The good people of the internet and, specifically, the food-centric corner of the internet where we all go when we pretend like we’re actually going to make that recipe for blue-corn crusted pork chops, are in a tizzy—but really, when is the internet not worked up about something?—over photos. And yes, it’s hard to go to dinner without seeing somebody hover their smart phone over the table before they dig in, and it’s rare when you don’t see at least one photo of a plated something-or-other in any given Instagram feed. We’re visual people. We like visually appealing pictures. And we like food.
What we as a people don’t like, apparently, is when somebody egregiously barrages our delicate sensibilities with ugly photos of food.
Moreover, it apparently becomes downright inexcusable when that person is Martha Stewart.
Martha, Martha, Martha. Martha, who was GOOP back when Gwyneth was learning how to read. Who went to jail for insider trading, served her time, and managed to come out of it without, as many people noted, her empire crumbling to the ground. She is the woman who can peel garlic in 9(!) seconds, and it is her company that gave us this grand tour de force of an “It’s October 3rd” menu. Her world, and the magazines and cookbooks and crafts projects in it, is immaculately crafted and styled to a nearly perfect aesthetic.
Or so Martha Stewart Omnimedia would like you to think. Because then Martha goes and shatters our dream with torrid pictures of iceberg lettuce wedges and sad onion soup. But which dream is she shattering? Surely not the one where we think she’s perfect. (The insider trading took care of that a long time ago.)
No, what I think happens is this:
- On certain occasions, Martha acts independently of her marketing team and uses social media to invite readers into her world, and interact with fans on a personal level. Which is, you can argue, what social media was initially designed to do.
- Her world happens to include meals that, though decadent and lavish and probably more expensive than what I spend on food in a week, aren’t all that appetizing if you don’t spend hours slaving away over lighting and angles and final retouches (or at least use a forgiving Instagram filter).
- And suddenly, it hits us: all that work and all that effort isn’t her. Not by a long shot. And this, of course, is something we knew all along, but it infuriates us. How dare she stamp her name on a life she isn’t even living?
But the life we do see is the life of a millionaire many times over, which is something we common folk will never know. We won’t know what it’s like to dine at a Michelin-star restaurant with our beloved dogs. We might never know what it’s like to consume gastronomic foam as part of a meal. I can barely afford to eat one meal out a week, let alone one with multiple courses. And even her magazine and website are filled with aspirational ideas that will never come to fruition in our own kitchens, try as we might to recreate them. Hell, there’s about fifty thousand recipes I’ve pinned on Pinterest and dog-eared in magazines and emailed myself the links, most of which I will never make.
What we never see are the countless scores of people behind the photos, including the photographers who, though credited, prove to be little more than a cog in the big conglomerate known as Martha Stewart.
Martha, without her teams, is just like any of us. (Except she’s really, really, really rich.)
Were her pictures bad? I mean, yeah, they’re pretty bad. And if you’ve seen one iceberg wedge salad in your life, you’ve seen them all. But it’s because we are so used to the picture-perfect image of Martha, the one that tells us what to do and which wine to serve and how to decorate your house for every single holiday and every single season, that the unfiltered and uncensored Martha is almost… gratifying. It ends the argument that we all must be gifted homemakers and hostesses and marvels in the kitchen. No longer do we have to redecorate our homes with the “perfect palettes” or bake “perfect popovers” that puff in our ovens with ease. But then again, we never did to begin with. But we chose to, because we like pretty things, and we want pretty things in our lives.
And when the head curator for such pretty things fails to deliver, it leaves us questioning how much those pretty things matter in the long run.
Martha doesn’t owe us beautiful lit photos of every single meal she eats. She doesn’t owe us any images of food at all, and yet we demand the ones that are familiar to us: the ones that align with her brand. Because this brand has convinced us to strive in vain to live that perfect life, and it is these small little reminders that even the mogul herself has flaws and is not 100% curated, 100% of the time. And if that’s the case, what hope is there for the rest of us?