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7 Life Lessons From The OG Influencer Martha Stewart

Keep your twentysomething productivity bromads, give me the droll doyenne of lifestyle advice any day

By Steffany RitchiePublished 7 months ago 10 min read
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Martha Stewart, pic c/o David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been in retreat/comfort mode for the past few weeks. With autumn in full swing and the air cooling down to a shivery briskness in Scotland, leaves crunching beneath my feet, and woodfires permeating the bronze and gold-tinged scenes, this is the time of year when my expat homesickness really kicks in.

Long before pumpkin spice everything I was a fall girl, particularly once I moved to Massachusetts in my freshman year of high school.

Like many only-child single mom setups, my mom and I have a sisterly closeness that may seem a little weird to people from more traditional family units. Think “The Gilmore Girls” with slightly more fighting!

We have our own little obsessions over sometimes silly things together. In the 90s, Martha Stewart was definitely one of our “things”.

Martha Stewart was the epitome of aspirational New England living when she burst onto tv screens across America in the 90s. In some ways, we loved to hate her. We made fun of how insanely fancy, and “extra” much of her stuff was, but we always tuned in for more. We delighted in her ever-so-slightly awkward catchphrase “It’s a good thing” and would parrot it at each other as a joke about random inane things. She was a guilty pleasure for sure.

We were two gals living in an apartment or my grandma’s house, Martha Stewart’s world on her multi-acre Connecticut farmhouse spread was pretty alien to us. But like Martha, my mom comes from the generation that knew how to do stuff, and if they don’t, they put their minds to it and figure it out.

My mom can sew most anything, knit, quilt, garden, and does much DIY that makes younger generations balk. She learned stained glass and in recent times jewelry making, and much like Martha, once she gets ideas about a thing gets shit done. She once sanded a beat-up old floor in a house we were living in, it came out amazing.

I am a Gen X slacker who was too much of a “feminist” (cough lazybones) to learn to craft or sew much of anything when I was younger. I am an embarrassment to my mother for sure on this front. But our love of Martha united us.

And in recent times, I discovered that all of the original/90s era Martha Stewart shows are streaming on a thing called the Roku channel here in the UK (I get it on my Sky/NOWTV box, it’s a free app you can probably get on an Amazon firestick or other places too). I was both curious and nervous — would this fondly remembered show be an indulgent nostalgia trip or not as good as I remembered?

It turned out that it holds up surprisingly well for the most part, and I find myself loading up an episode lately anytime I feel a bit low. Martha’s can-do spirit is still pretty infectious, her down-to-earth yet inquisitive attitude remains deeply watchable. These are merely my interpretations of the Martha Stewart ethos I enjoy, meant for entertainment purposes only!

Give a Damn About the Environment, Dummies:

In the first episode, which aired in 1993, she gives a polite but firm lecture about gardeners using their old leaves for a compost heap, that burning leaves is not fucking cool for the environment (I take liberties, 90s Martha never swore, but the “no mess!” tone is there!), and we should all do more to protect the earth. She delivers the message in a matter-of-fact, get your act together way. Martha has always been on it. She regularly recycles and repurposes homewares and garden items as well, and she has never met a chair that can’t be refurbished — her thriftiness is underrated.

Go Big or Go Home/Make Your Apple Pies As High as the Sky:

In a recent episode I watched, Martha makes an apple pie that looks like it could feed an entire town. She rolls out a pie crust that looks big enough for five pies confidently, with determination. Martha is about to construct a tower of apples inside this pie that is an architectural feat like nothing I have ever seen. She lectures us as she stacks DO NOT CUT YOUR APPLE PIECES TOO SMALL,(PEASANTS!) or you will have applesauce!

She is not wrong. I am a culinary dummy and need all tv chefs to take a firm tone and tell me it’s NOT OK TO FUCK UP THE PIE. Miraculously, this pie comes together, and it is the most beautiful pie I have ever seen, it makes me want to bake a pie just like it. This is a more recent video of her making the “mile-high apple pie”. It’s still impressive but I swear she uses even more apples in the 90s version! Do not be daunted by impossible tasks, is my takeaway from Martha’s indomitably high pie.

Embrace Your Dark Side/Don’t Make Halloween Just About the Kids:

Martha doesn’t PLAY when it comes to Halloween, or as she calls it “Holloween”. This video is titled all wrong if you ask me, Martha made a daringly creepy Halloween monsterpiece in her library and these kids are too little and scared to get it - send them home to Sesame Street, take me to your haunted hayride and Guy Fawkes-themed parties please Martha! Her Halloween episodes are so extra and I love that. There is something pleasingly adult and un-twee about much of Martha’s content that is a fading commodity in her oeuvre.

