May 12

Essential Labor and Essential Pleasure, with Angela Garbes

"I could spend my whole life trying to make my body do a thing. Or I could just live my life, in the body that I have. I take option two."

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Virginia Sole-Smith
Weekly conversations about how we dismantle diet culture and fatphobia, especially through parenting, health and fashion. (But non-parents like it too!) Hosted by Virginia Sole-Smith, journalist and author of THE EATING INSTINCT and the forthcoming FAT KID PHOBIA.
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We hear so much about Betty Friedan, and the Feminine Mystique. And the whole thing was women find power and fulfillment and identity outside of the home by working professionally. Right? The thing that that leaves out is when you go outside of the home, who’s in the home? Like that work never went away.

Hello and welcome to Burnt Toast! This is the podcast where we talk about diet culture, fatphobia, parenting and health.

Today I am chatting with Angela Garbes, author of Like a Mother and the brilliant new book Essential Labor. I am a huge fan of Angela’s. We’ve been sort of admiring one another from afar over the internet for several years now, and this is our first IRL conversation (Well, IRL+Zoom, if you will.) We talk a ton about her new book, which is about the social construction of modern motherhood and what we need to do to truly support mothers, but also all caregivers and care work. It’s a really fun and sort of surprisingly funny conversation for what’s a pretty heavy topic. I think you will get so much out of it and even more out of her book Essential Labor, which I really recommend you run right out and get.

If you enjoy this episode, please subscribe, rate and review us in your podcast player! And subscribe to the Burnt Toast newsletter for episode transcripts, reported essays, and more.

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Angela Garbes

Episode 43 Transcript

Virginia

So the new book is just incredible. How are you doing? How are you feeling?

Angela

Thank you for asking! I’m feeling so many things. I’m feeling tired. I hate to be the person that leads with “I’m tired,” but I feel like writing a book is is a frankly terrible process. I feel like my brain is still sort of recovering from that. And I was on kind of an accelerated timeline. I finished edits on the book in like December/January. And now it’s coming out. But I mean, I’m excited. I feel like I have been cooped up with these ideas and these thoughts for like, two years, and I am ready to like, be on the loose. COVID variants willing, I’m ready to go on tour and connect with people. I’m really desperate for that contact and conversation. So I feel really good. And I feel proud. I feel really proud of the book I’ve written. I’m trying to just hold on to that because amidst all the chaos that is going to happen, and hearing what other people think, I want to always remember how good I feel about this book and how that’s really the only thing that matters.

[Virginia Note: So far, people think it’s amazing. Here’s Jia Tolentino and Sara Louise Petersen saying so, among others.]

Virginia

Your book is very of the moment. Did the idea come out of the pandemic? Or was it something you’ve been thinking about, because it also ties so closely to your first book?

Angela

The secret history of this book is that I sold a second book right after my first book came out in 2018. It was a book of essays about the human body, like the body as a lens for how we move through the world and how we process the world. I was trying to write that book for two years, and it was due the summer of the pandemic. A couple of weeks into lockdown I contacted my editor and I was like, “There’s no way. There’s no way I can meet this deadline.” I’m a professional, like, I always get it done. And luckily, she was totally understanding because she was like, “I just told my husband, I think I have to quit my job.” So like everyone was going through this thing. So we pushed the deadline back several times. 

I used to co-host a podcast called The Double Shift with my friend, Katherine Goldstein. She invited me, during the pandemic, to cohost this with her because she wanted to continue to make the podcast during a time in which it felt almost impossible to do it and during a time in which we both felt mother’s voices, and the voices of caregivers, were both vitally important, but on the edge of being erased. And just consumed by domestic work. In September 2020, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in one month, because no one could be a caretaker, a virtual school proctor, and a professional worker at the same time. So I said, “women’s participation in the workforce is directly tied to their participation in public life. And what happens if women disappear for a year? Or more?”

