Tall Girl Energy
In the Bella and Gigi of newsletters (made ya look!), you’ll find hotties, shorties, madams, and more.
Happy Spread Day! People, we had an intro ready to roll on Shailene Woodley, adorable wood nymph turned infamous Hollywood anti-vaxxer—who has a mouth on her, it turns out—but this morning we got hit with a gobsmacker of a story in the New York Times, which no doubt has already made the rounds on many a text chain. So we interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this headline: “We Had Their Baby, and They Had Our Baby.” Basically: A California couple who conceived through IVF had a sneaking suspicion that their newborn looked nothing like them; when the baby was three months old, DNA tests revealed she was nothing like them—the clinic had mixed up their embryo with that of another couple. So after gestating, birthing, and parenting these babies, each couple had to trade in the baby they knew and loved for the baby who had the correct genetics. This hit particularly hard at Spread HQ, given that Rachel has an IVF-assisted one-year-old, who in this scenario would have to be traded in circa now!!!
Yowza. The Spread is here to tell you that while we will surprise and delight and occasionally weird you out, we will always keep very close tabs on your genetic material. Ok, ready for more? In this quadruple-vaxxed, body-centric issue, we’ve got teeny-tiny Dianas, Ratajkowski v. Barber, Tressie on Kyrsten, Joe DiMaggio’s struggle in the sheets, and Simon Rex’s...BLEEEEEEEEEEEP.
Rachel & Maggie
Breast cancer goes to Hollywood.
When Caitlin Flanagan1 was undergoing chemo in her second battle against breast cancer—Stage 4: as bad as it gets—she seized on the news that Sheryl Crow had also discovered she had breast cancer. Flanagan devoured everything she could read on the singer’s illness. Until she found out Crow had Stage...0. “Stage 0? What kind of bullshit, celebrity cancer was this?” In The Atlantic, Flanagan fumes, as only she can, in this riff on the parasocial bond between fan and celebrity—that sense that we are somehow inside the bubble with this person we’ve never met before, that the connection is real—an essay that made me sputter with laughter multiple times before eventually winding around to delivering the most moving take I’ve read yet on the passing of Norm Macdonald. APPLAUSE EMOJI, MS. FLANAGAN.—Maggie
Read “The Cancer Celebrities” here.
Your great-gramps was probably a client.
God bless CBS Sunday Morning, the ASMR of network TV. This week’s program featured a segment in which Spread favorite John Dickerson (who can resist that tiny little coiffure atop his tanned, well-born head?) interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Debby Applegate about her new biography. Business as usual, right? Wrong! Applegate’s book is about legendary Jazz Age madam Polly Adler, and Sunday Morning did not hold back. During the chat, Applegate outed a slew of Adler’s boldface clientele, including the Marx Brothers, Desi Arnaz, and likely FDR. The real eye-opener, though, was their back-and-forth about Adler regular Joe DiMaggio: “[He] did not like [Adler’s] satin sheets because his knees kept slipping, so she was sent out to get cotton sheets for Joltin’ Joe,” Applegate said matter-of-factly during the 10 a.m. hour on the Sabbath day. Yes, you read that right. Knees. Kept. Slipping. Applegate then went on to list some of Adler’s business expenses: “The condoms, the towels, the laundry.” I think I need another cup of coffee.—Rachel
Rachel, First, I’m a little annoyed you were the first to reference CBS Sunday Morning, my favorite show since forever. Second, you had to know this was coming, but...This ought to be a movie! In Lit Hub’s excerpt from Applegate’s book, we meet a 23-year-old Adler who—not content for her “speakeasy with a harem” to service mere bootleggers and bookmakers—cannily sets out to target the “upper brackets of society,” i.e., Dorothy Parker’s rarified Algonquin Round Table set. In the role of Adler, I’m seeing Florence Pugh. But mostly I’m into this one for the visuals. Let’s bring in the artistes behind Paul Thomas Anderson’s flawless Phantom Thread, production designer Mark Tildesley and set decorator Véronique Melery. Ahhh, pass the absinthe.—Maggie
Watch the CBS segment here.
Buy Madam from the Spread’s Bookshop here.
Read the excerpt on Lit Hub here.
Ratajkowski v. Barber: The lines are blurry.
