Cate YoungFeminism, Criticism

Sound Off: This Is Not How Apologies Work IFB [UPDATED]

Cate YoungFeminism, Criticism

Three years ago I joined an online community that I hoped would help me to refine my ideas about fashion and hone my ability to discuss its various intricacies in an online medium. Today, I am officially severing ties with IFB and moving on. Because after what has transpired over the last few days, I can no longer remain a part of that community and also remain in good conscience.

You may have heard by now about IFB's poorly-received "article" on Bloggers and Body Image and the incredibly ill-advised follow up, An Open Letter to the IFB Community. The first, written by staff writer Taylor Davies insinuated, likely unintentionally that the "top-tier" of fashion blogging remains white-washed and homogeneous in terms of size and age because more diverse niche bloggers were not disciplined enough to post regularly and produce compelling content. When the commentariat effectively revolted, the post was edited to remove the offending statements, and the site's founder Jennine Jacob immediately went on the defensive in the comment section, attacking readers and even going so far as to delete dissenting comments that offended her. A few days later (I'm not sure how many because IFB does not date its posts) the Open Letter surfaced. Penned by Jennine, the diatribe amounted to "Don't be mean to me. You are a bully. It's my blog, and I'll do what I want." Again revolt.

There are a number of things that bothered me about this incident. Firstly, WTF IFB? How did that article ever get through to publication? The implications contained in Taylor's article, (the original version of which you can find here) were racist, classist and size-ist. And what makes it worse, is that their defense of their position makes it clear that they really couldn't see that. The defensive tone that Jennine took in the comments of the original article and in the open letter show that she learned nothing from the situation. The fact that she opted to edit the article rather than post a retraction is rather telling; why remove the content if you claim to stand by it? And how dare you berate your readers for calling you out on your tone-deafness and refusal to acknowledge racial and economic privilege? How can you claim to be cultivating a community if you refuse to engage your community? A dissenting opinion does not equate bullying. You want to know what bullying looks like? Go look up Anita Sarkesian. The fact that you even made that comparison leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Perhaps Jennine needs to take a closer look at IFB's content. If the majority of your readers are saying that something is offensive, and saying so articulately, chances are, it's offensive. The correct thing to do at that point is to apologize and learn from the experience, not double down on your bad decision and further alienate your readers. It doesn't matter what your intent was. The fact is that you offended your readers. Intentional or otherwise, you offended your readers. The only acceptable thing to do is apologize. That Open Letter? THAT IS NOT HOW APOLOGIES WORK IFB.

This was such a missed opportunity to start a discussion that needed to be had. Fashion blogging used to be diverse. Now, it is essentially second-hand PR for the established industry. Now it reflects the standards that women were trying to rebuff when they started their blogs in the first place. The bloggers who succeed are thin, white and blonde, and often have the disposable capital to spend on designer clothing. There is hardly a face of colour, or a woman over size 2 in sight. Why is that? What can we do to combat it?

What annoys me most about this incident is that this has been brewing for months. MONTHS.I think in all, Bella Q of Citizen Rosebud captured my general feelings on the issue most concisely. IFB has become a place where only the young, thin, and traditionally beautiful will be acknowledged, and the "follow me" trolls dominate. It is now a website full of quickly churned out fluff pieces that are poorly researched and badly written. It is no longer the resource it purports to be, and I find it interesting that it has taken this incident for other bloggers to voice, essentially the same opinion.

Many of the comments I made on the original article yesterday were deleted, but I had enough foresight to save this one. It briefly covers most of what irks me about these articles, the backlash and the response:

“Other people have said it already, but I’m annoyed enough by this, yet another of IFB’s poorly researched and offensively written articles to say this myself.
If IFB is so concerned that there are no non-white/skinny/model-esque bloggers in the “top tier” (is that even a thing? I mean really…) then why don’t you FEATURE MORE OF THEM? Your blogger spotlights all feature the same type of woman. Your ads and promo images for IFB Con, and for articles are all slim, young, white women. You are actively contributing to the problem that you claim to be so concerned about.
And to insinuate that minority/niche bloggers are not featured because their blogs are not up to par? Really? That’s what you’re going to go with?
It is convenient that you’ve neglected to acknowledge the social and political factors that contribute to things like this. Model-esque bloggers get more sponsorships because they reinforce the already established hierarchy within fashion. It’s not rocket-science. Bloggers who don’t fit that image will ALWAYS be at a disadvantage. That’s how privilege works ladies.
You’ve also only touched on one aspect of the situation. “Real women” are not just women who wear a size 14. We come in all shapes and sizes, all race and ethnicities, all different cultures and beliefs, but you know, let’s not be mean to the popular, successful and yes, skinny bloggers because they’re more disciplined than us. That would mean we’re just jealous.
IFB loves to posit itself as an all-inclusive venue where bloggers can come for a sense of community, but over the last year especially, you have actively been alienating the base that built you. You have the power to FIX THIS PROBLEM. Instead, you ride the coattails of those who are already established. Nothing is going to change unless you change it. We have been doing our part by creating our blogs and sharing out experiences. If even places like IFB shut us out, where do we go? There is a reason I don’t read any of those blogs anymore. They reflect nothing of myself or my life or my experience. But there are blogs that do. Why not feature those blogs? Why not direct the community at large to bloggers who are doing great things and deserve to be recognized instead of reinforcing the same old tropes?
All in all, this was a poor excuse for an article. You want to be taken seriously as journalists? Then you need to do the work that journalists do. You need research, facts, references. You can’t just pull shit out of midair.”