So, from that lighthearted thought, I had a wonderful editor who reached out to me and she was like, “Do you want to write about this? I want someone to write about it and I think you need to do it.” I had not been writing and I was scared to do it. But I basically put every bad thought I’d been having about disappearing, about feeling unsatisfied by domestic labor, about questioning ambition, about just everything, and I wrote this piece for The Cut that ended up going a little bit viral. Elizabeth Warren retweeted it—career highlight for me. And I realized I’ve been isolated and alone with my depression and my concerns, but I’m not alone. So many people are feeling this way now, as everyone’s trying to force us out of the pandemic. Which, facts to the contrary. These problems aren’t going away. Childcare, figuring it out on your own. Our society’s treatment of mothers and care work. We have not solved that problem. It is a longstanding problem that we have never properly reckoned with.

So that’s a very long answer to how I wrote this book. The one nice thing about it is that there’s a lot about embodiment in this book. And while I was not unfortunately able to cannibalize everything from the first book, it did feel good because all of that research that I had done that I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. A lot of that research and some snippets of writing made it into this book. And it also made me feel like everything I’ve been doing has not been a waste of time.

Virginia

You give us this whole history of care work, tracing your family’s history. It helped me, and I think it will help a lot of people, put what happened in the pandemic into context. People with privilege were caught by surprise by how hard it is to live. Obviously, it was not news to the majority of people, but it helped me put in context, like, what is happening right now? And why is it so bad? Why is it happening in this way? So it absolutely transcends the pandemic because you’re explaining this much larger systemic issue and also looking ahead into where do we go from here with that.

There is a snippet from the book I wanted to talk about in detail. Okay, so actually two little quotes I’m gonna read. You wrote:

The pandemic revealed that this can happen to anyone. That work won’t save affluent white women, despite Betty Friedan’s theorizing. Ultimately, they cannot ever fully outsource domestic labor, it still comes down to them.

And then later you wrote:

It makes white women uncomfortable to think that they are no different from their hired help. What they chase and  have been given is validation, acceptance, and success—but only on terms set by white men.

I mean, Angela! So good! I read those, I underlined them, I came back and read them again. I was just flashing back to so many phone calls with editors. So many reporting trips. I remember being on a reporting trip when I was visibly pregnant with my second daughter, and feeling like I had to hide it and downplay it. This weird guy who worked for the Philadelphia Mayor was making comments about it. It was like a whole thing where I was like, I can’t be pregnant in this public space because it’s getting so weird for everybody.

Angela 

I can’t be who I am. 

Virginia

This is what my body’s doing right now and I have to do this work. There are these ways in which we are conditioned to downplay our kids, to downplay our responsibility to our kids, in order to seem professional and successful. For a lot of us, the pandemic is what made it impossible to maintain that lie. Like your editor, I was in the same boat of like, “Okay, I’m just not working for several months here.”

I would love for you to unpack for us a little further why this is so specifically a problem of white feminism.

Angela 

I mean, I want to start by saying that I’m really glad that you want to talk about this. As I was writing it, I was like, “This feels risky.” Do I want to call out white women? As a woman of color that felt and still feels a little bit risky. But this really gives me hope, because you know my joke is “some of my best friends are white women.” And I feel like there’s a reckoning that’s happening. I know that word has been overused in the last couple of years. But I think that people really want to understand what’s happening and why they feel so betrayed, and why so many white women felt and were righteously angry, you know? I want to harness that power which is why I want to keep talking about it. 

Mainstream feminism, which is white feminism, has always had a race problem, just like the United States. We have never fully acknowledged the history, right? Susan B. Anthony, a great suffragette, did not think that black women deserved to vote. Betty Friedan—and I shouldn’t have to say this, but these women contributed to society. I am not trying to take away, I’m not trying to come for them.

Virginia

You’re not canceling Susan B. Anthony. 

