Stacy London Always Tells It Like It Is
For International Friendship Day, the 'What Not to Wear' co-host and new CEO talks about her own relationships, Gen Z inspo, and pulling herself through the darkness. Plus, an exclusive book launch.
In this Issue:
🎤 An interview with stylist and new CEO Stacy London
❤️ Dead in Real Life, Alive on Twitter, by Kate Essig
📖 8/3: Nneka M. Okona’s “Self-Care for Grief” book launch
Tomorrow is the UN’s International Day of Friendship. And boy, do we need our friends more than ever right now. Not just in grief, but in all the things.
Loss messes with our social dynamics, and we don’t talk about that enough. In a bit of a departure from previous interviews, in this issue you’ll find an intimate conversation between me and my own friend Stacy London. She’s the beloved stylist and co-host of the hit show What Not to Wear and frequent guest on The View (did you catch her last week?) Now, she’s the CEO of State Of, which makes products for perimenopausal and post-menopausal skin and is out to demystify what has historically been a very hush-hush experience. She was personally drawn to this after her own perimenopause, a smörgåsbord of hellish symptoms that she first assumed was the physical manifestation of grief over her father’s death.
On a personal note, Stacy is responsible for lovingly forcing me to purchase my very first jumpsuit (she created a bit of a monster there, I now own about 20), is on the board of the Jed Foundation – a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults – and has been an active supporter of the Modern Loss community since before its official launch. In short, she is a pretty great friend.
We’ve also got a piece by Kate Essig that proves how friendships can continue to grow and shift, even after one person dies.
Also, we’ve got a very special book launch event for Nneka M. Okono’s “Self Care for Grief” on Tuesday, August 3. She’ll be in conversation with our amazing contributing editor and “Black Widow” author Leslie Gray Streeter. This one is for our paid subscribers; if you aren’t one yet, please become one, or gift one for a friend in the spirit of this week. Need another reason? Stacy will be doing an exclusive AMA in early August for you…subscribe today to ask her, well, anything. More on that soon.
Happy International Friendship Day. Try to use it as an excuse to examine the ones in your life. Reach out to someone who deserves you for a long overdue catch-up, a confession about how they could have supported you better (or you them), a hike, a Ted Lasso viewing session, or whatever fills your cup.
– Rebecca Soffer
1-2-3…We Love Stacy London. Here’s Why.
REBECCA SOFFER: So, full disclosure for our readers, we're friends.
STACY LONDON: For a long time. We've been through a lot together.
SOFFER: We really have. How's your mental state doing 16 months into this pandemic?
LONDON: I could have just gone to Disney World and stayed on the Space Mountain ride, and it would be exactly similar to what the last 16 months have been like. It is like being in the dark on a roller coaster going super fast with a lot of ups and downs.
SOFFER: You know what's even scarier? When the lights accidentally go on when you're riding on Space Mountain, which happened to me when I was nine. There was some electrical issue and I saw what everything looked like. Let me tell you, knowing all the details was so much scarier than being in the dark.
LONDON: You were basically the CDC of Space Mountain. Everybody was confused and talking about Covid-19, but you were seeing it all in real-time.
SOFFER: Yes. I was the Robert Redfield of Space Mountain. Though scary as it was, it probably would’ve been good for all of us to have seen that situation with the lights on.
Let’s talk about your dad, Herb. He had heart disease and died in 2018.
LONDON: He was diagnosed seven years prior to actually getting sick. He was like, "I'm going to beat this." His doctor said, "You'll be fine until you fall off a cliff and everything will go wrong at once." My dad's reaction to that was, "I'm never seeing that doctor again."
Unfortunately, that doctor was completely right. I had about a year with him being very ill before he passed away.
SOFFER: Tell me about those early days of grief. Is there anything that, looking back, you’d have done differently?
LONDON: I made a very big mistake. I was in the middle of a job which I probably should have stepped away from, but I thought, "No, no. I have responsibilities, and other people's work is on the line if I don't do my work, so I need to do this." I should have recognized that that feeling of disassociation I was experiencing was going to continue and actually bleed into everything, including even the way I was eating.
I made a very big mistake. I was in the middle of a job which I probably should have stepped away from, but I thought, "No, no. I have responsibilities, and other people's work is on the line if I don't do my work, so I need to do this."
I started eating a party-size bag of caramel M&Ms – two pounds of M&Ms – daily, for six weeks. I thought, "How bad could this be?" Nothing was registering health-wise. I started drinking a lot in order to not feel anything.
