Under the Bright Lights
The Vanessa Williams and Gretchen Carlson of newsletters has donned our most spangly bodysuit and will enter while suspended midair with no visible wires (don’t look too close).
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.
Crank up the smoke machine. Cue the glitter canon. Hang on while we clamber aboard our hydraulic lift. (“Rachel, you’re stepping on my 30-foot train!” “Well, Maggie, how am I supposed to see that over this Bob Mackie redux feather headdress?” ) Voice of god echoes out over a packed arena, crowd seems…oddly tranquilized?
How y’all doin’ out there tonight? We promise we’re gonna get on with the show but let us start by saying, Mmmmmwah! You could be in Stockholm right now, recovering from nights one and two of Bey’s Renaissance tour. Or reorganizing your lives around those T. Swift tickets you spent 37 hours on hold and $4,000 to secure. Instead you have come out in droves for 2023’s most-anticipated, highest-earning summer tour of all, The Radio City Spread-Tacular, and chillens, we have been BUSY rehearsing our triple backflips, hot-gluing sequins custom-printed with each of your gorgeous faces onto our bustiers, personally separating out all the green M&M’S (by consuming the other colors), and ensuring that every candle in our floor act is definitely, precisely that perfect shade of ecru.
But before we shoo all 62 Rockettes into our supersize clamshell-shape “spaceship” and really kick this thing off, please give a warm welcome—like only the Spread Nation can—to our new roadie/backup singer/muse/intern, Tess Abraham-Macht, who will be doing all the heavy lifting this summer while we lip-synch the back catalog from a mostly recumbent position! Oops, we mean she’s here to gain valuable life and professional experience as the third member of our girl group over the coming weeks. Beinvenue, Tess! You do have a clamshell pilot’s license, don’t you? (“Maggie! You were supposed to ask that in the interview!” “Rachel, that mic is hot!”)
Up, up, and awaaaaaaayyyy we go!
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. Last week we got real riled up about this profile of fraudster-turned-momster Elizabeth Holmes and, in our excitement, attributed it to the wrong section of the New York Times. It was not a New York Times Magazine joint, but rather a Sunday Business story. We apologize for the error. (Also: Business! Huh! This story gets curiouser and curiouser….)
Like it or not, we all live in Motherland.
Love my mom! Love being a mother! Speaking of crustaceans, love that my husband got me soft-shell crab last night for dinner! But Mother’s Day—painfully exclusionary, grossly commercial, dumbly prescriptive—is not my favorite holiday. Still, I have to give it some credit: Due to its ability to stir up untold complicated feelings, the second Sunday in May always brings with it some of the best personal essays of the year. (The Cut and the Atlantic both publish enough Mother’s Day material—including anti-Mother’s Day material—that they could each make their own themed zine.) This year in the batch, there’s a pair of essays that feel as if they are in conversation with each other, exploring the intersection of physical and emotional identity. They both took my breath away (and though I am it seems always hormonal, this is still no easy feat!): In the Cut’s “My Beautiful Mom,” Samantha Leach examines how her mother’s babe-ish looks were a formative force during her adolescence—and how they affected Leach’s self-image and, you know, entire life trajectory. “My mother prizing my intellect felt like the validation of the thing I so feared: that I wasn’t actually beautiful like her,” Leach writes. “That she was making up for my lack of desirability…by rebranding me as ‘the smart one.’” In “Raising a Daughter With a Body Like Mine,” Atlantic writer Stephanie H. Murray writes about how her lifelong struggle with anorexia made her hope for a boy when she found out she was pregnant—with her issues, the mother-daughter dynamic, she worried, could be a disaster for both of them. But after having two daughters, the effect on her own body image surprised her profoundly: “It’s disorienting, heartbreaking in a way, to see the body you spent so long trying to obliterate emerge in another human and to discover, after all, so much beauty in it.”—Rachel
Read Leach’s essay in the Cut here.
Read Murray’s essay in the Atlantic here.
The middle-school theory on why North Carolina women are sh*t out of luck.
