No more Frock Watch Mia, please

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.

96 comments

  1. Yes!
    I had a similar 'ah-ha' moment to that passage in Screw Inner Beauty and a similar reaction to Freedman's 'Frockwatch'. I really do feel that I'm much kinder to myself now that I actively avoid any snark about other women, even in my head. It's really essential to think about where those kinds of criticisms are coming from and who they serve. Freedman also calls herself a feminist, and yet she's very happy to participate in tearing down other women. She also advocates for a very limited view of acceptable femininity and I can't see how that is even remotely feminist. Her brand of body image advocacy really needs an overhaul, because at present it's not benefiting the wider community at all in my opinion.

  2. I'm no statistician but I'm pretty sure her brand of feminism excludes 80% of people, and that ain't feminism.

    Mia, you've earned one of my super serious frowny faces!
    >:(

  3. This is something one of my friends does, and it breaks my heart. She is constantly judging others, and not in a 'I would never wear that' way, either. In a 'that dress is socially unacceptable, and you are a horrible person for leaving the house in it, and ought to be left on a desert island' way. It's distressing, and it's also distressing because it obviously comes from a place of self hate. And of course she then assumes that everyone is saying those things about HER. And it makes her miserable.

    Of course I catch myself judging other's appearance all the time. And when I do, I make a point of looking at that person and finding five things I love about how they look. Ok, I think the colours on that dress are a bit unfortunate. But they are making that woman happy, and that makes her beautiful. And I might have started by judging her hairstyle, but look how lovely her eyes are! And so on. Once I've been doing that for a while, I find that when I look in the mirror, those are the first thigns I see about ME. I see my smile and my shining eyes and not whatever bits i'm not liking that day.

    Plus, it just makes the universe a nicer place to live it.

  4. Great post Natalie- and some more great reasons for quitting the judging of other women! I quoted you in a very big discussion about this issue here: http://www.sharnanigans.com/2010/05/blogging-wi
    The post was born out of women who spouted about blogging without makeup turning around the very next week and writing a bitchy post and comments about the kind of pants Terri Irwin chooses to wear. I think you will see from the some of the comments that we have a long way to go but the tide is turning. I have already started.

  5. Mia Freedman does my head in. I was ranting about a similar issue relating to her last night. It annoys me that she gets held up as a body image expert when she doesn't seem to think about it very deeply and is never self reflective until she gets told off repeatedly.

  6. I just want to chime in here and agree with you, that it's often knee-jerk when we do this in our heads and I'm not perfect, I still do it too sometimes, and I'd hate to think my comment below was somehow implying that's not the case. Anyway, I really love your positive thinking strategy there, of finding what IS to love. It's good for the soul, I agree.

  7. Sharni linked to that post here a while ago, and I mustn't have read all the comments, or more took place after I visited, because there is a whole world of fail thriving in there!

    I love how those accused of being critical of women are deflecting blame by accusing Sharni of being critical. Yo, it's not the same thing, own your hurtful comments!

  8. Yes they attacked her but she didn't resort to bitchiness. Point is we have a culture of this sort of thing and we are all guilty of maintaining it implicitly and explicitly-own it and vow to stop it yourself. I had never thought of all the personal benefits of that-as you have posted here. Thanks.

  9. I think most of us have been guilty of snarking other women at times and snarky blogs and comments online amplify that – suddenly it's a competition as to who can be the meanest, the most sarcastic.

    I made a decision in my early twenties to stop comparing myself to other women, because I came to the huge realisation that there were parts of my body I couldn't change e.g. my bone structure, my height, my hips, my skin tone. I was immediately happier. I say it's a huge realisation because it's so obvious yet so many of us can't rationalise it. I would catch myself out and call myself on it and eventually, with a lot of practice, I stopped doing it 99% of the time.

    I'm interested in how Mia Freedman will justify her Frock Watch feature. In the mix of her blog a lot of it looks like a typical celeb mag – the very magazines she now admits contribute to women's unhealthy body images. I think these features probably get her a lot of hits.

    I don't buy in to Mia's brand of feminism but she is entitled to it. I also don't believe she represents ME (or a lot of women) as a positive body image advocate – her previous behaviours and words aren't inclusive enough. The kind of body positivity Mia advocates (especially through her work with the fashion industry and media) is that it's okay to be a plus size, if that plus size stops at size 16. I'm a size 18 and I've been bigger. Body positivity needs to include every one no matter their size or looks or how they dress.