Don’t Be a Snitch:

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog’s unlikely friendship is one I have sometimes thought was more for show than anything but I read an article where Snoop Dog held Martha up in the highest regard in comparison to a rapper who was naming names to cut down his jail time. Snoop wrote on his Instagram:

“I invite you all to remember Martha Stewart snitched on NOT ONE soul during her trial….That’s my M. F. Home girl, Solid as a rocc.” — Snoop Dog, 2019

Obviously, her insider trading conviction was not “a good thing”, but I remember reading articles that indicated that she could have gotten a much easier ride had she implicated others. Although she did have a past career in Wall Street it’s fairly ludicrous to suggest she alone was involved in it, I believe she was the easiest picking as a high-profile woman to prosecute.

When Life Hands You Prison Time, Make Ponchos:

Many wrote Martha Stewart off during this time, but she somehow turned the infamy and shame of her jail time into a near effortless redemption arc, waltzing off the plane in 2005 on her return from prison, cool as a cucumber, wearing a poncho knitted by a fellow prison inmate. It was iconic, and instantly changed the conversation from “Martha the criminal” to “What the eff is she wearing?” and “Wait, why do I NEED that?!”

It reminded Martha’s fans that she was still just a girl from Connecticut, asking us to politely worship her from an appropriate distance.

Martha rolls with life’s punches and finds a way to reinvent herself even at the most challenging times. She had to rebuild her brand and her empire after losing much of it — is she a privileged white woman with more connections than most? Sure, but I would wager a bet many doors were closed in her face before she found her footing again, she could very easily have hidden from the world forever after being a prolonged joke target of late-night tv. But she never gave up, and that is something to be admired.

Be Original:

Martha Stewart was ahead of her time in many ways. Her brand taking off in the 90s was quietly revolutionary in its own way. This was fresh off the 80s, everything homegrown, DIY and old was in no way hip. The 80s were all plastic, nylon, neon, and sports cars. Martha glided onto screens in the early 90s wearing gardening clothes and knobbly sweaters, driving a jeep and re-finishing every old piece of furniture she could get her hands on. She talked about old crockery and polishing pans and making your own mulch. She didn’t try to present as glamorous or worldly, even though she was without even trying.

She created a brand based on solid cooking advice, treasuring and reworking old finds in antique shops, sprinkling in history anecdotes in for funsies, showing how to plant and grow fruits and vegetables, in-depth gardening, and the insanely, deliciously over-the-top dinner parties, among many other things. Again, Martha had a nice plot of land and the privilege of a good education. But she bought the Connecticut farmhouse for $46,000 in the 70s with her young family and spent years renovating it (and acquiring surrounding land parcels too, natch).

Even today, her website has an old-school blog, who knows if Martha writes it, but still, the origins of her brand presentation are all there. It doesn’t matter if she’s a multi-millionaire, I know she at least at one point walked the walk of most of the things she/her brand espouses.

Don’t Suffer Fools: Be Classic, Not Basic:

Martha has a penchant for firing off often scathingly hilarious bon mots about some of her lifestyle guru/tv chef competitors. She takes no prisoners, and calls out people who are let’s be honest poor imitations of the thing she in many ways created — Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP has often been in her firing line, and while it’s easy to say she’s just an older woman being snarky, I think her vitriol is based in true annoyance that so many of the current lifestyle-preneurs are seemingly little more than shallow grifters.

Something about GOOP has always rung hollow to me, even before the vagina-scented candle debacle! It’s highly elitist in tone and pricing, and while there is a market for it clearly, personally I find Paltrow’s attempts to come across as relatable cringe-worthy.

There’s also a faux “we’re country folks just like you” quality to many American tv chefs/personalities like The Pioneer Woman and others that belies their multi-millionaire status. Her “just a cowboy” husband is worth $400 million and is one of the biggest landowners in America. Say what you will about Martha, I have never felt like she tries to present herself as something she is not.

Earmarking Final Thoughts is Something I am Convinced Martha Would Find Terribly Gauche But Here I Go!:

Martha Stewart is timeless and has always found new ways to keep her brand fresh. As her original lifestyle show Martha Stewart Living exhibits, she has a basis in acquired and shared knowledge, impeccable good taste, and a dash of elbow grease that makes her eternally interesting. I always learn new and interesting things that I feel encouraged to if not put into practice, at least consider trying.

I will make that apple pie, it feels like a mountain I can climb right now. And who knows, maybe someday I will sand an old chair I find. To inspire people to treasure old things, appreciate the little things in life, and yes maybe dream of living a little bit fancier pants than whatever our current situation is, I still think that’s “a good thing”.

*This article was originally published by the author on Medium

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About the Creator

Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I mostly write memoir, essays and pop culture things. I am a long-time American expat in Scotland.

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