Body Image

No more Frock Watch Mia, please

8 June, 2010

Mia Freedman is an ex-editor of Australian Cosmopolitan magazine, and now a blogger and supposed advocate for body image. Recently she came under fire for a post about gainerism and using language that painted all fat people in a really awful way. She did not moderate the hateful comments on the post, and in fact edited the original post to remove a lot of the insulting tone initially used. The incident was taken to hack-current affairs programs Today Tonight and A Current Affair, and my husband Nick was also interviewed on MTR regarding the whole thing. Ms Freedman was not painted in a favourable light and I think that instead of listening to the criticism and learning not to be so bloody offensive she is dwelling quite comfortably in her, how do you say, butthurt.

She is continuing to advocate for body image in the most ass-backwards way by posting photos of celebrities and inviting comment on what these women look like. Kathleen rightly said earlier on twitter:

.@miafreedman still doesn’t get that women criticising other women on her Frock Watch feature is not body image positive, it’s hateful.

This is one of the things I find so offensive about her position in Australia as a body image expert. Having kept relatively quiet throughout the last incident (I chose not to engage much because I don’t have to fight every battle, it’d be bloody tiring if I was obligated to do that!) I decided to comment this time, because I am particularly sensitive about fashion and body snark. I used to participate in it myself. I’m not perfect. When I read chapter ten in Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby‘s book, Screw Inner Beauty called “Stop Judging Other Women” I resolved to cut that shit out. Because, (and I’m quoting from the book here):

“At some point in your adult life, you’ve probably walked into a party and felt a frisson of relief upon discovering at least one woman there who was fatter, uglier, and/or dressed more inappropriately than you. We sure have. But if you want to have any hope of making peace with your own body, you need to knock that shit off.

We’re not even telling you to stop just because it’s nasty, petty, and beneath you to judge other women so harshly; it is, but because you’re not a saint, and neither are we. We’re telling you to stop because it’s actually in your own self-interest to stop being such a bitch. ‘Cause you know what happens when you quit saying that crap about other women? You magically stop saying it about yourself so much, too.

Judging other women negatively creates a constant stream of nasty thoughts in your head. It is inevitable that you will end up applying those same standards to yourself. We think we’re building ourselves up when we do this but, really, we’re just tearing other people down to our level. And we hate to go all Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on you, but tearing other people down isn’t really productive. It leaves you in the same place you started, which is full of loathing for your own body.”

Do you want to know something? My life has changed. Cutting out most of the snark on other women has been revolutionary for my self esteem and my body image. I feel mentally healthier, something that is really NOT talked about by these national figureheads for body image. Tell me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the point? Paying lip-service via stunts like not retouching Sarah Murdoch makes me upset and it completely misses the point.

Ms. Freedman, I implore you to pick up this book. Body image isn’t just about not retouching photographs of models who already enjoy the beauty privilege that most of us beat ourselves up about. It’s a lot of hard work, it involves unlearning most of the things society has taught us about femininity. You can’t sit on a panel like this then post things like Frock Watch and expect to be taken seriously about body positivity. It makes women feel bad. It’s not just about taking celebrities down a few pegs, because they’ve somehow got an extra few pegs and can afford it. That is messed up. Frock Watch, and indeed any snarky activity like it, negatively impacts on every person who views and participates in it.

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  • http://sirens-and-sailors.blogspot.com Emma

    You are awesome Natalie! Sorry, I can't be more eloquent at the moment, but that pretty much sums up what I wanted to say :D

  • Abby Lewis

    “A draft posted that had not been viewed by Mia. It was simply the contents of a blog written about Frockwatch. It also included the wording from an email that Mia had received in response to the blog. No part of the draft post had been written by Mia so when we saw that it had posted in error we took it down.”

    I don't get that at all. “Someone” wrote a draft post in their admin with the contents of this blog and an email that Mia received and then published it without anyone knowing? How weird is that? She didn't write it or read it?

