: OK, quick disclaimer at the top of the show: There's a couple parts in today's interview where you'll hear some sirens in the background while the guest is talking. So, if you're listening to this while you're driving, or while you're on the run from the law, then sorry for the additional stress.
Speaking of sirens and additional stress … boy, what a ridiculous week on Twitter. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a take on Elon and what him buying the platform is going to mean. I have a couple thoughts of my own, which I'll be sharing later today on Follow Friday: The Newsletter. So if you're not already subscribed, you can go sign up for free at followfriday.substack.com
Before we get to this fabulous interview with journalist Danielle Friedman, I want to thank our patrons over at patreon.com/followfriday
. Don't forget that if you're a patron, you have access to an extra-long version of this interview featuring a bonus follow from Danielle. So thank you, patrons! I also want to thank our sponsors...
OK, here's the show.
[theme song] ERIC
: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, the podcast about who you should follow online.
Every week, I talk to creative people about who they follow, and why. This is a guided tour to the best people on the internet, led by your favorite writers, podcasters, comedians, and more. If this is your first episode of the show, take a moment now and please follow or subscribe in your podcast app.
Today on the show is award-winning journalist Danielle Friedman, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, NBC News, The
and more. Her first book, which came out earlier this year, is called Let's Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World
You can find Danielle on Instagram @daniellefriedmanwrites
and on Twitter @DFriedmanWrites
. Danielle, welcome to Follow Friday. I'm so glad to have you here. DANIELLE
: I'm so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me. ERIC
: Of course. In your book, you trace women's fitness culture back to the 1960s. And each chapter is about these different people who started movements between then and now, sort of advancing the culture. Can you talk a little bit about where we are now with online fitness culture? Was there any one trailblazer that you found who brought women's fitness culture online? DANIELLE
: Great question. Yes. We're currently living in a moment where fitness culture, in general, is sort of ubiquitous, all-consuming. Many people now consider fitness a way of life, and that sort of translates and holds true for social media as well.
There are many people that I could credit with helping to bring fitness online, but I'll just mention the one who I focus on in my book, who I think has had a tremendous impact on the next frontier for fitness. And that is Jessamyn Stanley. She is the founder of The Underbelly. She is a fat, queer yoga practitioner.
My book's first chapter is titled Reduce and the last chapter is entitled Expand because that sort of charts the direction that our thinking about fitness is going in; our thinking of what a fit body looks like, who fitness is for. Jessamyn has done and is doing a tremendous amount of work to increase body diversity and expand inclusiveness in fitness. ERIC
: This is something that I was thinking about, which is that, in my head when I think about online fitness culture, I think about people who are maybe posting gym selfies all the time. Obviously, it's great if you're able to go to the gym, working out is great, but that can perpetuate body image issues and that can possibly do more harm than good.
So do you think that we are making progress? Do you think that as a culture we are improving on that front overall? DANIELLE
: I think we're at the beginning of a very important and significant shift. Social media, obviously, can be such a minefield when it comes to body image. But I often think about something that the body acceptance activist, Virgie Tovar, told me while reporting my book, which is that social media has given a voice to the people who have always been the majority in number but not in influence.
So in my book, so much of what I explored was the cultural conversation that was happening between pop culture, women's magazines — influencers of their day — and women as far as how women believed they needed to look to be socially acceptable.
And now, one way of looking at social media is that it's allowed for more of a two-way conversation. There's a pushback. You don't have to go through all of the traditional channels to be visible. You can just start posting selfies and find an audience and build an audience that way. And I know it's easier said than done, but in spending years researching this history, that is a really significant shift. ERIC
: Definitely. Well, the book is called Let's Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World
. But for now, let's find out who Danielle Friedman follows online.
You can follow along with us today. Every person she recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at followfridaypodcast.com/daniellefriedman.
