Iconic Teenage Characters Who Were Played by Much Older Actors

Barbra Streisand in ‘Yentl’ (1983)

I’m as big a Streisand fan as the next person, but I can’t get over the fact that she played a 20-year-old Yeshiva school student when she was 41 years old. She did win a Golden Globe for the film, though, so it was for a good cause!

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Outlander Show Trivia and Fun Facts

“I knew I was supposed to be a novelist, but I didn’t know how, and I decided the way to learn was to actually write a novel. So, Outlander was my practice book,” she said at the TCA press day for the PBS series The Great American Read. “I was never going to show it to anyone, so it didn’t matter what I did with it.”

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The Performing Arts Graduates of 2020

For over a year now, with venues worldwide largely closed due to COVID-19, performers of all kinds have been forced to experiment. A string quartet in Barcelona played for 2,300 potted plants at the Liceu Grande Theatre, while a strip club in Portland experimented with drive-through go-go dancers. Still, unemployment rates for performing artists skyrocketed, jumping from 1.7 percent to 27.4 percent between January and May 2020. Combined with similarly grim employment numbers in the food service and hospitality industries—the eternal side hustles of the creatively inclined—the past year has been incredibly difficult even for established artists, many of whom have had to rely on unemployment insurance or family support.

But what about performers who were just starting out? Even before the pandemic, 2020 graduates of conservatories and performing arts programs faced consistently high rates of unemployment. Throw in the complete dissolution of live performance, and it’s no wonder performing arts grads have had to get creative. Luckily, that’s what they’re best at.

Cami Arboles has been able to carve out a niche even in a harsh economy. A year ago, she was just another unemployed theater studies major with no idea what to do after graduation. By February 2020, she had signed with a New York talent agency. As a student at Yale, she had acted, sang a cappella, and studied opera, so signing with an agency seemed like the first step to realizing her dream of performing on Broadway. “I was literally so ready to move to New York City, and do live theater, and then of course that ceased to exist,” Arboles said.

cami arboles studied theater at yale before settling into her current gig as a pole dance guru

Cami Arboles studied theater at Yale before settling into her current gig as a pole dance guru.

Uwakokunre Imasogie

Yale went remote; Arboles went home to Los Angeles, and her senior thesis showcase was cancelled. She went through a period of depression while living in her brother’s childhood bedroom “with no employment prospects.” So, to have something to look forward to, she decided to throw herself into an athletic hobby: pole dancing.

Arboles had first set foot—or, rather, hand, body, and lycra two-piece—on a pole in August 2019, as an evolution of her training with the Yale Circus and Aerial Arts Collective. And she was already a certified yoga teacher and an accomplished aerial silks and hoops acrobat. (Full disclosure: I used to go to her campus yoga classes.) “There was a studio in New Haven called PoleFly, and at PoleFly you could train with silks and hoops,” she said. She practiced there regularly, but for a long time, she was too scared to try pole. “I was very insecure in my body, not feeling super comfortable, I was nervous. But I was just like, you only live once, let me just try pole and see what comes with it.”

Two years later, quite a lot has come. A few days after an anticlimactic video graduation, she choreographed a short pole routine in her cap and gown and posted it to Instagram with the caption “48 hours after being conferred my ivy league degree… this one goes out to the class of 2020.” The clip garnered more than 140,000 views and was picked up by a few news sites and meme pages, quickly earning Arboles a hundred-thousand-strong following.

On a pole, Arboles is majestic. In a recent video posted to her Instagram, she twirls elegantly around a pole set up on a Southern California beach. The pole teeters precariously, but Arboles is perfectly balanced as she spins, flexes, hangs upside down, and—here’s the kicker—slides into a perfect split while wearing roller skates. And it’s only, like, the sixth most physically astonishing thing she’s filmed herself doing. She now counts SZA, Vanessa Hudgens, and Kit from The Bachelor among her followers. (She even taught SZA to pole dance for her recent Good Days music video.) And in addition to occasional celebrity clients, Arboles makes her living teaching yoga, movement, and flexibility via video to ordinary people who want to get back in touch with their bodies (like a glitzier version of Yoga with Adriene). Teaching has been one of the most reliable ways performing artists can make money—every single person I spoke to for this article taught, tutored, or coached at some point in the past year.

Arboles has continued to audition via Zoom throughout the past year, but her online classes are what pay the bills. She hasn’t ruled out a return to musical theater once it opens back up. But for now, she’s trying to avoid setting goals or expectations. “You are not missing out on anything that is meant for you,” she told me. Her mantra is “flow, don’t force,” and that attitude has allowed her to easily pivot from live performer to sought-after movement instructor. On her birthday, Arboles shared a screenshot of a text from her mom: “I’m sure you are the only Yale graduate making a living pole dancing.” “Ru proud of me!!!!!!” she asked. “Yes,” her mom replied. Pole might not have been her plan, but it’s far from just a day job.

Other performing arts grads who pursued their dream jobs despite the pandemic found those positions no longer look quite like what they imagined. Henry Shapard, a classmate of Arboles’s at Yale, learned he’d been hired as the principal cellist for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra within the same hour that he learned school would be remote for the rest of the year. “I will always remember that day as a crazy mix of feeling,” he said.

The early months of 2020 were a whirlwind for Shapard. In addition to flying to Vancouver for his trial, he was also serving as principal cellist for the Rhode Island Philharmonic—and commuting daily between New Haven and Providence, a four-hour round trip. “So, suffice to say, my schoolwork had been slipping a little bit,” he said. For the first month of quarantine, he mostly focused on completing his senior thesis and graduating. Once that was out of the way, Shapard faced another major hurdle: moving to Canada. COVID restrictions have made international travel extremely difficult for Americans, even those with jobs and work permits lined up. When Shapard flew to Vancouver, “there was actually no guarantee that I was going to be let in,” he said. He was approved after a few hours, but that, too, was bittersweet. He hasn’t been able to come home to the U.S. since then because of the border restrictions, and has no idea when he might be able to see his family. “So I’ve been, you know, on my own up here, basically waiting for the situation to change,” he said.

The nature of Shapard’s work has changed, too. Orchestras can’t perform on Zoom—“the time delay makes it impossible,” he said, but the VSO has been able to play together, albeit without a live audience. The (socially distanced, masked-up) orchestra records videos of their performances, which are then made available to subscribers. The setup has been warmly received, but it’s also prompted some changes. “We play different music than we normally would,” Shapard said. “You can’t do the really big symphonies because there’s just not enough people” (due to social distancing requirements).