When Tricia Cotham bizarrely flip-flopped across the aisle of the North Carolina Senate in April, it seemed like there had to be some reason for it. An alien abduction, perhaps? Or like in the movies where the kidnappers are holding the politician’s dog hostage and she has changed her vote on the billionaire’s plan to build a toxic-waste dump in town if she wants to save Fido? Well. Several of Cotham’s former allies and staffers went on the record with Jezebel about their betrayal by a woman who, “until recently was endorsed by EMILY’s List, had given speeches for years about abortion rights, sworn over and over to defend them, and even talked about her own medically necessary abortion,” and then, overnight, switched sides to give the state GOP the supermajority it needs to pass a bill banning abortion after 12 weeks, which would doubtless lead to clinic closures and cut down abortion access for women all over the South. Her former allies posit that the real reason for Cotham’s switcheroo was…she went with the people who asked her to sit at their lunch table? “She was stuck on the idea that her Democratic colleagues didn’t like her. ‘The Democrats don’t want me, and the Republicans have helped me out a lot,’” her former confidante recalled her saying. Oh, well in that case! Now, she’s the “shiny new thing” of the Susan B. Anthony crowd, the bodily autonomy of untold numbers of women hang in the balance, and the people who helped her get elected remain baffled: “It makes you wonder, did this person ever believe anything at all?” —Maggie
Read it here.
“Connie Chung was trusted and respected — qualities that my mother herself had enjoyed in China. What more could she hope for from her own Connie?”
New York Times Opinion ran the loveliest homage to Connie Chung and the sisterhood of Asian women named after her. The piece is just so sweet, which felt striking after so many posthumous tributes to Chung’s peer, and sometimes rival, Barbara Walters were so layered! (Though don’t get me wrong: I loved every one of those, too.)—Rachel
Read “Generation Connie” here.
Bigger! Brighter! Busier! Louder! Shinier! Sparklier!
Ever since our own Maggie Bullock and one Shiv Roy ushered in the new era of Quiet Luxury/Stealth Wealth and the chin-length bob, it feels like the style of the superrich has been the only fashion thing anyone wants to talk about. (You can take a page from Amanda Mull and argue that this is not really the wardrobe preference of the .01%—the rich are not a monolith!—but at this point it is very much a thing, on the bodies of trendsters and in the media.) Which is why the New Yorker’s new profile of Philipp Plein—the loudest, most obvious high-end designer in all the land—feels like a breath of fresh…Swarovski crystals? …ultra-distressed jeans? …blindingly white sneakers? Though the decision to choose this (wildly successful) fashion outsider as a subject for an enormous chunk of real estate in the most esteemed of publications may seem counterintuitive—and it is—writer Naomi Fry is able to say more about the fashion world here than she could through a profile of a more establishment-beloved fashion designer. The details are superb, the access to Plein is incredible (when Fry tells us she’s clinging to the door handle of Plein’s Mercedes G-Class SUV as he guns it to 170 kph along a Swiss highway, it’s as if she’s flat-out saying, Only in the New Yorker, suckas!), and the fashion-world context well-drawn. It’s also just a really fun way to spend half an hour or so. And did I mention there are cameos from friends-of-Plein Tommy Lee, Snoop, and Jason Derulo? Simply irresistible.—Rachel
Read “How Phillip Plein Became the King of Lowbrow High Fashion” here.
We have to let go “of the idea that self-criticism is irrational and that we should plow over it with forced positivity.”
Over the past 10 years or so, I have mostly kept my skepticism about the “body positivity” movement to myself. I mean, what feminist in her right mind wants to rain on the parade of other women—women whose bodies are even further from the societal “ideal” than her own—flaunting the shapes they just lovelovelovelove? But secretly, looking at selfies of plus-size women in baby-size bikinis, I have always wondered how deep their love really runs: Does she really feel great about her body? After decades locked in battle with my own incalcitrant vessel, I could not imagine somehow magically shifting to celebrating and showing off my body. Body positivity seemed like just another extreme I wasn’t living up to. Next month, coach-turned-author Jessi Kneeland will publish a book that tries a different tack—one that, on a good day, feels somewhat more attainable: body neutrality, “the ability to accept and respect your body, even if it isn’t the way you’d prefer it to be.” If it sounds familiar, that’s because the term originated in Anne Poirier’s 2021 anti-diet book, The Body Joyful. Body neutrality, Kneeland says, is “a safe place to rest as you exit body hatred, without putting pressure on you to somehow magically love every iota of your body and self.”—Maggie
Read an excerpt of Kneeland’s book, Body Neutral, in TIME here.
Suiting up for battle.