    I think we're all at different stages of body positivity (I have a long way to go), Mia included. I accept that and the reason Mia needs calling out on it is because of her position with the National Body Image Advisory Group. We ALL have a lot of work to do, and hopefully Mia will focus on examining her own behaviours and not on being “attacked” or criticised.

    I am invested in this because I believe that Mia's position with the National Body Image Advisory Group could be an influential and positive one – but she has some catching up and work to do. I want to see her get there.

  10. Fantastic post. Thank you so much. I completely agree that to get caught up in 'snark' is not only detrimental to others, but to yourself. I have a very young daughter and I am very conscious of how I speak of others around her and also about how me and my girlfriends speak about ourselves. I recently saw Naomi Wolf speak and it was interesting to hear about her discussion on how we (women) compare ourselves or try to obtain to a particular image of beauty and how dangerous and unproductive it can be. But you are right, in that it is also about putting a stop to that trap of JUDGING other women about how they look and therefore judging ourselves. It is exhausting and unnecessary. To be honest, I even found myself doing it (judging,not out loud) at the Naomi Wolf lecture! I hadn't thought about Frock Watch as you have in this post before as more than a bit of fluffy fun. But you are right. It is much more than that and indeed should go. Thanks again.

  11. good on you for taking this stand. I don't know what all the hype is about her blog really. It seems to be more of a reflection of her, above anything else.

  12. For real, your last two paragraphs make a point that I don't think I made effectively enough. As a person with an influential position and a lot of followers, Ms Freedman must understand that she has to answer to this kind of critique.

  13. Wow, I'm totally envious that you saw Naomi Wolf speak right now! It's amazing though when we can reach a place in self awareness when we are completely conscious of what we are saying and doing, and can evaluate whether or not they are helpful. It's also important to understand that being critiqued, whether by yourself or others, does not mean you're a bad person. It just means you've got to adjust your thinking.

  14. I’m not sure what was more frustrating with that whole gainers post issue and Mia Freedman – her absolute inability to understand the issues and what had gone wrong on her blog or the way she managed to turn the entire incident into something that happened to HER, that she was somehow the victim?

    She created a nasty environment and then allowed many hateful comments about gainers and fat people in general to remain on the blog. She set the tone with the original post then sneakily changed the text when it started to get really unpleasant. When it all went pear shaped (no pun intended) she repeatedly tweeted and posted about how devastated she was, crying and feeling heartbroken. I wonder if she ever thinks about the people that feel the same way after they have been ripped to pieces by her commenters on there?

    OMG it was utterly pathetic. Then all the Mia Cheer Squad got on there and started ripping the people who complained about the post to pieces!

    Frock Watch along with other regular posts about WAGS and celebrities frequently become bitch-fests and women are judged in the post appallingly nasty manner.

    I just shake my head in disbelief that the likes of Mia Freedman and Kate Ellis (she of the leather dress and killer heels in Grazia) represent the National Body Image Advisory Group.

  15. I'm not sure you could quite grasp how much I'm loving your posts on fashion-snark and body image. I'm loving them more than my secret fantasy of watching Johnny Depp make out with a unicorn. You're just THAT good. So: thanks.

    I also must echo your sentiments that cutting out the snark and body-shaming (however internal or sneaky or whatever) is extremely personally liberating (not to mention you are no longer being a perpetrator on, you know, EVERY other woman out there). My life changed too when I stopped doing that, in more ways that I will enumerate here. I hope this continues to catch on.

  16. Scanning the room for people fatter or uglier than you is a seriously immature way of dealing with insecurity – by finding someone you perceive as 'lesser', you are automatically elevated. I know, because I have been guilty of it; it pretty much sums up my relationship with my body in high school. The 'self esteem' it creates is artificial, superficial and ultimately temporary – not to mention unhealthy and generally unhelpful… and it's so sad and infuriating that MF, as a body image ambassador, would promote this. Constantly. The way that she immediately took all criticism after the gainers post as a direct criticism of her as a person (rather than what she said and did) screams deep insecurity and unease with herself as a person. If she wasn't in a position requiring responsibility and integrity, I would feel sorry for her. But she needs to step up and develop a healthier understanding of body image, or step down from her position.