The distance has also made playing a lonesome experience. “Usually when you’re a string player, you share a music stand with one other person,” Shapard said. “Now this year, of course, because of distancing, that’s all gone. So for the first time ever I’m playing in a cello section with a stand by myself. And that feels very lonely in a different way, because we get really used to leaning on somebody else, and sharing with somebody else who’s right there.”

jules latimer as pumpkin in a juilliard production of dominique morisseau's paradise blue

Jules Latimer as Pumpkin in a Juilliard production of Dominique Morisseau’s Paradise Blue.

Jessica Katz

The uncertainty has been rough on a lot of 2020 conservatory grads. This time last year, Jules Latimer was a fourth-year drama student at Juilliard waiting to find out if she’d been cast in a new series for Paramount+. Latimer didn’t have the most straightforward path through Juilliard. She dropped out after two years at the high-pressure conservatory due to struggles with her mental health, and when she was re-accepted in 2016, she turned to crowdfunding to help pay her tuition.

But by March 2020, Latimer was in a great place: she had a manager, had just done a play Off-Broadway, and was in the last stages of auditioning for a major role in the streaming series. But when Broadway went dark and Juilliard went remote, things got scary. The last straw was when a man attacked her, yelling about COVID, as Latimer picked up her stuff from Lincoln Center. Latimer and her girlfriend packed up—the apartment smelled like bleach, Latimer remembers, because they were cleaning so obsessively—and went to stay with Latimer’s mom in Atlanta.

A few days turned into a few weeks, then a month. The casting process at Paramount+ kept getting delayed. Eventually, though, she got the call: she’d booked the job. The shoot was set for November, in Los Angeles. But the delays from Paramount kept coming. COVID had created many roadblocks for the industry, and the project’s lead dropped out. The shoot moved from November to February; from California to Calgary. Latimer picked up side hustles, including a stint registering voters through a nonprofit during the 2020 election. Unemployment insurance helped. So did previous years of frugal living. “We’re so lucky because I lived in a hole in the wall in Brooklyn… that room was like 525 a month. I was living so cheap. I actually collected a lot of my checks and saved all my money from that year. So we were sort of living off of that,” Latimer said.

Filming finally started in Canada in February, and Latimer is thrilled to be working. “It’s a dream. I mean,” she laughed, “it’s kind of a weird nightmare dream with COVID.” Despite all the setbacks, and the distance from her partner and family, she feels “incredibly fortunate” just to be able to work in her chosen field.

emma pfitzer price, pictured here in a juilliard production of a bright room called day, has found inspiration in her day job as a montessori teacher

Emma Pfitzer Price, pictured here in a Juilliard production of A Bright Room Called Day, has found inspiration in her day job as a Montessori teacher.

T. Charles Erickson

Her Juilliard classmate Emma Pfitzer Price has taken a slightly different route. When she moved from Kentucky to New York to attend the conservatory, Price was committed to doing live theater. By March 2020, she had found a manager through the type of live show that is more or less impossible to put on during COVID: “We were all playing like six different characters and had insane wigs and hair and makeup, and we were touching each other and kissing each other and fighting and rolling on the ground and pretending to be on fire,” she said. “And it was this really full body experience.”

Once the pandemic extinguished the entire live performance scene, Price had to change her plans. She started self-taping auditions, relying on unemployment insurance when her babysitting gigs didn’t cover the bills. She booked a role on a TV show, but by the end of the summer she realized she needed a consistent income. Price hoped the stable financial situation that comes with a day job would let her “come to my acting work with a lot more joy, and a lot more presence.” Restaurant work no longer seemed like a good option. So she started working as a teacher at a Montessori school in South Harlem.

For Price, teaching has been a great day job that allows her to continue auditioning. But teaching has also kept her creatively motivated as a performer in a year without theater. “What I need right now is just that reminder of what is the root of all of this for me, and it’s that sense of play,” she said. “And that started when I was a kid, and I was playing imaginary games in my backyard with my young friends. And I see that same impulse and all of these kids I work with.”

It’s difficult to overstate the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the people who make the arts possible. Aspiring performers without family or institutional support have had an especially tough time, and these four stories from graduates of prestigious schools shouldn’t be taken as the default narrative. Still, it’s exciting to see how talented performers have managed to thrive, to pivot, or to simply make ends meet. Hopefully, live performance will safely return soon—vaccination rates are climbing, and theaters are cautiously reopening. For now, performers everywhere are waiting in the wings.

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8 Thoughtful Host Gifts for Your Most Stylish Friends

gift guide

As the world begins to reopen (both guardedly and with great gaiety), we can once again look forward to a summer spent alongside our nearest and dearest. Perhaps a Saturday lazing by the pool at a college roommate’s beach house is on the horizon, or the date has already been set for a trip to an in-law’s cozy countryside cabin. No matter the destination, after so much time spent away from our beloved friends, marking such a special occasion with a carefully considered token of gratitude takes on heightened significance. As for what to give the hostess who so graciously opens up her home for a long-awaited day (or week!) of company? Here, eight pitch-perfect gifts that will win you “best guest,” from a top-shelf libation to a pajama set worth staying in all day long.

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1

Bulleit Frontier Whiskey

Bulleit 95 Rye

2

Phaidon

Home Farm Cooking

3

Dragon Diffusion

Grace Tote Bag

4

Georg Jensen

Sky Stainless Steel Ice Cubes

5

Wolfum

Handcrafted Wooden Mix & Match Trays

6

Flamingo Estate

Spring Harvest Gift Set

7

John Derian

Painter’s Palette 1,000-Piece Puzzle

8

Santa Maria Novella

Lavender Scented Wax Tablets

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Online Dating As an Asian Woman Got Even Worse After Atlanta

I nursed my gimlet over the next hour, taking a sip every time he said something racist. Whatever he thought, I wasn’t going to play along, so I trained my eyes to the bottom of my glass as I drank, avoiding his awaiting gaze.

This was only the third in-person date I’d been on since joining Bumble in January, and despite my better judgment, I convinced myself to show up and give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, I was hurting.

It had been three weeks since the shootings in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, at three spa locations. Eight lives were collapsed under a white man’s “bad day,” and we were just supposed to accept that.

And many people did, without so much as a second thought about what they might’ve internalized about Asian bodies. No one was returning to their anti-racism reading lists, thumbing through copies of How to Be an Antiracist purchased last summer. Rather, I saw thoughtful, painful essays from Asian American writers who had to perform the thankless task of defending the humanity of the slain while trying to process the tragedy for themselves.

atlanta community continues to mourn shootings that left 8 dead at area massage parlors

Residents lay flowers at a memorial outside Gold Spa in Atlanta.

