Why I Stopped Reading The Skimm, Plus Four Great Alternatives

I recently unsubscribed from The Skimm.

The decision was a long time coming. I signed up for the women-geared daily newsletter when I was a sophomore in college, feeling like the epitome of sophistication for having demonstrated any interest in the news at all.

Five years later (and after some much-needed personal growth), I was at the end of my rope with their irreverent, often irresponsible use of tone-deaf headlines that presumed the only way to maintain my attention was by couching every news story in a joke about Millennial women. There is more to us than white wine and “beach reads”!

It felt particularly uncouth in a news cycle that seems dominated by events like terrorist attacks, human rights violations, and natural disasters that deserve measured, thoughtful reflection — not cringe-worthy puns or references to brunch. This article, which I came across last week, captured a lot of the reasons behind that decision. Namely, that “some stories weren’t meant to be viewed through a lens of bottomless sangria.” 

Bottom line: Knowing a little can be more dangerous than knowing nothing at all, especially when it placates you into thinking you don’t need to dig any deeper. As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve really begun to understand the importance of seeking out places where people who are smarter than me (this is key) are regularly reflecting on these things in more than 140 characters (also key) — not just politics but also culture, current events, and how they fit into our individual, national, and global narratives. 

Here are some of the places I like to hang out:

1. Past Present Podcast

Interested in the world around you but exhausted by partisan talking points? Me too! And this is the antidote. This podcast, which I was introduced to by my friend Kathryn Beck, brings together three historians and academics to discuss what’s happening in American politics and culture today within the larger scope of history. Hosts Natalia, Neil, and Niki choose three news stories per episode and “turn hindsight into foresight” by drawing connections between the latest headline and the long legacy of historical events that led up to it. It’s a good reminder that our current cultural climate is far from “unprecedented”; it’s part of an ongoing historical narrative that can provide us with much-needed context for today. 

Recommended Episode: Comey’s Firing, Teeth & Dentistry, and the Bachelorette (Episode 84)

2. Still Processing

Hosts Wesley Morris, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, and Jenna Wortham, staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, talk every week about culture in the broadest sense. That means film, books, music, and Kanye’s mental health (worried about ya, bud) but also the culture of work, relationships, race, politics, technology, the internet and how those all fit together. Also, Jenna and Wesley are impossible not to love. They are incredibly charming, astute and candid in their discussions of these topics, ability to pull out the broader themes within them, and analysis of their effect on us both individually and collectively.

Recommended Episode: We Watch Trump TV with Emily Nussbaum

3. Pop Culture Happy Hour

Pop Culture Happy Hour is a roundtable conversation about books, movies, music, television, comics and their place in the zeitgeist. Hosted by “Monkey See” blogger Linda Holmes, whose writing can be found here, PCHH features a rotating cast of characters that provide diverse perspectives into whatever topic they’re discussing. Don’t let the name fool you, though: it’s more than just movie reviews. Because of their incredible bench of critics, every episode — even when they’re discussing the latest summer blockbuster — somehow becomes an in-depth analysis of what culture and art reveal about those who create and consume it. 

Recommended Episode: Get Out and The Americans

4. Code Switch

Code Switch, a linguistic term for when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, is hosted exclusively by journalists of color and it deals with the ways that race and identity intersect with (you guessed it) culture, politics, history and more. It’s unflinchingly honest, empathetic, and unafraid to make its listeners a little uncomfortable (don’t worry, that just means it’s working) all for the sake of amplifying voices and topics that don’t get a lot of airtime in mainstream media. No matter the subject matter, this podcast approaches it with curiosity and compassion in a way that I find endlessly entertaining, challenging and educational.

Recommended Episode: Can We Talk About Whiteness?

Now I’m curious to know: how do you stay informed? Is your preferred medium podcasts (like mine, clearly), print media, cable news (is that still a thing?) or something else?

…and please don’t report me to the army of #Skimmbassadors.

A Woman’s Worth: Hot Girls Wanted, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Rookie Mag

 Brian Snyder / Reuters
Brian Snyder / Reuters

I have a bunch of new readers now and, since they’re don’t really know what to expect from me yet, I’m going to choose something lighthearted and palatable to ease them in, right? Nope.

Let’s talk about the commodification of women’s bodies and who profits from it!

Actually, though, let’s start by talking about personality tests.

I’m an ENTP, which Sixteen Personalities describes as a person who loves to exercise their “quick wit, broad accumulated knowledge base and capacity for connecting disparate ideas.” (…should that be the new description for my newsletter?) Anecdotally, my fifth-grade teacher smelled like maple syrup and told me that I was a lifelong learner.

