I prefer to get my news from British media. Therefore, I see a lot of stories about Nigella Lawson. For anyone not familiar with this domestic celebrity, she is a popular celebrity chef in London best known until recently for her sexy food shots from her book and show Nigella Bites. Her show was the first to do the closeups of manicured hands cracking eggs and folding dough. More recently she is known for a dramatic and quick divorce from well known advertising magnet turned modern art gallery owner, Charles Saatchi. After the paparazzi snapped pictures of them in a restaurant when she was crying and he had his hands at her throat, the domestic abuse allegations zipped around the media. The couple initialized and finalized their divorce shortly thereafter.
A few of the divorce story details have stuck with me for a while. First, Nigella did not make the claims of domestic abuse, the media did. Second, during the divorce proceedings Nigella admitted to using cocaine. Third, about two years ago Nigella received many media compliments for losing quite a bit of weight and expanding her media empire.
When we lived in London, we lived off Sloane Square a few blocks from the Saatchi Gallery. I had seen Nigella on the street many times. She did not fit the cultural standard of beauty; she was not a lean and leggy woman and she also wore the level of makeup that often mars a woman’s appearance. No matter, she was stunningly beautiful. So I wondered after all this news broke what would cause a woman who seemed to have everything to use cocaine.
The stereotypical reason, and the one Nigella claims, is marital unhappiness. But women—certainly wealthy and successful women like Nigella—are no longer trapped in marriages. And in high power women’s circles, divorce doesn’t stigmatize a woman, it liberates her. So why would she turn to drugs that can wreck the rest of her life?
I think I figured out the answer over the past few weeks. Last fall all of my children started to school and I gained many more hours for writing. I have written more in the past six months than I was able to write in years prior. But I still want to do more. I also want (really need) to exercise more, to say little of the stacks of books to read, and one to write. I have many more hours at my disposal, but still not enough to do everything I want to do.
This vexes me, greatly, and I don’t suffer from the ‘have it all’ syndrome. That is, I don’t feel outside pressure to do more. I’m not doing anything just to prove I can do it or because that’s what I think society expects women to do.
But the ‘have it all’ syndrome is real. We fourtysomething women were raised on a diet of you-can-have-it-all-as-long-as-you-time-it-right: education, career, then motherhood. Leaving the analysis of that advice for another day, regardless of what we think about having it all anymore, women aim to the All, and in epic irony, we aim to the All not necessarily because we want it but because we think other women expect us to achieve it. Pleasers to a fault, we are.
Among other things, we strive to remain young looking and thin while piling on the professional accolades. There isn’t enough time to do all of that even if the approved goals didn’t clash. (Skinny women over 40 look wrinklier, professional success leaves less time for exercise unless one’s profession is blue collar or athletic, etc.)
My internal pressure drives me enough for fits of frustration and cranky stupors. If I felt the external HIA pressure as well—and if I didn’t have my religious convictions that support me during the fits if frustration—then a deal with the Devil might seem tempting. Pure speculation here, but I think that is what happened to Nigella. She made a deal with the Devil. Cocaine gave her more hours for her career and the coveted thinner figure. She published more. She appeared on new cooking shows. And that thinner figure landed her a British Vogue cover at the age of 54. According to The Telegraph, she is the oldest women to grace that cover. (It’s billed as a light makeup cover, even though she has more than minimal makeup on. But that is a whole other discussion about beauty.)
Nigella’s deal worked as promised, for a while. As we all know, the Devil likes to alter deals. Addictions are his auto-altering tool. In time, the “gift” stops serving us and we serve it.
Now I wonder if those infamous pictures of Saatchi’s hands at Nigella’s throat were taken completely out of context. Perhaps an increasingly worried and desperate husband had taken his wife out to a public place so that she had to sit and listen. Perhaps he told her how cocaine was choking the life out of her. Perhaps he put his arms and hands around her neck to illustrate. Perhaps she was crying because she knew the truth of his accusation. That would look quite bad in a snapshot.
This theory of the pictures isn’t just my random musing either. The cocaine use admission came out during the trial of Nigella’s assistants. Saatchi had sued them for embezzlement and one of their defenses was that Nigella had approved the contested payments to cover for her covert cocaine use. Nigella argued that she had only used cocaine once during her marriage to Saatchi and that they never saw her take cocaine. But the assistants who saw them regularly, knew their inner workings as well as most anybody—household staff has a privileged perch—they think the infamous photos were an intervention. Sadly, that makes quite a bit of sense to me. The pressure women put on ourselves to have it all is intense. And to appear to have it all, we have to hide the tradeoffs. Having it all is supposed to be effortless. That a rising star might try a chemical edge and then go to great lengths to hide this fact isn’t a novel story. I guess this story made sense to the jury as well. They acquitted the assistants.
Nigella is trying to recover. Predictably, her career is still in good shape. She didn’t lose any jobs over this. She got that Vogue cover. There were rumors of an Oprah interview. But her marriage fell apart. And bridges have been burned with two once-trusted assistants. Whatever the truth of her frequency of drug use, I do hope she is free of it now. Because the Devil always alters deals.