Megan Varner//Getty Images

Over the last year, attacks against Asians had become so mundane for us in America that it was hard to imagine this wound going any deeper. Over time, Asian Americans became fluent in exasperation, and I grew inured to my body tensing up every time I stepped outside my apartment.

But the hurt did deepen. And this time, it hit bone.

Before the murders, I had been dating someone. I’m embarrassed to admit how much I liked him in so short a time, a sweet and attentive guy fresh out of a long-term relationship and looking to see what—and who—was out there, much like myself.

Years of therapy separated my last relationship from my first foray on Bumble. I had done the work of healing from a man who relegated my needs beneath his own and deprioritized my safety behind his impulses. After two years, I was ready to pursue joy and explore someone new.

For someone who was only looking for “something casual,” he was kind and thoughtful. He celebrated the most minute details about me, things I considered unremarkable. On our first date (after both returning negative COVID-19 tests), we spent hours talking, quietly negotiating moments when touch was consensual and invited. My head on his shoulder. His arm around mine. Our knees meeting. It felt safe, and I didn’t think twice about it.

I quickly grew accustomed to his company; it became a reliable serotonin boost that broke up the monotony of lockdown. I delighted in how he made me feel—for the first time, possibly ever, I wasn’t ambivalent about someone. I let my excitement run wild.

What stayed with me after that infamous press briefing wasn’t the cruelty of trolls ridiculing the women’s deaths, or even the lingering residue of that sickening “temptation” narrative. It was the loneliness that their ruptured stories left behind. Who they were, whom and how they loved—we only knew fragments. We would learn later that one of the women, Feng Daoyou, was buried in a cemetery not far from where she was killed, after a funeral organized and attended by strangers. Her brother told NPR that, according to custom, an unmarried woman’s remains cannot enter her home village. She would never come home to her family.

Her brother wants to visit her grave in Atlanta someday, but he’s afraid to come.

I felt an aperture yawn open, all of the energy I had to remain vulnerable and brave slipping through.

My family wasn’t really talking about the shootings. They had no contingency plan other than to keep their heads down and continue surviving. Others in my universe didn’t know how to respond to me, so they just didn’t.

I craved a response from someone, even if I had to provoke one.

That same week, the guy I was dating met with his ex and unraveled. He said he needed time to clear his head. I knew I couldn’t ask anything of him—I didn’t know him well enough—but I wanted him to care about me as a human being, to see and care about the bright pain of my new heartbreak, and the immense weight pressing against my lungs as I carried myself through my days, pretending nothing was wrong.

I craved a response from someone, even if I had to provoke one.

I made a dark joke inviting him out to watch me drink until I could forget how disposable I was in this country. He responded gently, which I mistook for care. Even in his tepid response of, “I’m sorry you feel that way, shit’s not right,” there was more softness than what anyone had extended to me at the time. I thought that if I showed compassion toward his circumstance, maybe he’d return it.

“Sometimes,” Minari actor Steven Yeun said in a New York Times Magazine profile, “I wonder if the Asian American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you.”

I never heard from him again.

Less than two weeks later, grainy surveillance footage showed 65-year-old Vilma Kari ruthlessly attacked in front of a luxury apartment building in Midtown Manhattan. When her attacker finally relents, we see the building’s security personnel walk toward Kari, crumpled on the pavement outside, and close the door on her.

For days after, I sat with the thought that, any day now, a stranger could choose me. They could choose my parents, my loved ones. I waited.

I’d often catch myself fantasizing about who I would become when the moment finally came. Would my niece be able to recognize me after? Would I still belong to my parents? I could almost feel my skin breaking open against someone else’s rage—or delight. And if previous attacks were any indication, I probably wouldn’t even see it coming.

I retreated into the app and continued cycling through the infinite carousel of strangers. I wanted an escape. At the very least, behind a phone screen, I could appear just as uninhibited as everyone else. Entitled, even. I let my longing lead.

In my three-month stint on Bumble, I matched mostly with white guys. Only three of my matches were Asian: One immediately unmatched me as soon as I made contact. One exited during the initial warm-up exchange. And one, with whom I was already loosely acquainted, had a drink with me over Zoom. I told him to let me know if he wanted to “do this again sometime.” He didn’t get back in touch.

Once, I matched with a white guy who wrote in his profile that he “hates racism” but didn’t want to engage with me until we met up in person. After all, racism was abstract to him; he’s never had to worry about being hypervisible because of his race and gender in his life. He wasn’t showing up on this app bridled with the fear that I had tucked just behind my ribs.

When I expressed my discomfort, he unmatched me.

march in solidarity with asian community held in aftermath atlanta killings

Protesters at a march in solidarity with the AAPI community after the spa shootings.

Megan Varner//Getty Images

I started trying out different tones to communicate my safety concerns with my matches. More unmatched with me. Some feigned compassion, until they lost patience—or forgot my boundaries.

“We do not tolerate hate speech, racism, or bigotry of any kind,” Bumble assured users in a pop-up on the app after the murders. “If you engage in this behavior, you will be removed from the platform.” The company was vocal about “stopping Asian hate,” sharing resources on its Instagram Stories. But what remains illegible to the platform, and to those on it, are the many expressions hate can manifest in a racialized body—including desire.

There were so many bright red flags about this man that I’d dismissed because of that gendered trap of kindness: I didn’t want to appear rude to the only person I’d met on this godforsaken app who was willing to tolerate my reality. To the contrary, he seemed enthused to talk about it. (“Another Asian was attacked yesterday,” he once texted me). At least he was willing to acknowledge what others refused to, I reasoned.

Not long into our date, he told me about how his grandfather fought in the Pacific during World War II. Consequently, the man was racist against Asians and passed it down to his children. I can’t say what prompted this confession to me, an Asian person and descendant of a U.S. war in Asia.

He told me he only dates women of color, arguing with the fervor of a National Geographic explorer that not only are certain races overrepresented in the dating pool, but that he also benefited from intimate exposure to cultures he wouldn’t otherwise have access to. His last two relationships were with women of Cambodian and Filipino descent, respectively.

For women of color, survival often requires mastering de-escalation tactics and learning how to make yourself smaller.

White women, he explained, are too bland. “They probably have the same story as me.” This amused me because he didn’t seem particularly interested in hearing my own story. He did most of the talking. “They’d have to be extraordinary for me to date them.”

For two hours, I ached for the date to end. So many times, I wanted to get up and leave, but I wasn’t confident that my fantasy would play out safely, and I was wearing heels. I didn’t want to provoke, as Jiayang Fan wrote, that hair trigger—that moment when “a smidgen of sexual interest transmutes into racist scorn” suffered verbally or physically. I didn’t want to take the chance to find out which.

