GWAS Soapbox: Let's talk about Mia bashing

GWAS Soapbox: Let's talk about Mia bashing

I was going to spend my afternoon bashing out the stats from the latest readership audit. But, you know what? Such things are insignificant when people are hurting. And it's plain for all to see that Mia Freedman is hurting. So let's talk about Mia bashing instead.

This is not a post about obesity or gainers or fat activism – if there's one thing anorexia has taught me, it's that everyone has their own struggles, so it's best not to judge. This is a post about the media – more particularly, the Australian media's – love of a whipping girl.

I pulled up NW this week for its maltreatment of Jessica Simpson, but this is so much worse – because the likelihood of Jessica Simpson reading NW is about on par with pigs flying. Mia, meanwhile, has to operate in the media space – because that is her job. The media feeds into her blog and her other work and it, in turn, feeds off her: her opinions, her fans, her ability to string a coherent sentence together and look photogenic. Usually it's a mutually beneficial gig. But this week it took a turn for the worse.

What has happened to Mia is sort of the equivalent of showing up to work and finding that your computer has been vandalised, your desk trashed and your co-workers are saying nasty things about you (and, to top things off, someone took your yoghurt from the fridge). So you go and hide out in the toilet cubicle and cry until everyone goes home. Not fun. Demoralising.

I have just watched both the Today Tonight and A Current Affair segments, titled "Heavyweight fury" and "Mia's Fat Fight" respectively (thank you, Today Tonight, for asking permission to use my clip of Mia; oh, that's right, you didn't). And I feel about as enraged as I did when I posted about Max Markson's abuse of his client relationship with Lara Bingle and the consequent Woman's Day story and ACA segment that arose as part of the bargain. We all know how that turned out.

You need a very thick skin to participate in the media game. Mia knows this. If ACP didn't teach her, then Channel Nine certainly did. In fact, she taught us all about this in her memoir Mama Mia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines and Motherhood. Women adored that book because it was so honest and taught us all that even successful, beautiful women do it tough in their struggle to be all things to all people. It was a very generous thing, that book. And in all my dealings with Mia since we started doing this crazy blog thing in 2007 I have experienced nothing but generosity and compassion. The lady cares about women.

But this isn't a personal character reference, either. Anyone who's visited would know that the community she's created has been, for the most part, a very positive thing for women. In fact, it has come to play a very important part in connecting women who might otherwise feel isolated at home with their new babies, or suffering depression or are just having a shit day and want to know that other people are, too. Her "best and worst bits of the week" segment is the backbone of the blog.

This, of course, comes with its own set of problems and responsibilities. I do not envy Mia the time it takes to filter through her many comments (mostly my posts are met with the sound of crickets!), particularly the more negative ones. It can't NOT affect you. Praise God that she has a supportive family and friends and also the common sense to walk away when it gets too much.

The media too often forgets that behind the public persona there is a real person with feelings. The way Mia was portrayed, particularly by Today Tonight, and taken completely out of context (i.e. most of the references were taken from Mia's comments section, not her own words - and, yes, she does have a responsibility where monitoring comments are concerned) reeks of unfairness. And aren't we a nation about the fair go? Not in the world of tabloid journalism, my dear.

Not only was she not given the opportunity to tell her side of the story (as she was on ACA – and, obvi. she is more PBL-friendly because of her past connections), but she has inadvertently become the poster girl for fat-bashing – the woman who brought "Body Love" to Cosmopolitan magazine in the '90s, and who put size-16 Sara-Marie Fidel on a cover, is a fatist! Oh, please.

As the chairperson of the National Body Image Advisory Board, I imagine Mia has done her research: she would be fully aware of the idea that obesity is about more than "fat women sitting on the couch eating chips" but there is no ignoring that it is also a national health epidemic. As a blogger with a special interest in body image, gainers are going to be on her radar. It's important we discuss things like this. And it's her job to start discussion about things like this. I fear she may be a little gun-shy the next time around.

Mia has written umpteen blog posts about the media's maltreatment of women based on their bodies. To portray her as anything but a positive conduit for such issues is a gross injustice and lazy journalism (the media has no problem digging up the dirt from your past, but contracts amnesia when it wants to make a point that might be contradicted by such positive evidence).

The tabloid media is always going to have a field day when a prominent figurehead attracts attention from special interest groups. But to make Mia the whipping girl for fat discrimination, and suggest she be removed from the Advisory Board, is extreme and unfair and doesn't further the public dialogue about women's health in a positive way. As Pauline Hanson, who is all too familiar with media manipulation, would say, I don't like it.

"I believe that when we get to heaven, we will learn the truth about our differences. We will learn that all of us were right about some things and wrong about others. But even the things we were right about won't matter. God wants us to get along, to stop fighting with everyone over petty things we disagree about, and to begin to find the things we can agree about so that we may get along with one another. Practise looking for ways to agree with others, and then watch what God does through the unity of faith."
- Joyce Meyer, Starting Your Day Right, May 14

Pic credits:

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Ashlee said...

