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Who You Callin' Girl Scouts?
The Tagalong and Thin Mint of newsletters are second-guessing our dye jobs, retching on behalf of our fairy godmother, and zeroing in on one broken record.
The Academy Awards nominations have arrived, which means the Spread is kicking into high gear. We only have a short seven weeks to plan this year’s Oscar party but—fear not—the menu is already shaping up. Spanakopita, clearly, will take top billing thanks to Triangle of Sadness, which thankfully knocked out The Whale for a Best Picture nomination; its director, Ruben Östlund, beat out James Cameron for a director nod and picked up an original screenplay slot, too. (The relief of not having to serve caviar, or anything…blue is real.) We’ll also be dishing out peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches (Elvis received eight nominations), and in honor of Best Actress nominee Michelle William—usually not a heavy lift around these parts. Despite being an early awards frontrunner, Sarah Polley’s excellent film squeaked into the big ten by the skin of its Mennonite teeth. (Since the all-around perfect Riz Ahmed and the perfect-for-this-gig Allison Williams announced the nominations this morning—what, your family didn’t gather ’round the laptop at 5:30 a.m. PST?—we’ve been shoveling cheese curd down our throats in celebration.)
Whether you’ve watched all or none of these films, dear Spreader, know that you’ll always be number one in the ranked-choice voting in our hearts. (Though if you haven’t yet seen Tár, you’re on thin ice, missy!)
It’s an honor,
Rachel & Maggie
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The hard work of leaning back.
“From the moment I was born, I felt like I had to be a strong Black woman,” author Zee Clarke tells writer L’Oreal Thompson Payton in Fortune. “Black women don’t have models for rest because our mothers didn’t rest. Our grandmothers didn’t rest. And when you go back to the times of slavery, we took care of white women’s children and then went home to take care of our own. That comes with a lot of fatigue and exhaustion, so the status quo becomes overworking and not taking care of yourself.” Thompson Payton illuminates the idea of the “Soft Black Girl”—a woman who, in accordance with the rallying cry of Audre Lorde, prioritizes self-care as a political act, and sees strength in vulnerability. The SBG, gaining steam for several years now, is not an invention of the wellness industrial complex (hallelujah) but rather, “is said to have originated among Nigerian influencers before making its way to Western culture,” writes Thompson Payton. Right on cue, curators at San Francisco’s ICA unveiled “Resting Our Eyes,” an exhibit that asks the question: What does a Black woman’s freedom look like? (On view now through June 25.) In it, 20 Black artists, including Lorna Simpson and Simone Leigh, imagine the freedom of leisure—a theme that artist Mickalene Thomas, with her luxuriant, heavily decorated odalisques, has always made magnificent. I like to believe the woman in Love’s Been Good to Me #2, with her dancing shoes, knows a thing or two about prioritizing self-care.—Maggie
Read “It’s time to leave the Strong Black Woman trope in the past. Meet the Soft Black Girl” here.
Read “Women at Rest” here.
Rewriting the history of Romeo & Juliet.
Over in the department of raised eyebrows, we’ve been following the recent lawsuit that 70-something actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting have brought against Paramount. (By following, I mean that Maggie and I text each other links to new developments and respond with emoji that look absolutely shocked.) Let’s recap: Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, screened in high-school English classes the world over, includes a scene showing Hussey’s bare breasts and Whiting’s bottom; at the time of filming, Hussey was 15 and Whiting was 16. In 2018, Hussey defended Zeffirelli and the scene, telling Variety that it “was needed” for the film to work. Earlier this month, one day before the statute of limitations was set to expire in the state of California, Hussey and Whiting filed suit, alleging sexual exploitation and child abuse, and demanding $500 million in damages. Subsequently, Zeffirelli’s son threw himself into the mix, defending his late father and calling the whole brouhaha “embarrassing.” Next, the Guardian published this doozy of a history of teen actors and onscreen nudity—from Taxi Driver to Skins—which, seems to me, has its cake and eats it too (thoughts?). And then—our eyebrows still raised—the wise Brooke Shields entered the chat: Last weekend, she shook Sundance with the documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, about how she was sexualized by Hollywood starting at age 12...and mistreated by one Franco Zeffirelli when he directed her in Endless Love. Her film got a standing ovation.—Rachel
“Not my type,” my ass.