For women of color, survival often requires mastering de-escalation tactics and learning how to make yourself smaller. And with the compounding misfortune of being perceived as a walking vector of disease for over a year, I’ve learned at least one thing: Don’t draw attention to yourself. Escape has to be discreet if you are to guarantee your own safety. Because, as I know good and damn well by now, Asians can be attacked in broad daylight, unprovoked and in full view of the public, and bystanders won’t intervene. Or, worse, they’ll close the door.

Not long after, I got off the app. I don’t have the bandwidth to date and watch my back at the same time. As much as I want to assert that I’m still entitled to my desire, now is not the time to want things.

As communities of color across the country continue to be besieged by violence and retraumatized with each new tragedy, I’m directing my energy toward our collective wellbeing, leaning into our shared, time-worn rituals for communal mourning, care, and safekeeping. Only there do I feel safe enough to show up as myself and, in that refuge, find my way back to some joy again.

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Feeding an Eating Disorder

In July 2019, I tasted dal, the South Asian equivalent to chicken soup, for the first time in four years. The red flat oval lentils, eerily similar to the microscopic imagery of the red blood cells that my anemic body lacked, floated in a spiced broth that thickened after cooking for hours in a metal cauldron.

During my dal-less years, I had begun demonizing food, to the point where I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. The dal I ate that day was made for me at Monte Nido, a residential inpatient treatment house for adults in recovery from eating disorders on the North Shore of Long Island. I did not have kitchen privileges, so I was not permitted to enter the area or even peek inside, but if there was any one with the power to override authority, it was Alyson Crispi, Monte Nido’s 46-year-old head chef, a Long Island native.

Chef Aly, usually guarding the kitchen with her life, ushered me inside her workspace one day, where she brewed concoctions with healing powers: quinoa salads and paninis with thinly shaved pears, a honey drizzle, and smear of creamy peanut butter. “What spices do you taste?” she asked me, holding a ladle of dal to my mouth. My reflex was to jump back. After almost dying of malnourishment and severely low body weight only a month before, the last thing I wanted was extra calories. But then I tucked that irrational thought into the back of my mind and leaned forward. As Chef Aly spooned the hot aromatic dish into my mouth, I felt like a contestant in a reality cooking competition, rattling off the spices—cloves, coriander, cumin, turmeric—that I could identify by smell and taste.

chef aly baking for residents at monte nido’s inpatient house in glen cove, ny

Chef Aly baking for residents at Monte Nido’s inpatient house in Glen Cove, NY. “I have been making my chocolate chip banana bread at least once a month—it’s everyone’s favorite menu item,” she says. “They smell it when I prepare it.”

Courtesy of the author

Upon returning home from inpatient treatment in fall 2019, I believed I was in the tail end of my recovery. I had all the proof I needed to know that eating, frequently and in variety, drastically increased my quality of life, and that weight gain, which I still needed to pursue, was neither debilitating nor unsightly. I took pride in myself as gained over 30 pounds; I was filling out clothing, moving without feeling off kilter, thinking with clarity, and feeling something other than numbness. By following a meal plan and going to the gym, I was beginning to feel confident in knowing how to eat and move again.

But the second week of March 2020 everything changed. For many, the pandemic resuscitated the romanticized concept of the kitchen as the heart of the home, but for me, it blocked my steep uphill path to recovery from near-fatal anorexia nervosa. As people were encouraged to shelter in place at home, the kitchen became my battleground. Even achieving the perfect pantry became impossible as my go-to “safe foods”—items I knew the nutritional information about and had eaten enough times for them not to stir up anxiety—were being snatched up in last ditch efforts to stockpile food in the event of a shortage.

Without weekly weigh-ins, meetings with my therapist and physician, and occasional check-ins with my registered dietician who works full-time in one of the hardest hit hospitals for admitted COVID patients, I was forced to trace back how I originally began to heal my relationship with food.

two soft boiled large organic eggs and a roasted hannah sweet potato over spinach, one of my go to lunches

Two soft-boiled large organic eggs and a roasted hannah sweet potato over spinach, one of my go-to lunches.

Courtesy of the author

I thought back to my time with Chef Aly and the others who cooked for us at treatment—the people who gave us the chance to literally feed our eating disorders into dormancy. These chefs are never publicized on television, nor credited with any part in eating disorder treatment, but they and the food they heal us with—its taste, texture, temperature, and the nourishment it provides—feel just as essential to recovery as the dietitians, physicians, and therapists.

Chef Aly told me she was inspired to heal through food by the woman her parents hired to cook for her grandmother, who had cancer, when she was in fifth grade. In 2001, she attended The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, a culinary arts program focused on cooking for those with illnesses and promoting wellness via nutrition. After graduation, she cooked professionally as a private chef for wealthy people with medically prescribed diets, before joining Monte Nido’s Glen Cove location in April 2019. Chef Aly says the job was “divinely inspired,” and she jumped at the “opportunity to cook for people’s wellness.” Though she hasn’t suffered from an eating disorder herself, Chef Aly says she’s not immune to diet culture. “I have been exposed to all these different fad diets, have seen friends and family dabble in them.” Since working at Monte Nido, her mantra is, “I can give what I want to my body. It’s completely ok.”

At treatment centers, emphasis is placed on the principles of Intuitive Eating. This philosophy asserts that food is not only fuel—its consumption simply a means to an end, the quelling of hunger pangs—but that it can be used to comfort, satisfy, and promote socializing. “The cuisine here is all about Intuitive Eating,” Chef Aly says. We were given snack menus and told pick three a day, based on what we wanted to experience. There were sweet options, like milk and cookies, as well as savory offerings, like wheat crackers with string cheese.

one of my first attempts at cooking in the kitchen after returning home from monte nido in september 2019 it was my rendition of the moroccan quinoa bowl, a favorite dish prepared by chef aly

One of my first attempts at cooking in the kitchen after returning home from Monte Nido in September 2019. It was my rendition of the Moroccan quinoa bowl, a favorite dish prepared by Chef Aly. Still struggling to combat fear foods, I swapped the quinoa for riced cauliflower.

Courtesy of the author

At the beginning of my recovery, I obsessed over new flavors and used cooking as a form of therapy. My favorite new recipe—the first dinner I ate at Monte Nido—was a Moroccan spiced quinoa medley with dried currants, slivered almonds, and garbanzo beans. But during the pandemic, I became apathetic to food. With the universal upheaval from a looming election and an airborne virus, I no longer had the mental hunger or curiosity for rediscovering flavors and textures. This apathy, combined with my ability to ignore hunger and fullness cues from years of resisting my body’s needs, made it easy to feed my eating disorder. I started starving myself again, controlling my energy intake and exertion in order to cope. I knew I wanted help, and a year into the pandemic, contacted a former Monte Nido recovery coach, turned licensed therapist for therapy twice a week.

