This summer marks 10 years since Martha Stewart started her lifestyle blog, The Martha Blog: The Official Martha Stewart Blog. It’s about Martha’s life, her family, her friends, her peafowl, and her desire to organize the 500 bottles of wine in her cellar. It’s also about Martha’s skills: at cooking, decorating, gardening, hosting, organizing, tweeting, crafting, farming, and caring for peafowl. Oh, and the act of blogging itself — arguably the dominant expertise of a woman who is supernaturally gifted at everything.
The style and layout of the blog has hardly changed at all over the course of a decade. Some image links are broken, and at some point Martha added a header subtly renaming the blog martha up close & personal. Widgets linking to Martha’s Twitter account (started in 2009) and Pinterest (2012) are also newer, but otherwise the site is basically the same. It’s a rudimentary website, with little in the way of adornment or interactive elements. Just black text, a white background, a comments section, and searchable archives.
The community of commenters who thank Martha for her advice and compliment her on her taste and apologize for the death of her cat named Bartok looks to be much of the same group throughout the years. The structure of each post is exactly the same because The Martha Blog is, duh, a blog. A near-daily blog to which Martha (or one of two assistants who help her in “the blog studio”) will upload a series of photos and then describe what is happening in the photos as quickly and coherently as possible. For years, she has introduced these posts with “Enjoy!” or “Enjoy the photos:” or “Enjoy these photos...”
You would think, in 10 years, that someone might come along to do what Martha does and do it better. Many — hundreds — have tried, and all have failed. Even those who have come the closest can’t match the authenticity of a Martha Stewart piece of advice, given their websites’ immaculate, commissioned layouts and roster of contributors. Lauren Conrad, the former Hills star whose party-hosting books, crafting tutorials, and online market for handmade goods make her the closest we have to a Martha Stewart successor, is listed as the editor-in-chief of her own blog and writes only a slim percentage of the posts herself. It’s not bad, it’s just not the same. She’s conceded that she isn’t, not really, a lifestyle blogger.
the lifestyle blog industrial complex is inspired by martha, but can’t touch her
Today the lifestyle blog industrial complex is mostly associated with the weird, ongoing feud between Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson, or the sort of person who was briefly famous enough to achieve name recognition and figured they might as well do the cheapest thing you can do to stay spotlight-adjacent. That includes former Bachelor contestants, current fixtures on Bravo reality shows, the rest of the Kardashians, and basically everyone in Conrad’s social circle. The content varies, but the aesthetic and the general message doesn’t. They all put forth a pastel, soft-lit version of the world. The picture-perfect life revolves around an unimpeachable, usually white, body.
Where the modern lifestyle blog is about making the life you want look effortless, Martha has never protected her readers from the truth: if you want to have a magazine-worthy garden party, you will spend at least one hour staring down and wrestling with the intimidating metal apparatus of a party tent, and you will need help. Before you serve an elaborate lunch, you will have to measure your table to make sure all the plates fit.
Anything Martha does is accompanied by a roughly 53-image photo series, complete with captions about the intricacies, difficulties, and labor time. She has dozens of personal employees who work in her home, on her farm, and for the various arms of her company, and it’s a given that they’re doing some of the real muscle work — except Martha doesn’t consider it a given, because whenever someone else is helping her, she takes their photo and explains what they contributed to a project. When Martha starts a process she anticipates will take a long time, she bravely labels the post “Part 1.” You can read all 10 years of Martha’s archives, and you’ll never find a “Part 1” that doesn’t have a corresponding “Part 2,” or sometimes even a “Part 3.” Martha doesn’t forget. Martha doesn’t assume it will go unnoticed if she doesn’t follow through. She gets around to it.
Martha Stewart knows how to embrace the mundanity of being alive and of blogging. (She doesn’t have a personal public Snapchat. I wish she did; we would all learn so much.) For Martha, any moment is just as worth documenting as any other. And it’s true: who is she to decide which of the thousands of competent things she does every day will be useful and compelling to someone else? It’s likely that they all are, equally.
