I once saw the editor Jo speak at a panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival a couple of years ago. She talked about how she started Frankie because she didn’t think the other women’s magazines spoke to her - the rowdy, weird, indie pub girl. The girl next door. It was an alternative, more accepting and open, she said.
But like you I noticed a discrepancy. All they ever seemed to profile were the prototypical Hipster Indie Girl: white middle-class, crafty, lithe, twee, slightly old-fashioned look mixed in with modern sensibilities and rebellion. But no brown girls like me, unless we were completely Indie or completely Exotic. No curvy girls. No non-hipster indie girls.
This is a letter I wrote to Jo and the rest of Frankie after that panel. I never received a reply.
Dear Jo and all else at Frankie,
I read your magazine semi-regularly - it was the first magazine I picked up when I arrived in Brisbane from Malaysia two years ago and I was quite surprised that there was a women’s lifestyle mag that wasn’t super cliche about everything. I quite enjoy the variety of topics and the showcase on creative people in the magazine.
I went to the session with yourself and Kate (Dumbo Feather) and Karl (Map) at the Brisbane Writers Festival this week. In the session you talked about how the girls you feature on Frankie’s cover (and content) are the “girl next door” - people that seem realistic, instead of some celebrity high expectation. While I can see that Frankie’s models don’t fit a typical fashion mold, I do have to say that it is not very representative of Australia’s vast cultural diversity.
Put it this way: I hardly see anyone like me in the magazine. South Asian, not particularly fashion-coordinated, experimenting with creativity, giving things a go. Passionate about experiencing life any way it happens. The only time I see anyone not white (aside from Benjamin Law) in the magazine is when they fit into this current trend of “cool” - hipster, ironic, penchat for Etsy-style creativity, hangs on to Western icons of the 80s as inspiration. There is a certain aesthetic to Frankie, and while I understand that Frankie does have its own image to consider, I’m not sure it really embraces the diversity of looks, thoughts, and aspirations from its readers.
Sometimes I feel that the typical Frankie “girl” is a little “too cool for school”, and would not have anything to connect with my experiences unless I am shown off as being “exotic”.
This is something I’ve generally noticed in many Australian mags - while they do mean well, they can be quite Anglo-centric and make it look like Australia’s only full of slim slender super-Westernized blonde blue-eyes. I love The Big Issue to bits (as an example), but one time they had a Really Great Australians list and all of the people (bar one) were white. These were the people that The Big Issue claimed had affected Australia’s community in positive ways - surely there were people from other cultural backgrounds (particularly Indigenous) that made a big impact in Australia’s community too? (I wrote them a letter about that after the incident; they gave me a book for my trouble but it still remains to see if they’ve taken my thoughts into account).
I figure that since Frankie aims to celebrate diversity in women, it could do with going with a more obvious solution - featuring non-AngloSaxon women who don’t necessarily fit a certain fashion aesthetic. M.I.A. and Bats For Lashes etc are great, but it sometimes seem to me that they were only noticed by Western media because they in a way fell into the current Western notion of hip/cool. (And I say this as a very iconoclastic rather Westernised woman.) How about those that completely break the mold because they don’t feel the need to be in it? How about those that celebrate their culture their own way - and create their own brand of cool?
Looking forward to see some different colours on the magazine soon,
Elsewhere: Tiara’s blog.