I also reconnected with Chef Aly, who picked up on my renewed aversion to eating right away. Before I found her, I was constantly on the receiving end of unwelcome and non-applicable advice from family and friends on how to eat. (One advice-giver went so far as to suggest I eat the exact same foods as they did ‘until I learned how to fend for myself.’) Chef Aly reminded me of how I coped at treatment when I was jolted by a new variety of granola or surprised with Oreos instead of my chosen protein bar at snack time. “Think about the real world: Brown Sugar Pop Tarts are out of stock at the supermarket—you need to decide what you’re going to pick up instead,” Chef Aly said. Being able to make that decision is part of the recovery process, she told me.

I am still working toward that now. “A lot of recovery is about being able to eat freely,” says Dr. Colleen Reichmann, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders. And while I continue to struggle to cook without measuring, to eat the amount I should, and to participate in family-style meals, it is in the kitchen that I can see the woman I know I can become. A woman who lusts for aromatics and strong flavors, the tingle of spices on her tongue.

strawberry picking out east in the north fork, long island on opening weekend, june 2021

Strawberry-picking out east in the North Fork, Long Island on opening weekend, June 2021. Picking produce on the farm is one of the ways I try to practice mindfulness and ground myself since being diagnosed with anorexia in 2015.

Courtesy of the author

Chef Aly was the first person who extended her hand to me and brought me into the kitchen. Though I haven’t tasted dal since that July day, I still smell hints of it when my mother cooks. And when those flavors hit my nose, I can see the healthy woman I was becoming under the guise of Chef Aly and the healthy woman I can still become today. So until I am at that point in my recovery, I will stay in the kitchen because as long as I can see her, I know that someday I can be her, too.

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My Disability Is My Superpower. If Only Employers Could See It That Way.

Twenty-six years ago, Andrea Dobynes Wagner didn’t pass her preschool vision test. She was later diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a group of genetic eye disorders that lead to peripheral vision loss and difficulty seeing at night. Growing up legally blind, doctors warned Andrea that she’d never lead a normal life. They recommended she work a clerical job after high school and live with her parents.

Andrea rejected that destiny. She learned to navigate the world with her limited vision and enjoyed a childhood full of academic achievement, sports, dating and friends. In college, she lived independently and by age 24 she bought a house. Today, at 31, Andrea holds multiple advanced degrees and lives with her husband in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Despite everything Andrea has overcome, one challenge persists: navigating the job market with an invisible disability. Even with laws prohibiting discrimination, people with disabilities face many obstacles to employment. In this piece, Andrea shines a light on the cracks in the system and why she’s devoting her career to advocating for those pushed to the margins.


In March 2019, I was giving a presentation for a job in tutoring services at a university in Alabama. What the five-person hiring committee saw: a petite Black woman dressed sharply in a crisp shift dress and tweed power blazer, standing at the front of the room. What I saw: mostly darkness.

Through my eyes’ narrow aperture—imagine peering down a skinny paper towel roll—I could make out the small conference room and the multi-racial panel of men and women smiling brightly at me. They did not know about my retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that gives me permanent tunnel vision.

As a Black woman with an invisible disability, I was used to this. I stand at a fraught intersection of identities often discounted by society. In some instances, I face outright employment discrimination. Other times, hiring practices unintentionally exclude me. Even with those earnestly recruiting people with disabilities—from social services to companies intent on hiring us—I’m often cut out of the process because I’m not disabled in a way that’s obvious or because my young age and advanced degrees disqualify me from public benefits. In the eyes of employers and public service providers, I’m disabled, but not disabled enough.

andrea, at age 30, in tuscaloosa, alabama, october 2020

Andrea, age 30, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in October 2020.

Courtney M. Williams / Courtesy of the author

Even if it was more visible, the unemployment rate of disabled people generally with advanced degrees is almost twice the unemployment rate of non-disabled people with advanced degrees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 25 percent of disabled people with advanced degrees are employed, compared to 72 percent of people without disabilities with the same educational attainment.

That’s why even though the hiring committee said nice things about me to my face, when weeks passed and they never called, I wasn’t surprised. After the interview for that job, I reached out to one committee member, hoping for intel. She told me that I had aced my interview, but one panelist dinged me for my lack of eye contact—that was the deal breaker.

I was crushed by her remarks. I am legally blind; eye contact will never be my strong suit. For most of my life, I’ve viewed my disability as a superpower—it’s made me adaptive, innovative and empathetic. But on the job market it has complicated my path to success. Even with my advanced degrees and experience, I can only go so far in a system that fails to understand and accommodate people with disabilities. In the U.S., 61 million adults live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and many of them show no outward sign of disability. They may have hearing or vision impairment, epilepsy, autism spectrum, chronic illness or mental health ailment, among other conditions. The majority of disability job discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) between 2005 and 2010 were associated with invisible disabilities, according to research by Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute.

“I’m black, female and legally blind. I cannot drive, but I do have drive to do this work.”

Technically, the EEOC protects us from job discrimination, but I’ve seen enough to know better. When I taught a high school journalism class, an administrator regularly commented on my disability, calling it my “crutch.” Whenever she observed my teaching style, she’d pull me aside and level critiques that always began with, “I know you have vision problems but…” She criticized me for not walking around the room while I lectured, for not catching every student who peeked at their cellphone, or for turning off the lights while screening a documentary, all circumstances that stemmed from my retinitis pigmentosa. Even after students voted me “Educator of the Year,” my boss continued to fixate on my disability. Eventually, her bullying became untenable, and I quit.

Ever since I couldn’t spot the Christmas tree in a routine preschool vision test, my family worked hard to ensure I wouldn’t be left behind. My parents drove me hundreds of miles across the Southeastern United States for appointments with eye doctors and retina specialists. My grandparents—all four of them retired educators—routinely showed up at our doorstep bearing stacks of books and learning games.

Born the same year as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, I grew up navigating disability benefits with my family. After attending a free summer camp for the deaf and the blind, where other parents happily shared resources with my mom and dad, my world opened up. Soon our home filled up with free talking books, text-enlarging machines and other assistive technologies. I leaned into my love of learning, quickly outpacing my peers by two grade levels.

andrea, age seven, speaking at tabernacle baptist church in selma, alabama in 1997 her fellow congregants knew her as the well spoken pastor’s kid who spoke like a seasoned theologian they didn’t know about her disability because she hid it as best she could

Andrea, age seven, speaking at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama in 1997. Her fellow congregants knew her as “the well-spoken pastor’s kid who spoke like a seasoned theologian.” They didn’t know about her disability because she hid it as best she could.