I totally agree. I don't always agree with Mia's posts, but I would never ever say she was "fattist". I myself try and be a size acceptance activist, and am a plus size woman... I wrote a piece for The Punch quite a while back about how disgusted I was with some of the blatant rudeness in the public sphere to do with size and it was covered with fat hating responses in the comments, and nobody batted an eyelid.

The thing is that the comments on articles about this on the Herald Sun are far more offensive than anything on Mia's blog. Yet, they are allowed and often are actively encouraged by the way these kinds of issues are reported by the mainstream media. Yet that is ok.

I cannot comprehend. The only answer I have, as someone who has now lived and worked in the media in Indonesia for nearly two years, is that Australia's mainstream media is just getting worse and worse and worse. Thank god for blogs.

I also think this could be classist, to some extent. Perhaps its the bogans vs the latte set, the former getting angry about an educated discussion to do with body size and social phenomena? Not sure.

To me it just seems like a big nasty beatup

Karli said...

Erica, you worded my thoughts and feelings on this topic so well. It just enrages me that people can so easily miscontrue what Mia was attempting to communicate.

I didn't think there existed such a nasty breed of woman but the women who so shamelessly took this to the media have proved some people will go to whatever lengths they believe are necessary in order to gain some publicity.

I teach my students every day about the power of media and the propaganda that is so blatantly expressed by Australia's tabloids.

A great learning activity is all that can be taken from this disappointing 'news story'.

Casey said...

It appears to me that it has been a very slow news week within the Australian media. Which is quite surprising given we are in an election year and the budgets have just been unveailed.

As a 20 something women. Mia Freedom is a fantastic positive role model that should be celebrating what she has done and continues to do in the media to promote positive healthy images. Being obese and having people pay to watch you eat, is not healthy.

Totally agree with the previous post, who is monitoring the posts on the Hearld Sun website?

Young women of today need more positive role models in their lives and people like Mia Freedom and your lovely self are doing that. Keep up the good work girls xx

Fi said...

I've got to say, at least ACA tried to get the facts right, and actually said "She should have turned off comments". Which is the real issue, whereas TT implied all of the terrible comments were written by her on the Body Image Advisory website, and she hates all fat people.

But both shows are drivel.

Anonymous said...

So agree with the previous commenter. The "fattist" accusations against Mia all seems to be a big media beat up. Today Tonight and the Herald Sun seem to thrive on the "need to outrage" Australians. So they present information that is so biased and inflaming and some members of the public seem to lap it all up. What is happening to some Australians? Why are they so ready to believe and fall for the crap that is fed to them by TT and HS?? I feel for Mia.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and mamamia too. I think its so stupid what people are saying against mia. She did nothing wrong!

Anonymous said...


Having just moved interstate and lacking both a tv and an internet connection (sob) I was unaware of the bashing Mia Freedman was undergoing. I do read her blog but I read yours first and this post is up there with some of the best you have written. Thanks for spending your time enriching mine.


Anna said...

I am disgusted with the way Mia has been treated. She has done nothing wrong. Eating yourself death is NOT OK and as much of an eating disorder as anorexia or bulimia. I find that her blog is a constant source of positive body image inspiration and she does not deserve this at all.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

Problem with shows like TT and ACA is that some out there think that they are current affairs shows and have some sort of journalistic integrity.

Fortunately, this will be old news very soon, when a new 'scandal' arises and be forgotten.

Kaitlyn said...

I am an unashamed Mia fan and have watched in shock as this furor has erupted about what I thought initially was a completely innocuous post. I actually even inflicted TT and ACA upon myself to see what they would have to say - I was horrified, particularly with the TT tonight article, which as well as being bad journalism was just plain mean. The only good that has come is this is that the MamaMia community has come out in force - over 800 comments in support of Mia have been posted so far!

Mia said...

Guys, thank you. Has been rather a bruising week. I just wanted to add that my mortification (and anger) has not been about feeling sorry for myself but about the idea that any woman could think I would 'bash' her for her weight.
When that is totally the opposite of what I've fought for for 15 years.
Knowing that Erica and other who know what I stand for have my back?
A relief. And humbling

petal said...

thanks for this post Erica. the situation was blown completely out of proportion and the storm will pass soon, hopefully without damage to Mia's work with the body image group.

however - as someone who was burnt by some overbearing, forceful and just plain rude people on Mia's blog which led me to completely avoid it these days - i have to say that most of her pieces are on controversial subjects that will polarise opinions and generate hundreds of comments - deliberate shock-tactic journalism.

i now much, much prefer my dose of GWAS during the day: while lacking the endless stream of comments, your posts are always gently worded, always positive or shining a light on important issues, and make me think and reflect. you're my blog equivalent of the sunday papers - rather than the glossips!

so thank you xx