Rollin' on the River
Like Proud Mary herself, the Stacey McGill and Claudia Kishi of newsletters is gonna start nice and easy… And do the finish rough!
This is your notice to up production on your flagship product. Yes, we’re talking Botox, because this fall we will be heading in for some serious shoot-’em-up. Come autumn, Rachel will be on the other side of baby-baking and in need of some smoothing and the kind of zen one can only get with face muscles that cannot move. Meanwhile, Maggie’s book (about the rise and fall of J.Crew, yes we will let you know when it’s available for preorder!) will be at the printer, and she’ll finally have the time to lean into some self-care of the variety that will also prepare her for her imminent Global Media Tour, baby! As for our friends, they too are preoccupied by beauty’s favorite botulism. Spurred by somebody’s latest poorly lit Zoom meeting, the subject comes up at least once a week. One friend has made multiple appointments, then chickened out. One wants to know exactly how many cc’s to request before she’ll even book an appointment, lest she end up frozen into a Stepford-era Nicole Kidman. (Another “friend”—OK fine, it’s Bella Hadid—swears Marlene Dietrich-style face tape is enough for her.)
The New York Times is obviously listening in on our thoughts again (thanks Google!), and delivered an answer to the question we most often hear: Will Getting Botox Now Prevent Future Wrinkles? It’s interesting; you should read it. But to us, the big takeaway was a study whose setup outmatched its findings in the fascination department. The scientists studied a set of twins. One twin got regular Botox injections; the other didn’t. Thirteen years later, “when the twins were 44, the twin who received treatments did not have static lines at rest; her sister did.” Daaaayum! Is there a Netflix true crime series hiding in here somewhere? How were these people compensated? And what happened at Thanksgiving dinner that year, and every year after? The Spread has henceforth decided that all botulinum toxin decisions must be mutual. Neither Rachel nor Maggie is a big enough person to be OK with ending up the Wrinkled Twin. (Truth: 50 percent of the Spread was a regular Botoxer in the Before Times. Can you guess which one?)
Enough about our vanity. Please allow us to awkwardly transition to a quick word on where we are now: Women across the country—and Black women in particular—have been girding their loins for weeks, awaiting the appointment hearings of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. As Jimmy Kimmel joked last night, it seemed all too likely the hearings would “give a number of our Republican senators a chance to compete in one of their favorite events: the subtle racism jamboree.” Today, day two of the hearings, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn appeared to live up to the challenge, linking Brown Jackson to the 1619 Project and critical race theory, and accusing her of believing “children should be able to choose their gender” simply because she joined the board of a progressive school. Blackburn also took quotes out of context to link Brown Jackson to the issue of transgender people in sports. And in a meta Spread twist, Blackburn based her comment on trans swimmer Lia Thomas’s win at the NCAA championships—which we discussed here last week. Things are still unfolding, but as far as we can tell, Brown Jackson is sailing through these, ahem, Trumped-up questions like a champ.
Winner winner, chicken dinner!
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. A gentle reminder that when you click that little heart up there, though we may not be able to express our emotions with our faces, deep down we really feel the love.
No looking away.
When the kind of abuse that usually plays out behind closed doors happens in broad daylight, it begs the question: What are we going to do about it? Recently we’ve seen two famous women, both magazine cover stars—both the kind of women we imagine are too powerful, too rich, too “perfect” to be within the reach of domestic abuse or harassment—suffer at the hands of equally famous, front-page men, though on radically different corners of the matrix. First, there’s been Kanye West’s months-long combative, stalker-like behavior toward Kim Kardashian on TikTok, calling out the mother of his children and making threatening videos about her new boyfriend, while also intermittently making it clear that he plans to get her back. (Good luck with that.) I’ve read more than one essay protesting that what was happening here was more serious than business-as-usual tabloid clickbait—but who listens to essays, besides us? Last week, Trevor Noah took it to TV, delivering an almost 10-minute monologue comparing Kardashian—who, whatever you may think of her, is a mother trying to disengage from an ex who has well-known mental health issues and will not let go—to Noah’s own mother’s experience at the hands of his abusive father: We are still living in a world where “women are questioned for what is happening to them as opposed to people questioning what is happening to them.” Even famous women. Though the monologue may have turned the tide on how the situation is viewed: Now, Kanye has been banned from performing at the Grammys on April 3 (Noah is the host), despite being nominated for five awards.