Anthony Dobynes / Courtesy of the author

Doctors had practically damned me to a life of solitude, dependence and unemployment. But my childhood was full; in high school I ran track, did cheerleading, dated boys and enjoyed my close circle of friends. In college, I learned to live independently and by age 24, I had bought my own house in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after just a few years of teaching.

Despite my success, disclosing my disability to employers remains dicey; it could cost me the job or invite harassment. Unless I’m positive disclosure will help, I typically wait for a job offer before divulging.

It doesn’t help that most applications have migrated online and require details such as a driver’s license number. I’m legally blind. I have no peripheral vision, let alone a driver’s license, so I’m booted from the process before it’s even begun. I’ve tried accessing ride services for people with disabilities, but I can’t qualify for these services without a job, and I can’t apply for these jobs without the ride service set up. When I applied to virtually teach English to kids in China, I couldn’t take the role because the script I’d need to read was in their software, which didn’t have text-enhancing capabilities. This international company was not bound by EEOC mandates to accommodate me.

in high school, counselors and eye doctors strongly encouraged andrea to attend a small college in her hometown so she could continue living under her parents care she forged her own path by attending the university of alabama, an hour away home, and graduating with honors here andrea, age 22, poses on campus in her graduation regalia in may 2013

In high school, counselors and eye doctors strongly encouraged Andrea to attend a small college in her hometown so she could continue living under her parents’ care. She forged her own path by attending the University of Alabama, an hour away home, and graduating with honors. Here Andrea, age 22, poses on campus in her graduation regalia in May 2013.

Courtney M. Williams / Courtesy of the author

Company programs that specifically recruit people with disabilities do so for lower-wage jobs with fewer benefits. I regularly see postings from big box stores hiring cashiers and store greeters. These jobs won’t help me climb out of graduate school debt or advance in my chosen field, advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion in education. Meanwhile, I no longer qualify for public programs that would help me through leaner times; my advanced degrees and previous higher earnings made me ineligible for social security, food assistance, and housing assistance.

These barriers have taken a toll on my career and economic security, but still, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up with a supportive family. Today, I’m surrounded by friends who love me, give me rides to doctor appointments and, when I shatter a dish, rush over to safely clean it up for me since I can’t see the shards. I’ve also been lucky in love. Like many modern relationships, my marriage sprouted from flirty DMs on Instagram. On our first date, Justin assumed I was just tipsy when I grabbed his arm and wobbled in my heels up the steps of a darkened jazz club. By our second date, I knew he was the real deal, so I told him about my retinitis pigmentosa, about the chance of passing it along to my children, about the possibility of losing what little sight I had left. My stomach was in knots as the words tumbled out, but he just looked at me tenderly and said, “Why would you think that’d change anything?”

There are always optimistic signs. Recently, over Zoom, I interviewed for a position as curriculum coordinator for a middle school social justice summer academy. When asked, “What does diversity, equity, and inclusion look like to you?” I took a deep breath and decided to take a risk.

i don’t need 20 20 vision to see this love is real, andrea says she and justin, both 30 in this picture, tied the knot in a small pandemic wedding ceremony in august 2020

“I don’t need 20/20 vision to see this love is real,” Andrea says. She and Justin, both 30 in this picture, tied the knot in a small pandemic wedding ceremony in August 2020.

DeAndra Ash / Courtesy of the author

“It looks like me,” I replied. “I’m black, female and legally blind. I cannot drive, but I do have drive to do this work.”

I saw the three panelists smile back at me from my screen. This time, I didn’t have to wait weeks for an answer. I was offered the job.

This piece was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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36 Of The Most Stylish Celebrity Honeymoons

Typically, celebrity nuptials follow the same format as the average wedding ceremony. Vows are read, the cake is cut, and the bride is carried over the threshold. Come the honeymoon, however, newlyweds celebs can be divided into two categories: Those who opt for a low-key getaway a la John Lennon and Yoko Ono versus the kind of pull-out-all-the-stops, high-end luxury trips favored by Elizabeth Taylor. Here, click through 32 of our favorite honeymoon moments from both camps.

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How the Pandemic Has Affected 30-Something Women

At the onset of the pandemic last March, Calgary Brown, then 39, was living in a one-bedroom apartment in East Los Angeles with her roommate and their two cats. The two cooked together, often grocery shopping at the 99-cent store to keep their expenses down. (Brown had taken a pay cut when she moved west to become a non-profit consultant after leaving a cushier corporate gig in San Francisco.) Her quarantine setup was great for a while… until it wasn’t. Turns out, there’s a limit to how much togetherness even the most compatible of friends can tolerate. By the fall, Brown was ready to get out of her apartment—and Los Angeles.

So she boarded a plane to Mexico and never came back. “All because of fucking COVID,” Brown said recently by phone. She settled in Mérida, Yucatán, where she rented a loft with a plunge pool and four times the amount of space for $900—the same rent she was paying in L.A. “Fucking COVID” had some silver linings for Brown: She’s now considering applying for permanent residency in Mexico. Because the cost of living there is so low, she’s no longer concerned about working at some “crazy corporate job.” The move, she says, allowed her to take the pressure off herself to be an “uber-exceptional, career-achieving Black woman.”

“Everything is much more attainable for me here,” she added. The pandemic accelerated Brown’s impending realization that, in order to live the life she wants, it has to be outside the country. “Self-care in the United States is cost-prohibitive.” The pandemic gave her an escape hatch out of a system that, in many ways, is rigged against her. (Black women earn almost a third less than white men, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. And women of color have been the hardest hit by pandemic joblessness.)

In an alternate reality, one without COVID, Brown would still be in L.A. “I’d be counting my pennies all the time and running around like a chicken with my head cut off,” she said. “The pandemic made a lot of people think about different ways of living. I had to figure out how to have a less stressful life. Now I feel so liberated.”

Brown is part of a cohort of 30-somethings (she turned 40 last month) that had their lives upended and reshaped by the pandemic at a very intense and pressure-cooker life stage. The thirties are typically when women are furiously trying to climb the career ladder, have a family, or do both simultaneously. The decade can be fraught (and fulfilling), but it often feels like there’s a lot at stake. Because there is.

“I want to do it before it’s too late.”

preview for Pregnant? This Is How Much Childcare Will Cost You

First, there’s the twin ticking of the biological and career clocks. Women in their thirties are always racing something because these are some of their prime childbearing and career years, a cruel reality of modern womanhood. As the New York Times recently noted, delaying childbearing into one’s thirties “has become a broad pattern among American women almost everywhere.”

