Clementine Ford: Tabloid magazines' woman shaming has gone too far

Clementine Ford
Clementine Ford on what she thinks of Australia's tabloid magazine culture.

Even as digital media continues to change the face of journalism, the outpost that houses all of Australia’s tabloid rags manages to cling on for dear life.

And although they’ve always been a cesspool of misogyny, low-grade commentary and concern trolling, it seems the effort to stay afloat in an uncertain media landscape has seen the bar lowered even further.

This week the shift was clear when NW Magazine published a front page story scare story about how a “heartbroken” Katie Holmes is “wasting away”.

“She’s lost 10kg in 2 weeks!” screamed the sub-heading, seemingly unaware that on any other given week the magazine frames this kind of thing as an aspirational goal.

Inside, a new headline reads “Fears for Katie - Her scary heartbreak diet!”

Katie Holmes was said to be 'wasting away' by NW this week.

On-set snap

A banner runs across the four page spread like a police tape cordoning off a tragedy. “SINGLE & STARVING,” it warns.

Never forget that the worst thing that can possibly happen to a woman is for her to be without a man. Untethered from love! Unmoored from reality! SINGLE AND STARVING!

Except, Holmes isn’t starving at all. The photograph used to illustrate the front page story isn’t even a recent one of the actress.

Rather the snap is a paparazzi shot taken in 2015 from the set of her film All We Had. In it, Holmes plays a single mother facing down financial struggles while trying to care for her teenage daughter.

And here, four years later, a bottom feeding tabloid magazine is trying to use it to wildly corral its readers into body shaming Holmes and her sad, pathetic, unloved single self.

Katie Holmes looking happy and healthy in New York last month. Photo: Getty Images

Tabloid magazines have never traded in truth. They rely on sexism and misogyny to sell their wares, all the while feeding the machine that produces those behaviours.

But there’s a difference between misdirection and blatant lies. The extent to which NW in particular participates in the latter is unmatched.

In May 2018, the ABC’s Media Watch devoted an entire episode to the reprehensible, unethical tactics employed by NW in particular.

The report referred to the ongoing “cheating and lies” regularly practiced by the tabloid magazine, which includes photoshopping pimples on to otherwise clear skin and adding shadows to celebrity bodies like Holmes’ to manufacture stories about them being “starving and struggling”.

In fact, you can clearly see that shadows have been emphasised on the photograph of Holmes to make her look gaunt and emaciated.

Media Watch gathered much of its evidence for these practices from former staffers, one of whom revealed the lengths the publication would go to in order to shape their own narrative.

A Woman's Day article detailed the royals' apparent plans to oust Meghan from her marriage.

“We would make women fatter or skinnier based on the story we were selling,” the told the program.

Another admitted many of the stories were outright fabrications.

“When I started, these things were based around an element of truth, but gradually it just became more making things up,” the source revealed.

“It got to the point writers were making up quotes and sending it off to the agency to approve.”

The agency in question is Coleman-Ryan, an LA based firm who provided ‘sources’ to confirm the lies being written as facts. You know, those “insiders” just desperate to dish the dirt on their so-called famous friends.

Like the “close confidante” quoted in NW’s most recent story on Holmes, who claims, “The weight’s melting off her, poor thing, but she’s at risk of losing even more….Jamie’s really done a number on her self esteem - and consequently her health.”

Poor Katie! So skinny! So single! So tragic!

But it isn’t just NW that’s guilty of this kind of blatant trickery.

Even as poor, emaciated, unloveable Katie Holmes languished on the shelves, Woman’s Day had concocted its own blather about the new Duchess of Sussex, who the tabloid press seem determined to harass with the same devotion as they did her deceased mother-in-law.

The story claimed Kate and William were encouraging Harry to see that Meghan 'must go'.

“Harry and Meghan divorced!” the front page shrieked.

A sub-heading declared, “Photo exclusive: Royal Family in shock!” with an arrow pointed towards a picture of Harry, William and Kate in what is evidently meant to be interpreted as crisis talks.

Except this wasn’t a photo exclusive at all, nor was it even taken during the summer holiday at Balmoral Castle in which Meghan Markle is meant to be committing the egregious sin of not being a joiner.

The photo is a still shot from a 2017 documentary spearheaded by the trio to try and destigmatise discussions around mental health.

There’s no shortage of irony that the same image is being used to contribute to a campaign of falsehoods and harassment that cannot fail to have a negative impact on the mental health of Markle, especially as she adapts to life with a small baby.

I know it’s foolish to expect anything approaching integrity from an industry that relies on gossip, cruelty and misogyny to exist but these are still industries in which money is being made from the harm done to others.

Most people idly flicking through magazines at the checkout will take these stories with a grain of salt, but they still might not be aware of just how blatant the lies being told within them are.

And magazines like this shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

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