  • Jo M

    I'm failing to understand how Frock Watch is a problem. Believe me, when it comes to body issues, I've had my fair share (or perhaps more, considering that I was told my dying from anorexia was not a possibility, but a certainty…five years later, here I am).

    Yes, it is important to re-define feminine ideals and identity: but does that mean going against everything already established? When did feminism become about denial? We all have different tastes in clothing, and not being able to share those for fear of being “anti-feminist” is more of a problem than the discussion itself.

    To quote from Linda Seidel: “the patterns we find are, of course, determined by the patterns we seek.” I think there's only a problem here because you're looking for one. If you want to see frock watch as a communal female activity, enjoying and discussing clothes, you will. If you want to see it as anti-feminist and degrading, you will.

  • Mackenzie101

    and now she has a post about plastic surgery, yet again encouraging people to tell an 18 year old girl how stupid and selfish she is for wanting to have plastic surgery.

  • http://mymilkspilt.wordpress.com Spilt Milk

    I smell a rat. Her comment in response to Natalie that I read this morning (which, incidentally, is polite and reasonable) includes some of the wording of the deleted 'email from someone else'. So…there's a person ghost-writing her comments now? Or is this a way to pretend she didn't say 'load of fucking tripe' when she in fact did?

    After all the revisions that went on at that site over the Gainer controversy, I'm afraid I'm disinclined to take the email story at face value. Call me a cynic.

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    Gosh what is this deleted email business? There is too much shitfuckery going on and I just wish we could have a proper bloody conversation without all this “deleted conversation”, “drafts published in error” bullcrap!

    Mia Freedman, you're being evasive and that's really uncool.

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    Body autonomy – too hard to understand :(

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    I'm sorry you've dealt with body issues, it's really tough awful business and super personal. However, just because problematic issues aren't apparent to one person, doesn't mean they are erased across the board. Body snark affects people in different ways, and for a lot of women it contributes to damaging self talk.

    The idea that I am looking for problems is highly offensive and problematic and tells me that you've not much experience with a feminist dialogue. Critiquing damaging content published and moderated by a BODY IMAGE AUTHORITY is not looking for problems – it's pointing them out so that things can be changed. So that we can correct this damaging crap and move on to the next thing.

  • http://orientalhotel.blogspot.com Kat

    To me it is the fact that frockwatch and other similar things don't restrict themselves to just 'That is a great dress' or 'I'm not keen on those clashing lime green and pink tones' they often end up including comments like 'Her breasts look pretty fake' 'What terrible skin tone' 'OMG she has lost/gained so much weight' and so on. Just under Mia's response to Natalie on frock watch is a comment saying 'Katy Perry looks like she is made of plastic' Nuff said.

  • http://corpulent.wordpress.con Frances

    Alright. Here's my problem with Frock Watch. From one picture of Nicole Kidman:

    “The Grand Canyon in between her flotation devices is a DEAD giveaway. I’m dying….I die. GROSS.”
    “Think Nicole looks very booby but the bones sticking out of her breastplate make me wanna puke, eat some food Nicole!”
    “Nicole Kidman scares me.”
    “yuck yuck yuck!”
    “How can Nicole look at herself and think “Yes I look great, with my breasts under my arm pits”.”
    “I agree – the boobs are good the skeletal frame sticking out? Not too good!”

    You don't need to be going in with a negative attitude to find women pouring body snark onto other women. This is not just discussing fashion, this is putting someone down based on their appearance. That is massively anti-feminist.

    To make it a bit clearer, one of my fashion gripes is high heels. If I was discussing it in terms of fashion, I would say “I hate high heels. I find them completely torturous. An outfit can be perfect without subjecting oneself to heels.” If I was snarking in the style of commenters on Frock Watch, I would say “OMG look at that girl wearing heels! How can she go outside like that? She walks like a hippo on stilts.” PLEASE tell me you can see the difference.