If there was a mantra for women in this cohort, it would be: “I want to do it before it’s too late,” referring to any number of aspirations—starting a family, a company, becoming financially secure, or any other typical milestones of traditional adulthood. Often by “too late,” these college-educated, upwardly mobile 30-somethings often mean by 40, which, for many, still signals the start of middle age.

Given the countdown many women in their thirties are closely monitoring, what happens to them when life came to a grinding halt during a once-in-a-generation global pandemic? Five women with very diverse backgrounds and circumstances, ranging from a Navy wife whose husband was deployed during COVID, leaving her raise their toddler on her own for a year, to a 34-year-old who used quarantine as an opportunity to freeze her eggs and start a company—paint a picture of how this period forced a number of reckonings related to ambition, mental health, parenthood, financial security, and fertility, along with more existential questions about finding meaning and purpose in their lives.

To Freeze or Not to Freeze

“This new generation doesn’t feel pressure to get everything done in their twenties,” said Lindsay Silberman, 34, a beauty and travel influencer who froze her eggs this past spring.

Silberman, who has written candidly about her conflicted feelings over having kids with her husband, said the decision to freeze her eggs during a less hectic period in her life afforded her the opportunity to confront a “harsh reality.” She explained: “You have your eye on the prize career-wise and then, all of the sudden, you have a fertility assessment and things aren’t looking like they did when you were 27.” During lockdown, Silberman also launched a luxury home brand called Hotel Lobby Candle. (Their first batch of candles sold out in 24 minutes.)

“You have your eye on the prize career-wise and then… you have a fertility assessment and things aren’t looking like they did when you were 27.”

“I’m glad I [froze my eggs] when I did because it’s only going to get more difficult,” Silberman added. “I’ve seen the heartbreak of IVF and I just wanted to hedge my bets.” The whole process of freezing embryos cost her $17,000 from start to finish, a process she documented on Instagram. Silberman’s only regret is that she wishes she had done it at 30.

What emerges from talking to 30-something women about the last year is that children—whether to have them, when to have them, and how to care for them—was a defining feature of this period.

Becoming a New Parent

In April, Dr. Ruchi Murthy, an infectious disease doctor in Ontario, Canada came across a study in the Lancet Psychiatry, a top-tier scientific journal, that found a higher proportion of mothers had clinically significant depression and anxiety symptoms than pre-pandemic.

Dr. Murthy, who is 35, gave birth to her first child, Serena, in April 2020. “I didn’t have an opportunity to pass over my daughter to a friend so I could take a shower or be on my phone for 10 minutes,” Murthy recounted. “Support was almost non-existent. The fact that we’re all still standing a year later is a win for all mothers.”

“Support was almost non-existent… The fact that we’re all still standing a year later is a win for all mothers.”

Maternity leave was not at all what Murthy had envisioned when she thought about spending time with her newborn. Instead, those months were spent doomscrolling on Twitter and scouring The New England Journal of Medicine trying to learn everything there is to know about COVID, all while trying to figure out how to pump and breastfeed. The latter pursuit did not translate so well virtually. “My husband would hold the laptop at an angle so the lactation consultant could show how to get the baby to latch,” Murthy said. That was the moment she decided it was all too much.

If Murthy had any doubt about the trajectory of her career pre-COVID—she wondered how a baby would change her feelings toward work—the pandemic has made her want to lean in more intensely, bucking the overall trend of women who have exited the workforce during COVID. “I feel more urgency now as an infectious disease doctor,” she said. “The pandemic has changed my life in a very empowering way.”

Raising a Toddler Alone

Before the pandemic, Christine, 33, already knew 2020 was going to be a tough year. Her husband, a member of the Navy, was deploying, and she had a two and a half-year-old son. She was staring down at a long stretch—10 months—of being a single parent to a very active toddler. “I thought deployment was going to be the worst part of 2020,” Christine, who asked to use only her first name, said. But it was a global pandemic, and the accompanying challenges and limitations made 2020 one of the hardest—and most illuminating—times of her life.

At the beginning of lockdown, Christine, who lives in what she calls “a very red” part of Pennsylvania, was working 12 to 16 hours a day. “I had a team that needed to be managed a lot,” she recalled. In the fall, months longer than she, or anyone, had anticipated the pandemic lasting, things really began to go off the rails. “My son’s behavior was out of control,” Christine said. “Both of us cried every night, and I was the only one dealing with it. There was no break for me.” She made the decision to send her son to daycare as a means of survival.

“My son’s behavior was out of control… Both of us cried every night, and I was the only one dealing with it. There was no break for me.”

As if the early parenting years aren’t hard enough, throw in pandemic decision matrixes where the options often feel like you are choosing between life or death (and sometimes are). The pressure and anxiety was overwhelming for Christine.

This generation of millennials were brought up on a steady diet of girl power and “you can have it all.” But those adages were created outside of the COVID bubble. They most certainly didn’t factor in working 12-plus hours a day while taking care of a toddler on your own during a global pandemic. Something had to give. Christine faced the hard reality that she couldn’t very well stay at her high-pressure job and took a less demanding gig, giving her more bandwidth for the herculean task of solo parenting.

Then the panic attacks started. “My heart would race, I would cry uncontrollably, and my whole day would be ruined,” Christine said. At her sister’s suggestion, she started seeing a therapist. “Having that objective outlet to validate all the stress in my life was helpful.” Christine certainly wasn’t the only one on the brink. According to YouGovAmerica, the number of people in their thirties seeking mental health counseling increased dramatically during the pandemic. Even Christine’s son has a therapist.

Reflecting back on the last year, Christine said it felt like COVID “became the new STD.” She described a common tendency by ambitious women in their thirties to mitigate every single risk in pursuit of effortless perfection. Yet, by this past spring, hindsight made the hard-fought year of 2020 seem a little brighter, and Christine was able to give herself grace. Her husband is back from his deployment and her son is doing well. “I feel like I have a lot to be proud of,” she said.

Hitting the “Reset” Button

Before the pandemic, Gerri Nguyen, 34, a Jersey-City-based accountant whose parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, led a very fast-paced life. She worked 90 to 100 hours a week at a big accounting firm and would travel to the West Coast bi-monthly. That all changed practically overnight when quarantine began. “The pandemic really forced me to slow down,” Nguyen said over the phone. “I realized that my job doesn’t define me, and I don’t want it to.”

COVID was a reset moment for Nguyen who, in retrospect, feels she was just gunning for the next promotion or advancement without asking herself, “Do I really want this?”