Danielle, before the show, I gave you a list of categories, and I asked you to tell me four people you follow who fit in those categories. Your first pick is in the category: "someone you just started following," and you said Katie Sturino, who is on Instagram
Katie is a triple threat, maybe more. She's the author of a book called Body Talk
, the host of a podcast called Boob Sweat
, and the founder of a company called Megababe Beauty
Can you talk about what Katie does and why you started following her? DANIELLE
: I am trying to think of how I even found my way to Katie's accounts. I think the work that she does is very much in line with my interests. As you mentioned, she is a sort of triple or quadruple threat. But the way that she's using her Instagram especially right now is to promote body acceptance and size acceptance.
The recurring feature that she does that I love is something called #SuperSizeTheLook
. She takes these cool, beautiful fashions that are shown on thin bodies and she replicates them for her body. She lives in a larger body. She does it in such a smart and wonderful way. I have loved following her.
I happened to also have the opportunity to interview her not that long ago for a piece that I was doing about the return of low-rise jeans and the midriff
. But I had stumbled on her account shortly before then.
I think there has been so much conversation over the past few years, similar fitness for women, about who high fashion is for. And many people have begun to highlight the dearth of flattering fashion for larger bodies. She's kind of a living testament to the fact that fashion is for everyone. And just because you don't look like the very narrow ideal that's promoted in fashion, usually, you can still wear whatever you want and look great. ERIC
: Yeah. And to your point about #SuperSizeTheLook, part of this project, at least on her website, is that she has the original photo, the publicity paparazzi photo of the famous person, and then she has herself wearing the recreated look. And then below that, she has links to all these different options if you wanted to recreate the look in your size. "Here's that sweater or something that looks pretty close to it," which I think is so brilliant.
This is something that the internet has really made possible; the ability to emulate the things that you see these glamorous, rich people wearing and to take on that fashion, to be a little bit like them, if that's what you want. DANIELLE
: It's also a really interesting play on that Us Weekly trope of "who wore it better?" And she'll often say, it's not about who wore it better. For those of us who grew up or came of age in the 90s and early 2000s, when you think about it, that's such a cringy trope because you're comparing one person's body to another. And I love that she's turning that trope on its head. ERIC
: It sounds like you were already primed to see eye-to-eye with Katie on some things. But is there anything that you found since you started following her that has really surprised you or changed your mind or just nudged you in some direction? DANIELLE
: I think it's interesting when she has responded to critics. I think that I relate to this. Doing the work that I do, I've unintentionally created almost a social media bubble of fellow body-positivity, body-acceptance believers, and just empathetic souls because I tend to not want to immerse myself in the more toxic aspects of social media.
She just recently posted about how she responds to the inevitable critics. And I think she has provided a model in some ways for how to respond in a way that acknowledges that there 's still a lot of controversy around what she stands for, while rising above it at the same time. ERIC
: Something else that I'll flag is that I was looking at some of her Instagram videos. She is very open about things like panic attacks and mental health
— things that are that intersect with body image issues and being a person who's posting stuff online and getting attacked, maybe getting criticism for what you post.
All these things collide in a lot of ways for folks. She's certainly not the only one doing this, but I really appreciate it when someone is transparent about their mental health and being like, "Hey, even though I have a ton of followers on Instagram, this is the more difficult side of what it's like, being in the public eye like this." DANIELLE
: Absolutely. I'm so glad you mentioned that video of hers because I had temporarily forgotten that. I watched that entire post where she talked about exactly what it feels like for her to be experiencing a panic attack. And I think she, if I remember correctly, called out to her followers to describe how they manage panic attacks.
I found that to be so comforting. In general, I'm a believer in that kind of personal transparency and being open about experiences that might have been stigmatized in the past, just to help everybody feel less alone. As someone who has dealt with anxiety myself, I remember watching that and feeling deeply comforted by it. ERIC
: Well, that was Katie Sturino, who is on Instagram
Danielle, let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone who makes you laugh, and you said 70s Dinner Party, which is on Instagram @70sdinnerparty
. They're also on Twitter @70s_party
This is one of those follow recommendations that you have to see to believe. So if you are not driving right now, go ahead and pull up Instagram or Twitter, pull up 70s Dinner Party. Danielle, could you try to explain to the fine people out there, what the hell are they looking at? DANIELLE
: So. 70s Dinner Party features home entertainment guides and home cooking guides from, primarily, the 1970s that advertise recipes and … concoctions, I think is the best word, that look both incredibly hilarious and also completely disgusting.
