I was living in Manhattan when Martha Stewart first rose to fame in the 80s, and I soon came to dislike her too because…well, it seemed the thing to do. Magazine articles at the time were making fun of this Polish caterer from New Jersey who somehow had come to represent all that was patrician and elegant.
I soon came to dislike her too because…well, it seemed the thing to do.
Nevermind that she was following in the same footsteps as Ralph Lauren, the Jew from the Bronx who was channeling Wasp style for Wasps. Stewart was subject to much more sneering than Lauren, which we can probably put down to sexism. Sigh.
In the late 80s, I got an assignment from a long-gone business magazine to write a story about her burgeoning empire. I interviewed her about her vision for the company, watched her in action as she networked at someone’s book party, and studied her business record. I heard the baseless rumors about her running over a bag of just-hatched chicks in her car and listened to disgruntled employees talk about her as if she were the basis for The Devil Wears Prada, not Anna Wintour (who was rising at the same time).
As I researched her, I was impressed by her chutzpah and work ethic, and I came to the conclusion that the nasty tone of a lot of her press was mostly envy. And today, as the icon turns 80, I believe there’s much more to admire than scorn.
What’s to Like About Martha Stewart Now
Any rich person who doesn’t whine when the going is tough gets some respect.
- She did her time. Yes, she got caught in some insider trading, and the schadenfreude poured forth upon her. But she served her sentence without complaint, and any rich person who doesn’t whine when the going is tough deserves some respect.
- She made the best of her months in prison. Even though the press expected her to crumble under the strain and shame of being locked up, she actually thrived—despite her lowly duty as floor mopper. Working out regularly got her in great shape, and she made friends and served as an informal liaison between the administration and her fellow inmates. Since her release, she has spoken out several times about the need for prison reform.
- She got her company back. A prison sentence could have easily derailed her company, but after stepping down from key positions before going to jail, she is now back in charge. Other white collar criminals should study Stewart’s M.O. to prevent their mistakes from seriously damaging their companies. Lesson number one: Take your lumps.
- She made the most unlikely friendship with Snoop Dogg. What does the Queen of Taste have in common with a pot-smoking rapper? Apparently more than anyone ever imagined, and the relationship seems genuine, if odd.
- She has her own line of CBD products. You have to admire her ability to keep pace with the times. She’s partnered with the CBD company Canopy, to create her own “wellness gummies,” combining “gourmet flavors with the purest, safest CBD isolate.” Whatever helps you through the night.
- She can make fun of herself. One of the key elements of aging well is keeping your sense of humor. At least that’s what my mom says. In prison, she earned the nickname “M. Diddy.” The photo of her below—wearing a gummy necklace!—shows to me she is open to some levity and doesn’t mind disrupting her image.
- She’s a survivor. For all of her career, Stewart has defied the haters, risen above the fray. We all should be so lucky and scrappy to reach the age of 80 with our dignity and career intact.