The best posts on The Martha Blog are anodyne and workaday in a way that implies a life without worry. They have headlines like “Starting Onions from Seed,” “Francesca Gets Acupuncture,” or “A Business Dinner at My Farm.” For Martha, clickbait is a headline reading “What are Desiree, German Butterball, Kerr's Pink, and La Ratte?” (The answer? “Potatoes!!!!”) While the lifestyle blogs that have sprung up in her wake are more delicate illusions — designed to appear sincere and breezy, all the while concerned with metrics and online store referrals — Martha seems to blog for no other reason than because she likes it. It would be hard to milk a capitalist angle out of a post called “Soaking and Planting the Peas.”
For Martha, it’s barely bragging to post a photo of Richard Gere, fork en route to his mouth at her 2015 holiday party, with the caption “Richard Gere was crazy about the stuffed potatoes.” The photo isn’t even deemed interesting enough to appear near the front of the album. It comes after 45 photos of the food, flatware, and Martha’s non-famous family members because Richard Gere is not the point. Martha’s life is the point.
martha doesn’t need to blog, she wants to
If we’re being honest, whose ideal lifestyle (or at least one of their occasional daydreams) isn’t seclusion on a sprawling, elegant estate with all the friends, family, pets, plants, Riesling, and linens one could ever want?
Martha isn’t stuck in the past. She loves Facebook Live (see this “FBL” art she made out of blueberries), and she has one of the wittiest and strangest Twitter accounts you’re likely to find. But she realizes and respects the long-forgotten secret about blogging — that blogs are as much about the act as they are about the content, and that consistency and longevity are the only qualities in blogging worth respecting. Anyone can write about the first peacock they buy. Only a world-class blogger will write about every peacock they purchase and every thing that happens to each one. Anyone can share a personal story in hopes of aiding someone with a menial task. Only a truly exceptional blogger will do that every day for over 3,000 days and show no signs of stopping. Martha, possibly, has done her research and knows that blogging consistently is good for you. In any case, she made the promise of being there, and she has followed up.
Increasingly, celebrity bloggers have added paywalls to their best content — why not? There is now such a glut of fashion and home-making and trendy baking blogs from C-list celebrities and Instagram influencers that A-listers might as well put a premium on their higher production-value content. Both because they can, and to remind everyone that it’s more valuable. To get the best of Kristin Cavallari or Kim Kardashian, you have to pay a modest recurring fee. To get the best of Martha, you still pay nothing. (Unless, of course, her free blog leads you to her monthly magazine.)
She rarely does sponsored content. Recently, tucked among the personal missives, there was a short post endorsing PetSmart dog beds. It’s not as if you were going to go somewhere other than PetSmart (or maybe Target?) if you needed a dog bed anyway. It’s like if someone asked me to do sponsored content for Morton Salt. Everyone would read my laudatory blog post and be like “Well, I don’t want to pick Morton’s just because Kaitlyn is telling me to, but it would be a weird amount of work to think of something different to buy.”
To get the best of Martha, you still pay nothing
If you’re going to indulge in materialism, Martha’s is the materialism to indulge in. Her favorite things are usually made of paper, which is recyclable. Her other favorite things occur naturally, from the earth. For example, blueberries or baby chickens. Some of her belongings are clearly expensive — most glaringly, her house. Some of her product lines are expensive, too — most glaringly in my life experience, her scrapbooking supply line, which includes 1.5-ounce bottles of glitter that retail for $10.99 apiece. But on The Martha Blog, she’s not selling you any of that, and she doesn’t so much as hint that you ought to have a sweater as nice as hers before you can enjoy a crisp fall day. You should have an apple, in her opinion.
Maybe you and I want different things from a lifestyle blog, and that’s fine. You can feel anything, and I can feel this: Martha Stewart is the original lifestyle blogger, and no one will ever top her.