The second woman is Evan Rachel Wood. To be clear, I’m not trying to compare the Kimye situation to what Wood says Marilyn Manson did to her—including, she says, making her drink his blood, hitting her with a swastika-adorned Nazi whip, and shocking her private parts with an electric rod. The link I see is in their shared public visibility, and the fact that trauma like this isn’t supposed to happen to “women like them.” Wood, as you probably know by now, is the subject of Phoenix Rising, an HBO documentary released March 15. On the cover of the latest digital issue of the Cut, she appears with “creamsicle-colored hair” (aptly described by writer Angelina Chapin) and talks less about the horrors of the abuse itself, more about the horrors of coming forward about that abuse. Wood testified before U.S. Congress about domestic abuse long before revealing that Manson was her abuser, but his fans had an idea who she was talking about, and threats started pouring in. Eventually she decided to reveal his name, in the hopes it would make her safer: “When you haven’t said anything, you’re more vulnerable to somebody getting rid of you” and passing it off as “an accident,” she tells Chapin. Last year, on the day she finally posted his name on Instagram, there was a Navy Seal stationed outside of her home. Wood has installed bulletproof-glass windows, a steel door, and a security fence around her Los Angeles home. She seems to have lost a marriage—to dancer/actor Jamie Bell, who you may remember as Billy freakin’ Elliot (Hollywood is weird!)—at least in part due to the revelations. And she’s still jumpy, more than a decade later. To paraphrase Noah, if this kind of thing can happen to a woman with her resources, visibility, and social “value,” imagine how difficult it is for a “regular” person to get out of a similar situation?
Shall we sidebar? Rachel, can we talk about the weirdness of trying to shoehorn a woman’s story about rape and abuse into a fashion story, alongside glamour shots of Wood posing in architectural Alexander McQueen? As a pair of fashion magazine vets, we certainly understand the economics of squeezing those fashion credits out of the shoot, but there is definitely something antediluvian about making Wood sell artsy makeup and designer clothes next to a story that asks her to bare her soul. RB, need I say the words…Martin Shkreli?—Maggie
Maggie! That Martin Shkreli story was such a smash in so many ways—crazy access, a breakthrough for writer Stephanie Clifford, a coup for Nina Garcia-era Elle. And yet, the only things I remember about it was the strangely hip Vampire’s Wife dress the story’s not-so-hip protagonist, Christie Smythe, had been styled in for the shoot! And the credits in the captions touting the clothes and the Altuzarra earrings! It felt so forced. And it’s seared into my memory—not in a good way.—Rachel
Read “Evan Rachel Wood Faced Her Fear” here.
Appropriating the animal kingdom.
Gosh we live in a weird, awesome world! That’s what I said to myself this morning, despite being so sick with a non-Covid cold that, if the words had been uttered aloud, I’d have sounded like a toad croaking into a foghorn. This rare moment of unfettered positivity came from reading Rebecca Mead’s latest in the New Yorker: A strange, wonderful, esoteric, supersmart exploration of human beings’ affinity for leopard spots! Part fashion-and-art history, part consideration of the work of conservationist scholars, and part cultural evaluation, the piece examines the idea of whether those of us who purchase clothing decorated in big-cat prints should pass along a tiny percentage of the price of these items to an organization that perpetuates the survival of actual big cats. It’s called a “species royalty,” but I prefer “cat tax.” Mead also slyly gets at our new obsession with cultural appropriation, and the infinite targets that could surface if the same lens was applied to nature. But while Mead assumes most humans other than, say, Carole Baskin, wear leopard prints without thinking about the actual leopard, I must protest: That may be true for some cold-hearted fashionistas, but not for this big-cat enthusiast—writing now with a domesticated, diminutive ancestor of the leopard sitting in my lap—who wears her leopard prints early, often, and expressly in homage to the spotted beasts. Rarrwwrrr.—Rachel
Read “Should Leopards Be Paid For Their Spots” here.
His father the hero.
This month’s Atlantic brings a lengthy personal essay by 70-year-old novelist/memoirist Richard Russo about his father. In print, it’s headlined “Stiff Neck”; online, “My Father, the Fool.” Meditations on manhood from aging white males are not really my bag these days, so I skipped it at first. Emphasis on these days: In my early twenties, I loved the writings of Russo and Franzen1 and Eggers and Roth and Updike and Yates, and read every lick of it published in books and Esquire and the like—perhaps because the musings of men seemed novel to me, a girl-turnip who’d just fallen off the truck from Mississippi, or because I wanted to impress literary-inclined guys with how fluent I was. Or because those were the writers who got all the love back then. Or maybe it was simply because these writers were so good: engaging, insightful, humanistic? When my friend Paul mentioned the Russo essay, it reminded me how much my taste in reading material has been swayed in recent years by the “cool” and the now. And that while I still often punch the air in agreement with Jonathan Chait’s hot fire—in fact, I did so this morning!—I tend to skip right past the musings of ye olde white dudes. Well, Paul doesn’t go around recommending bluster. He lives in Mississippi, is married to one of my closest childhood friends, is an engineer for the city of Flowood, and drives a pickup. He’s also brilliant, philosophical, a father of four, a choir soloist, and a flautist. More than anyone I know, Paul is able to exist in multiple worlds, among tribes of dramatically different political views and levels of education, and to do so with complete authenticity—unlike so many of us who are code switchers, myself included. I gave the Russo a read, and Paul was right: This story is about empathy and political/social division, using as an illustration Russo’s father and the eventual tribal divide between them (Russo’s father was a blue-collar guy who spent off-the-clock hours telling stories at the bar; Russo was a tweed-collared type who parlayed the same skills to a career in academia and literature). It’s about vaccines and education and belonging, and how different groups of people move through the world—and about how, as this piece made me realize, I too am guilty of seeing some of these groups as a mob as opposed to a cohort of individuals. The only villain in this story, really, is social media. (Bet you could see that one coming!) It’s also about, yes, masculinity, but so is the ideological chasm that’s tearing everybody apart. So I guess what I’m saying is, spend a half hour with Dick and his family. You won’t regret it.—Rachel
Read it here.