There was quite a long era, I think, in-home entertainment — and as I say this, maybe this will be my next history project — around mid-century, heading into the 70s, when, among certain communities, it was considered kind of fancy
to display and present your food in these very creative shapes of animals.
So the creator of this account has found some of the most outrageous and offered them up for our benefit. I feel like there are a lot of hotdogs involved, a lot of unexpected combinations of sweet and savory, a lot of food in the shapes of animals. And the captions are always very dry. I just love it. ERIC
: Some examples of 70s Dinner Party recipes: We have macaroni pineapple toss, banana sardine boats, cold spaghetti creams, and spunky shoulder slices, just to name a few. Yum, doesn't that sound … like food, maybe?
Did you grow up in a family that would make stuff like this or do you know people who had this as part of their childhood when they were growing up? DANIELLE
: Great question. I'm Jewish, and I feel like I did not see this as much among the Jewish homes I was attending for holidays and other gatherings and parties where this type of presentation might be warranted.
I am from the south. I'm from Atlanta, and I feel like it's not totally foreign to me. I might have encountered a beautiful hot dog cheese wheel at some point.
It's funny, because after years of following this account, I only recently looked up who is behind it. And it's a British book agent and publicist named Anna Pallai. A few years ago, she published a book that grew out of the accounts. But knowing that many of these guides are British sort of … explains a lot now. I think some of these recipes are very British in nature. ERIC
: I didn't want to demean the United Kingdom, but when I was looking at this, there was this weird Britishness about a lot of the food. I think British food has a reputation for being inedible and sometimes not being especially... like, all the best British food is from countries that they invaded, right?
So I do wonder if in a big city like New York or London, a big culinary city, could someone reclaim this sort of recipe? Is there a future for 70s Dinner Party food in some fancy restaurant? I'm not sure if that would work. DANIELLE
: I think certainly as kitsch. I would be delighted if I were to walk into a party these days, even if I might not want to eat it, if I saw an attempted recreation. But I think there's too much of a premium now on wanting food to taste good. We're living in a foodie culture and there would have to be some major tweaks. ERIC
: Yeah. Well, a different angle on it then, let's say you're having a party and you're having just your closest friends over. And the rule is, you have to make and eat one of these. You have to pick one of these from the 70s Dinner Party Instagram. If you have it open in front of you, is there any that seem less unappetizing, that you'd be willing to take a chance on? DANIELLE
: Let's see here. And by the way, I would definitely attend that party. I might need to throw that party; that sounds amazing. ERIC
: Please do, and send me pictures. DANIELLE
: You've got it. There's an Easter-themed rabbit
that looks like some kind of coconut jellybean concoction. I mean, the rabbit itself looks devilish like it might need to be exorcised, but the food part looks pretty tasty. It looks like it would be some kind of coconut cake with jelly beans. I think I could get that down. ERIC
: I was cracking up at one in particular called the Smiling Dolphin
, which is tomato juice and orange juice mixed together. And then it says, "Peel a banana for the dolphin, make a slit for the mouth, slide in a tomato tongue. Make the eyes from little bits of licorice and put the dolphin in the glass."
I'm just imagining… The two foods my fiancé hates the most are tomatoes and bananas. So I feel like the engagement would be off if I dared to make this. DANIELLE
: It's like a cruel and unusual form of punishment to present this and ask somebody you love to eat most of these recipes.
I also love this account, I should just say, because every now and then, they will post something that intersects with my beat of fitness history. For example, they recently posted something that looks like the cover of a book that's entitled Cooking in the Nude, for Golf Lovers
It's just so random. There's a silhouette of a naked body. I've definitely reposted a lot of their stuff over the years, but I do love that. I've amassed a huge archival collection of mostly fitness materials myself, fitness artifacts. So this is sort of one or two steps removed, and I love it. I'm very grateful to Anna for creating this. ERIC
: I just ruined my Google search history by searching for "Cooking in the Nude, for Golf Lovers," and I found this listing on Amazon: "Combine your favorite game and your favorite partner with these sporty and suggestive romantic recipes. Dishes like Tees Me and Bogey Kebabs prove golf is more delicious with a twosome." DANIELLE
: Oh my God. ERIC
: "If your partner on the course is also the object of your culinary conquest, you won't want to take a Mulligan on this one." I think you need to buy all of the "Cooking in the Nude" books. There's a whole series that I think you need to add to your collection. DANIELLE
: You don't have to twist my arm. I will be trying to track them down as soon as we finish taping this. ERIC
: All right. Well, that was 70s Dinner Party, which is on Instagram @70sdinnerparty
. They're also on Twitter @70s_party
We are going to take a quick break now, but we'll be back in a minute with Danielle Friedman, the author of Let's Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World.
[ad break] ERIC
: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Danielle, I asked you to tell me about someone who makes you think, and you said Laura McLaws Helms, who is on Instagram @laurakitty
and who writes a newsletter at laurakitty.substack.com
. She's also the host of the podcast, Sighs & Whisper
Laura describes herself as a fashion and cultural historian. Could you explain what that means and what are the sorts of things that Laura shares online? DANIELLE
: Laura is a little bit of a renaissance woman who has intrigued me from the time that I first discovered her account. She is a fashion and cultural historian and she's also a writer, a podcast host, and a journalist. She's not associated with any one institution or publication.
She has spoken before about how she has amassed a gigantic archive of vintage magazines and other fashion literature. And what she posts online is basically glimpses of that collection along with a lot of video, in tribute to actors, directors, creatives, designers from times gone by.
At this point, it shouldn't be a huge surprise that I gravitated toward her account. What I really love about her account and what does make me think is that she has this wonderful ability to kind of elevate the low and the B-list and the C-list to the high. I love a good high-low mix.
I love that she inspires me to take a second look at movies or actors or culture from the past and reconsider its merits, and its meaning. I think in my work over the past few years, I have found value in looking at cultural trends or activities that have been written off as silly or trivial — for example, aerobics — and look to them as a source of insight into where we were at a particular cultural moment.
Her work has really been inspiring for me in that way. She also posts regular vintage exercise clips, of which there's just a huge trove to choose from. But again, she won my heart with that little thread, as well. ERIC
: And when you say vintage exercise clips, you're referring to VHS tapes that were sold, usually with a celebrity instructor on the cover? These are the stereotypical 80s tapes where everyone's wearing crazy pastel and neon colors? DANIELLE
: Yes, it was a phenomenon that was unleashed by Jane Fonda in her workout video in 1982
. She sort of kicked off the trend and went on to become one of the best-selling home videos of all time. It sold 17 million copies. And by the end of the 80s, there were 500 workout videos being produced every year.
The celebrities who have produced workout videos are pretty hilarious. Everyone from Marky Mark, when he still called himself that, to Angela Lansbury, to Cher. Laura, the other day, posted a clip of Rita Moreno leading an aerobics class
[clip from video] RITA MORENO
: Knee! Knee! Knee! Coming forward! Step, step, step, touch! Touch!
: Her whole thing, and she's spoken about this too, is that it's very unlikely that you would see her posting about Jane Fonda leading an exercise class. She goes for the sort of, the unexpected, the hidden, the kind of cultural ephemera that has been largely forgotten, but that is interesting.
In some cases, its weirdness and B-list status — and I'm not speaking about Rita Moreno here — but its B-list status is kind of what makes it feel a little bit refreshing. ERIC
: Absolutely. I think that's the thing. Sometimes we can look at videos and photographs and old movies and things like that and our instinct can be to laugh at, "Wow, look how ridiculous they looked then." Of course, we are, in doing that, damning ourselves to be laughed at by future generations.
Is there a specific thing that Laura has posted that really shifted your perspective? DANIELLE
: This was actually an interview she gave where she talked about how she finds vintage retro clips of the usual suspects, the people that we associate with a particular era as being kind of boring, and just the value in surfacing some of these hidden figures and hidden characters.
So I really did keep that perspective in mind as I was researching my book, which does resurface a lot of cultural figures who have been largely forgotten by history.
Every year at the Super Bowl, she posts a clip of Debbie Reynolds in a musical act, being tossed as a human football. And I love it. I would need to look up the exact credit. It's from a film.
But as someone who isn't a big football viewer or — I don't pledge allegiance to any team or anything — I always appreciate that. It's my vibe. Debbie Reynolds as a human football, singing and dancing, feels like the kind of Super Bowl show I want to see. ERIC
: I just Googled "Debbie Reynolds human football". Apparently, it's from a 1953 musical called I Love Melvin,
which … not a great name, not a very interesting name.
But one more thing about Laura is that she was written up in Vogue
last year for her vintage wedding dress. It was designed by Elizabeth and David Emmanuel, who are the same people who made Princess Diana's wedding dress and dressed a bunch of other celebrities.
Is there a specific designer or a specific historical vintage look that you aspire to? DANIELLE
: I've always been drawn to the 60's aesthetic, and I love Mary Quant. I'm not really a miniskirt wearer myself, especially at this stage in my life, but she basically popularized the miniskirt. I saw an amazing exhibit, a kind of retrospective on her career at the V&A museum in London a few years ago. She captured and helped to fuel the swinging 60's aesthetic in London.
I will say maybe not so much in fashion, but I've always tried to emulate the 60's makeup look of the cat eye and the paler lip. I just love that look. ERIC
: Did you see that movie, Last Night in Soho
, that came out last year? DANIELLE
: I haven't seen it yet because I'm not a big thriller or horror movie watcher. I heard it was excellent and I wished I could see it, but I weighed the fashion with the sleepless nights.... ERIC
: Don't get me wrong. The last at least two-thirds of that movie is extremely disturbing, but I feel like you might appreciate the first 20-30 minutes. It's a fashion designer who loves the swinging 60s who gets transported back to the 60s. There's a very nice non-horror movie that could have been made with that. DANIELLE
: Yeah. Maybe I'll check out the first 30 minutes and see how I'm doing. ERIC
: Exactly. The first time you're scared, just turn it off. Anyway, that was Laura McLaws Helms who is on Instagram @laurakitty
We have time for one more follow today. Danielle, I asked you for someone who makes the internet a better place and you said Jessamyn Stanley who is on Instagram
@mynameisjessamyn. She's also on Twitter @JessamynStan
and on YouTube @JessamynStanley
You mentioned her earlier in the conversation, when you were talking about online fitness pioneers, but she's yet another extremely multi-talented person. She's an entrepreneur. She's an advocate. She's an author. She's the host of an advice podcast called Dear Jessamyn
. And she's the founder of a virtual yoga studio called The Underbelly Yoga
The floor is yours: Where do you want to start with her? DANIELLE
: Well, it's funny, this theme keeps coming up. As I was thinking about who I follow and why I follow them, everyone I currently choose to follow is somebody who I'm slightly obsessed with, and love and admire, which is probably my attempt to create this lovely little bubble, like I mentioned at the beginning, a sort of supportive community.
I interviewed Jessamyn for my book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I think she is doing really important work. I nominated Jessamyn for this category because I believe that she really is making the world a better place. Well, that was actually an interesting slip there — the internet
a better place, and therefore, the world is a better place through her account.
I interviewed Jessamyn for my book and profiled her. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, I think social media can be so toxic when it comes to fitness and body image and the kind of images that we see. She is leading a charge to change and to expand the images that we're confronted with, of what fitness can mean.
She's also inspired many others to post photos of themselves and buck this really deeply ingrained notion of what a fit body has to look like. Jessamyn describes herself as fat. She's a woman of color. She's also queer.
For so much of women's fitness history, which I really saw firsthand through my research, the type of body that was portrayed as aspirational was a thin, white body. It was sort of just accepted that that's what we should be striving for. Her own story of how she started posting, and the community that she found on Instagram, is really interesting and pretty inspiring.
She first came to yoga through a favorite aunt that took her to class. She was going to in-person classes. And then she reached a point where she couldn't really afford to go to the studio anymore. So she started practicing at home and she posted photos of herself on Instagram, to get some tips on how to improve her poses and her form.
She talks about how people would respond and say, "Wow, I didn't know if that person could do yoga." And she would be like, "Yeah, we can do all kinds of things." And she found a really lovely community that way.
She's talked about how practicing at home has given her the freedom to feel like she can fall down, and not feel self-conscious about it. So I really love what she's doing and I think she's helping to usher in the shift that I mentioned in terms of how we think about fitness. ERIC
: I mentioned that she runs a virtual yoga studio, The Underbelly. I don't know if you do yoga, but something that I've found when I go to in-person classes is that the instructor can have a huge impact on how you feel about the class... The instructor is such an important role in the class.
Is she intentionally trying to be different in her instruction or is it more the representation of Black and fat body types, is the more important than the fact that, hey, all bodies are welcome in this class? DANIELLE
: I think that is extremely important but it's all interconnected. She's doing it all. She makes a really conscious effort in her teaching to create that welcoming environment.
I loved this detail about her. She has a tattoo on one of her arms which is the English translation of the state motto for North Carolina, where she lives. It's "To be, rather than to seem."
When you think about what that means when we're talking about fitness and why we work on our bodies, I think that's really meaningful. She also is really quick to point out that she doesn't consider herself a guru. She even has a hard time embracing the fact that she's a teacher, because she feels like a perpetual student.
I just think that kind of humility and approach can have such a positive impact on how accessible she seems to students. She's very mindful of how she's practicing and how she's using her influencer status. ERIC
: Absolutely. You already talked about how Jessamyn is making the internet a better place. But what is something that the rest of us can learn from her example? How can we make the internet a better place in the same way that she does? DANIELLE
: Well, this might be kind of basic, but I think we can look to the completely unfiltered view of herself that she shares and the way that she's been celebrated for it. I think it can be really scary to make ourselves vulnerable in that way and share, literally and figuratively, unfiltered photos of ourselves.
But I think for women especially, there's such a need to hyper-curate our feeds and the views of our life that we share with the world. This also goes back to what we were saying about Katie Sturino and mental health. I think that there's a lot of value in honesty, and showing our lives as they are ERIC
: Very well said. Well, that was Jessamyn Stanley who is on Instagram
@mynameisjessamyn. She's also on Twitter @JessamynStan
and on YouTube @JessamynStanley
Danielle, thank you for sharing all these follows with us today. Before we go, let's make sure that listeners know how to find you and your book online. Where should people follow you? DANIELLE
: I am on Instagram @daniellefriedmanwrites
where I share my own collection of vintage archival fitness artifacts. I'm on Twitter @DFriedmanWrites
. You can visit my website danielle-friedman.com
. And my book, Let's Get Physical,
is available wherever books are sold. ERIC
: And you can follow me on Twitter @HeyHeyESJ, and don't forget to follow or subscribe to Follow Friday in your podcast app. If you like this episode, then check out the past Follow Friday interviews with Traci Thomas from The Stacks, author and video essayist Lindsay Ellis, and The Comics Curmudgeon writer Josh Fruhlinger.
Follow Friday is a production of LightningPod.fm. Our theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie, our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan, and our social media producer is Sydney Grodin. Special thanks to our Big Fri Patreon backers, Jon and Justin. Visit patreon.com/followfriday
for an extended-length version of this interview, featuring a bonus follow recommendation from Danielle.
That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson reminding you to talk about people behind their backs, and when you do, say something nice.
I'll see you next Friday!