Weddings can be a pretty big f*cking deal—I mean, they don’t say it’s the biggest day of your life for nothing. It takes about a year to plan, an average of $36,000 to put on, and determining the place seatings alone is a strategic maneuver requiring a level of diplomacy that rivals the formation of many political alliances. Between pressures and conflicting desires from family, friends, in-laws, and the bride and grooms themselves, what is supposed to be the celebration of a newlywed couple can end up turning into a never-ending sh*tstorm of people to please, to not disappoint. So imagine planning your wedding for over a year, having a great time, thinking you’d pulled off a classy affair that still managed to showcase your personality, and then finding out that you’d become internet famous… for how bad it was.
That actually happened to Juliette Brandman, a New York-based bride. An avid Betches fan and listener of the Betches Brides podcast, she sent us an email: “So upon returning from my honeymoon, I see myself all over the Daily Mail Snapchat story shaming my wedding dress and shoe choices,” she wrote. The offender was, as Brandman explained, “an ex-girlfriend of a boy I knew in college” who had posted her wedding pictures to a Facebook group dedicated to talking sh*t about people’s weddings. Brandman had worn a short dress with feather details along the hem and sleeves for her reception, as well as sneakers, which were Christian Louboutin and, as members of the group pointed out in the comments, cost $1,000. But Facebook wasn’t where Brandman learned about it. She found out when The Sun picked up the post, and then the Daily Mail did a spin-off article (which has since been taken down). She saw it for herself when the Daily Mail put it on their Snapchat story and her friends started sending it to her.
At first, she thought one of her friend’s Snapchat had been hacked, and sending her her own wedding photos as part of the hack. “They’ve really gotten so advanced!” she initially thought. Then she Googled it, and found the story (which, for what it’s worth, was basically just a bunch of screenshots from the Facebook group, amounting to “People On The Internet Don’t Like This Woman’s Fashion Choices”. I know the Daily Mail is not exactly a bastion of investigative journalism, but come on). At that point, reality set in.
“I was like, ‘are you kidding me?’” she said. “It was shocking and I kind of couldn’t believe it. It was definitely hurtful, and you try not to read the comments, but curiosity got the better of me and I totally read them and was like, ‘okay, these are not super nice.’”
What made the Daily Mail and Sun articles especially shocking to her was how the internet’s opinion completely diverged from that of her friends and family. “Every single person at our wedding was obsessed with our shoes,” she said. “Like, people were taking pictures, they were like, ‘omg I can’t believe you are wearing these, these are so cool.’” So to see the internet take delight in having the opposite reaction was pretty jarring. “Those were my special wedding day shoes, and that was a fun part of something that I wanted to bring to my wedding. And I have now hundreds or thousands of people basically telling me I have terrible, hideous taste.” The girl who initially posted the photos to the group tried to qualify that when she initially met the bride, she loved her style—kind of the internet cyberbullying version of “you know I love you, but…”
The other factor that internet commenters didn’t think about when ripping Brandman’s fashion choices apart was the consideration that went into her choosing those items in the first place. “I am a plus sized bride, and, I’m a plus sized human being, so finding a dress, and finding something that I was comfortable in to wear for a second dress, was a big deal.” (The original poster to the group did clarify, “to be fair this was her second outfit,” as if that would help.) Umm yeah, I feel like if any of the commenters had considered that before slamming her, they might not have had as much ammo to rip her to shreds.
So, yeah. If you worked really hard on something and you found out that the internet was tearing it apart (while you were on your honeymoon, no less), you’d probably be pretty devastated. But actually, Brandman seemed surprisingly calm about the whole ordeal, and mainly just thinks it’s embarrassing. “It’s just uncomfortable because I spent over a year and a half dedicating my life to this wedding. I paid for that dress, I paid for those shoes, that was my gift to myself because I wanted to have something really fun at my wedding.” I, on the other hand, would either be scheming up petty ways to ruin the life of whoever posted me to that group in the first place, or orchestrating a relocation off the grid, so I admire her levelheadedness about the whole thing. She credits her friends and family, saying that since they were the ones who discovered the articles while she was on her honeymoon, they were able to come up with an action plan and support her the whole way.
Another wakeup call was the fact that Juliette barely even spoke to the girl who initially put her on blast. She’d added her back in college, but they hadn’t really been in touch since: “We don’t talk. We’re not friends, we don’t really have a lot of mutual friends.” She still doesn’t understand why the girl went to the trouble of sharing her pictures in the wedding shaming group, a concept she was also unaware even existed. (For the uninitiated, the gist is that you post photos sh*tting on someone else’s wedding, decor, fashion choices, or you can post stories about people who acted terribly at your wedding or a wedding you went to.) Talk about a rude awakening to the darker sides of Facebook. “I mean, it’s human nature to be judgemental,” she offered, “and especially with Instagram, you see everyone’s stuff. But like, you take things out and you privately message your friends about it. You don’t, like, put it on blast when you don’t know these people.” Now, Brandman is doing a Facebook purge, but she says she won’t let one salty girl deter her from posting pictures of her wedding.