Angela

Exactly. I just feel like these people were human. We hear so much about Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique. The whole thing was women finding power and fulfillment and identity outside of the home by working professionally. The thing that that leaves out is when you go outside of the home, who’s in the home? That work never went away. There’s a history of slavery in this country. We have a history of Black women working for free in the home and taking care of children and cooking and cleaning, black women as property. And so it was easy to slot women of color and Black women into these roles as domestic workers because they’d always been doing this labor. So, I just want to point out that women—and specifically affluent white women—were sold a bill of goods. I think Boomer women especially. I think a lot of white women now are reckoning with this. A lot of Boomer women were like, “I can have it all.” And that’s the huge lie that we’re still grappling with. Like, you cannot have it all. Even if you come close to it, someone will be like, “can you hide your pregnant body?” It’s very inconvenient that you are overflowing with life, right? Because white women are also oppressed, right? But there’s a better chance for white women to attain success or to fit in.

You know, oppression sucks. The thing that marginalized communities and marginalized women and people of color understand is that this world wasn’t built for us. So success is sort of unattainable. At least, I’m speaking for myself now, this classic, shiny version of white feminist success is out of reach. 

I started self-identifying as a feminist when I was 12 years old. But nothing I read ever talked about my mother, who was an immigrant from the Philippines who worked and raised three kids. Marginalized people have a better understanding of who is left out of conversations. White women haven’t been challenged to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes. They’ve been encouraged to lean in. 

But to go back to history, when we think of feminism, we don’t think about Johnnie Tillmon or the National Welfare Rights Organization, who were contemporaries of Betty Friedan. Their work was organizing to make sure that women and families who received welfare, which was called aid for families with dependent children at the time, were able to access aid from the government. There was a time when women receiving that aid were subjected to impromptu searches of their home because the government thought that if they were giving them money, then they had the right to come in and make sure they weren’t sleeping with men. Because if men were in the picture, then they shouldn’t have any support.

So the NWRO and Johnnie Tillmon were working in a multiracial coalition for poor people. And their analysis, when faced with the same scenario that Betty Friedan had, was that we should have a universal basic income. We should eliminate poverty and we should make life better for as many people as possible. And that’s also history that we don’t hear about.

What white women are taught is white feminism, and actually, there is and has always been a much more inclusive feminism. The feminism of women of color, of marginalized people. It’s time for people to understand that and reckon with it and realize that it’s solidarity.

I quote Sylvia Federici in the book:

“All women are in a condition of servitude when it comes to the male world.”

Virginia

This distinction between Johnnie Tillmon and Betty Friedan is so important because it shows us that the answer was never to try to live on men’s terms. What you’re arguing for is that we need to reject that whole system. We need to do something really different.

Angela

Care work is essential to life. It is the work that makes all other work possible. It’s mind boggling when you realize the extent to which we have tried to make care work invisible. The way we have devalued care work. You either do it as a labor of love as a woman or you outsource it to women of color and you pay them poverty wages. Domestic workers are three times as likely to live in poverty than workers in any other field. The median wage in America is close to $20. The median wage for domestic workers is $12. What I’m arguing is that, actually, the only work that matters as a human being is taking care of people.

I was struggling with this in the pandemic with the “mask debate.” I’m at a loss. I don’t know how to convince people that they should care about other people if they don’t already have a sense of that. I think it’s a very human and innate and beautiful urge that we have to take care of each other. And I think our culture has beat it out of us. This culture of individual, of hustle and grinding, every man for themselves, I’m looking out for number one. It’s not working. The pandemic showed us that we can’t do it alone. What I’m arguing for is the visibility of care work, the absolute insistence on the importance of care and viewing care as labor that should be respected and valued, culturally and financially.

Virginia

It makes a ton of sense and is tricky to implement because you just keep coming up against the ways in which the systems don’t allow for it. Do you know what I mean? But I think holding that as the starting point and the goal feels critical to making any change.

Angela

I do feel hopeful that we’re having a moment. I think it’s going to take longer than I thought. When we got the Biden administration, we were talking about paid leave. We had been experimenting with direct stimulus payments to people. There was, in the American Rescue Plan, the advanced Child Tax Credit which did lift a lot of families and children out of poverty—like four million of them for the brief time. Even though we have a Democratic leadership in Congress that died and the funding lapsed and so we’re backsliding. I definitely have felt really disappointed and disheartened by that. But the fact that we are talking about these things, the fact that we had those things, there are these glimmers of hope. 

