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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why Martha Stewart inspires & causes ire

Martha Stewart is the first lady of homemaking. She's built an empire, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, on improving people and their lifestyle. Most newlyweds and experienced housewives have, at some point, looked up to her, to create that perfect home. She's taught generations of women and lately men, how to cook, buy those perfect bedsheets and throw cushions that goes with the Mediterranean motif vases etc.

Behind the stylish presentation - both the products and Martha herself - is the implication, that the rest of us need her and her recipes and her tips on beautifying our homes. So, she has a slew of magazines that attempt to tell us how to better ourselves and our environs.

But, the truth is and everyone knows it, that even before she came along, homemakers were swapping recipes for that delicious chocolate cake, or advising their friends on where to buy that fabric (at the best bargain sales) etc. Martha came along and added a touch of gloss and the additional pancake, make her magazines like Martha Stewart Living, Everyday Food, Kids, Martha Stewart Weddings and Body + Soul, so popular.

After all, the artistically designed pages of her magazines capture in all its technicolour glory, the behind-the-scenes work done by an array of food stylists, gourmet chefs, interior designers and photographers who stage the shoots. That's Martha's technique to pitch her empire at her audience. All well and good.

But can her average Jane audience, who don't live at addresses like Trump Tower or Park Avenue ever hope to get there? She's built her company with a canny eye for what she, correctly, perceived as a market, which didn't have anyone else doing anything, in the home and self improvement space. So she gave American housewives what they thought, they were missing.

These American housewives (and singles) have repaid her favour, a million times over. Today, her company is worth around $420 million and it's thanks to these consumers. So, what made a woman like her get involved in the ImClone stock scandal, something that made her money but was morally wrong? After all, she of all the people, could afford to take the losses.

What makes her the tough (as in mean) and testy boss, she's reputed to be? Certainly, not troubles at home. Her pillows must be fluffed just so and the roses must be cut fresh every morning, all of this done by expensive, paid help. So, why hasn't anyone heard of 'Martha donates a million dollars to the UN' - a la Ted Turner, but only on a much smaller scale? Perhaps, because she does good old charity work quietly. Or perhaps, she just doesn't care.

She's made her money by telling other people how to improve their material belongings - a home, kitchen, garden, estate/property, themselves. And her audience are the wealthier citizens (in comparison to Third World citizens), of rich countries - I've yet to see a Martha Stewart publication in India. So, she's not going to find her kind of captive audience anywhere but in the US, UK, Canada, Australia etc.

Martha Stewart lives through her image and her 'products' are supposed to amplify the wholesome, pure, beautiful, innovative, caring, loving side of her followers and by extension - hers as well. Well, she does not come across as loving and caring and wholesome. Why is that some other adjectives come to mind, when one sees her - and I'm not just thinking innovative, canny, smart, shrewd etc!

Somehow, Martha Stewart is just not able to make herself more likeable or even an inspiration to others. Here's a list of women with her attributes, who inspire others:

Blonde hair: Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Cameron Diaz, even Britney Spears.

Business woman: Oprah Winfrey, Anita Roddick, Coco Chanel, Estee Lauder.

Short hairstyle: Princess Diana, Halle Berry.

All the money Martha Stewart's made in the world, won't get her some of the many compliments bestowed on these other women, because she couldn't care less.

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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