    And frankly, if all social movements were reluctant to about “[go] against everything already established” we'd never make any progress.

  • http://LifeForward.onsugar.com Shayna

    I'm in the U.S., so I'm not familiar with Mia Freedman, but having just read through some of her remarks, and your post, I have to say, making nasty remarks about women's size – whether that is size 0 or 32 is the very opposite of promoting healthy body image — healthy body image comes from being healthy (according to a real doctor, not a tv show or a trainer at the gym) and liking yourself – period.

  • Rachel

    Oh come ON TRS!!!!
    I read your blog and I remember very clearly how hideously bitchy you were towards some woman who had an affair with Sandra Bullock's husband (no idea the name as my care factor is zero) – you went on and on about her tattoos and her skankiness etc etc etc… it was AWFUL!
    Plus unless I am living in a bizarro parallel universe, YOU HAVE YOUR OWN FROCKWATCH ON YOUR SITE!
    I have no problems with what you or anyone else does, it's just the utter hypocrisy that gets to me.

  • Lana

    Abby, Spilt Milk

    I work for Mia. I took Natalie's blog post and put it in drafts in the backend of Mamamia in case Mia wanted to write about it.

    I also put in the contents of the email she received in relation to that post. I was just gathering research (my job) and I put it all in drafts. Basically it was everything that I had surrounding that issue at the time (bar tweets and the snarky bingo card).

    There is nothing sinister going on at all. Mia did not want the post published as she had not written it, in fact I had created it – she had not even read it as a post. She had read the blog and the email but it was not her intention to publish them.

    The post was published in error when the site crashed and we took every measure we could to retract that because it was not Mia's writing.

    Mia's response remains in the comment to Natalie on Frockwatch

    Thanks for taking the time to read this and for understanding that it was my cutting and pasting that you saw appear today – not Mia's words and not mine. I will protect the privacy of the person who sent in the email, but I can guarantee it was not Mia.

    Regards
    Lana

  • http://www.flickr.com/people/demo-derby/ mel

    hi natalie,

    first i want to say that i'm a fan of your blog, artwork and your fatshions. i think this post in particular is one of your best. i remember enjoying your posts/comments at the fatshionista community (back when i used to follow it) and recently discovered your blog/twitter through marianne of 'the rotund'.

    anyways, i also have a question. in this post you say:

    “I decided to comment this time, because I am particularly sensitive about fashion and body snark. I used to participate in it myself. I’m not perfect. When I read chapter ten in Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby’s book, Screw Inner Beauty called “Stop Judging Other Women” I resolved to cut that shit out.”

    and i'm wondering if you could comment how that fits in with you still being a moderator over at the unfatshionista community?

    i hope it doesn't seem like i'm merely trying to stir up shit with this question. i'm genuinely curious because it just doesn't add up to me. unfatshionista seems to be the very same “shit” you've resolved to cut out and i'm interested to hear more on your feelings about it.

    thanks,
    mel

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    I have actually been asked this just recently, and wrote a long reflection on the huge mindshift I have had in the last year or so. It's important to recognise that people can change their minds, and that's what I have done. I'm almost certain that I will be writing a post on this public blog, because I know a few people who are still confused about my involvement with that community and how it informs where I stand now.

    I won't deny what I used to say, or what I used to be involved in. That kind of snark is part of the shit I cut out, and I remain a mod in name only now and only involve myself as a kind of intermediary. Lots of the time I find the content upsetting and I will step up and say so. I don't really believe in censorship, and find that the best way to counteract unhelpful stuff is by talking about it, and that's why I haven't completely severed ties with the unfats community.

    It may seem like I'm being a bit hypocritical, but if you factor in my passion for discussion and moderation it makes my decision make more sense. Anyone could use that information against me, and if they don't listen to my reasoning it's a pretty huge thing that can be used in support of snark. It's just not that simple. I prefer to act in the grey area and engage in hard discussions rather than act in black and white.

