According to my girl, journalist and editor Mandy Stadtmiller, xoJane died recently. At first I was kind of sad. I felt bad for Jane Pratt. But giving it some more thought, although I look forward to Pratt’s next venture as an editor, I’m glad I never sold my soul to xoJane for $50.
The reason why is right there in Mandy’s second paragraph:
The plot goes like this: Website monetizes oversharing. Website helps give rise to the derisive term “first-person industrial complex.” Website allows—and often even encourages—commenters to lambast, threaten and insult the writers and their associates, which they do so gleefully, along with producing the occasional false rape allegation against Conor Oberst.
I’d been exploring an essay about something I’m still going through as a full-fledged adult: Skinny Shaming. The need to judge my body type because I’ll never be fat. Check out these quotes:
“If I saw her walking down the street I’d shove a couple cheesesteaks in her hands.”
“And yes, she could use a bacon double cheeseburger at least twice a month :)”
“No Kellie. No skinny shaming at all. She’s just too damned scrawny.”
These are actual comments from folks on Facebook after George Clooney got married. What??
They weren’t ‘skinny shaming?’ Then, what exactly were they doing if they’re allowed to tell a grown woman to eat something (HINT: eating a lot doesn’t put weight on skinny girls, you fools!) or that her size isn’t acceptable?
I have a lifetime of experience with this and would’ve liked to write an essay about how frustrating it is to be skinny shamed because we’re now a culture that shames fat shamers. The first editor I pitched it to was Mandy Stadtmiller.
She was smart and kind. She understood exactly what my frustrations were. She told me it was a great look from the other side of an issue. She pitched it to her editors and said she’d get back to me that same day. She did, but not with an affirmative answer. None of the senior editors were interested in the idea. Then, something super weird happened. Mandy called me. Like, on the telephone. She wanted to explain what happened. This NEVER happens. Getting a personal phone call from an editor is like being invited to a celebrity’s wedding. It’s very special. So when she called I didn’t know what to expect. She explained to me, in no uncertain terms, why the other editors passed on my skinny shaming idea. It alludes to Mandy’s second paragraph above. I would’ve been mercilessly dragged and insulted in the comments, because if the editor’s first responses are jealous and unsympathetic, that’s exactly what they’ll encourage in the readers. We went on to exchange a few more pleasantries; she even suggested a couple of other outlets and editors to pitch my idea to — and I thanked her for calling me. We’ve been friendly via social media ever since. But it taught me more about xoJane and our new culture of overly branded journalism. I eventually got the idea accepted on spec for Cosmo.com, but that was back in September and I’m still not sure whether I’ll finish it.
I really loved Jane Pratt from the first time I ever read Sassy Magazine. I quickly became a subscriber although I was nearing the end of my teens when it first appeared. I was a journalism fan already and this young editor through her thought-provoking choices and edgier staff seemed to be speaking directly to me. I still remember the note that I sent her asking the ages of all the staff. They each wrote their ages (“Me? I’m 26” -Christina) on my note and it was promptly mailed back to me. This made my whole year. I don’t believe I knew the term “internship” at the time or I would’ve asked for one. When the magazine was bought out — I believe some time in the early 90s — I was hugely disappointed. I’d lost touch with it, as I was in my early 20s and in journalism school myself at this point, but little did I know that most of the iconic rags from back then and whether I personally liked them or not would go by the way of Sassy: cheap, homogenized and mass-branded crap that barely hints of the edge, smarts and creativity of its original version.
Then Jane Pratt had the eponymous daytime talk show, remember that? It was the place to go for more subculture-influenced content at first, but then there was the abortion episode. And that was the end. I can remember turning off the television after the first incidence of one guest going after another for simply stating a fact. I could see in that episode the same pro-ratings changes happening that I saw with Sassy. Then, it was Jane Magazine, which once criticized Mariah Carey for being so pliable by her then-husband Tommy Mottola because that wasn’t a “Jane Girl” and then a year or so later put her on the cover. So that was also over. And lastly the essay factory at xoJane. It’s the standard way of running a corporate media entity now, this purposeful homogenization to drive up the viewership after the original content stops bringing in large amounts of cash. I can just picture a great editor like Jane Pratt holding one side of the creative journalism rope by herself, really digging in and grimacing with determination while ten corporate investors hold the other end of the rope with one arm and huge smiles on their faces. You can’t win and I won’t have anything to do with it. Bless Jane Pratt for hanging in there. I’m sure her next idea will be brilliant. Perhaps I could pitch something. It probably won’t be a personal essay though.