I also just see, too, that maybe the government isn’t coming to save us, right? Like we’ve known that since the start of the pandemic. Certainly the Trump administration wasn’t going to come and save us. The Biden administration feels like a grave disappointment to me in this sense, too. But what I do see and what I always saw through the pandemic is that we take care of each other. We have pods. We have mutual aid societies. We have playdates, we have community fridges, we have little free libraries. I’ve seen a flourishing of that and that, again, is to me the most beautiful human thing of caring for each other. Maybe we don’t name that as such, but I want to spend some time naming that and acknowledging that and saying that that is how people survived. 

Virginia

I’m glad you brought that up because that was a big takeaway I had from the book. I would read a chapter, and I I would think, I am craving community so deeply.

Angela

Didn’t you have COVID at the time?

Virginia

Oh right! I read it while I had COVID. I was like, why did I feel so alone? It was because I couldn’t leave my house.

Angela

I think I was like, “Virginia! You don’t have to do that!” 

Virginia

No, it was actually amazing to read it while I had COVID! I highly recommend it to anyone getting COVID now.

Angela

Well I’m honored that I got to keep your company during this dark moment in your life.

Virginia

It was fantastic. Well, and because it was this moment where I was having to parent really intensively because the four of us were locked in our house together. So, it was a great book to be reading. I was like, I am really in this care work right now in a very intense way. 

I want to go back to the community thing in a minute, but this does remind me. One other thing I thought about as I was reading was that I often don’t like care work. I don’t enjoy it. I love my children—you know, standard disclaimer—but I don’t enjoy a lot of the minutia of negotiating with someone about socks or making a potty try happen. I’m not someone who was ever like, “I would love to be an early education teacher.” Maybe this is my white feminism coming up again, or maybe it’s just my being a heartless person who doesn’t like children enough. Or both. But I have fallen into this trap of no, no, my career still needs to matter so much. My motherhood is going to be a smaller part of my identity because I am not taking the pure pleasure in it that I thought it was supposed to.

What I like about what you’re arguing for is: If we really value care work and elevate it, I think we can make it more pleasurable, right? Because it can be less isolating and draining. And it creates an opportunity where, if you don’t love it, it’s less awful that you’re outsourcing. You’re valuing who you’re outsourcing it to, right? It creates a more collaborative community approach towards it. 

Angela

The thing that I feel when you say that is like, you shouldn’t have to choose. That’s the thing, you should not have to choose. I hate that. So many of us are left feeling bad or like, “Is it me? Am I heartless? And am I a bad feminist?” We internalize that and I just really want to press pause. Let’s back the drone camera up and be like, this is a systemic issue. We hate women. Our country hates women. It really hates women of color, and it doesn’t value care work. That’s not for you or me to solve individually. We can’t. I just want to point that out, too, because I think that’s a very familiar feeling that people have.

I am someone who actually did take great pleasure in care work. Not all of it. Straight up, a lot of it is drudgery. So many fluids. Little silver corners torn off of fruit snack things are everywhere. That’s my thing these days. And also just the feeling that no matter what happens in life, it somehow always comes down to me, on my hands and knees, with a sponge. So, you know, care work is not great when that’s all you have to do, right? Which is what the pandemic showed us. Like, as someone who actually enjoys like a certain amount of care work, like loves to cook, is satisfied by sweeping, I felt like I saw the pleasure bleed out from it in the pandemic. It was really hard to enjoy the things that I used to enjoy.

So I don’t expect everyone to be suddenly like, “Oh, I love doing care work and domestic labor.” But I’m talking about some of those physical pleasures of care and how satisfying it can be to care for yourself, too. Meaningful self care, taking care of your body, it feels so nice to give yourself a rest. And I just wanted to give people space and I wanted to give myself space to reimagine these things. If I’m going to be doing this care work, I can’t hate it. Life is so hard. If you do nothing else today but keep yourself alive and love on somebody else, you did a lot. That’s a really good day. 