Why haven’t there been more think pieces on the Neanderthal argument then-President Donald J. Trump put forth when he was first accused of assault by (Spread Fairy Godmother) E. Jean Carroll? She’s not my type, he said. In other words, not hot enough to violate. To answer my own question, maybe there have been no think pieces because it doesn’t require deep thought to see how deeply wrong that line is. Still, humor me. Set aside the fact that the woman in question is in fact a former beauty queen who, at the time of their encounter at Bergdorf’s, looked like a cross between a young Barbara Eden and Diane Sawyer. Set that fact aside because that truth—that E. Jean was and is a stone cold fox—should not be the point. The point is that maligning her looks was, in Trump’s world, some kind of defense—because, what, only beautiful women get raped? [Pauses to dry retch.] Now E. Jean’s lawyers walk a fine line, it seems to me. Because as wrong as that line of thinking is, part of their job will inevitably be proving that she was, in fact, the old reptile’s “type.” Last week, a judge finally unsealed the transcripts from Trump’s deposition in E. Jean’s defamation case, and what did Trump do? Shown the photo above, he mistook the blond who wasn’t Ivana for Marla Maples—you remember, Tiffany’s mama? Trump’s own lawyer had to speak up and correct him: Dude, that’s E. Jean. The one you said you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? I guess if Marla was hot enough to leave Ivana for, that must mean E. Jean was…hot enough to assault? [More dry retching.] Now that I’ve written those four words, it’s hard to feel all that gleeful about his gaffe after all.—Maggie
The dangers of repeating oneself.
When I first saw the headline “Inside the Backlash Against Mindy Kaling” pop up on Apple News, I got my back up. Much of Kaling’s output is too saccharine for my taste, but I do find the woman herself deeply likable, even heroic—having populated the TV landscape with an array of charming, appealing South Asian characters who simply did not exist in that space before. Really, BuzzFeed, now we’ve gotta take down Mindy? But a few graphs into Izzy Ampil’s piece, I had to admit, Kaling’s critics have a point. The backlash unleashed by her latest, Velma (yeah, the Scooby Doo series on HBO) centers on “Kaling’s long career of writing and performing a specific kind of Indian woman: dorky, self-absorbed, insecure, obsessed with attaining the romantic validation of caustic white guys, and eager to fling herself, her family, her culture, and other cultures under the bus to get it.” These women share a kind of humor that is self-deprecating to the point of self-hatred, and often lament culturally loaded “flaws,” like visible arm hair. (Huh! Seems every Mindy character from The Mindy Project’s Dr. Lahiri to The Sex Lives of College Girls’ Bela Malhotra has complained about that one.) Ampil zeroes in on what seems to me to be the real problem: a narrowness of imagination. Kaling has created more or less the same character, with the same flaws and general cultural attitudes, in each production. And they’re all a version of Mindy herself. Whether she wants to be the lead representative of the South Asian point of view on TV or not, she now occupies that seat—does she then bear a responsibility to broaden the portrait she paints? Maybe. But the critique made me wonder what goes on behind the scenes. Is Kaling really such a one-trick pony? Or are the executives who greenlight her projects only really interested in buying one thing from her: the thing that has already proven to sell?—Maggie
Read “The Mindy Kaling Backlash Has Lost All Nuance” here.
Do you like your beauty intel with an unexpected side of Hello mag? Who doesn’t!
There’s an unassuming little beauty story on the Cut this week that has Armie Hammer’s ex-wife rolled up inside of it like a cute little matryoshka doll. Surprise! The story is nominally about a new injection beloved by rich ladies who live full time in the Caymans, where they have no access to their usual top-dollar “vampire” blood-platelet facials (oh, the irony, given Armie’s, uh, tastes…). Not yet legal in the U.S., these Profhilo shots are apparently huge among the front-row-at-Couture set, “part of an emerging group of injectables referred to as ‘skin boosters,’ which, after being injected, expand under the skin to make your face look extra moisturized and fresh,” writes Kayleen Schaefer. Also: the ex-wife, Elizabeth Chambers, now captions her Instagram posts with lines like “nobody puts baby in a corner” and—who knew?—is also a “TV host/journalist” (no comment) and a bakery founder. Look, if anybody deserves a pick-me-up, it’s this gal.—Maggie
Read it here.
Tressie on Blonde.
My mother recently mentioned to me that she was at a higher-than-most risk for macular degeneration—an age-related eye disease that can ultimately make you go blind. Why? Because she has blue eyes. (Mine are brown.) Apparently all humans with blue eyes are at a higher risk—sorry, Maggie. Less pigment means more light penetration, often ultimately meaning more degeneration. If blue eyes mean a higher chance of going blind later in life, we should hope our children would not have blue eyes, right? I’d been spreading the word (“pontificating,” some might say) to anyone who might listen: blue eyes should not be the beauty ideal! —when into my inbox came New York Times deity Tressie McMillan Cottom’s latest, about the related concept of “blond” and all the social and racial dynamics tangled up in it. This was an especially thorny pill to swallow for someone who has long spent an outsize chunk of her income on blond maintainance (if I’m not being clear, I am "someone”). McMillan Cottom’s entire piece, which centers on an incident where she was banned from TikTok after outraging a horde of TikTok blondes (!), is worth your time. “We hate thinking that the things we enjoy — like a soapy western with conservative tropes — mean anything,” she writes. “That is the thing about status. We all want it, but, should we acquire it, we don’t want it to mean anything. We don’t want to feel bad about having status. The real blondes let me have it because, they maintained, being blond should mean something for them but not mean anything for the rest of us. That is not how status works.”—Rachel
Read “The Enduring, Invisible Power of Blond” here.