SOFFER: This all sounds so normal in its awfulness. I’m sorry this happened to you, it must have been so horrible. Did anything else come up?
LONDON: There’d be times during those first six months when I started talking about my grief and all these things started to flood back about my dad that I realized were some of the most precious things about him that I’d completely taken for granted. I went through a stage of massive guilt. I felt like I never said all the things I should have said. I never asked all the questions I should have asked or appreciated all these things I’d never have again.
SOFFER: Such as?
LONDON: My parents got divorced when I was four and my dad moved out. When he’d call, he’d say, "Before we get off the phone, we're going to say, 1-2-3. I love you. Goodbye." From the age of four until the day he died, he called me and his other daughters every single day: "1-2-3. I love you. Goodbye." I used to think, "Oh, it's annoying. It's dad again. I don't have to pick up," and let it go to voicemail. It didn’t occur to me [how I’d miss it] until I didn't get a phone call every day.
SOFFER: Is there anything particular you wish he’d been here to experience?
LONDON: I started dating this woman after he passed away and was devastated that I never got the chance to introduce them. As conservative as my dad was [he was a staunch Republican] he was very liberal in other ways. My dating a woman would not have been something to upset him. In fact, my stepmother once said to Cat, "I'm so sad you didn't meet Herb. He would have loved you." That stuff is heart-wrenching.
SOFFER: Friendships shift during tough times. What were some things you learned after your father died?
LONDON: It didn't occur to me that any of my friends would come to my dad’s funeral or shiva. But when I saw the amount who showed up without ever meeting him, I was shocked. It had nothing to do with my father and everything to do with the way these people felt about me. I had so much gratitude.
SOFFER: It's amazing when friends do truly show up when we’re grieving. That doesn’t always happen. On the flip side, in loss, we can end up disappointing our friends. To put this into context for all of us in this pandemic, I think a lot of us still feel like we’re drowning in life and in all the various losses we’ve had, and it’s been hard for us to support others while trying to support ourselves. Were there any ways in which you didn’t come through for your friends?
LONDON: I let a lot of friendships go after my dad died. I probably didn't come through for 82% of my friends. I take responsibility for that. Not that people weren't reaching out. Sometimes they were. Sometimes they weren't, but I found it much harder to reach out to people. Part of that was because I was incapable of being there for anybody, or I went too far in the other direction and got way too involved in somebody's problems or life as a way to escape my own and made a mess when I didn't need to be there. Using other people to preoccupy myself was certainly something that I was definitely guilty of and that all backfired.
I let a lot of friendships go after my dad died. I take responsibility for that…I found it much harder to reach out to people.
Then in a lot of ways, I feel like a part of me died. It wasn't worth getting up and calling anybody or asking for help or just reminding my friends how much I appreciated them because what difference did it make? Other people ceased to have the same level of importance. That's a terrible thing to say because I love my friends, but that was one of my grieving coping mechanisms. I wound up apologizing to a lot of people when I was in a slightly better place.
SOFFER: People love you for your candor. You’ve always made the case for sharing things like they are, underbelly and all, and with warmth. Now you're in this entirely new role, which is CEO of State Of, and shining a light on the stigmatized topic of menopause in a similar way that we turn the lights on during the Space Mountain Rollercoaster of Grief. What inspires you to openly address the tough stuff?
LONDON: Right now, it’s something I feel I’ve been given permission to do by younger generations. When I see the way that they’re transparent about who they are, how they’re creating language around who they are. I've learned from people who are much younger than me. Their viewpoints and their vision of the world is so different from mine. I believe so much in multi-generational mentorship. If you haven't seen Hacks on HBO Max…
SOFFER: Um, every episode. I’m obsessed. Perfect example of that type of mentorship.
You’ve written pieces about struggling with turning a certain age and other tough moments. But people who haven't read a lot about you personally or just mostly know you from What Not to Wear or guest hosting The View must assume your life is glamour 24/7. You've experienced a lot of adversity, though. You've had loved ones die. You've had debilitating physical illness. You've had depression. You've had career angst and existential crises.
LONDON: And all-out rejection. Let's not forget that.
SOFFER: Sure, let’s pile it on. So what have you come to tell yourself during the darkest moments, to pull yourself through?
