(Originally Published in E-MAIL MAGAZINE ISSUE #1)
By Hazel Gibson
Martha Stewart has been circling the peripheries of my life for a long time.
She was one of the things my friend Rhiannon and I bonded over almost a decade ago in our shared apartment on Cross Street, Auckland. We had a crappy kitchen but a love of elaborate meals far beyond our modest income, and Martha was there for us whenever we needed a mint julep recipe or instructions to debone a fish.
It seemed natural, then, that she would be one of the first non-friends I sought out on Instagram back in 2013, when we were all slapping heavy tilt-shift filters on our photos and influencers mercifully didn’t exist.
Now, there’s something critical to understand about Martha Stewart's Instagram dot com presence: she has two accounts. Her professionally run 'gram, @marthastewart, where her team trot out a tightly scheduled and curated photographic selection of her products, shows, and upcoming appearances. It's gorgeous and polished! Aspirational, yet friendly! A grid befitting the queen of American domesticity.
Her photographs are terrible. A veritable cornucopia of unappealing foods (phone flash on), wild animals snapped from a distance (but very zoomed in) and images of her celebrity friends (out of focus, unflattering).
Some of the delights you can expect on @MarthaStewart48:
a 20 part series detailing her cosmetic dentistry.
A half-eaten plate of ravioli.
A cooked chicken presented in an aggressively sexual manner, with desperate pleas in the comment section that includes “Girl, I thought you learned from snoop to season that chicken”
The blurriest photo of a horse ever uploaded to the internet.
And then there are the captions. Her text accompaniments cover the holy trifecta of Instagram: The absolute inability to grasp the concept of hashtags, unhinged use of exclamation marks, and often written under the influence (we've all been there).
"By mistake while playing Gozo our nightly card game we opened a 2013 bottle of #domaine roulot Meursault clos Des Boucheres @luchets007 Even though I won, I kind of lost, sharing this bottle with the detainees - who knew it costs 350 euros or $383.00 us Must have been a gift which I greatly appreciate by the way No dessert Just a great wine !!!!and the detainees really deserve whatever!!!! They have been terrific in light of everything we are going through Just getting a bit silly ????"
Rhiannon and I send each other the most egregious examples, crowing with delight at garbage latte art, a sad hot dog - "she's at it again!" I'm not sure what we get out of it, exactly. Perhaps it’s the 'gotcha' of ensnaring a celebrity in a moment of mediocrity ("celebs - they're just like us!"). Or maybe it’s the fun we can poke at her for being a typical boomer, tinged with genuine affection - like how we might eye-roll at a parent. Or it might be the envy of her give-no-fucks attitude, while the rest of us still painstakingly craft our online personas.
I follow a total sum of zero celebrities on Instagram; Martha is the only exception. There’s something about seeing her in my feed which brings me a strange joy. The utterly mundane nature of the photographic subjects. The fact that she hasn’t improved her technique in over six years. The juxtaposition between her unfiltered stream-of-consciousness output, and her “brand”.
It strips away the sanitized glossiness of celebrity we’ve come to expect to reveal far more interesting truths: You can have all the wealth and resources available to you and you can still take objectively bad photos. That despite her fame, Martha is still your average, oblivious boomer (albeit towards the ‘rich, eccentric aunt’ end of the spectrum). And that there is an innate desire to document and share the meals we eat: "I ate this! God, I wish you could have been there, too!". The joy we get from sharing food with others transcends our ability to take an appealing photo, even when your life is a parade of impeccable chef-prepared meals.
But perhaps the whole thing is a ruse, just as calculated and curated as Martha Stewart Living™? Appealing to younger internet natives as more authentic, her personal account positions Martha as funny, self-referential, punk even. She doesn't give a fuck about the typos or the blurry photos - she has a friendship with Snoop Dog she can leverage.
And yet, despite the relatability of an ill-cropped image, she occasionally reminds us that there is still the distance of wealth and prestige between our lives and hers. Her photographs may categorically suck, but I guarantee there are more pics of caviar and white truffle on her timeline than the humble banana bread that proliferates your own.