Look, Marie Claire is Writing About Bloggers. Exciting, no?

4 Oct

Not so much actually, no. Sorry.

This month’s issue of Marie Claire has an article by Katie Drummond called The Hunger Diaries, about how health bloggers could be ‘putting their readers at risk’.  Ms. Drummond interviewed six of the more popular bloggers and met some of them in person at a blogger event they put on earlier this year, The Healthy Living Summit.

According to one of the bloggers, the piece Drummond contacted her about was going to look into “blog-world culture, particularly how a woman can take a personal blog and turn it into a profitable venture”. Sounds pretty interesting, no? Unfortunately the piece that ended up in the magazine very different indeed. In it she indirectly implies that the six girls could have eating disorders, and she quite directly implies that they could be causing others to have them.

Interesting to note at this point that this issue of Marie Claire features an emaciated Katie Holmes on the cover (EDIT @ 11.37pm: looks like the Holmes edition was last month’s. I was going by what Marie Claire had on their Facebook page, silly me! EDIT#2: it’s actually Victoria Beckham. Oh dear. Oh dear.).  When we’re at it, here’s a couple of other highlights from their web site:

That last one is my personal favorite: you upload a picture of yourself, and it modifies the picture to show you what you’d look like if you lost a few pounds. Or shock horror, if you put a few on. It’s pretty awesome, and I’m sure it’s a very important tool to help women lose weight safely. Right ladies?

So anyhow, Drummond interviews the girls, goes to their event, then writes this pretty savage piece taking a bunch of stuff out of context, fully going to town on them. If you weren’t familiar with their blogs the article would leave you thinking that the bloggers were irresponsible at best.

I personally have no idea whether any of the six have or have ever had an eating disorder.  What I do know is that for an article that was supposedly so rigorously researched (multiple email conversations, some phone conversations and in-person meetings at the summit), there are worryingly few direct quotes from any of the six bloggers in the piece. A total of two, in fact. Instead we get Drummond’s interpretation of selected blog posts and quotes from experts. She could have written that piece without ever talking to any of the six, and there was certainly no need to trash them the way she did.

Unsurprisingly, the story has triggered something of a firestorm. Marie Claire’s Facebook wall has had a constant stream of angry voices on it throughout the day (average of a couple of posts a minute), and Twitter has been no different. The vast majority of the what’s being said has been negative: the community has near unanimously come to the bloggers’ defense.

Bizarrely, both Hearst (the company that publishes Marie Claire) and Drummond have been almost entirely silent. the @MarieClaire handle tweeted what some might consider to be an antagonistic comment this morning, and Drummond has retweeted a single message of support.  Nothing else. Really very bizarre, and something I’m going to address in a separate post.

Drummond herself has said that she used to have an eating disorder, so this is obviously a subject that’s very close to her heart (I do hope she’s made a full recovery). Given the sensitive nature of this story, however, I’m somewhat surprised that she wrote about it without disclosing such an important piece of information. I would imagine it would be pretty hard to be impartial when one has such a personal connection to a subject matter, no?

The saddest part of the whole thing is that Drummond has a perfectly valid point:  there are important issues here that deserve to be discussed (I personally would start with magazines like Marie Clare actually, but that’s another post), but doing it like this is just shitty, period.

Have you read the article? Do you agree with Drummond that bloggers like these are putting women in danger, or is this a simple case of old media attacking new?

EDIT: 11.43pm – two quick disclosures I should have mentioned. 1) Last year I worked with and met Kath,Tina & Meghann at at Blogger event. I don’t know them and we’re not friends. My POV on the issue would be no different if we’d never met. 2) I emailed two people at Hearst to offer my counsel (for free) earlier today. I felt they owe the women and community a response. Still do.


13 Responses to “Look, Marie Claire is Writing About Bloggers. Exciting, no?”

  1. Lisa Johnson October 4, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

    Kai, I love this post. It’s great to get a man’s perspective.

    It’s interesting that it’s touching such a nerve in the fitness blogging community. It did with me and I’ve written about it too.

    Your viewpoint is refreshing and Marie Claire has some ‘splaining to do with their own contributions to people with eating disorders. It is very much a bit of the pot calling the kettle black.

    Thanks for your perspective. Hope you’ll be joining the #fitblog discussion tomorrow it starts at 8:30 pm ET. 🙂


  2. kai macmahon October 4, 2010 at 8:05 pm #

    Hi Lisa – thanks, glad you liked the POV. And this:

    >> It is very much a bit of the pot calling the kettle black.