  17. I love your post KathleenJoy. But I dont think that Mia is the type of person that should be on the National Body Image Advisory Group. Surely we want someone as Chair of that committee that already gets it? There are 100's of people out there that could do such a great job in that position. Shes not the person I want to lead us in our Body Image strategies in the near future. She needs to go away, think about what this is about, and then perhaps in a number of years if she gets it then, she could potentially be the Chair again. I just think this is too important an issue for someone to be experimenting their way through it.

  18. I agree with you! but because we probably can't influence who is on the National Body Image Advisory Group, I haven't speculated on “what if” the make up of the group was different. I think it's important we influence who is in on it now, and continue to challenge Mia.

    I don't think the National Body Image Advisory Group is going to impact on my life or the way I feel about my body. I mostly ignore its existence until someone brings one of Mia's MamaMia posts to my attention and I link the two (it's impossible not to) and get my rant on!

    Your closing “I just think this is too important an issue for someone to be experimenting their way through it.” is especially poignant.

  19. Natalie, I think you are awesome.

    That is a pretty lame comment I know, but I can't think of anything more eloquent right now.

    xox

  20. I agree with 99% of this comment. It completely drove me crazy when Mia played the victim and could not look at her actions critically.

    The one thing I don't understand is why Kate Ellis wearing a leather dress and killer heels disqualifies her from speaking about body image.

  21. I have absolutely no problem with the concept of Frock Watch. From my perspective, it's a chance to look at some pretty fashion in the same way as I look at Wardrobe Remix to see daily style. However, I do find the negative comments that people leave on Frock Watch posts to be disheartening. Yet, to be fair, people also leave a lot of positive comments as well.

    I don't think Mia posts Frock Watch to be snarky, and it's a shame that some people use these posts to vent their negativity. Perhaps this needs to be better moderated.

  22. Hi Heather and Definatalie – I love this post and the point you are making, you know the frockwatch thing hasn't sat right with me for that reason, you voiced it well – I feel another post coming on.

  23. This is fantastic – apparently Mia bashing is all the rave. Because that's not judgemental or anything.

    Let's gather comments and get as many people as we can to say negative things about one woman and then call ourselves wonderful people because we don't judge others. And then maybe we wont have fat bashers – just Mia bashers but that's okay because she's not one of us

  24. I'm not quite sure how this is “Mia bashing”? To me this is an incredibly reasonable and sensible post that expresses an opinion about how types of posts like 'frock watch' or 'best and worst dressed' are exceptionally harmful for women.

    What they do Anna is they create a social norm about what is 'acceptable', 'appropriate' or 'beautiful' by comparing them to what is deemed 'ugly' 'inappropriate' or 'unacceptable'. If this was just about celebrating a diverse range of styles and beauties that is terrific. But is the comparative angle – that somehow one is better than the other that makes a mockery of the concept of 'body image' and beauty acceptance.

    And these types of posts are particularly offensive and problematic when they come from the Chair of the National Body Image Taskforce. Just like when that same Chair writes a 'freak out' post about gaining 11 kgs on an overseas holiday as a young adult.

  25. But she does have a best/worst dressed section, surely you can't deny that will encourage negative commenting?

  26. Wow, that is a great, well written post. Well done. You have put into words what a lot of people have been thinking for a while.

  27. This sort of thing is something I used to engage in on the regular even while identifying as a feminist — until reading books like “Screw Inner Beauty” and surrounding myself with people who refuse to engage in demeaning other people — whether through their fashion choices or whatever choices they make challenged my previously held viewpoints.

    I just don't get people who get extremely defensive (as there no doubt is a post coming up from her that will be along those lines) when challenged about stuff like this. I like being made to think about preconceptions. I like to know if what I'm writing or saying is offending someone. I feel, it's our duty, as women, as people, to constantly question. It's not just fashion, it's not just harmless commentary. Especially coming from someone who proclaims to be body positive and women positive.

  28. I agree that the best/worst section encourages negative commenting, but don't think that applies to Frock Watch.

  29. Ms Freedman's intentions here don't count for anything if she's not taking a strong stance on moderating the body and fashion bashing. Perhaps that's what needed here if the Frock Watch portion is to remain. The thing is that women being hyper critical towards other women is the norm, and that's what most women fall back on. A body image advocate should educate her readers that this is damaging behaviour.