When hottie-of-hotties Emily Ratajkowski’s rebrand as a writer—nay, a thinker!—kicked off with an essay in The Cut last fall, we applauded her evolution in theory, while harboring certain internal...doubts. Baked into her metamorphosis was a surprise factor—as in wait, the Blurred Lines girl can think?—that both undermines the project, and yet is the project. It felt like a vicious/lucrative cycle of having the cake, raging at the cake, eating the cake, and selling the cake. You may have heard Ms. Ratajkowski has a book out now. It is called My Body but notably lacks a cover photo of said body—though EmRata has never ceased posing for the kind of thirst traps that put so much focus on her bod in the first place. Much of the media is just pumped to have an actual peg on which to hang more Ratajkowski coverage. But freshly minted New York Times book critic Molly Young—who is about Ratajkowski’s age and also very pretty (which applies here, people!)—very respectfully, very entertainingly savages the essay collection, articulating our own inchoate thoughts on the feminist dilemma E.R. presents. Meanwhile, over at Air Mail, Judith Newman milks the whole thing for comedy (I literally laughed out loud, twice) while making similar, smart points. I think it was Aristotle who once said, You know you want it.—Rachel
Rachel, A pop culture battle is a’brewing. This week comic Celeste Barber got (mildly) stung on social after posting a video of herself a la Ratajkowski: back arched, bum popped, wearing nothing but a string bikini bottom and heels. Caption: “We are sick of you objectifying our bodies! Also, here’s my ass.” As most everyone knows by now, Barber rose to fame on these “Challenge Accepted” Instagram videos, which recreate “aspirational” images of scantily clad women, starring her own highly relatable body. Among the skinny folk Barber parodies, the standard response is to dot her feed with praise emojis, without actually acknowledging that you’re among the perpetuators of the absurd body image she’s skewering. (Celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, who tones half the twiglets in Hollywood, for instance, just LOVES her some Celeste Barber.) But apparently, poking fun of Emily Ratajkowski, feminist icon, is a bridge too far: EmRata fans revolted, accusing Barber of shaming her fellow woman and “missing the mark.” Lucky us to have a brand new think piece on Barber’s oeuvre by Carina Chocano—who casts Barber as the answer to the Ratajkowski brand of empowerment.—Maggie
“In her ‘Challenge Accepted’ comedy show, Barber observes that ‘in the land of being a lady, it seems that if you look a certain way—if you are really tall, a bird, and slim, you know, all arms and legs; think praying mantis, if you will’—if you are “an excellent, gorgeous praying-mantis woman, and you want to post naked photos of yourself, you, my friend, you are empowering. That is empowering to women. Thank you. Now if you are not so praying mantis, and a little more armadillo, and you also want to post naked photos of yourself—not empowering to women. It is, however, very brave’—the implication being that, in this context, ‘brave’ is code for ‘fat.’”
Read Molly Young’s review of Emily Ratajkowski’s book here.
Read Judith Newman’s review of the book here.
Read Carina Chocano on Celeste Barber here.
Tressie is doing the Lord’s work.
If you are reading this, you likely talk about powerful women early and often and well. But as the New York Times’s Tressie McMillan Cottom laid out in her tweet on Monday, it’s high time the public at large learns how to, too. Educating America on this central topic has become an important piece of McMillan Cottom’s role as an Opinion writer at the Times and her columns on Kyrsten Sinema, which critique the senator’s political actions and how they intersect with what she wears, have been some of the most clear-eyed and useful analysis since Sinema went what I’ll charitably call berserk (and there’s been a lot of analysis). McMillan Cottom’s most recent piece—on Sinema’s choice to wear sleeveless garb and what that says both about Sinema’s body and, you know, America—somehow accomplishes the feat of making reading about Sinema kinda fun, too.—Rachel
Read “Kyrsten Sinema and the Politics of the Sleeveless Silhouette” here.
Buy Tressie McMillan Cottom’s essay collection, Thick, via the Spread’s Bookshop here.
Unpopular opinion: Kristen Stewart—like so many Dianas before her—was miscast.
Let’s get ready to rum-ble! After warm-ups in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, the full-court press for Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is upon us, with KStew’s Shy Di providing the film’s shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center, and point guard all at once. (What? I like basketball.) A Hollywood princess playing the actual Princess of Wales? Larraín’s take on Lady Di’s life as a ghost story? A-plus fashion? The whole spectacle makes me want to cheer. And last week’s perfectly timed leak that Stewart is engaged to her screenwriter girlfriend was a masterstroke. Still, through no fault of her own, the casting of Kristen Stewart doesn’t work. The reason is simple but towering: Princess Diana was 5’10”. Kristen Stewart is 5’ 5”.
