Aug 8, 2019 4 min read

#204: The Tyranny of the Ideal Woman

#204: The Tyranny of the Ideal Woman

Thank you for your kind birthday wishes last week, loyal readers. I’m also extremely appreciative of all the thoughtful comments you’re sending in about the articles. Our (inter)national article club momentum is growing, and it’s great to witness what we’re building. If you have time to read just on

Thank you for your kind birthday wishes last week, loyal readers. I’m also extremely appreciative of all the thoughtful comments you’re sending in about the articles. Our (inter)national article club momentum is growing, and it’s great to witness what we’re building.

If you have time to read just one article this week, I highly recommend Jia Tolentino’s “Athleisure, Barre, and Kale: The Tyranny of the Ideal Woman.” Everything Ms Tolentino writes, I devour, and this piece is no different. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts — do you think she gets things right about society’s expectations of women, or do you think she misses the mark?

+ Also in today’s issue, read about a joyful, successful school in Ohio, the crisis of homelessness in San Francisco, and the unexpected positive social effects of the extraordinary drought in Cape Town. Happy reading!

+ Do you like the idea of meeting other loyal readers and discussing articles together in real life? Sure you do! Sign up here for your chance to attend an upcoming Pop-Up Article Club. If you don’t live in the Oakland area and are interested in something similar, only not in person, please let me know.

The Tyranny Of The Ideal Woman

The Tyranny Of The Ideal Woman

“The ideal woman,” writes Jia Tolentino, “has always been generic.” She looks like an Instagram, even if you see her in real life:

She’s of indeterminate age but resolutely youthful presentation. She’s got glossy hair and the clean, shameless expression of a person who believes she was made to be looked at. She is often luxuriating when you see her – on remote beaches, under stars in the desert, across a carefully styled table, surrounded by beautiful possessions or photogenic friends. Showcasing herself at leisure is either the bulk of her work or an essential part of it.

In this outstanding essay, Ms. Tolentino explains how capitalism, patriarchy, and technology lead many women into a perpetual process of optimizing. Advancing in your career means scarfing down kale salads every day at Sweetgreen while checking work email. Exercising focuses less on health and more on looking taut. Barre, with its “rapid-fire series of positions and movements,” offers the most efficient path. Only once you’ve made it can you enjoy Lululemon, whose pants, according to the founder (a man), “just actually don’t work” on “some women’s bodies.”

Ms. Tolentino, an eminently talented writer, is spot on about culture. This essay, an excerpt from Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (released on Tuesday, already a bestseller), is no exception. It’ll push your thinking, get you to laugh, and help you connect the dots. (20 min)

+ Ms. Tolentino can write about anything. Here’s her take on vaping, religion, affirmative action, and weighted blankets.

LeBron’s School, One Year Later

Want a feel-good education story to start your school year strong? Here’s one about I Promise, a new public elementary school in Akron, Ohio. Founded by LeBron James, I Promise focuses on a number of best practices: welcoming children into the building every morning, giving each child a nickname, and promoting empathy via daily talk circles. The academic results are there, too: 90% of students met their reading and Math goals, placing them in the 99th percentile nationally. Don’t mind the naysayers, who claim that I Promise’s success is not sustainable, only the result of LeBron’s largesse. (17 min)

Delia, who belongs to loyal reader Allison, wishes a happy birthday to her owner and to all Leos. Want your pet to appear in The Highlighter?

One Day, One City, No Relief: 24 Hours Inside San Francisco’s Homeless Crisis

For many people, it’s not easy to talk about homelessness — and even harder to talk about homeless people. This excellent special report by the San Francisco Chronicle — a collection of 43 short vignettes, photographs, statistics, and videos, reported over the course of 24 hours — centers the lived experiences of people living on the streets of San Francisco. “I don’t like it when people are afraid of me,” Ken Reigenborn says.

+ Do you teach in San Francisco? This piece could easily turn into an entire unit. Let me know if you want to plan together!

Dry, The Beloved Country

In this outstanding article, Eve Fairbanks writes about how the horrific drought in segregated Cape Town brought its residents closer together — just one week after her lead article on millennial nuns. Ms. Fairbanks, a white woman who has lived in South Africa for nine years, writes confidently about race, the legacy of apartheid, and how local, slow-moving disasters offer opportunities for dialogue. Ms. Fairbanks writes, “We call it wisdom, now, to assume people are motivated by things like self-interest, status and fear. It’s not savvy to wonder if we can be motivated, en masse, at times, by things like the wish to show respect, or by love.” (31 min)

Is it possible? Indeed, it is: Somehow you’ve reached the end of this week’s issue of The Highlighter. Use the thumbs below to tell me what you thought. Or hit reply and type me a quick message. Also, let’s please welcome our 13 new subscribers: Angela, Roni, Morgan, Keith, Karie, Sarita, Katie, Carolyn, Samantha, Maddy, Holly, and two others. Hope the newsletter is a good match for you!

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