There is honestly not very much more that I want to say on the issue. I credit my miniature tantrum back in May and subsequent change in direction to IFB's increased tone of elitism and exclusion. I literally decided that I hated fashion blogging because IFB made me feel as though the content I was producing was simply not in line with the ideal of fashion blogging (read: personal style blogging), and therefore would never be creditable. In my head, I was following instructions, and still falling flat on my face. And honestly, I've been MUCH more satisfied with my blog's content since I made that shift.

I'm angry, and it's taking a lot of restraint to keep the profanities from slipping out, but in the end, I am glad that I found IFB. In the early days it was an excellent resource, and I found and followed some amazing, thoughtful and nuanced bloggers, many of whom I still follow today. Now however, it has become a shilling machine that idolizes the same five bloggers and exalts them every chance it gets. This does not sit well with me.

Had you heard about IFB-gate? How did you respond to the article and letter? What are your thoughts, and do you think Jennine handled the situation well? How would you have handled the situation differently? What do you think IFB should do moving forward? Sound Off in the comments below!

 For some other great takes on the issue, check out these posts. Be sure to read the comments and contribute to the ongoing discussion:

IFB: When Good Sites Go Bad by A Sunny Day in LA
Requesting Your Assistance by Wardrobe Oxygen
Removing Myself from IFB by Dreafashionista

***
UPDATE (17.8.12 | 3:13PM): Taylor has since posted an apology to IFB's readers over the fallout from her post. While I have never been Taylor's biggest fan, I think that her apology was genuine and articulate, and I truly appreciate that. To me, her letter shows that she has in fact been listening objectively to the conversations being had about her post, and has been taking the time to examine her role in the situation, assess how she can improve, and strive to do so. After the heavy criticism she has faced, that takes humility and maturity, and I respect that. 

HOWEVER, I am still less than pleased with Jennine Jacob. More than Taylor, she owes the community an apology for her disregard of their opinions and refusal to be open to constructive criticism, all while shelling tickets for IFBCon that cost between $125 and $600. Truthfully, I blame her for this dust-up more than I blame Taylor, because as the editor of what she considers to be a legitimate publication, she has a greater responsibility to make sure things like this don't happen in the first place. I appreciate Taylor's apology and in my book she is forgiven, but if Jennine still thinks that it is okay to selectively shut out her readership, then there is no reason to believe that the elitist climate that has developed will be changing any time soon, and I will still be leaving.

UPDATE (17.8.12 | 3:21PM): IFB has cross-posted this response by Nicolette Mason to the controversy. Nicolette's name came up frequently in the discussions rebutting the idea that quality blogs by minority bloggers do not exist. It is very well written and really touches on what bothers me about Jennine's open letter. She uses the Audre Lorde quote "It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressor about their mistakes" to concisely identify why the original insinuations were so hurtful. I urge you to go read it.

UPDATE (17.8.12 | 3:50 PM): Bella Q of The Citizen Rosebud has posted a call to action on her blog. With the IFB controversy winding down, we bloggers have to assess what we're left with, and how we can start changing the landscape to reflect more of the real-life diversity in fashion blogging. Bella proposes that we spend the next two weeks seeking out and promoting bloggers that we think are of "top-tier" quality in an effort to acknowledge our own role in this mass internet revolt. Tweet, comment, and post about the fashion bloggers you think best represent you, and let's get back to the diversity we started out with.

UPDATE (19.8.12 | 8:25PM): Jennine Jacob has posted an apology for the controversy surrounding IFB. I personally find it a little vague and underwhelming, but I am still upset, and obviously biased.However, you should read it and decide for yourself. I do commend her for apologizing though, and an incomplete apology is  better than none at all. I can only hope that Jennine has truly learned from this situation, and will in fact strive to do better in the future.