If you’re reading this thinking, Rachel, it’s called acting for a reason, I would bet good money that you are not a tall lady. I am 5’10”. As all tall ladies know, height is core to our identities—and especially to our body image. In Diana, whose battle with anorexia and bulimia is central to Spencer, it is impossible to separate the two. Even very thin tall women can look hulking when photographed next to those of petite or even average stature. And in Diana’s case, public image was everything. Making herself seem smaller through disordered eating or faux-bashfulness was an outsized piece of her emotional pie—intertwined with the stuff every Diana filmmaker does acknowledge: Her need to seize control in a system in which she had none. At times in Spencer, Larraín seems to attempt to make Diana look tall—I swear Stewart is standing on a box in one or two scenes. But tallness is a vibe—an inner ish—that starts with genetics but then radiates from within. And KStew don’t have it.
But there’s good news on the horizon. While Emma Corrin (5’8” but still weirdly elfin) got closer to what I’m looking for in my Di in last season’s The Crown, the royal saga’s next chapter will feature the marvelous Australian actor Elizabeth Debicki as Diana. At a dizzying 6’3”, Debicki has Tall Girl Energy to spare. It’s truly a slam dunk.—Rachel
Rachel, What does it mean that the Spread is made by two women, both 5’10”? —Maggie
MB, I’ll just leave you with a quote from Spread guardian angel Julia Child: “Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you’re in a crowd, you’ll always have some clean air to breathe.”—Rachel
She’s rewriting history books, and not everybody’s happy about it.
Journalist and activist Nikole Hannah-Jones gets the full Vanity Fair treatment this month, complete with a cinematic Annie Liebovitz portrait. This is a story I’ve been looking for since news broke earlier this year that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had declined to offer Hannah-Jones tenure—despite the fact that she taught at UNC, her alma mater, for years and that her 1619 Project for the New York Times won a Pulitzer and became one of the most talked-about journalistic endeavors in recent memory. When it came out that the school’s decision followed an objection posed by a multimillionaire conservative donor, I thought: Ok, who’s going to do this story, and when? So I was thrilled to see Alexis Okeowo’s profile of Hannah-Jones pop up—and also a little mystified: The UNC story, and any controversy surrounding Hannah-Jones’s work, is almost a footnote in this telling. What we do get here, though, is a worthy read in its own right: The detailed backstory of the real woman whose name has become “a dog whistle to the politicians and commentators who use her life’s work as evidence of a conspiracy to take the country away from white people.”—Maggie
Maggie, I agree that Okeowo’s profile of Hannah-Jones is worth a read—I’m such an NHJ fan I’ve seen her speak twice!—but I can’t help jonesing (!) for a Part II. While I’ll love print magazines until I die, this seems like a clear case of the medium’s limitations: This profile clearly went to print before a mention of last week’s Virginia gubernatorial election could be wedged in. All very top-of-mind for me, as a VA resident who voted for (admittedly under-inspiring) Dem Terry McAuliffe, and now finds myself in a newly red state. Down here, the role of critical race theory in Glenn Youngkin’s victory has become a topic of constant debate—and, like it or not, Hannah-Jones is the poster woman for CRT. I’d love to read a sharp feature that places her in the middle of the roiling conversation that’s happening right this second.—Rachel
Read “Nikole-Hannah Jones Keeps Her Eyes on the Prize” here.
We’re just gonna leave this quote—about Oscar contender Simon Rex from his former MTV colleague and fellow VJ Kennedy—right here.
“I immediately wanted to protect his goofy ass…Simon was a baby, but a beautiful baby with a great heart and a huge penis.”
The Short Stack, aka, wait…there’s more!
Ode to Entireworld, the smallest (defunct) brand with the most ink spilled. (Carrie Battan, New Yorker) // Social media companies want what QVC is having. (Sara Fischer, Axios) // On just saying no. (Anna Holmes, Atlantic) // OnlyFans blurs the line between influencer and sex worker. (Rebecca Jennings, Vox) // In Germany, mom burnout is a diagnosis—and an insurance-covered vacation. (Courtney Tenz, Bazaar) // Toasting the woman responsible for mRNA vax technology. (Mattie Kahn, Glamour)