This character trait serves me well as a writer, reader, and podcast fanatic. I absorb an insane amount of information during the week: from peer-reviewed scientific theories to pop culture phenomena to musings from the lifestyle bloggers that I still hate-read even though all their posts are #spon. Despite the wide range of topics, themes tend to emerge around one topic or idea and that’s what gets included here.

Over the past few weeks, there’s a topic that seems to be coming up in every little pocket of the internet that I explore. It’s something that feels so distant from my everyday (did you know women couldn’t even get a credit card without their husband’s permission until 1974?) and yet also very close (like all the accounts of sexual harassment that have come out of the tech industry in which I work). Here are a few of the ways that those ideas have been making me think, cry, and laugh lately.

1. Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On (Netflix)

I came down with a cold a few weeks ago and, after I’d blazed through every Netflix series that had been on my list, I clicked ‘play’ on a new release that looked promising (produced and directed by Rashida Jones of Parks & Rec fame!) called Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. This series looks at the relationship between sex and technology across microcultures including dating apps, chat rooms, pornography, and social media. It’s fascinating, depressing, and provocative to see the power dynamics at play — all centered around women’s bodies in extremely male-dominated industries.

In a few rare cases, the women themselves are calling the shots (either as directors or business owners or on-screen talent) but, as the camera lingers on their faces just a few seconds after they’re done talking, it’s clear that selling sexuality comes with a price — and it’s the women, not the men, who end up paying it. The irony is clear: women’s bodies are simultaneously degraded, devalued, and dehumanized by the very same institutions that sexualize, idolize and profit from them. This is not a new revelation, of course, but it’s one that’s being reflected in pop culture in intimate and incisive new ways that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

2. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

That same theme is particularly evident in The Handmaid’s Tale. This Hulu original series stars the indomitable Elizabeth Moss (Peggy Olsen from Mad Men!) as the lead character, Offred. Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, this show takes place in a dystopian version of the United States called Gilead where a new regime has divided women into categories that include Wives (who oversee the home), Marthas (who cook and clean) and Handmaids (who are forced surrogates for the high-ranking men and their “infertile” wives). Yet again, women’s bodies are the most precious commodity in this society, this time for their ability to bear children. Instead of being revered or respected, the Handmaids are stripped of their rights and dignity and relegated to “breeding stock,” right down to the red cattle tags on their ears.

As an antidote to its grim subject matter, it’s one of the most visually gorgeous pieces of cinema I’ve ever watched. Its columns of golden light and gorgeously intimate close-ups ensure that this admittedly dark show never feels too heavy. Still, it’s one of the only TV series that I’ve laid awake at night thinking about. It draws its inspiration from our own history: New England Puritanism, Saudi Wahhabism, the Third Reich, American slavery, and the East German surveillance state. It’s fiction, yes, but it’s also a vivid reminder of how quickly heretical ideas — especially as they apply to a human being’s value — can become the law of the land.

3. Rookie Mag & Rookie Podcast

Let’s end on a lighter note. As a pre-teen, I acquired a subscription to the now-defunct CosmoGirl. I liked it because you could usually flip past the beauty tips to juicy little bits about french kissing and thong underwear. Looking back, it was probably a lot more informative than the co-ed “health” class I took in which we learned about anatomy by holding index cards up above each other’s head and having our classmates SHOUT clues at us until we got it right. I went first. My clue was “sack”, hollered at me by a pubescent teenage boy. I guessed the answer (“scrotum”) right away and promptly began researching schools to transfer to. 

Rookie is the resource I wish I’d had back then: it’s honest, funny, responsible, and whip-smart about all the topics that teen girls are actually interested in (because, as I demonstrated with my CosmoGirl research, they will always find answers somewhere). The Rookie podcast is hosted by creator Tavi Gevinson and features interviews with everyone from Winona Ryder to Lorde to George Saunders, all about “what it means to be a person” and, inherently, how to determine your own value and self-worth. My favorite segments are Life Skills, like how to correct someone when they mispronounce your name, and Ask a Grown Man/Woman, in which semi-qualified adults (including favs like Rashida Jones, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ira Glass and Kumail Nanjiani) answer questions from teenage girls with surprising wisdom, honesty, and empathy.
 

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve had a chance to watch, read or listen to any of the things I mentioned above — it can be heavy stuff to process, so let’s do it together! Leave a comment to let me know what your favorite teen mag was as a kid or share your most scarring sex ed experience (so I feel less alone). To my new readers: it was nice knowin’ ya. 

For Emergencies Only: Lessons on Personal Finance

My Personal Finance 101 journey began freshman year of college when my dad gave me a box set of Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” CDs to listen to on my seven-hour drive to school. He told me if I listened to one CD every hour, I could buy myself lunch using the For Emergencies Only Credit Card he’d reluctantly given me.

