Sarah Hepola
Sex, Scandal, and Sisterhood: Fifty Years of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

1972 was a watershed year for women, a time when the forces of freedom were starting to be unleashed but also clash. Roe v. Wade was making its way from a Dallas courthouse through the Supreme Court, where it would ignite a battle that’s still raging. It was  the year Deep Throat hit American theaters, launching a vogue for “porno chic.” And it was the year Title IX passed, opening the door for women in athletics.

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were a watershed too, combining the precision of the East Texas drill team the Kilgore Rangerettes with the class of the Radio City Rockettes and adding a dose of old-fashioned Texas razzle-dazzle. “We’re looking for an all-American, sexy girl,” choreographer Texie Waterman once told a local news station, taking a bite out of that word, “sexy.” And this internal contradiction—of being good but also a bit bad, of being innocent but also a bit dangerous—became an essential part of their brand, and their explosion.

The Things I’m Afraid to Write About

I’d spent the past five or so years watching celebrities, pundits, friends, and internet randos fall from grace for reasons as varied as sharing dumb jokes, making clumsy writing errors, accidentally showing their dong, and expressing controversial (though often widely held) opinions in the public execution chambers of social media. There had been more grievous allegations, of course—rape, pedophilia, physical abuse. But so many of these spectacles could be grouped under a more mundane heading. You can call it cancel culture. You can call it justice. All I know is that I hated it, and for five years, I kept very quiet about it.

You Haven’t Driven in Texas Until You’ve Driven a Pickup

To spend decades cruising across Texas yet never slide behind the sturdy wheel of a big ol’ pickup shows a certain defiance on my part. It’s like not watching football, not listening to country music, or not wearing cowboy boots, all of which are check, check, check for me. Part of my rebellion was to shape myself in counter-formation to Texas stereotypes. You could also say I was a new breed—a city girl pampered by modern conveniences, more familiar with grazing the sales rack at Dillard’s than horses grazing the open prairies. I once showed up to a working farm in a skirt and platform flip-flops, which is not very Texan but is painfully Dallas.


We All Live in Uncertain Now

The name is what drew me to Uncertain. It sounds like a thick novel, or one of those creepy noir films from the Coen brothers, but in the months since COVID-19 began dismantling the life we once knew, it has become a global condition. What will become of us? Who should we be? We are all living in Uncertain now. Of course, the 2018 census placed the town’s population a bit lower, at 59.


My Plastic Surgery Dilemma

Plastic surgery had been closing in for a while. I’d spent my early 40s looking past pamphlets for fillers and injectables, wincing at the highway billboards for mommy makeovers, watching the proliferation of med spas and Botox bars and the way self-care was blurring into self-alteration. The whole spectacle created an alternating current of despair and envy, like this was wrong and shallow and vain, and also, maybe I should try it. I’d never stuck a needle in my forehead, but mostly for the same reason I’d never done cocaine. I was afraid I’d like it and then I couldn’t afford to keep doing it. The ad for vaginal rejuvenation was a new low, however. As if it weren’t enough to overhaul our faces, our bellies, our butts. Now they were coming for our pussies.


What the Pandemic Taught Me About Old-Fashioned Romance

I checked Hinge in mid-March, curious to see what dating looked like in the social-distancing era. I wondered if the unfolding crisis would change how we engaged—maybe our new circumstances would make men more patient or conversations more dramatic, shaking up interactions that had become predictable and mundane. In recent years I’d had stray thoughts like The only thing that could save this broken dating culture is a giant asteroid. Well, one just hit.


How the Pandemic Turned Brene Brown Into America’s Therapist

The week we lost the world we knew, Brené Brown held church. Wearing a floral blouse and hoop earrings, she settled into her home office, in Houston, in front of a bookcase with spines arranged by color: cerulean blue and daffodil yellow and blush pink. She livestreamed a fifteen-minute service, Brené Brown–style: There was a prayer, yes, but also a Beatles sing-along. There was God talk but also cussing. And there was a sermon about offering grace to anyone you might like to punch in the face.


Why Every Woman Should Take a Solo Road Trip

I wonder if such a small act of freedom will be unfathomable to future generations. You know, when robots have taken over and no one actually drives anymore, and we all just plug into the cloud of immersive reality or something. I wonder if stories like this one will sound as impossibly ancient as the pioneer wagons did to me when I was growing up in the ’80s, flipping through old-timey Westerns on the couch with a sleeve of Ritz crackers in my lap. Long ago, little girl, there was a thing called a road trip, and brave Americans took to the interstates in a machine filled with gas and good guesses—not because they had to, but because they could.


Kavanaugh and the Blackout Theory

Inside those haunted words I see a life and a trail of damage that could have been my own. I consider it nothing but a gift of biology, or temperament, or sexual dynamics that I never had to worry I had physically or sexually assaulted anyone in a blackout. I worried I was rude. I worried I was weird, dumb, deathly unsexy. As I grew older, and more risk-taking, I worried I’d had sex with someone I didn’t know, a not-uncommon experience in my own daily calendar. But I have known men who drank too much, and I have loved them, and this is a fear that beats in their private hearts. I hope I didn’t hurt her.