“The pandemic really forced me to slow down. I realized that my job doesn’t define me, and I don’t want it to.”

Though she hasn’t quit her job and doesn’t have current plans to, four million others across the country reportedly abandoned their desks in April. As The Washington Post put it, the pandemic has resulted in “workers reevaluating, reprioritizing, and reflecting on what they do.”

For Nguyen, the pandemic put things into perspective. She discovered, like many, that a two-hour meeting could take 30 minutes. “I would rather spend my extra time in my personal life,” says Nguyen, who got engaged to her fiancé in December.

According to Nguyen, 40 is the new 30. “If you had talked to me in my twenties, I would have told you I want to be married by 30,” she said. “I want to have three kids by 36. I’m 34, and I just got engaged. I don’t even care about a wedding at this point.”

This writer turns 39 later this month. As a working journalist and mother of two (I gave birth to my second child in March 2020, a week before the world shut down), the last 16 months left me feeling flattened, and I genuinely fear the ambition I had in my twenties and early thirties may never fully return. What I do know is that my kids need me, and I want to be fully present for them.

Amidst the challenges of pandemic parenting, I’ve managed to find something profound in motherhood—a kind of satisfaction and contentment I previously thought could only be derived from professional achievements. There is a clarifying urgency when I think about how the world will definitely go on if I don’t write a certain piece or publish another book, but my children would undoubtedly flounder.

It’s still too early to say what I’ll do with my new post-pandemic mindset. But like my fellow 30-something women, I feel a reserve of resilience many of us never knew we had. And that’s the most comforting feeling of all.

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As Big Weddings Return, Let’s Not Bring Bridesmaid Culture Back with Them

I was once demoted from maid of honor to bridesmaid after taking too long to plan the bride’s bachelorette party.

Jessica and I were coworkers at a publishing company where we shared a cubicle wall. We made our long hours bearable by scribbling handwritten notes to each other, which we filled with code names for annoying coworkers and unflattering cartoons of our boss. Lunch breaks were spent divulging our romantic relationships: Mine repeatedly failed, while Jessica was swept up in a whirlwind affair with the IT guy.

When Jessica asked me to be her maid of honor at their wedding, I had recently quit my job. I was a broke 20-something who had barely even been to a wedding, much less stood up in one. Jessica assumed the maid of honor role was a coveted position, but I hardly had time to eat, let alone securing a bachelorette party venue and matching shirts for 15 women I didn’t know.

News of my downgrade came in an email three weeks before her big day. Instead of relieving Jessica of her bouquet at the altar, I clenched mine, along with a tight smile, from the back of the bridesmaid line. Hurt and embarrassed, I didn’t reach out to her after her honeymoon, and ultimately, she stopped talking to me. That was 2010, and I haven’t seen her since.

Even though I live for heartfelt speeches, dancing, and tearing up as my cherished friends walk down the aisle, I believe the patriarchal, heteronormative rituals that are bridesmaid culture set friendships up to fail. As we emerge from a pandemic as changed people, there has never been a better time to leave these traditions behind.

In movies bridesmaids are often one dimensional. They live vicariously through the bride, gleefully centering their entire lives around her upcoming nuptials. They don’t seem to mind spending a year’s worth of student loan payments on elaborate parties and dresses they’ll never wear again, or countless hours of their lives curating showers and parties and crafting bespoke wedding decorations. (As if women don’t already take on enough unpaid labor!)

In movies, bridesmaids don’t seem to mind spending student loan payments on dresses they’ll never wear again.

The average bridesmaid can expect to pay $1,200 per wedding. And although women only earn 82.3 cents on the dollar, compared to men, we spend disproportionately more money and time on our friends’ nuptials than they do.

In the past 15 months, our relationships have undergone emotional reckonings. A study conducted in the UK reveals that friendships deteriorated among 22 percent of people, mostly young adults, during lockdown. Think-pieces have proliferated about our widespread loss of casual relationships and our deepening of tighter circles. As we emerge from the pandemic with new senses of self and fresh approaches to our friendships, we shouldn’t—we can’t—return to the way things were.

I believe we have a choice: Carry on with weddings as we’ve known them, possibly sewing resentment among the precious friends we have left, or throw traditional bridesmaid culture out the window.

Let’s be real about why many of us buy into traditional wedding excesses in the first place. It’s not just to celebrate love; it’s about publicly proclaiming who we are­—the money we’re able to pony up, how hard we’ve worked to look good in our dress, the beautiful friends we have. From the photos we can’t wait to splash across the internet to the care we take to impress guests, we tend to treat weddings as opportunities to openly telegraph our values, our personas, and our tribes.

Weddings, which originated from the dowry system (and still retain certain holdovers from it), have morphed into a kind of consumerist utopia, where financial sacrifices are now conflated with friendship. The multi-billion-dollar wedding industry puts pressure on the bride and her friends to cultivate the event planning skills and design sensibilities of professionals and makes us feel like we should be more concerned about pulling together an aesthetic we can showcase to the world than tending to our relationships.

I’m not here to tell you not to have an indulgent, over the top celebration—those can be the best kind!—but to dare to think critically about what you’re asking of those near and dear to you when you do in the process.

All I had to do during my one-time stint as a grooms-woman was show up for the big day in a modestly priced department store dress.

Here’s one small way you can make things easier on your bridesmaids: If you choose to stick with a predetermined aesthetic, why not encourage bridesmaids to save money and lease their gowns the way groomsmen do with tuxedos? The average cost of a bridal party dress is $200—a ridiculous sum for a one-time use. So instead of asking friends to fork over two weeks’ worth of groceries so they can match like Crayolas, utilize services like Rent the Runway, Bloomingdales, or other platforms and retailers that have wardrobes you can wear and return.

To see how we’ve got it wrong, look no further than the other side of the aisle. Groomsmen throw bachelor parties and usher in guests, but there are typically no showers for them to host and no handcrafted decorations for them to labor over. We don’t require them to wake up at 6 a.m. the morning of the wedding so they can be airbrushed with foundation and locate missing centerpieces. All I had to do during my one-time stint as a grooms-woman was stuff my face with barbecue at the bachelor party and show up for the big day in a modestly priced department store dress. No one weighed my worthiness as a friend against my willingness to serve as the groom’s personal assistant for weeks on end.

Bridal magazines love to remind us that “you can always say no!” before launching into the laundry list of a bridesmaid’s potential expenses and obligations, and that’s a great point. But how about not putting your friends in that awkward position in the first place? Set your expectations with your friends’ financial limitations and schedules in mind.

Together we can squash bridesmaid culture as we know it, and honor those who support us while we revel in our own, glorious love.

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