The month after I graduated college, I cut up that credit card, filled an envelope with the shards, and sent it to him in the mail.

I’m lucky that I’ve had people in my life to teach me the basics and prevent me from making any catastrophic mistakes — but I’m still learning and adjusting as I go. I have a folder full of bookmarked resources, essays, and podcasts all about money: knowing your value, why it matters, and how to ask for it. Here are three of my all-time favorites.

“How Can I Make More?” 

And other questions you didn’t know to ask about work and money. I devour career-related content and I can confidently say that this is the most comprehensive, practical guide to discussing money that I’ve ever come across. It goes beyond the initial job interview to the negotiation process through yearly reviews, raises, worst-case scenarios, promotions, and beyond.

Why I Love It: Two of my internet friends (@alexlaughs and @juliaccarpenter) sourced this guide from a private Slack group we’re part of called #PayUp. It’s a community dedicated to helping women in tech earn what they deserve through fostering conversations about the gender wage gap. The women I’ve met there are a source of endless inspiration to me — and I’m thrilled their wisdom is being shared with the world!

The Story of a F*ck Off Fund

File this one under subjects that aren’t taught in school but should be. It’s amazing how many of us lack basic financial skills even after graduating college. This piece shows exactly how financial independence doesn’t just mean that you can cover your rent, groceries, and utilities — it means that you have the freedom to know what you deserve and not settle for less.

Why I Love It: “You wait to pay the electric bill while you’re gathering up the half you owe, and the lights go out. On your phone you see the email about the $50 late fee. Your boyfriend asks how you could be so stupid. ‘I am not stupid,’ you say. You would never be with someone who called you names, but you would never be able to make first, last, and deposit right now, either.”

The Call Podcast

The Call is a podcast from Man Repeller in which former political strategist Erica Williams Simon hosts intimate conversations with women who have answered their own professional and creative callings. She delves into the nitty gritty of what making these leaps looks like in real women’s lives: What is the journey actually like? What were the steps they took to get there? How can the rest of us do it too?

Why I Love It: It’s not just inspirational, it’s practical. My favorite episode so far has been with Jenna Wortham, a technology and culture writer for the New York Times and my current career icon. Jenna talks about how she got her first job as a writer, what she did to make money before landing a full-time gig, negotiating her salary, why she plans her life by quarters, and what she’d tell other women who are just starting out.

If this post inspired you, feel free to cut up your credit cards and mail them to me! Alternatively, just share it with a friend. Sign up to get posts like this sent straight to your inbox before they appear on the blog.

My “Holy Grail” Beauty & Skincare Products

  via Glossier
via Glossier

When I was a teenager (and well into college), it was a feat just to remember to wash my face before bed. My freshman year roommate took it one step further: in order to sleep in as late a possible — but still make it to class on time — she would apply a full face of makeup the night before and just lie perfectly still on her back for 8 hours. 

Now, I think we can all agree that my roommate was a genius. However, now that I’m in my mid-twenties and my skin doesn’t “spring back” quite as promptly, I’ve had to adjust accordingly. In the process of learning to fully remove my mascara every night, I’ve really come to love my morning and evening rituals. Nothing makes me feel more grown-up than a complicated yet luxurious skincare routine and makeup bag full of my “Holy Grail Products.”

Here’s are some of the things that make it so enjoyable, along with a personal anecdote that I hope you’ll take with you to your grave:

The Ordinary Skincare Line

If you’ve hung out with me in person at all in the past eight weeks, you’ll have already heard about this line of high-quality, low-cost miracle skincare products. You may have even been asked to stroke my baby-smooth face for further evidence of their effectiveness. The Ordinary is a brand that’s dedicated to promoting pricing and communication integrity in skincare (a.k.a. “Why Should a 1.7 Oz. Serum Cost $100+?”). The most expensive product I’ve purchased from The Ordinary was $9.80, yet their products have worked better than any of the super-expensive department store serums I’ve tried. 

My recommendations: Advanced Retinoid 2%, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, and Rose Hip Seed Oil. Insider tip: this line is also sold at ASOS, which might have faster shipping than ordering straight from the website.

  via NewBeauty
via NewBeauty

Glossier

I know, I know. You’re probably already tired of the Instagram hype around this brand, and sick of being told that their brow gel will instantly transform you into a card-carrying “cool girl.” I was too. But then I visited their showroom and it’s ALL TRUE. Their products really do create that dewy, flushed look that I’ve been chasing for over a decade. Have I told you guys about the time that I used Benefit’s Benetint Lip & Cheek stain before a first date? Pro tip: If you wait too long to blend it in, it will just dry like that, and then you’ll have to go on the date with stripes across your cheeks and, when he asks about it, clumsily explain that it was part of your pre-game hype up routine. Anyway, back to Glossier: highly recommend.