    I prefer to be direct and honest and own my previous behaviour. I'm Natalie, and I'm an ex-fashion snarker. I think it's a powerful thing to realise when you've been engaging in negative stuff, and I'm proud of the effort I've made to engage in feminist discussion and unlearn so much of my hurtful and unhelpful behaviour.

  • http://therealsydney.wordpress.com TheRealSydney

    Hi Rachel,

    Yes that's right I did post something about Bombshell McGee on my blog – I didn't go on and on about her skankiness and her tattoo's – in fact I didn't even mention her tattoo's – because I was commenting on her behaviour (so you're a little bit off base there). I'm happy for anyone to look at that post – I struck out the offensive words and reworded it when my slightly emotional rant was brought to my attention and besides, that's kind of old news now Rachel.

    I don't have Frockwatch … I occasionally post pictures of celeb event fashion and ask commenters to comment on what they like … if there were ever any snarky nasty comments (which there aren't) I would delete them.

    Besides, I'm not the Chair of the National Body Image Advisory Board – so based on that I think Mia is slightly more accountable than I am.

    If you would like to discuss this further I invite you to email me therealsydney@live.com.au rather than hijack Natalie's post.

  • http://mymilkspilt.wordpress.com Spilt Milk

    Thanks for the clarification Lana.
    It is unfortunate that these things crop up and require clarifying. I am not, by nature, a cynical person. But my past observations of how things changed without notice at Mamamia as well as the way in which I was attacked and maligned there recently made me more wary than usual. I'd also like to note that the email/draft quoted here by June IS quoted in part by Mia in her comment to Natalie, so if she didn't write that draft post she's borrowing from it in any case. It did certainly make it look as though the draft was her writing as well. In pointing that out, I don't mean to create animosity. I just think that clarity and openness is vitally important here if any kind of meaningful discussion is to take place.

  • http://www.flickr.com/people/demo-derby/ mel

    thanks for your thoughtful (and quick!) reply. now i can stop wondering about the whole unfats thing. heh.

    but seriously, i really respect that you're owning your previous behaviour – that is not always an easy thing to do.

    mel

  • Mia Freedman

    Definitalie,
    I am being neither evasive nor any of the other things I've been accused of on this post.
    You can put the conspiracy theories on ice, the post was published in error, other posts were lost and that's just some of the tech hell we've been in today.
    First world problems. Whatever.

    Have been meaning to come here since last night and let you know I posted a considered and lengthy response to the comment you left on Frockwatch here:
    http://www.mamamia.com.au/weblog/2010/06/mtv-mo

    I had at one time thought I might do a whole post on it but did the response instead.

    All the best.

  • http://mymilkspilt.wordpress.com Spilt Milk

    You're a classy lady.

    And I think that adds even more weight to what you're saying in this post. It doesn't hurt to change, change is where growth comes from. There is an opportunity here for Mia Freedman to make a serious difference if she's prepared to make some changes. We know her fans will follow her lead.

  • http://corpulent.wordpress.com Frances

    “That's an issue we've been working really hard on, and if by wearing an outfit I probably wouldn't ordinarily choose I can help fashion magazines to promote a healthy body image and raise awareness amongst their readers, that must be a good thing.”

    OK, I agree with you, that was daft.

  • http://goodgoog.com zoey @ goodgoog

    I've never read frockwatch so I can't really comment on the nark factor. But I completely relate to what you are saying. I was one of *those* people who would mock others for muffin tops etc in my ill-informed youth. I didn't think about how clothes aren't made properly or the fact that I might have been talking about someone (like myself) who has had a baby, whose body has changed, who is putting every spare dollar into paying off debt so that our family is in a better position and possibly can't afford new clothes right now. It's sad to me that I had to experience it first hand before I 'got it'.