LONDON: It is not that all darkness is avoidable, but I realize a lot of darkness in my life has been created by my disappointment of an expectation. Whether it's an activity or a person, if you do not assign an expectation to an outcome, it is a lot easier to meet adversity when it happens.
SOFFER: You’re a master repurposer and have already given the Modern Loss community a lot of great advice in this area: Is there anything of your dad's you've repurposed or reused?
LONDON: I did not repurpose anything. My brother-in-law took a letter my father wrote to my sister that says, "I love you forever," and had it engraved into bracelets for all three of us. I cried for a day straight. Seeing my dad's handwriting, being able to wear it on my arm, it almost made me want to get it as a tattoo. I have not repurposed his sweaters. I took all my favorites, the ones from the '70s that had moth holes, and just wear them.
SOFFER: That sounds like the coziest. I know you’ve got to go run a company now, so 1-2-3. I love you. Goodbye.
LONDON: 1-2-3. I love you. Goodbye.
Dead in Real Life, Alive on Twitter
How a post-mortem scrapbook project kept teaching me about my friend.
by Kate Essig
“Have you ever watched Amy Schumer?” Paul said from across the couch. We were both at home with our feet on the coffee table getting ready to go out, when he flicked on a skit with Amy, Tina Fey, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and laughed at all the funny bits out loud. When he laughed it always felt surprising — not because it was rare, but because he could pull off a long beard and dressed with masculine dignity, and when he laughed — he giggled.
When the rest of our friends barged into the apartment they flicked off the sketch and pulled beers from the fridge in a shockwave of sounds and chaos. “Guys you ruined it,” Paul joked, to no one in particular, “I was making Kate fall in love with me.”
One week later, Paul died in a swimming accident while on vacation with his family. The next day I’d clear a beer glass he’d left on that coffee table, remnants of his stout still caramelizing at its stem.
I’d known Paul since high school and been casual friends with him since college. It wasn’t until that year though, the year I turned 23 and the year Paul died, that our friendship began to blossom.
When he died, then, I wasn’t just mourning Paul, I was mourning our fledgling friendship, too. His high school friends and college buddies, fraternity brothers and family members came to the wake and the funeral armed with memories and stories and anecdotes. I harbored a feeling close to jealousy that I’d never get the chance to know him like that for myself.
So I started a project. I would make my very first scrapbook, experience for the first time the specific kind of overwhelmed you only feel in the stickers aisle of Michael’s, and I’d catalog every one of Paul’s tweets to give to his family.
It took a few sticky-fingered days and a printer cartridge of ink to construct it, during which my bedroom floor was covered with rows of tweets I cut out individually and backed. While I worked on it, I realized the season of “Orange is the New Black” I started was three episodes in – Paul had watched the first two already on my account.
By the time I finished the book I’d learned more about Paul. Like how the people he re-tweeted ranged from Diane Rehm, to Ja Rule, to the mayor of Saint Louis. And his unexpected love of chick flicks:
(May 25th, 2015: Partaking in my favorite Memorial Day tradition of watching Love Actually by myself. December 13 2013: Made of Honor and a bottle of Riesling because that’s the perf – because the roads are bad).
Or his love for his mother:
(March 23 2014: Sometimes I feel like I should move out and be an adult but then my mom brings me pie, July 13 2012: I still haven’t received a “TGIF!” text from my mom. I’m starting to worry. July 30 2012: My mom mailed me post-dispatch clippings. Tomorrow I’ll tell her about the internet.)
And some other random insights:
(September 27 2014: I could write so many Seinfeld plots about window blinds. July 26, 2014: What if Alex Trebek was actually a big dummy? November 28, 2013: Don’t go through a car wash when you have to pee. July 14, 2012: I’m going to start a moving company called Van Haulin’)
read the rest of the piece on our website.
August 3: Subscriber Author Event
We are proud to host the launch of Nneka M. Okona’s beautiful new book, Self-Care for Grief: 100 Practices for Healing During Times of Loss. Are you a paid subscriber? If so, join us on Tuesday August 3 at 2 pm EDT for a conversation between Nneka and Black Widow author/Modern Loss contributing editor Leslie Gray Streeter…and maybe even a virtual champagne toast. Bring your questions!
Pride and Joy (and also Power) - for everyone
Comedian Alyssa Limperis is Proud of You (Yes, You) - for everyone
What It Feels Like to Be Older Than My Father - for everyone
Chronicles of a Former Crier - for everyone
Grief Deserves Its Own Soundtrack: So We Made You One. 🎵 - members only