a moment to just luxuriate in the extravaganza of the May issue’s Karl Lagerfeld tribute: the most majestic fashion photos I’ve seen since I don’t know when; a touching little mini-doc on designers waxing nostalgic on Lagerfeld memories (Pierpaolo and those supersized camellias! I kvell!); and one Naomi Elaine Campbell holding the late designer’s (verified) Instagram-famous blue-cream tortie Birman? (Hey you in the back, snickering that this is surely a Choupette body double, after all how old must that feline be: I’ve heard just about enough out of you!)
While we’re wafting around fashionland: This week saw the release of the Hollywood Reporter’s annual top stylist and star issue, which I always love, and which answered questions floating around the backwaters of this busy, busy brain: Namely, how did Anne Hathaway, of all people, come to embody my Paris afterparty #lifegoals? The Hath tells the mag that her stylist, Erin Walsh, “introduced me to the concept of grounded exaggeration, which I am having the best time exploring with her.” Man, do I love wholly invented fashion jargon. Can’t you just picture the ultracool Walsh, waggling a Versace micromini in front of Hathaway, ever the good student: “OK, Annie, what we’re going to try now is a technique I like to call grounded exaggeration. Good girl! Oooh, A++++!”—Maggie
Behold the Karl tribute here.
Read the stylist power list here.
“Do you have anything in this shop as beautiful as she is?”
Rachel, I waffle. On the one hand, the territory that seasoned film journo Karina Longworth covers in the new ’90s-focused season of her incredibly well-researched podcast, You Must Remember This, is tailor-made for Spread ears. YMRT is “dedicated to exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood's first century”; the title of this episode says it all, “1988: Prologue: Porn, Feminism & the Folly of NC-17” (yes!); and the show notes Longworth provides are perhaps the most satisfying ever written. On the other hand, we have Longworth’s anal-retentive e-nun-ci-a-tion of every sy-lla-ble and the strange, almost trippily slowed-down cadence with which she delivers her lines, as if she’s subliminally onboarding me to Scientology. Nevertheless: YMRT has won a slew of awards and been blurbed out the wazoo, so I’m assuming this nails-on-chalkboard factor is apparent only to me, and that our more balanced Spread readers will be able to enjoy the rich behind-the-scenes context on why Richard Gere had to do Pretty Woman when it came along…without jumping out of their skins? Look, don’t say I didn’t warn you.—Maggie
Try it! Why not? Here.
Guys, what is the deal with Ashley Biden?
I’m still not really sure. But the famously private first daughter, who is a social worker currently applying to a Ph.D. program at UPenn (think she’ll get in?), sat for an interview with Elle’s Kayla Webley Adler out of duty to the causes she cares about. She seems nice and if you’re a connoisseur of presidential-spawn profiles—which I am—here you are. Unfortunately, she doesn’t talk about having her diary stolen by enterprising thieves who wanted to ruin her life and her family’s to make a buck while she was staying on and off at a friend’s place after going to rehab in Florida. (Her publicist says her lawyers won’t let her.) She does, however, show some midriff while wearing Altuzarra!—Rachel
Read “Ashley Biden Knows Who She Is” here.
You kick the Beyhive, you’re gonna get stung—aka the Swarm conversation, explained.
November saw the end of Donald Glover’s critical-darling Atlanta, a series “praised for its tender and complex depictions of Black men and widely critiqued for its caricatures of Black women,” writes Nylah Burton in Vox. The next offering from the artist also known by the stage name Childish Gambino is Swarm, a show you’ve likely heard of by now, which is not just about a Black woman, but about a murderous, like, seriously batshit Black woman—a beyond-loaded archetype that has never really been allowed to exist as a character in the pop-culture landscape. Tricky territory for any creator, let alone one who has been dogged for years not just by professional criticisms about his Black female characters but by personal gossip (it’s said that he also doesn’t date Black women). This is a thing, and Glover recently acknowledged it himself: In a rhetorical Q&A for Interview, the artist asked himself whether he was, in fact, afraid of Black women…but failed to provide much of an answer, which only added fuel to the fire (intentionally?). In Swarm, main character Dre is an off-the-rails superfan of a pop star so Beyoncé-esque, we might as well call her Bey. Dre, “dispenses swift, blunt justice via sledgehammer, kettlebell, cast-iron frying pan or whatever other heavy object is at hand,” to anyone who is not “sufficiently reverent of her heroine,” writes Mike Hale in his New York Times review. Vulture’s Angelica Jade Bastién was primed for this one: She also writes a sporadic Substack titled Madwomen & Muses. Bastién takes a professorial tone—“What should a Black madwoman reveal? How should she speak to the intersecting concerns of race and mental illness, femininity and power?” But Vox’s Burton goes for the jugular, decrying the show’s “two-dimensional main character, storyline cluttered with misogynistic and racist tropes, and dubious conclusions about Black women fandoms” as evidence that Glover does, in fact, “hate Black women.” Complicating matters somewhat, Swarm was cocreated by a Black woman, Atlanta vet Janine Nabers; had Ms. Malia Obama in its writer’s room; and stars a universally praised performance by Dominique Fishback. The Times points out that Glover’s “only hands-on credits are for story and directing on the first episode.” So it was maybe possible to leave room for the possibility that the imperfections these critics are pointing to did not necessarily add up to misogynoir…until Glover had to go and compare Fishback’s performance to his fear of dogs (see below). Say it with me: Wooof.—Maggie
Read “Swarm isn’t a love letter to Black women. It’s hate mail” in Vox here.
Read “Let’s Talk About the Black Madwoman in Swarm” in Vulture here.
And then there’s “Donald Glover’s problem with women — or Black women.” in Essence, here.
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I, too, am mystified by Longworth’s delivery on her podcast. Is she reading? In her interview with Marc Maron on WTF, her conversational voice is so personable, candid and fast paced.