Virginia

This allowed me to take more pleasure in the parts I do enjoy. I do find it really rewarding and have sometimes felt embarrassed to admit I enjoy it, too. That’s the other piece.

Angela

Oh right. Because then you’d be like, “I’m a housewife.”

I mean, I don’t like imaginative play with my children. I don’t want to play hide and seek. I don’t like to do the kitty cat game or meow. It’s just not really my thing. And I’m always like, “Oh, my husband’s more fun,” because he’s willing to do that stuff. But I have more patience to sit and read on the couch with them.

The other thing is, young children are so different. My children are seven and four now and I feel like I’m emerging from a dark tunnel. 

Virginia

My youngest is four, too, and it is a turning point.

Angela

Yeah. Thank fucking god. Because it was really hard for a while there.

Virginia

So as I said, while reading your book is trapped in my house, I really missed community. But you know, I’ll be honest, even when I don’t have COVID, I’m an introverted person. We live in a fairly rural area in the Hudson Valley. We are part of a small town but we don’t even live down in the town. We live out in the woods. What advice do you have for us? Being a better part of our communities feels so fundamental to mothering as social change to valuing care work, but how do you start if you’re not naturally good at that?

Angela

That’s a great question because I think a lot of people feel challenged or like, I want to do something but I don’t know what. The first thing I would say is that small is great. I remember  when you were in COVID, you had posted that a friend brought you groceries. So I think part of it is just that these little gestures actually do go a long way. If it’s safe to have a playdate, having a kid over to explore the woods by your house is very cool. Maybe it’s reaching out to someone you don’t know very well, maybe even a parent that you suspect you might not like that much, but just inviting them. Community doesn’t have to look any particular way. I think it is stepping outside yourself, feeling part of something bigger than yourself, and contributing to it in a hopefully positive way.

If you’re in a position of privilege, one great thing to do is to be a community member who does not reap the benefit of community. Who is in fact the person who is giving, whether that is money, or time.  It actually feels really good to care for somebody else and expect nothing in return. We always think community works in a reciprocal way. But maybe the effects are not immediate. This is my existential, philosophical answer. I think you can start small and simple.

Virginia

I like focusing on small, it feels doable. 

Angela 

It’s the littlest things that are so meaningful and that make you feel like a human being and make you feel like part of something. We are not all made for the grand gesture. You know, like, I am not. I’m so grateful to activists who are in DC, not giving up, talking to people. That’s not my role. Those are not where my energies are best served. I used to think maybe that I was rationalizing and then I was really just lazy and not that good a person. 

Virginia

I do struggle with that. 

Angela

I think Everyone has a role to play and sometimes it takes some work to figure out exactly what that is.

Meanwhile, you just started a fund through your newsletter to support democratic elections happening in states! I’m not blowing smoke up your ass. Like, that’s huge. And it’s really important and engaging your community.

Virginia

I appreciate that. I do think, especially for us introverted types, online community can be much more doable.

I also, of course, want to discuss your beautiful chapter “Mothering as Encouraging Appetites. I am quoted in this chapter, so full disclosure, I’m obviously biased to loving it.

Angela

Your writing and your work is definitely a guiding force and spirit in the chapter. So thank you for your work.

Virginia

Thank you. Well, it’s a really powerful piece of writing. You’re talking about owning our appetites, coming to terms with our bodies, and how one of the most powerful things we can do as mothers is help cultivate that in our kids. You wrote about realizing you don’t take after your own mother physically. You wrote:

I decided that being a little bit fat was the price I paid for always wanting seconds. I don’t know why I didn’t shrink myself, only allowed myself to expand both in size and in personality.

I love this so much. This is my mission for my children, just not wanting them to shrink themselves. And realizing that if this is the body that you have that allows you to be a happy and fully present person, this is the right body.

Angela

Yeah, that’s a perfect body.

Virginia

So can you tell us a little more about how you arrived at that place? And how it informs how you’re parenting your daughters now around food and body?