“Looking back, I’m like, this girl literally spent the time from her day creeped through my photos and was like, ‘You know what? This would be great for the shaming group that I am a part of,’” she rationalized. “Like, I can’t even imagine.”
And as for whether she confronted the girl in question about putting her on blast? “Absolutely not.”
Images: Fred Marcus Studio
There isn’t much that gets me out of bed these days. Three cups of coffee shot directly into the vein? Meh. HR’s threats of “immediate action” should I be late for the 10th time this month? Don’t tempt me with a good time, Karen. What does get me going, you may ask? A scandalous news story about a wholesome midwestern family finding out their adopted Ukrainian daughter is actually a woman in her 20s posing as a 6-year-old child with dwarfism. Now THAT I’ll get out of bed for. So buckle up, kids, it’s time to gather ‘round for a story more convoluted and insane than a Riverdale plotline (and as the former weekly recapper, just know that I had to sit through the showrunners try and explain how the local Riverdale cult was just a front for an underground blackmarket human body parts trade).
The story was originally published in The Daily Mail UK earlier this week and it is… a lot to take in. The article claims that famed parenting author and motivational speaker Kristine Barnett and her now ex-husband Michael Barnett have been charged with neglect after leaving their 11-year-old daughter Natalia to fend for herself in their apartment when they moved to Canada. Sounds terrible. Like, let’s get ADA Barba and the Special Victims Unit on this ASAP. However, the Barnetts are claiming that it’s not neglect because Natalia is not a child, but in fact a “mentally disturbed adult posing as a child” who has threatened to kill them before.
In order to truly appreciate the masterpiece that was this Daily Mail article, we need to go back to the beginning. First, a little backstory on the Barnetts: Kristine rose to moderate fame in the mid 2000s when she wrote a book about raising her genius physics prodigy son, Jacob, who has Autism. The couple even appeared on 60 Minutes back in 2012 to talk about Jacob’s success story. So, like, it’s a little ironic that Kristine, a woman who has probably been humble bragging about her parenting skills to her book club for longer than The Office was on the air, is now being charged with parental neglect. I bet her friends are having a hell of a time in their group chat.
In 2010, the couple adopts Natalia, who, as far as they know, is a 6-year-old girl living with a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia. Natalia had been living in the U.S. for two years, had a Ukraine birth certificate saying she was born in September of 2003, and needed a home ASAP because her previous adoptive parents “suddenly gave her up for undisclosed reasons.” This is the same excuse I give whenever someone asks if I’m still on my diet, but somehow it doesn’t feel legit enough for adoptive parents to use as an excuse to return A LITERAL CHILD, but okay.
Soon after the adoption, Kristine says she realized Natalia could not actually be the age she was claimed to be. First off, she claims Natalia was speaking with a sophisticated vocabulary beyond that of a typical 6-year-old’s. As I don’t associate with children I’m not quite sure what that means, but I’m going to assume that little Natalia was only speaking to the Barnetts via Mean Girls quotes and Cardi B rap lyrics.
Moving on. The couple claims there were also physical signs that Natalia was older. She supposedly had adult teeth, didn’t grow one inch in the years they had her in their care, had a period (!!!), and they discovered a full bush on her the first time they gave her a bath. According to The Daily Mail, Natalia also “shunned dolls and toys and sought the company of teenage girls.” (I stand by my earlier Cardi B comment).
During this same time Kristine claims Natalia was terrorizing the family by threatening to stab them in their sleep. (And that’s not even a part I am exaggerating for effect!) At one point, Kristine claims she even tried to pour bleach in their coffee because she wanted to “poison them” and shoved Kristine into an electric fence. To be fair, if my adoptive mother was making this big a deal about my period I would also react this way.
In an interview Kristine said of Natalia: “She was jumping out of moving cars. She was smearing blood on mirrors. She was doing things you could never imagine a little child doing.” These allegations, if true, are alarming. If not true, then just stolen from The CW writer’s room notes on the Gargoyle King character attributes.
The Barnetts checked Natalia into a psychiatric hospital where Natalia was diagnosed with various psychiatric disorders. Health professionals at the facility even say Natalia herself admitted to being 18 years old.
