A couple years ago, I joined a fashion blogging community called Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB) because of an eye-opening article about how sites like Chictopia were selling their community members pictures without consent to brands. IFB pointed out how Chictopia used verbiage in their Terms of Service to be able to co-opt bloggers’ images for advertising use. Being a relatively new-ish fashion blogger at the time (but not new to blogging), I thought it might be a good thing to be in the loop on how things worked in fashion blogging and to be part of a larger fashion blogger community.

Fast forward two years…and I’ve been become less enamored of IFB’s idolization of bloggers who aren’t even members, more cynical of their need for validation from brand and blogger personalities (shades of Hollywood I see here), more annoyed with the sensationalistic and half-baked posts…and this latest row with their Community sent me over the edge.

A recent post, Bloggers & Body Image: Are We Helping Or Hurting Ourselves? by Taylor Davies examined and opened up dialogue about how top-tiered fashion bloggers who fit the fashion industry’s ideal – slim and beautiful -are rewarded by traffic and brands, but she also clumsily inferred that the bloggers that didn’t fit the fashion industry ideal weren’t as successful because they lack discipline, don’t post consistently, or offer quality content and/or pictures. As you can imagine, the comment section was filled mostly with outraged and hurt replies. Davies has since apologized individually and tried to make it right, but the handling by IFB thereafter has been nothing short of awful.

This was a huge opportunity for IFB to offer a real dialogue about body image and the lack of diversity being promoted in the fashion industry and on IFB.  It’s not an easy discussion, but important and valid.  Yet, that kind of conversation was effectively shut down by the over-the-top defensiveness of IFB founder Jennine Jacob. Rather than leaving the original post and providing an update section or retraction like a real publication (who they purport to be) does, Jacob revised the original post in an effort to edit out the offending sentences. Then, Jacob compounded the issue by posting an Open Letter, labeling the comments in the original post as abusive and the commenters that expressed hurt and requesting discussion of diversity on IFB as “bullies”.  I, and many others, who read those comments saw hurt feelings and constructive criticism of a site they are members of, not abuse or bullying behavior.  Jacob has effectively said “pitch me a story if you want more diversity” and it’s “my site”.  She states:

IFB was created to help bloggers monetize their blogs, design their own careers, and make their own dreams come true. Never was our manifesto to become a vehicle to promote specific bloggers. Featuring bloggers on IFB has always been secondary to our primary focus of providing blogging tips for the community. Being featured by another publication is a privilege, not a right.

If IFB was just a blog or a publication, their assertion would be true because it’s their voice, like my site is my voice. However, IFB branded themselves as a Community, IFB registers bloggers to be a part of a Community, IFB receives a different level of clout because they represent a Community, IFB bills themselves as an authority of knowledge in the Community, IFB uses the unique numbers and traffic a Community brings to gain access to brands and to organize conferences, and IFB makes money via advertising because of the reach of the Community.

As founder of IFB, Jennine Jacob is a Community Leader and represents and speaks for this Community. And because of that, Jacob has certain responsibilities to listen to the Community and because she represents them, to be their advocates, not the advocates for some top-tier bloggers who aren’t IFB members and likely couldn’t care less who she is.  Jacob seems to come from the stance that the commenters are demanding the privilege for their voices to be heard, but when she took on the mantle and representation of a Community, she is the one who was granted the privilege to speak for them. It is her responsibility to make sure they are being represented.

Voltaire said “with great power comes great responsibility”, and it is obvious that IFB does not listen to nor is an advocate for their Community. Their first and only credo is to blog about and make money. Their use of the word Community is disingenuous and a misnomer, and they only pay lip service to that word to enjoy its fruits.

Anyone who knows me would say that I’m laidback and easygoing, I don’t rile easily…but I had to speak out on this issue, it cannot be left unsaid. And I cannot allow a site like that to represent me, I’ve since deleted my account.

There are other wonderful posts on this issue elsewhere, be sure to check them out:

(Edited to add other posts in the blogosphere about this issue)

Update: 

The writer of the original article, Taylor Davies, posted an apology on IFB on Friday. I’m inclined to view it as sincere, as she’s tried to reach out to those who were offended since day 1 of her article (even via email to me) to apologize and make it right. She needs to work on writing more well-thought-out and substantive articles, but I think her heart is in the right place.

Jennine Jacob posted an apology on Saturday. All I can say is that she has a lot of work cut out for her in proving her sincerity, as the apology felt forced in order to save face for her IFB Conference in September. Proof will be in her actions and I hope she becomes more of an advocate for the Community she represents (and makes money off of).  However, to me, she showed her hand and what’s in her heart for days before the “apology”, and I simply don’t have the time or energy to waste on her while she evolves. There are simply too many other networks out there who actually value, support and promote their members.

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