Angela

I’m not a stereotypical petite Filipino woman. I really struggled with that. I mean, now I look at pictures of myself in high school, and I’m like, I can’t believe I thought I was fat. But the message is so clear. Being thin and being white, that’s how people will recognize you as beautiful. I have struggled with my own self esteem issues with my own body acceptance and body issues. But I feel so grateful that diet culture didn’t interest me. I just really love eating. And I was like, I’m not gonna stop. I mean, part of it is that I really think like, to go back to something we were talking about earlier, I am just all about physical pleasure. And leisure. I love fudgy cheeses. I love really sour vinegar. I love spicy soup. I love chewy bread. I love all of these things and they make me so happy. And I’ve never been good at denying myself pleasure, which isn’t great in terms of impulse control as an adult sometimes. Definitely not in my 20s.

But there was something in me, this spirit, that I’m so grateful to little baby Angela for. There was just this spirit that was like, “No. I’m not I’m not going to be crushed.” And so, and I don’t know how I did it. Honestly, like, I’m not sure what I did. So there’s part of me that’s like, I want this to be the same for my girls but I’m not sure how to replicate it.

Part of it goes back to white feminism. I was just like, I’m never gonna fit in, so I might as I might as well just be me. And there’s something very freeing in that.

Virginia

I wondered if that was a piece of it. I often find women in very small bodies who live very close to the ideal have large struggles, in terms of internal struggle, because it’s like they’re so close and they can’t get there. I mean, fat people are experiencing oppression for their fatness. That’s different. But I’m talking about the internal stuff. And it’s not to say that fat folks don’t also have those struggles, because we do. But I think that when you are like a 98% on a scale that is completely unrealistic, the extreme tactics to get there feel reasonable because you could get there. Whereas I think if you have a body type that is never going to be it, you have to reckon with that earlier in some way. 

Angela

There is still a very dominant image of beauty in the United States. But I have this language now where I can say to my kids, like, “Being beautiful, it’s not like the most important thing. Because you decide what’s beautiful. And because it’s not the most important thing to be. The most important thing to be as a nice person, an empathetic person or a kind person.”

We have a long way to go, but representationally they see more. They go to school with mixed race kids now. My girls are mixed race. You know, my daughter’s already talking about how I am Brown Filipina, Daddy is American White.

My daughters looked at a picture of me from like 10, 12, 14 years ago, and they were like, “Mommy, you got fat.” And I was like, stay in it. Stay in it. You’ve been training for this, Angela. You’ve been training for this. And it was so hard, but I was like, “Yep, I got fat.” They weren’t weird in the moment. Fat to them is an adjective. And that’s all it is. The person who was making it hard was me! And I have tenderness for myself in that moment. But I felt like, oh, no, I’m doing a good job here. One of the things that I hear mothers committing to is like, I am going to continue to struggle with my body, but I want to do my best to not say disparaging things about my body in front of my children. Or to be honest with them about what’s hard about it.

What do you do?

Virginia

I’ve had that same conversation of “Yep, I’m fat. That’s right. Fat bodies are great bodies.” And I definitely have had that same experience of like, “Oh, God, this is the moment that I have been preparing for. And also people ask me for advice on this and so I really better get it right now.”

Angela

No, totally, that’s a lot of pressure.

Virginia

I better get a newsletter essay out of this. 

Angela

Writers are such traitors. When that was happening to me, I was laying on my bed and having that discussion with my girls like about how I’m fat. I’m trying not to cry, and I’m having all of these feelings. And this thing popped Into my mind. I was like, “Well, I’m gonna have to write about this.”

Virginia

Thanks, kids. Sorry that I do this with our conversations.

The other piece of it that you were emphasizing: That being beautiful doesn’t matter that much, and that it needs to matter less—that we both need to broaden our definition of beauty and we need to care less about beauty. It’s hard to hold both of those together, but it’s really the crux of it.

You had this line in the book which I really think you need to put on t-shirts:

Eating is a necessity. Being beautiful is not.

Thank you. That’s it.

Angela

That’s what it comes down to.