What are you trying to tell us, Michelle?
Over at the New York Times, columnist Michelle Goldberg is leading the siege against sex positivity! Way back in Issue #1 of the Spread—now gold-plated and hanging in the Smithsonian, nestled right between Amelia Earhart’s goggles and Rosie the Riveter’s…bicep—we highlighted Goldberg’s column about a new generation of feminists rejecting the sex-positive talk of their forebears, who preached that women should reject sexism while ardently embracing sex. And, while we’re at it, embracing own desires and those of our mates, and even porn. Goldberg was writing about philosopher Amia Srinivasan’s book The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, which argues that porn—and whale-tail dressing, and “Oops I Did It Again”—left women insecure and alienated, as if “we were tricked into exploiting ourselves,” in the words of one college student. Now, Goldberg takes up another book, Rethinking Sex: A Provocation by Washington Post columnist Christine Emba, which makes the case that “sexual liberation, as currently conceived, has made people, and especially women, miserable. It’s created, ironically, new strictures and secret shames, at least in certain elite milieus, around ‘catching feelings,’ hating casual sex and having vanilla sexual tastes,” Goldberg writes. In other words, today women and men alike are expected to embrace not just every form of sexuality but also every proclivity—lest we make anyone feel bad about their true selves—but are afraid to ask for the “conservative” old fashioned stuff we want, namely kindness, intimacy, and “hey, would you mind not choking me next time?” Emba’s book aims to bust a relatively new liberal taboo—the one that has made us ashamed to question any sexual inclinations. Reading about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about Evan Rachel Wood. Now, Wood’s story is pitch-black horror movie stuff, far beyond the more run-of-the-mill kink that Emba seems to be talking about. But I wonder: Back when Wood first got involved with Manson at the tender age of 18, in the super-sex-positive aughts, did this line of thinking have something to do with her initial willingness to go along with his shock-your-parents' tastes? We call it “sex positive” now but when I was a teenager and early twentysomething, it was about being the “cool girl.” The one who is “grown up” enough to embrace her own desires and liberated enough to indulge his, too, free of puritanical judgment and without stopping to think a lot about what she really wants. The girl who wants to experiment—but is also convinced that she should want to experiment, if she’s gonna call herself a modern woman. Reading Goldberg I also thought about…former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (What? The Spread is a wide-ranging place! From Manson to Schneiderman, with nary a moment’s transition!) A few weeks back we touched on Schneiderman’s taste for rough sex; he says he thought his girlfriends were into it—indeed, he was so convinced of their willingness that he had get all the way to public humiliation and losing his job to be convinced they did not. I can’t stop thinking about how enlightened Schneiderman himself was by Chelsea G. Summers’s writing about his own predilections—as if her theory that outwardly progressive men use kink as a cover for abuse explained something about his own inner workings to himself. My point is: How many women are convincingly going along with shit they never wanted, because they think it makes them cool, modern, desirable?
Tangent over. Back to Michelle Goldberg: While she finds Emba too conservative at times, she praises her book for bolstering what seems to be Goldberg’s own position: “What passes for sex positivity is a culture of masochism disguised as hedonism. It’s what you get when you liberate sex without liberating women.” Now that Goldberg has written twice about it, both time in critiques of other thinkers’ books, I’m waiting for the column where she comes out from behind other writers and gives us her own take.—Maggie
Read “A Manifesto Against Sex Positivity” here.
John Waters is “a down-low patriotic person.”
Thanks to my aunt LuLu—yes, the same aunt who’s a text-message font of NFT knowledge—I’ve spent 2022 contemplating the art and taste of iconoclastic filmmaker John Waters via Indecent Exposure, the 2018 coffee-table book marking a 50-year visual retrospective of his work at the Baltimore Museum of Art that LuLu gave me for Christmas. (At Thanksgiving, she and I honed in on a shared appreciation for the magnificent sicko.) I highly recommend the book—Waters’s signature pervy mustache graces its cover—but if you’re not ready to take the 232-page plunge, Talk columnist David Marchese’s new interview with Waters in the New York Times Magazine is a great place to get your feet wet. Pegged to a novel Waters has coming out in early May, it covers shifting cultural values, porn, the intersection of Waters’s relationship with convicted felons (including Cry Baby star Amy Locane) and his interest in true crime, and…feces, a Waters hallmark. Which forced me to consciously confront the intersection of how much I love John Waters and how much I loathe any cultural invocation of—ugh I hate to even write it—shit. Either the answer is deeply Freudian or my love for Waters wins out, just because he’s so weird and singular and his tamer movies are so formative to me (Cry Baby and Hairspray especially). Waters would probably tell me not to overthink it. We all like to be shocked every once in a while.—Rachel
Read “John Waters Is Ready to Defend the Worst People in the World” here.
Members of my book club: Can you ever forgive me?