    Is exactly what I thought. It’s bordering on comical if we’re honest….

  3. sarah October 4, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    This is such a great response to the article. I’m particularly annoyed by Drummond’s piece, not only b/c of its clear & malicious agenda, but b/c of it’s publication along side so many other articles in Marie Claire that essentially condone and encourage women to hate their bodies and strive towards an “ideal” which generally = sickly skinny. The hypocrisy is so blatant it should be embarrassing to the magazine.

  4. domvillari October 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

    I read through the article and I definitely think this is a case of old media attacking new media – although on a very subtle level. The second half of the article focuses on the doctors’ review of the blogs, which site them as having a lot of positive information with some disturbing posts (all of which Drummand focuses on in the article, of course). This is actual reflective of one of the key differences between a traditional print magazine such as Marie Claire and electronic media such as a blog: the latter are by nature growing, adapting and evolving while the former are relatively static. When Marie Claire publishes an issue, for the most part its a solitary event – it arrives completely formed and fine-tuned. A blog is more ongoing and usually a bit less edited.

    There are pros and cons to both formats but as I read the Marie Claire article the implied message is clear: “better stick with us and our traditional editing…these raw new media formats just might kill you.” That’s a message aimed at both the readers and the advertisers. The article strikes a disapproving tone when mentioned the courtship of the bloggers by several companies. That’s probably the height of its hypocrisy considering the aggressive and exploitive nature of the ads in the magazine.

    This may seem like an overly negative take on Drummand and the article, but journalism that uses this type of “bait and switch” technique to court interviews is always on shaky footing. Misleading interviewees about the nature of an article is not fair reporting. Even if her approach to the article had changed during the interview or subsequent editing or research, the right thing to do would have been to contact the bloggers and get follow-up comments. Without that opposing viewpoint the article must be classified as sensationalistic and demonstrates a definite lack of integrity and journalistic integrity on behalf of Drummand and Marie Claire. Their mutual silence on the issue confirms it.

  5. kai macmahon October 4, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    @sarah – right? the hypocrisy is kindof amazing. It’s a discussion worth having, but this in a somewhat surreal way of having it.

    @dom – yea, the cynical part of me definitely went down that path. I think the reality is that it was probably a mix of factors. I doubt that the author went into it with bad intentions, but the execution definitely leaves a lot to be desired. It’s sad, for sure.

  6. Gini Martinez October 4, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    You nailed it. I agree with all of the above. I’m always fascinated by the juxtaposition of a magazine’s articles about healthy body image or lifestyle and their advertisements. Quite often they’re contradictory.

  7. kai macmahon October 4, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Hi Gini – yea, absolutely. It’s not often that the contradiction is this sharp tho. I’m going to be interested to see what they respond with, assuming they do.

  8. Katy October 5, 2010 at 5:26 am #


    Great post — context is everything, huh? And time may not heal all wounds, but I hope that it allows us all to step back from what was a very *mean* attack, and try and take some good from it.

    The questions you raise are huge for our community, and I really appreciate you raising them here.

  9. RG October 5, 2010 at 5:39 am #

    This is the best response to the article I have seen yet.

  10. kai macmahon October 5, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    @katy – thanks! will be interesting to see how things pan out. still amazed at Hearst and Drummond’s silence. so bizarre.

    @RG – thanks! appreciate that 🙂

  11. Marianne October 5, 2010 at 8:14 am #

    Excellent commentary – you have written exactly how I feel, but in a better, more structured way.

    I think Hearst could truly benefit from your counsel on this.

  12. Christine October 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    Since MarieClaire has been fundamentally silent on this issue, I think that we can assume that they are fairly unaware of how the very social media that is criticized in this article functions.

    One of my main beefs with this article is the discounting of these women’s experience and questioning their expertise. Peer to peer advice, has always been given out and nutrition advice doesn’t have to come from a PHD’d nutritionist to be valid. These women are trying to live healthy life styles and are doing it in a very public manner. I find that commendable. Woman are under constant scrutiny for their appearance (the “hot” senator) and I feel like these blogs are brave for trying to balance fitness, nutrition and the pressures of publicly doing so.

    Thanks, Kai for bringing your insight into the two big issues here. 1. that the piece is a biased hatchet job and 2. the brand needs to be in conversation with the audience to manage this kind of PR snafus.

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