Virginia

You are allowed to reject this whole system that’s telling you your body isn’t good enough. You’re allowed to just say fuck it, and center your own pleasure and your own hunger. 

Angela

And you’re allowed to talk about how that is really hard sometimes. I’m contributing to the conversation and cultural change. But we can’t solve problems that we don’t talk about. And there’s so much shame and stigma around talking about bodies and how we feel about our own bodies. But yeah, like, 100% I just want to enjoy my life and my body. I could spend my whole life trying to make my body do a thing or I could just live my life in the body that I have. I take option two.

Virginia

Option two sounds much easier and less stressful. And more fun, for sure.


Butter For Your Burnt Toast

Angela

I recommend falling in love with your friends. I just went away on a weekend. It was supposed to be a writing retreat with my friend, the novelist Lydia Kiesling. We became friends because we published our books around the same time, our first books, and our books were both about mothering, so naturally, we were lumped together. But we’ve never lived in the same city and I’ve met her just a couple of times, but I’ve always had this feeling like I think we would be friends. And then I was like, how would we ever figure out how to do that? And then, one of the things in the pandemic is, I’ve just been like, I don’t want to waste time. I want to see my friends, I want to spend time with them. I want to make the most of it. And I want to invest in this friendship. And so I invited her to go away on a weekend with me and we were gonna write.

We had these adjacent little studio cabins, I would bring her coffee and a bagel with a fried egg. And then I would get into her bed and we watched “Love Is Blind” together. Like, speaking of physical pleasure, these are the things that we have been denied. And you know, I’m not saying, everyone go jump in bed with all of your friends. But thank God for vaccines, right? Like, that’s an option that is open to us again. I want to remind everyone that we can reawaken to things that are pleasurable and spending time being in the company of friends. What is better than friendship? There’s nothing better. Sex is great, but have you had a friend?

Virginia

I did a weekend with my three best friends from when we were in our 20s. And now we live in all different places. We haven’t seen each other, obviously, in a whole pandemic. We did a weekend together last month. I came home feeling high. Like I was just like, I had long conversations with these women that I love so much. Oh, it was amazing.

Angela 

It was like three days of one running conversation. 

Virginia

It is such a good feeling. Well, that is a wonderful recommendation. Mine is also very pleasure related, because I felt like that was gonna be a theme in our conversation. I am recommending romance novels, specifically Talia Hibbert and Jasmine Guillory. I have just discovered both of them. Two Black novelists who write about Black characters. The women are usually in larger bodies, and they are really hot and there’s a lot of good sex in these books. They’re romances, so happy endings are guaranteed, but they’re fun and sexy and I haven’t read romance in years and years. My image of Harlequin romance was very like, skinny white lady and you know, big ripped brooding guy and there’s been a total evolution in the genre. There’s all these great feminist writers writing very sex positive, women-centered—like the woman always get taken care of first. Like, chapters ahead, often. She gets hers and then they get around to him much later on. It’s pretty great.

Angela 

I love it! I feel like that’s all the stuff that were taught we don’t deserve. And to see it really front and center? It’s beautiful.

Virginia 

They’re just delightful. And very heteronormative so disclaimer on that. If listeners know of good, queer romance novelists, drop them in comments, because I’m here for that too! I just want people to be having sex and loving their bodies.

Well, Angela, thank you again, this was an amazing conversation. Tell people where they can find you and follow your work.

Angela

Thank you so much, Virginia. It was a little bit like falling in love.

You can find me on my website and on Instagram.

Virginia

And you all need to go and get Essential Labor. It is everywhere you get your books and required reading for Burnt Toast listeners. 


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The Burnt Toast Podcast is produced and hosted by me, Virginia Sole-Smith. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Burnt Toast transcripts and essays are edited and formatted by Corinne Fay, who runs @SellTradePlus, an Instagram account where you can buy and sell plus size clothing.

The Burnt Toast logo is by Deanna Lowe.

Our theme music is by Jeff Bailey and Chris Maxwell.

Tommy Harron is our audio engineer.

Thanks for listening and for supporting independent anti-diet journalism.