Marie Claire Magazine: Damage Control Mode

Photo Credit: Derek K. Miller, Flickr

Blogging allows organizations to engage in active, informal, two-way communication with key publics. Print media, especially, benefit from this communication channel, since their industry operates around deadlines that prevents them from producing content as rapidly as other media (like television and radio). An effective blog can further an organization’s mission and reach new publics, or, in the case of Marie Claire after a recent public relations faux pas, can put the organization in some deep water.

Maura Kelly, a Marie Claire blogger, recently revealed her personal feelings about the overweight and obese population, in response to a television show she recently viewed. In her article, “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?)” Kelly writes:

So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.

She goes on to write:

But … I think obesity is something that most people have a ton of control over. It’s something they can change, if only they put their minds to it.

(I’m happy to give you some nutrition and fitness suggestions if you need them — but long story short, eat more fresh and unprocessed foods, read labels and avoid foods with any kind of processed sweetener in them whether it’s cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, increase the amount of fiber you’re getting, get some kind of exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week, and do everything you can to stand up more — even while using your computer — and walk more. I admit that there’s plenty that makes slimming down tough, but YOU CAN DO IT! Trust me. It will take some time, but you’ll also feel so good, physically and emotionally. A nutritionist or personal trainer will help — and if you can’t afford one, visit your local YMCA for some advice.)

You’re waiting for the context for these comments, and unfortunately, I can’t offer much in the way of a defense. Obviously, this article offended Marie Claire readers. In fact, the article received 3,860 comments, varying in severity and disapproval (with some offering support).

As a result of the backlash, Kelly posted an “update” (my interpretation: presumably-forced apology) that reads:

I would really like to apologize for the insensitive things I’ve said in this post. Believe it or not, I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed after reading this, and I sorely regret that it upset people so much. A lot of what I said was unnecessary. It wasn’t productive, either.

I know a lot of people truly struggle to lose weight — for medical and psychological reasons — and that many people have an incredibly difficult time getting to a healthy size. I feel for those people and I’m truly sorry I added to the unhappiness and pain they feel with my post.

I would like to reiterate that I think it’s great to have people of all shapes and healthy sizes represented in magazines (as, it bears mentioning here, they are in Marie Claire) and on TV shows — and that in my post, I was talking about a TV show that features people who are not simply a little overweight, but appear to be morbidly obese. (Morbid obesity is defined as 100 percent more than their ideal weight.)  And for whatever it’s worth, I feel just as uncomfortable when I see an anorexic person as I do when I see someone who is morbidly obese, because I assume people suffering from eating disorders on either end of the spectrum are doing damage to their bodies, and that they are unhappy. But perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge based on superficial observations.

To that point (and on a more personal level), a few commenters and one of my friends mentioned that my extreme reaction might have grown out of my own body issues, my history as an anorexic, and my life-long obsession with being thin. As I mentioned in the ongoing dialogue we’ve been carrying on in the comments section, I think that’s an accurate insight.

People have accused me of being a bully in my post. I never intended to be that — it’s actually the very last thing I want to be, as a writer or a person. But I know that I came off that way, and I really cannot apologize enough to the people whom I upset.

Now, do I understand freedom of expression? Sure I do. Could these remarks made by Kelly simply be a sincere example of wrong word choice? It’s possible, though appears not to be the case. Regardless of the motive or intent behind the article, the damage has been done, I’m afraid. Kelly’s comments failed to align with the the Marie Claire mission, which is:

Marie Claire is more than a pretty face. It is the fashion magazine with character, substance, and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion, and a sense of humor.

The Marie Claire reader is interested in seeking out fashion, beauty, and shopping ideas from a magazine that brings her both inspiration and access—a magazine that challenges her mind as well as her sense of style. Each issue is edited for a sexy, stylish, confident woman who is never afraid to make intelligence a part of her wardrobe.

Marie Claire is a culturally relevant experience that touches women beyond the newsstand. We understand that our readers are more than any label or stereotype could place on them, and we celebrate that every reader is more than a pretty face.

Hmm. Well, these words are certainly hard to misinterpret. It appears to me, and more importantly to the readers of the magazine, that Kelly’s opinion undercuts every letter of the organization’s mission. And while I have no personal investment in the matter (I openly admit the only time I’ve read Marie Claire was in the check-out line at the grocery store), I can see how this flub would jeopardize relationships with readers.

What Do You Think: How should readers of Marie Claire feel about the situation? How would you respond? And what, if anything, should be done to remedy and repair the relationship with key publics who were offended by Kelly’s piece?

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