  30. You don't think your post is looking for snarky comments? You don;'t think you and your friends sending offensive tweets is snarky? You think you can be negative about thin people just because you are believe in Fat Acceptance?

    How about accepting that fashion is just that – fashion. Not about your twisted way of seeing the world as negative. They are pictures of models showing the latest fashion.

    Tell me how is someone showing you the latest fashion being negative about body image? If you put up pictures of models on your website is that okay.

    Let's call for the closure of Vogue and Cleo and Cosmo and Madison. While we are about it why don't we ban fashion shows and close the section in the newspapers that shows what's in fashion? Oh and the Fashion Channel on Foxtel? Burn it

  31. I'm confused. I've seen no offensive tweets? Nor have I seen anyone be negative about thin people — body bashing is body bashing, no matter the size of the person.

    Fashion? Not just fashion. It's never 'just' fashion.

  32. This is not snark. It is critical literacy. It is feminism. I'm not sure where the offense is in our tweets either, however I welcome links and specific citations. Negativity about thin people? Does not exist here. While thin people do enjoy thin privilege, it doesn't make sense for fat activists to bash them because we are all fighting against conditioning that puts our bodies under a critical light.

    I really think you're heading way off track with this first paragraph, and completely derailing the argument beyond that.

  33. I couldn't agree more. As I have gotten older I have started making an effort not to make snarky comments about other women and I really feel that making myself accountable for this negativity has made the way I view myself more positive too.

    It has this amazing flow on effect and it's something I am really embracing.

  34. Anna, this post is so much more than snark. Concerns about the direction of the Body Image Advisory Group are so much bigger than snark.

    Your sarcasm, unfounded accusations and attacks are rather, um, snarky though.

  35. I was referring to the Grazia issue in which Kate Ellis posed in a leather dress and high heels in an effort to raise awareness about body image. It does not disqualify her from speaking about body image but it again, cast doubt in my mind about her ability to understand the issue.

  36. Hmmm… she's deleted the page now, but I saved it (just in case – call me paranoid!!) She reposted your blog on her frockwatch, and added the following comments (cut and paste – let me know if you want me to send you the web page in it's entirety);

    “We have frockwatch so we can see fashion, stay on trend, appreciate beauty and creativity. We also learn what is happening in a world other than ours – it opens up our creative eyes. Just like we want to see celebrity to escape – to imagine a different life, sometimes to laugh at the absurd and sometime to revel in the mystique.

    Saying having Frockwatch is inviting snark is like saying showing a movie is inviting criticism of the actors or the screenwriter /producer/director whatever. Reading a book is inviting criticism of the author….Looking at beautiful homes is inviting criticism of the architect or decorator

    Pure fucking tripe!”

  37. Wow. Again, completely missed the point.
    Anyone can see that Natalie loves fashion. What she doesn't love is it being framed as a competiton between 'best and worst dressed', or being presented as a free-for-all for negative commentary on bodies. (Lots of the comments clearly don't concentrate on frocks but instead talk about plastic bodies, skinny legs, inappropriate cleavage etc.) How is that appreciating beauty or creativity? *headdesk*

  38. This is what frustrates me, why can't she take the critcism as a moment to reflect and re-brand frockwatch with a focus on the fashion and ask people to refrain from negative comments about other women's bodies. Argh.
    p.s. I can't see her any of her posts at all atm.

  39. Hi Natalie – loved this post and agree with you 100%

    I too used to participate in the snark – not alot but I'm guilty … up until about a year ago, and and I agree with you completely when you say ….

    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.

    My life has changed too, my self esteem, my willingness to accept other for who they are, my outlook on life in general has become so much more positive. I would much rather pay someone a compliment than critique their choices …

    I have commented many times on Frockwatch in the past, but not for a long time now, the nastiness just got under my skin too much …

    Congratulations on the post, hope it gets the positive attention that it deserves.

    Steph x

  40. The official explanation of the disappearing post is:

    “Our site crashed this morning. A couple of times.

    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.

    Mia’s response to Natalie’s Frockwatch concerns can be seen in the MTV frockwatch comments

    Hope that clarifies things
    x”

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