Try again tomorrow?
We’ve been meaning to mention Rachel Feintzeig’s WSJ story from early January and today, when Maggie’s boys have dental appointments in the middle of the workday and Rachel’s infant was up all night with a roasting fever, feels like the right time. “When Having It All Means It’s All Falling Apart” is about those moments—ok, the majority of the time—when work and life do not “balance.” Hardly an original sentiment, but the grizzly tales Feintzeig tracked down might make you, like us, feel a little better about your ineptitude: “One lawyer and mother of four in Pennsylvania told me she’d once dropped her child off at soccer practice, then figured out, in the blur of juggling back-to-back calls, she’d dropped the wrong child. A nonprofit executive mistakenly threw the plastic bag containing his homemade lunch in the trash and commuted to the office cluelessly clutching a bag filled with cat poop. One tech leader recounted to me the time she received a text message while stationed in a glass conference room in her bustling office. It was her fiancé, breaking up with her.” If none of these things happened to you today, let’s call it a win!!
Read it here.
One for the outliers.
As I’ve written before in these, uh, pages, I’m a joiner; I love a retreat, an outing, a team-building “exercise.” But when I got my first full-time job at a magazine, I was 22 and lived in fear of a “fun” team day “off”: The year before I got there, the staff had been required to spend an entire workday together at the beach, and—gasp—they might do it again, forcing me into a bathing suit with coworkers, a merging of spheres that is strictly against my code of ethics. I spent untold hours worrying about this possibility. Praise be: That summer’s outing ended up being an awkward picnic on the lawn of someone from the business department. Never has anyone been so grateful for stilted conversation over hot dogs in the sweltering heat. In the New Yorker, Lauren Collins has the backs of less-than-enthused office workers everywhere with a piece about how—in yet another way—France is the promised land for office employees. Her peg is “Monsieur T.,” a fellow who sued, lost, appealed, and ultimately won a case against a consulting firm that fired him in part for refusing to participate in their workplace fun—which allegedly involved heavy drinking and a corporate retreat where he was forced to share a bed with a colleague. In a trés Collins-ian feat, the story is harrowing and also very funny! After you read it, join me in thanking Monsieur T. for his service by totally leaving him alone and letting him get his danged work done.—Rachel
Read “The Right Not to Be Fun at Work” here.
Shots in the dark.
We can’t help but notice that certain media-world figures—past advocates of “body acceptance”—have been shrinking dramatically on social media. We suspect this may be due to the weight-loss wonder drug Ozempic, which editor friends tell us has swept both Condé Nast and the Hearst Tower. We’re happy to see these newly svelte types—some of whom were outliers in the field, by virtue of existing above sample size—out there living their best lives. But we wonder: Are they planning on coming to Jesus about the fact that—despite the PC messaging they’ve been, er, spreading for the past decade—“best” still means “thin” to them? Waiting for someone’s confessional op-ed. Perhaps an editor’s letter? Heck, we’ll even take a TikTok....
Breaking news from today’s Spread Editorial Meeting™
MB: Should we be the Trefoils and Thin Mints of newsletters today?
MB: RACHEL. This is the most elementary of Girl Scout Cookies!
RB: In Mississippi we just called them Shortbread somethings…
MB: Samoas, then?
RB: You mean Caramel deLites?
MB: Are you kidding me? Fine. Tagalongs?
RB: I think those are Peanut Butter Patties.
MB: Rachel THESE ARE JUST THE NAMES OF THE COOKIES. I don’t make the rules.
RB: I just got to the bottom of it instead of doing my Spread duties: Two companies manufacture the cookies. One makes Samoas, Tagalongs, and Thin Mints. Another makes Caramel deLites, PB Patties, and Thin Mints!! Depending on your region, you get one or the other!
MB: Maybe we should just be the Tylenol and Advil of newsletters.
*Readers*: Please submit your favorite duo names for future issues! We (clearly) need your help here.
Friends, I have read a book called The Kingdom of Prep, about J. Crew and its place in the American imagination (and the American closet), and I am here to tell you that—though I never thought a book about retail could be a page-turner—this one proved me wrong. If you like workplace dramas that capture the cultural moment (Mad Men, Halt and Catch Fire, Younger, The Bold Type), you will like this book. And you’ll soon be saying it with me: This oughta be a movie!—Rachel
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Yes, we know what the actual movie is about. Just go with it!
Happy to see these two share a screen again—can you believe it's been six years since Ahmed played Hannah Horvath’s baby daddy on Girls? Yes? We can too.