My recommendations: Stretch Concealer, Boy Brow, Generation G (I loved the color “Zip”), and Cloud Paint. Insider tip: I had always considered ordering them online but I was nervous about choosing the right colors for my complexion. Feel free to comment if you want a totally non-expert consultation.

Cuyana Makeup + Toiletry Bags

I wish I could say I was the socially-conscious one in our relationship, but it’s definitely Thomas. He read one account of what it was like for the women who make our clothing overseas and hasn’t purchased an unethically-made product since. The search for more transparent companies led us to Cuyana, a brand that is committed to empowering local craftsmen from around the world. Their philosophy is “Fewer, Better”: buying less things, but at a higher-quality. Thomas gave me their Travel Case Set for my birthday and it is gorgeous: beautiful pebbled leather and gold hardware with a sophisticated silhouette. This little one fits all my makeup and I use the bigger one to tote around my skincare products when we travel. I know I will use these for decades to come. 

My recommendations: If you’re in the market for something like this, you can’t go wrong with this set! The price tag on this one might look a little high, especially since we’re all so used to $9.99 fast fashion “deals” — but remember that if you’re not paying for a product, someone else is. Insider tip: Support companies that care about their workers. Bookmark Cuyana for next time you’re looking for a special gift, but start doing a little digging into the supply chains of your favorite stores. Here’s a great resource to get you started.

I hope this gives you some ideas for fine-tuning your AM and PM rituals. Alternatively, you might have learned about a fun way to save time getting ready in the morning, thanks to Laura Leigh. Either way, I’d love to hear what you thought and what else I should add to my (already absurdly complicated) skincare routine.

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Our Little Corner of the Internet

 

I like this little corner of the internet. 

It has begun to feel like there’s nowhere I really belong on social media. I’ve been Facebook-free since 2015. Twitter has become so cluttered that it’s essentially useless. Instagram is just the same ten photographs over and over, posted by different people (including me). I used to really love reading blogs but they have become so commoditized that the personal narratives I care about have been almost entirely replaced by vapid copy and affiliate links. Where’s a girl to turn?

The few voices that I have really loved hearing from lately have come to me via newsletters. Email is experiencing a renaissance. I’ve successfully unsubscribed to all the junky e-Blasts that used to plague my inbox (thanks to Unroll.me — even though I just found out they were harvesting receipt data from my inbox and selling it to third parties). Now, instead, I receive thoughtful long-form email newsletters from cool girls who aren’t trying to get me to buy anything. Here are some of my favorites:

Claire Carusillo, My Second or Third Skin

Claire, a writer and student living in NYC, describes her own newsletter as “off-label product usage advice for deeply troubled pretty little babies.” It is delightfully absurd in its almost existential approach to beauty. Since I’ve been following along, she has coined such skincare-related mantras as ‘That Wet Look’ (taking dewy skin to the next level) and ‘Nothing Works and Everything’s Just Vaseline’ (the philosophy that even the fanciest hundred-dollar serum is basically just petroleum jelly). Pretty little babies, subscribe here.

Randle Browning, The Waco Vegan

I first met Randle when I was living in Waco. As a writer, coder, photographer, chef, jazz singer, pizza shop owner, and more, she was the most multi-hyphenate person I’d ever met. Since then, Randle has: 1) Renovated an RV and traveled the country for 6 months with her husband and pup while working remotely for Skillcrush, 2) Moved to NYC for a new startup job, hopping between Airbnbs until she found a place to live, and 3) Moved into this amazing minimalist apartment in Williamsburg (which I got to visit when I was there last week). Her newsletter/blog, which formerly focused on vegan living in a small town, has shifted into a chronicle of her many adventures. To live vicariously through her like I do, subscribe here

Links I Would Gchat You if We Were Friends

This was the first personal newsletter I ever subscribed to. Created by Washington Post digital culture critic Caitlin Dewey, it rounds up the best of the internet each week: including the pop cultural, the personal, the political and (my favorite) meditations on how technology is changing the way we engage with all of the above. Caitlin has a remarkable ability to not only find the most hilarious, most engaging, most thought-provoking pieces out there — but also to articulate them within the larger context of why we should care. The newsletter is now defunct, but you can and should check out the archives here.

I hope that you, like me, are finding little corners of the internet where you feel at home. If you’ve discovered any that I should know about, leave a comment so I can crash the party. If you want to share these recommendations with a friend who should be spending a little less time on Facebook, share the link.

P.S. This was originally shared via my newsletter, My Most Recent Obsession. In it, I discuss a new subject every week: from weird beauty hacks to the effect of technology on our brains to personality tests and beyond. It’s my way of sharing all my intense yet short-lived obsessions with you! Are you subscribed yet?