Kristine had the family doctor run bone density tests on Natalia to see if she was actually a small child or a much older sociopath posing as a child. I’m hoping that is exactly how she phrased it when she approached her family doctor. Boy, to be a fly on the wall during that doctor’s visit. According to the Barnetts, the doctor concluded that Natalia was actually closer to 14 years old, if not older. This feels suspicious to me because presumably these tests took place sometime after 2010 so modern science and technologies were available for said test, and yet, the most accurate data they could ascertain was that she’s “probably 14.” K.
In 2012, after it’s confirmed that Natalia is not six years old but, like, maybe might be 14 or something, the police start investing Natalia for immigration fraud. The Barnetts, meanwhile, successfully applied to the Indiana courts to have Natalia’s age corrected so she could receive the appropriate psychiatric treatment for an adult, and a judge actually revised Natalia’s date of birth to September 4, 1989, effectively changing her age from EIGHT TO TWENTY-TWO. Okay, but like, where did they get that number from?? The doctor confirmed she was maybe 14 and if my basic math calculations are correct that number is nowhere near 22. A birthday is not like the weight you list on the doctor’s forms. You can’t just make it up!
Kristine says she and her family then set Natalia up in her own apartment, which they paid for, and helped her get benefits and a social security card. The family moved to Canada in 2013 so Jacob could attend a school in Canada, and they say Natalia stopped returning their messages and they lost contact. When Kristine found a pink dress and a little pink bicycle at Natalia’s house, she feared she was conning another family.
Which brings us to today. According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by NBC News, the Indiana police started getting involved in the case around September 2014 when Natalia told authorities the Barnetts rented her apartment in Lafayette. When the police interviewed Michael Barnett about the case earlier this month, he said that Natalia was actually a minor when they legally changed her age to 22 and that Kristine coerced her into telling people that she just looked young for her age. Michael is now saying those comments were taken out of context. Keep in mind the timing of all of this: If the police actually received Natalia’s complaint in 2014 then that means they waited five years to investigate her claims. This feels extremely suspicious to me. What’s with the hold up here? Why has it taken half a decade to investigate a minor’s claim that she was abandoned while her family moved to Canada?
BUT Y’ALL. It gets even weirder because an expert at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital named Dr. Riggs came forward as the man who carried out the bone density tests on Natalia in June 2010 and concluded THAT SHE WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD. You guys, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!
WHAT. IS. THE. TRUTH. INDEED. A further skeletal test carried out two years later, at the same facility, concluded she was around 11 years old, and I still don’t understand how not one medical test in the year 2011 cannot definitively tell us a girl’s age.
The Barnetts have since been arrested and charged with neglect. They’re still holding true to their story, but I don’t know what to believe anymore. For one, some of their arguments regarding Natalia’s age are flimsy at best. Though Natalia may have been physically mature for a 6-year-old, that doesn’t mean she actually wasn’t her age. I went through puberty in second grade and had a full rack and acne by 8, so WHAT’S YOUR POINT, KRISTINE. The Barnetts also claimed that when they asked Natalia about her time in the Ukraine she gave the same answer Mariah Carey gave about knowing J.Lo, and couldn’t recall any specific details about her homeland. She also could not speak the language.
Again, if Natalia is the age she says she is, that means she was four when she left the Ukraine so, like, how great would her memory really be? I think it’s a little much to be quizzing her on Ukraine’s country flag or history. Then there’s the police work. If Olivia Benson thought an underage girl had been abandoned by her family she would have the entire Manhattan police force fly out to Indiana to investigate this case, and you’re telling me it took local PD five years to look into these very alarming claims? And that all they currently have to show for it is a medical test which somehow can’t be verified? Look, I know Dick Wolf is not actually a member of law enforcement, but these are some pretty wild claims that nobody in law enforcement took seriously at the time.
Which brings me to my last concern: it doesn’t sit well with me that no one can confirm Natalia’s age. These medical “tests” feel about as legit as those pregnancy tests I bought at the Dollar Tree. I know she has a unique case of dwarfism but my god there has to be a way to medically tell her age that isn’t cutting her open and counting the rings like she’s a goddamn tree. I mean is she 11? 14? 18? 22? 33? JUST TELL US HOW OLD YOU ARE, NATALIA.
At the moment, all we know for certain is that Natalia is currently in the wind and her location is unknown. The Barnetts have been released on bail and continue to claim that they accidentally adopted a dangerous, mentally ill tiny adult for a daughter. And while the only immediate answers we’re going to get from this case will play out in the form of a “ripped from the headlines” episode of SVU, I will continue to follow this case v v closely. And by “closely” I mean between the hours of 1am-4pm when I can’t sleep because I still don’t understand how this con artist/Ukrainian child (??) managed to bamboozle both the American medical society and justice system. Stay tuned, Betches!
Images: Amazon; Giphy (3)