On womxn tearing each other down.

If you're part of the knitting community on Instagram and / or Twitter you've probably come across the discussion that ensued two days ago about a certain picture of a sweater by Verena Cohrs for Laine Magazine Issue 3. 

Picture by Jonna Hietala for Laine Magazine

Picture by Jonna Hietala for Laine Magazine

If you haven't heard of it, let me give you a quick run down of what happened:

When the Ravelry page for that particular design was put up by the publishers a few weeks ago, comments and emails criticizing the photo started to arrive on Ravelry and in the designer's inbox almost immediately. The criticism centered on two topics (as far as I can tell): The expression, body type and body language of the model and the fact that some people thought you couldn't see the sweater well enough to decide if you wanted to knit it.

Fast forward to three days ago when Brooklyn Tweed posted the picture I added above on Instagram. Almost immediately, comments started to pour in - comments ranging from "Love the sweater but good grief, why does she look so unhappy and have such bad posture?" to "I just don't get all the politically correct comments here, isn't this a magazine that is trying to sell it's content? Why have a model look so genuinely pissed off to be there? What is wrong with sitting up a little straighter and having a smile?" In between, there were lovely comments of support for the magazine, the model and the designer, and then more vitriol and hatred, and spite. 

Over the course of the next hours, both Laine Magazine and Verena Cohrs published posts on their feeds taking a stance on this, as did I. I'm still as angry as I was when I first wrote that post, and I imagine that this feeling will stay with me for a little longer. 

I've thought a lot about what makes me most angry about the entire discussion.

Is it the tone of voice of some of the comments that must have been deeply, deeply hurtful to Johanna, the model in the picture? I firmly believe that no one would have said anything like that to the model's or the publisher's faces, but maybe that's also the part of me that desperately still wants to believe in the good in people. 

Is it the fact that some comments hurt me in my role as a publisher because I read them as implying that the publishers of Laine - Jonna and Sini - didn't make a conscious choice when they put the photo in the magazine and online? This includes an entirely other level of issues as well, i.e. how much maturity and consciousness we attribute to women in their professional lives.

Is it that everyone seems to feel entitled to comment and criticize creative choices that someone else made? Of course everyone has a right to their opinion and in the age of the internet, everyone who puts themselves out there needs to be prepared for a reaction, any reaction of the public to them and their work. But - and this is the important part - in the relationship between publisher and customer, I don't think the publisher owes the customer anything. (Only exception: great customer service.) It's entitled to assume that a publisher's job is to make you feel good, to only print photos that make you feel comfortable and happy. For some publishers, yes, that might be how they understand their role, but for others it might not be. It might be that they see their role in advancing the discussion on societal issues, in provoking, in criticizing, in triggering thoughts and reflections. I'm not saying that Jonna and Sini from Laine wanted to do any of this - I just don't know and I don't want to assume. I am saying that it's privileged and entitled to expect from publishers and magazines only one thing, i.e. to make you feel good and conform to your standards of beauty.

While all of these (and quite a few more) aspects certainly contributed to my anger, my core issue is this: Isn't the body policing and body shaming that a lot of the comments exhibited exactly what we've been fighting against, now and always and forever? Isn't that one of the major things we hate about how we womxn are treated in the world? And then why do we have to do this to ourselves? Why do womxn, other womxn, have to criticize their own for not smiling? For not adhering to conventional beauty standards? For slouching? For having a certain body? Why do we have to tear each other down like that and exhibit the behaviour that so many of us find terrifying and maddening in men?

I imagine I will keep thinking about this for a long time. I cherish the discussions and connections this incident has brought about, but it also leaves me with a deep, deep sadness. There's still so much to fight for.

P.S.: While the discussion unfolded on Twitter and Instagram, I came across a few links that I thought were excellent complementary resources. (Hat tip to Kate from A Playful Day who posted most of these on Twitter!)

I'd be thrilled if you posted links to any articles or resources that touch on these subjects in the comments below. Most of what I've collected over the last few years deals with the role of womxn in the corporate and startup world, but I'd love to dive deeper into the