Month of Fail: From Marie Claire to Shape, Women's Mags Blunder in October

BlogHer Original Post

October was a rough month for magazines. Marie Claire, Shape and Numero all ended up publishing controversial articles both in print and on their websites. The backlash they experienced created conversations on what is and is not acceptable, editor and publisher responsibility and the power of bloggers as a whole. But trust me: Lots of fail was discussed, too.

October started off with Numero's blackface fashion ad spread that featured white model Constance Jablonski with "skin darkening" (to put it mildly) makeup on and a little black baby for good measure. As Tami said on BlogHer:

It is a veritable stew of race fail -- at once managing to offend, appropriate culture, further stereotype and discriminate against black women. As difficult as I imagine it might be for a black model to participate in this hot stereotypical mess of a fashion shoot, why not simply hire a black model rather than paint a white model to look like one?

Blackface Controversial Pics

Other bloggers agreed. (Of course.)

The good thing is that everyone realized: Blackface is not cool. (Duh.) There seemed to be less backlash against the magazine itself than against the fashion industry as a whole.

Marie Claire, however, felt the brunt of it not once but twice in the month of October, on its website. First they all but trolled six fitness bloggers in a print article entitled "Hunger Diaries," creating a crazy amount of twitter and blog discussion (and venom). The discussions the evolved talked about health and fitness as well as whether or not traditional media outlets are not dealing well with their fear of the blogosphere. A comment on the post at BlogHer by MelysaBunting addressed the issue:

I think, traditional media is getting scared of the fact we don't rely on them as much (and for how much longer?). Media is now real people. As you always heard when you were younger, "People only say mean things when they don't feel good about themselves."

Later in October, just this past week, writer Maura Kelly, freelancing for Marie Claire, posted a blog concerning the show Mike & Molly, stating her distaste for fat people walking across the room. Our own Deb Rox covered the issue quite well in a post that has over 70 comments now. Her post also addresses the apologies that Kelly made in the comments and on the post as the backlash hit epic proportions on twitter and blog rebuttals.

As things have died down, one blogger who addressed both the Hunger Diaries issue and this most recent "fatties" blog had some advice for the magazine. She detailed the things they did right with their crisis management, what they could have done to make things better, and ended up with this conclusion:

And, let me share that just like I did after “Hunger Diaries,” I reached out to Marie Claire, let them know my post was coming and asked for an official statement or some kind of response to the reaction. And once again, I got no response. I understand that I’m not NBC or The New York Times, but since there are millions of people just like me, there should be a response mechanism set up to reply to each and every person that provides feedback.

So, I guess what I mean to say is ...

Good for you, Marie Claire. But not good enough.

And in case you want to get involved, a "Big Fat Kiss-In" is scheduled for 6:00pm EDT tonight, October 29, 2010, outside of Marie Claire at the Hearst Building. Address: 300 W. 57th St. ON 8th Ave., Manhattan, NY. Lots of kissing to be had! The Facebook invite page does note that all shapes and sizes are invited, which is more than Marie Claire can say.

Shape Magazine CoverAnd, lastly, Shape magazine is cleaning up their own mess after readers responded to having LeAnn Rimes on the cover. Maybe learning from Marie Claire's mistake(s) and the crisis management post I quoted, Shape actually issued an apology in direct response to how Rimes' presence was not at all appreciated thanks to her cheating-and-husband-stealing ways. The email included this:

Please know that our putting her on the cover was not meant to put a husband-stealer on a pedestal-but to show (through her story) how we all are human. And this woman in particular found strength in exercise in what she said was her most difficult personal moment.

But it did not come across that way ... And for that I'm terribly sorry.

I hope that we can do better the next time for those of you that will give us another chance.

I greatly prefer this apology to the non-editor-not-really-an-apology offered up in the second Marie Claire debacle because this one came from the editor of the magazine. They acknowledged their readers weren't happy, they apologized and they asked readers not to abandon them completely. We still haven't heard an official word from either of the other magazines. I doubt we will.

So what did we learn from the messes that the mainstream media magazines made for themselves this month? A few things.

  • Do not forget the power of social media. Word travelled -- fast -- about each of these issues. Fast and loud.
  • Genuine apologies issued by editors mean more than not-quite-apologies issued by freelance writers. Magazines need to take responsibility for what their editors allow to be published.
  • Blackface? Really? Welcome to 2010. Act like it.

Did you cancel any subscriptions over the continuous stream of magazine controversy this month? What lessons do you think bloggers and magazine editors alike can take away from these debacles?


Contributing Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer.

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