When I was an intern at Details in 2005, it wasn’t just my youth that gave away my masthead rank—which was…nonexistent. It was my too-tight, too-long, wide-legged, light-denim, ripped-just-so 7 for All Mankind jeans—which I wore…everyday. Back then, I did not yet have E. Jean Carroll as a fairy godmother. But during her Elle internship in the ’90s, Bethany Schneider did. Lucky for us, on the occasion of Auntie E.’s historic victory last week, she shared her story, “E. Jean Carroll Bought Me a Dress,” in the LA Review of Books.—Rachel
RB, Sometimes the universe delivers exactly the story you hoped it would, like New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman’s assessment of E. Jean’s A+++ immaculate self-presentation in court. How much do we want to talk about how a woman looks, when what she’s saying is this important? The subject is both offensive and sexist and yet completely and utterly central to how Robbie Kaplan made E. Jean’s case in court. From the hair to the sunglasses to the pitch-perfect skirt suits often belted and/or underpinned by skinny chic turtlenecks, E gave us all a masterclass. Step aside, ski-slope Gwyneth—there’s a new queen of courtroom fashion in town.—Maggie
Read Bethany Schneider’s essay in Avidly, a channel of LA Review of Books here.
Read Friedman in the New York Times here.
Bonus Points: If you missed E. Jean and Kaplan in conversation with Rachel Maddow, you can fix that here.
How much have we really changed in 10 years?
On the occasion of the 10-year anniversary of Americanah, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—a personal favorite—has penned a new forward, excerpted in the Atlantic as, “How I Became Black in America.” Growing up in Nigeria, she writes, “I was Igbo and Roman Catholic, and even then, growing up on a genteel university campus, neither had a significant bearing on the way I moved through the world.” Coming to America at 19, she felt categorized by her race for the first time. This came with things that were heartwarming (her introduction to African American culture) and, of course, heartbreaking: “To be Black was to realize that it was impossible for people to approach one another with the simple wonder of being human, without the specter of race lying somewhere in the shadows.” Americanah, she said, started with her realization of how little mainstream aka white America really knew about Black life. In college, she returned from spring break with new braids. Admiringly, a non-Black classmate remarked, “Wow, your hair really grew long.” Rachel, I’ve already pulled my copy off the shelf and onto my bedside table: time for a reread.—Maggie
This side of paradise.
In the print edition of Elle, the story of Olivia and Emma Handler’s family tragedy is titled “Beautiful and Damned.” A great headline, I thought, given that their family compound in Great Neck was, as legend has it, the inspiration for the The Great Gatsby. You know, the Fitzgerald of it all! Right? And then I read it and whoa—the headline may be an understatement. If you are into true crime and/or contemporary family tragedy and/or (legitimately) sad girls styled in designer clothes for fashion-magazine credits, though, look no further.—Rachel
Read “A Modern-Day Gatsby: The Tragedy of Two Gilded Heiresses” here.
That’s all the news for now (and forever!) right here at 10 to the hour, every hour…
Superfans of Kurt Loder (present!), John Norris (hi!), and Gideon Yago (guilty!) will want to shoot the Hollywood Reporter’s oral history of MTV News directly into their veins. (A clichéd metaphor, yes, but one that just felt like it works for this, you know?) It’s a fantastic send off to the now-obsolete news department, but two of my favorite correspondents are conspicuously absent: Serena Altschul, who for high-school newspaper types (hi again) was the actual queen of gorgeous-smart-girl cool and now as a full-on adult makes segments for hipster program CBS Sunday Morning, and Kim Stolz, whom I had a crush on during the fifth “cycle” of America’s Next Top Model and therefore will feel like I can lay claim to forever. Were they even asked to participate? Is there beef among the team?? Get out thee notebooks! This warrants some Serious Investigative Journalism!—Rachel
RB, I was more of an Alison Stewart/Tabitha Soren girl myself but, as ever, I encourage you to do you.—MB
Oh, thanks, MB! I guess I’ll just keep on being relatively young over here! Tabitha and Alison Stewart were in their, like, thirties when I came of age with the News crew. Love ya!—RB
Read “It Was Lightning in a Bottle” here.
Hear ye, hear ye. We shall henceforth pair all swimwear with Andre Leon Talley-style duchess satin capes, dry cleaning bill be damned.
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I can't decide—and it's a real dilemma—what's the best thing here, the links to the great writing, or The Spread's great writing about the great writing in the links. I know I shouldn't have to decide, but how much time can I spend admiring the local talent before I scoot over to the recommendations? xo