February 24, 2021
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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Biden’s Cabinet nominees face Senate questioning, Hillary Clinton is writing a political thriller, and Martha Stewart sure seems to be enjoying life. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
– More Martha. For my money, Martha Stewart is one of most, if not the most, fascinating characters in American business. Now 79, America’s first self-made female billionaire (minted when her company went public in 1999) has been a publishing titan, a lifestyle influencer, a TV star, a convict, a model, a CBD peddler, a stockbroker, a caterer, an author 98 times over, a QVC pitchwoman—the list goes on.
So, as you can imagine, I had a great time reading this delectable new Harper’s Bazaar profile of Stewart by Jada Yuan. Oh and the photos! Iconic.
It’s an interesting time to think about Stewart and the place she holds in American culture. The profile points to Stewart’s deep knowledge of DIY and the domestic arts as a reason she, a wealthy and privileged white woman, might not work people’s nerves the same way, say, Gwyneth Paltrow does, adding: “And there’s the endless dedication to improving people’s lives, by showing us how to get oil stains out of our clothes or reminding us that we deserve a delicious, easy cocktail (with dried cranberries and a sprig of rosemary!) at the end of the day.”
Frankly, I don’t buy it. There have always been those who’ve found Stewart, with her laborious projects and impossibly high standards, ridiculous. And that hasn’t changed just because the pandemic spurred many of us to try her sourdough recipe. In fact, considering the difficulties too many people are facing just to pay rent or get the kids through another day of Zoom classes, the idea that we should be living a Martha-fied life right now feels downright offensive.
For me, Stewart’s real appeal lies in how little she seems care about whether or not the public believes she that she has, as Bazaar asserts, “never felt more relevant.” Her epic confidence, her entrepreneurial zeal, her refusal to disappear from public life after her time in prison, her total disregard for what we expect from a rich white lady staring down 80—that’s what made her a fixture in the public consciousness.
Yuan’s story doesn’t sugarcoat Stewart. It’s clear she’s not the easiest person to work with (unless you plan to take her calls during your Sunday bath time) and her take on the #MeToo movement is muddy. It also provides a glimpse at the cost of becoming the woman Stewart is today. ()f her prison stint, Stewart says: “I’m not bitter about it, but… My daughter knows all the problems that resulted because of that. There’s a lot.”) But it’s the final quote I’ll walk away with: “I’ve said it so many times, but take your life into your own hands. Don’t let other people direct you. Know what you want. I really believe in that.”
The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe.