Elizabeth Holmes Defrauded Investors. Why Are We Obsessed With Her Appearance?

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By Eve Fairbanks, The Washington Post, March 26, 2019

These two things can be true at the same time: that Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the failed medical-testing company Theranos and dark protagonist of the new HBO documentary “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” probably lied to investors and the public, seems like a terrible person and deserves a long prison sentence. And that the coverage of her — which commanded, in recent days, pieces and segments in the New Yorker, most of the major newspapers , Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, CNN, ABC’s “Nightline,” “The View” and dozens of other outlets — has been unbelievably, jaw-droppingly sexist.

I’m not a person who writes often about sexism or even sees it much. But I can’t get over the emphasis on Holmes’s body language and appearance. “It’s hard to say which physical attributes of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes stand out most: her turtlenecks; her ginormous, unblinking eyes; her perma-red lips,” Vanity Fair wrote. Vox said that Holmes has “questionable personal style.” Yahoo quoted an image consultant who proposed that “it’s almost like she’s trying to assert her dominance through this intense, alpha makeup.”

There is a tension between what many of us say we want (truly equal treatment of women in the media, the workplace and public life) and what we seem almost irresistibly attracted to (lurid deconstructions of a public woman’s looks — and, by extension, her psychological pathologies). Read more …

The Royals' Problematic Obsession with Africa

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By Eve Fairbanks, InStyle, May 18, 2018

Soon after they marry on May 19, Prince Harry and his Hollywood bride, Meghan Markle, will jet off to the African country of Namibia—a desert nation of scarlet sand dunes and ice-white beaches—for their honeymoon.

They follow Harry’s older brother, William, who in 2011 whisked his new bride, Kate, to the coconut-strewn African island republic of the Seychelles for their honeymoon, after he surprised her six months earlier with a sapphire engagement ring in a log hut beneath Mount Kenya. And both men embrace the tradition of their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, who in 1952 found out that she would become Great Britain’s ruler while vacationing in another hut built into the forest around Mount Kenya. Her private safari warden scribbled the amazing tale in the lodge’s guestbook, memorializing it as the day the globe finally learned that fairytales really do come true: “For the first time in the history of the world,” he wrote, “a young girl climbed into a tree one day a princess [and] climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.”

The royals—normally known for curtsies, palace guards in stiff bearskin hats, and banquets whose china takes eight men three weeks to polish—have another, somewhat less-discussed tradition: a long, unusual relationship with what the explorer Henry Stanley called the “Dark Continent.” Read more ...

Whole Foods Is the Most Beautiful Place in America

By Eve Fairbanks, The Washington Post, November 26, 2014

Every time I return home to America from where I live in Kenya, I make a pilgrimage to a Whole Foods. I think this instinct is common among expatriates, particularly those of us who live not in France or Italy but in places where food markets are a chaotic experience. It’s not a conscious decision — “visit Whole Foods” never figures on my home to-do list — but an almost animal yearning, like the corporeal calling of an elephant to trek hundreds of miles over rocky terrain to a particular field to die. My yearning to go to Whole Foods is a longing to experience beauty.

To me, upscale food markets are now the most beautiful places in America. Hear me out. To experience them this way you have to go without a wallet. The possibility of making an actual purchase pollutes the experience (and injects you with a dose of self-hatred when you realize you can’t afford a single heirloom tomato anyway).

Without cash, though, a chi-chi food market like Whole Foods becomes a temple to pure loveliness. Read more ...

How Personal Essays Conquered Journalism

By Eve Fairbanks, The Washington Post, October 10, 2014

My Life as a Little Person.” “I Still Dreamed of the Abuser I Once Thought of as My Father.” “I Understand Why Westerners Are Joining Jihadist Movements. I Was Almost One of Them.”

They’re everywhere these days: stories along the formula “I Am an X, and Y Happened to Me!” These kind of confessional articles long constituted the barbarians lurking around the gates of traditional newspaper culture, appearing on XOJane or blogs or niche columns like Modern Love, while the serious journalistic real estate remained dominated by authority figures like Larry Summers or Aaron David Miller pontificating on the economy or Israel-Palestine.

Now, though, they’re in the citadel. Read more ...

All You Need to Know About "All You Need to Know"

By Eve Fairbanks, The Washington Post, July 22, 2014

On June 9, the data-journalism Web site FiveThirtyEight.com published its lead story previewing the World Cup. Its first two sentences read: “All you really need to know is this: The World Cup gets underway Thursday in São Paulo, and it’s really hard to beat Brazil in Brazil.”

Could “all you need to know” be the most insidious, reductive, and lame story formula currently conquering our reading life? Everywhere you turn there’s another purported ne plus ultra explainer purporting to tell us “absolutely everything we could possibly need to know” about some current event, some curiosity of history, some deep mystery of life on Earth. It’s in the Wall Street Journal (“all you need to know about the [Crimea referendum] vote”), Vox (often, like “Everything you need to know about Israel-Palestine“), Time (“all you need to know about sequestration”), CNN (“all you need to know about the Jerry Sandusky trial”), ABC (“everything you need to know about the Syrian civil war”), and, of course, BuzzFeed, which offers both world-historical contributions like “everything you need to know about the schoolgirl kidnapping in Nigeria” and  philosophic ones like “These 13 Questions Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Yourself.” (Subhed: “This is as accurate as it gets, people.” The questions directed me to visualize different aspects of a cube, and I learned that I’m guarded, bitter, and hate most people but simultaneously wish to raise 1,000 children. Time to accept my previously unrealized destiny as the head of a death cult.)

Explainers” and hubris have both been a part of journalism for a long time. “It isn’t journalism unless it comes packaged with a bunch of bragging,” Jack Shafer, the longtime media critic now at Reuters, told me, pointing me to the Chicago Tribune’s long-running billing of itself as “The World’s Greatest Newspaper.” (And, of course, there’s the New York Times’s “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” now repackaged for the web as “All the News That’s Fit to Click.”) But here’s why this journalism trend is worse: It combines both those things, and, stirred, together, they make something way worse than either one alone, like Cool Whip and dog poo. Read more ...

Don't Cut the Fulbright! Its Benefits Are Immense

By Eve Fairbanks, The New Republic, March 28, 2014

The Fulbright program is under the knife again. There's a long and incredibly mistaken tradition of dumping on America's flagship international educational-exchange program, which sends 8,000 Americans and foreigners a year to each other’s countries to study things like physics and poetry in a completely different environment. The program started in the post-World War II peace-promoting glow; in the '50s, Joe McCarthy freaked out about it and tried to defund it, thundering that it was importing communism into the country; in the '80s Ronald Reagan sought to halve it, failing to see its value to the spirit of the country in a material age. Now President Obama has proposed a 13 percent cut to its budget, which will force major downgrades to the number of available grants, which are already extremely competitive to get.

The program is an easy target for budget cuts because its value has never been entirely quantifiable. Read more ...