Trigger Warning: Cat Marnell’s writing deals with heavy drug use, sex, abuse, and a variety of other issues that may be upsetting.
Cat Marnell’s relatively short career, formerly as a beauty and health editor at Lucky magazine and xojane.com and currently as a resident memoirist at vice.com, has been defined by controversy. Feminists of varying persuasions either love or hate her, because of her stubborn irreverence and obsession with harmful beauty standards respectively. Moralists find her repugnant, obviously. Much ado has been made about the kind of example she is setting for the young, impressionable women who make up a significant portion of her readership. Even her employers have caught flack for “enabling” her debaucherous lifestyle and inevitable self-destruction.
Despite all of these criticisms (which may or may not carry some validity), here is why this blog editor thinks you should read her column:
Ms. Marnell’s writings about her life as a drug addict (who also happens to be a fairly privileged and emotionally troubled woman), are shockingly frank and confessional. Sara Hepola of the New York Times aptly described Marnell’s writing as “unprocessed” in a profile piece earlier this month. And it is! It is this quality that makes her short memoirs, which were published under the guise of a beauty column when she was still working at xoJane, so very compelling, lively, heartbreaking, tenuous. They feel vital and productive in a way that highly processed writing seldom manages to achieve.
Despite some of her dubious opinions and life decisions, she manages to be a sympathetic character. This is not because one necessarily respects or wishes to emulate those decisions, but because she has made those decisions for herself and is, generally, quite unapologetic about it despite much level-headed wagging of fingers and clucking of tongues. What is admirable about her character is the fact that she has made conscious decisions about the life and aesthetic world she wants to inhabit, and thoroughly abides by those self-imposed guidelines. She ignores those unspoken rules few dare to break. Because of this peculiar and ardent commitment to her own desires and self-conceptualization, not only is she an unusual and interesting figure, but (if she manages to survive it all) she just might turn out to be a great writer. At the very least, no one will be able to say that she was anything less than wholly sovereign.