  • http://wildlyparenthetical.wordpress.com WildlyParenthetical

    I'm running a little late coming to this discussion, but I think you're entirely right, Natalie. I did think, though, that perhaps one way of demonstrating to Mia that the whole Frock Watch thing is problematic is to complain (via that 'moderate' button) about everything that is body-hating in relation to a single post. I suspect that most people here would be happy to participate in demonstrating how much body policing is going on in relation to Frock Watch? And we'd probably only have to do it in relation to one post in order to make the point clearly… Although I just scanned through some of the comments on the MTV thread and wow – I'd be committing to a pile of emails, that's for sure!!

    In the end, this is only a minor protest – I *do* get how much it demonstrates that Mia just doesn't get what's at stake. But nonetheless…

    I do wonder how Frock Watch, run without a Best/Worst category, and excluding *every* moment of negative commentary, might function. I like the idea of positive feedback, I guess, and I agree with the commenter who said that coming up with positive stuff about others' fashions and stuff can help combat body negativity; at the same time, I wonder about whether it's all part and parcel of the same thing (which I think might be your concern about unfatshionista modding?)

  • http://lindseyclare.wordpress.com lindsey clare

    i've been pondering this issue ever since i stumbled upon Natalie's blog a few weeks ago, and i used to wonder the same thing – why would people take offence at posts that are about FASHION and not BODIES?

    but as Kat says below, it's not so much about the intention of the posts, it's more about the fact that people's criticism of fashion often flows into criticism of bodies. and it is this (i think) which Natalie has a problem with. it is NOT FAIR, even if someone is a celebrity and going to an awards night, to say something rude or hurtful about their body/appearance… and the damage is not limited to their reputations, it flows down into the everywoman's sense of self-worth.

    e.g. if i see a negative comment on Frock Watch about someone's red hair, and i have red hair myself, it might make me feel bad. or if i don't have red hair, it might make me think i'm superior because i don't have red hair! does that make sense?

    personally i hardly ever read fashion magazines or blogs (Frock Watch included) although i will every now and then, and sometimes i'll make an innocuous comment. but i think from now on i'll be trying to be more conscious about my viewing of posts like Frock Watch – i don't really want to participate in anything that promotes negative commentary on people's bodies.

  • Meli

    But what about those of us who aren't healthy, Shayna? I feel there is judgement implicit in your statement that healthy body image comes from being healthy as deemed by a doctor. I am not healthy. But that does not mean that I cannot have a positive body image.

    I personally feel that the focus on being “healthy” and fat is just a way to argue against ignorant people who think that thin = healthy and fat = unhealthy. It tends to leave those of us who are not healthy feeling judged and derided by people who are supposed to be our allies.

    I am not less than because I am ill, and I am not unable to have positive body image because I am ill.

  • http://corpulent.wordpress.com Frances

    Incidentally, Mia's response got me 6 squares on the bingo card! No bingo, though. Sadface.

  • miss tash

    she looks pretty confident walking across the track in those heels…it shouldn't at all matter the material (leather in this case) that she is wearing. the dress is not revealing inappropriate amounts of skin…though as a tall woman, she has the eternal problem of the knee length never quite getting to the knee.
    if you are comfortable in your own skin and honestly comfortable in the clothes/outfit that you are wearing, then you are going to look knock-out…doesn't matter your shape.

  • http://corpulent.wordpress.com Frances

    Also, some people just don't care about things like muffin top. I have quite a few items of clothing that highlight my fat that I know women have commented negatively on (they whisper to their friends right in front of me). It's not because the clothes aren't made properly or I have better things to do – I wore those clothes because I like how they cling to my fat.

  • Jo M

    Linda Seidel is an art historian, that quote is taken from her article about the Arnolfini Portrait having been read as a marriage portrait, whereas she considers other readings to be available.

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    Lana, did you not end the now deleted post with “what fucking tripe”?

    This is really REALLY upsetting and uncool.

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    Your response was dismissive and upsetting, as was the “what fucking tripe” at the end of the deleted post.

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    You know what June, I totally didn't see the “fucking tripe” part until someone on another blog mentioned it.

    Gah. Upsetting.

  • Spilt Milk

    How about this one:

    “Hi Natalie.
    Unfortunately, as Lana explained, we had some technical difficulties. I did not, and would not, call the work of a fellow body image advocate a load of 'fucking tripe'. The person who said that does not represent my views but I do take responsibility for what appears on my own site, so I apologise for any hurt caused. Whilst I don't agree with all of your arguments, I can see that you are passionate about body acceptance. I am passionate about this too, so I will certainly take some time to think over your criticisms. Even though I am not able to take everyone's views on board all of the time, I do welcome considered feedback from other feminist/body image bloggers. In the mean time, I have posted a response to your comment on my blog.
    All the best.”

    Oh, if only!
    (Is this kind of response really far, far too much to ask for? Because it feels like it shouldn't be.)

  • Abby Lewis

    But how does doing that in any way raise the issue of body image? I agree, she looks great although I disagree that she looks confident – I think she looks uncomfortable. Surely there are better ways to address this issue in the mainstream media than this?

  • Abby Lewis

    “I will protect the privacy of the person who sent in the email, but I can guarantee it was not Mia.”
    If that is correct that it wasn't Mia then my next best guess is that it was Kerri Sackville who wrote that. Mind you, if someone else wrote it, Mia copied a few chunks out of it in her response. She just thought better of the “what fucking tripe” bit. But whoops, someone published it.

  • vanessareece

    I enjoyed this post for many reasons. Mostly because I've snarked and I've been snarked at. And someone calling the whole thing out and breaking it down does make you reassess.
    I think as well it's something many of us are taught by other females around us. Even from a young age. It can almost seem like a marking of territory or defending not only ones presence but also a way to justify one is better than someone else. Teenage girls for instance are a prime example of 'snark sharks', and its almost the norm to pick on someone who has opposing dress sense to the group, or a different way to carry themselves. And quite normal for snarks to travel in packs. It can almost be seen as a sense of belonging.
    It sounds far fetched but I've always supported the fact that in some high schools the effects of embracing all without malice is taught.
    The trashing of Celebs – often turns out to be jealousy based and that's a whole new can of worms.
    And less we forget some men can be snarks too; straight and gay, it's not just a practice used by women to make themselves feel better. Many men also do this to other men and to women. Great post! Vx

  • Rain_in_a_teacup

    Hoorah! Why can't we all just stop being mean to each other and to ourselves!?
    Love your blog :o)

  • http://wildlyparenthetical.wordpress.com WildlyParenthetical

    I think the thing is that these are not all 'equivalent' readings of a painting. Someone is saying that their experience of Frock Watch is as snarky, and as damaging to their experience of their own body. Others are agreeing. You are saying that this perspective is invalid because you like Frock Watch? I tend to think that if there are two readings, and someone is telling you that the way they experience something is as damaging, that damage matters more than whatever cheap thrills you might get from participating in Frock Watch.

    And that's quite aside from Mia Freedman, allegedly supporting positive body image, refusing to believe other women when they TELL her that Frock Watch encourages an attitude towards bodies in general – our own, and others – that is damaging. I mean – if you've decided your commitment is to positive body image, and others tell you you're doing a thing that undermines that, don't you… I dunno, rethink it?

  • http://www.realityravings.com Realityravings

    Missed the whole Mia blog post thing I will have to go check it out. Personally I find Mia a bit feminist lite. But that appears the fashion these days.

    I love the blog post lots of great points that really got me reflecting. Found this blog through the Helen Razer article who as always nails it.

    I will be back to read more

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  • Beclove22

    fuck, you're amazing! so very smart and powerful, I just adore you!

  • Lithgowkid

    Look into Mia’s upbringing. Her father is one of the richest men in Australia. Vaucluse, the boats, the cars etc.
    Mia has a live in nanny, so don’t think she should pretend to understand the rest of us – really has no idea.

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