Another blogger doing investigative journalism – on the fashion industry

Last week Jezebel blogger Tatiana outed herself. That isn’t particularly important, but it does give me an excuse to highlight what a fantastic job she did as a somewhat overlooked investigative blogger.

‘Going undercover’ has a rich history in investigative journalism – in fact, for investigative television journalism, it’s almost part of the genre toolkit. In print, German journalist Gunter Wallraff was a particularly successful exponent – his book The Lowest of The Low,  describing his experiences working undercover as a Turkish immigrant, was the most successful in German publishing history.

But it’s one thing to use a wig and contact lenses to disguise yourself as a Turkish immigrant. If you want to expose the fashion industry, most journalists don’t have the option to pass themselves off as a size zero, six foot model with razor sharp cheekbones.

And so we come to Tatiana – now known to be Jenna Sauers. These are the sorts of things she wrote:

 “I learned early that the higher a job’s fashion quotient, the less money I would be offered. How, exactly, I was supposed to make a living as a model never became entirely clear; when I worked two months in Australia last year, after agency fees and the rent were deducted, nearly AU$5,000 worth of earnings became AU$690.90. Less than the cost of my airfare, certainly less than the cost of the food and subway passes I’d had to charge during the trip. I left Sydney in November. I didn’t get my $690.90 — $413.70, after wire transfer fees and currency conversion — until this April. “At least,” said the agency accountant, “you worked!”” [source]

“I can’t count the number of girls I meet in this industry who speak in regretful tones of that short-lived “relationship” they had with that older photographer or client; I can’t count the number of men I meet who radiate the unmistakable sense that they have literally been sleeping with 17-year-olds since they were that age themselves. Agency directors in the mold of Gérald Marie. Financial backers. Clients. Or any of the industry hangers-on, the restaurateurs and the importer/exporters and the gossip columnists who end up at the parties we go to (because, you soon learn, going to parties is sort of part of the job).” [source]

“The industry has a way of reducing ideas with potential to well-intentioned sop. Madrid’s decision to only permit models with BMIs of 18 or over to work? When I worked in Spain, my booker actually told me, “Don’t think just because this is Spain you can eat whatever you want and get fat, Tatiana. You need to watch those hips.” Milan’s vaunted no-more-size-zero-girls solution — that thing they were going to do with having models’ BMIs be over 18 and models themselves be over 16? Last time I was in Milan, my model apartment roommate had just turned 15, and the only mention of health was this message, inscribed inside the back cover of my portfolio book:  Wellness and Beauty. Beautiful,bud Healthy above all. Ask a specialist for any diet program, or physical activity you intend to start. For any information, contact Associazione Servizi Moda or you Model Agency.” [source]

At the same time she mixed this up with pieces like this compilation of catwalk falls on YouTube, and this on her enjoyment of Fashion Week. That versatility may not win her any Pullitzers, but it is more likely to engage readers. Warts and all accounts read truer if they’re not just about the (Photoshopped out) warts. 

Sauer (Tatiana Twitter bio: “I make my living encouraging bulimia in teenaged girls.”) is a great writer who has done something rather brave. A journalism culture focused on hard news and political investigations often overlooks this sort of work. She has quit modelling, but plans to continue to write at the blog she gave up on 7 months ago, and judging by the comments on her return to it, plenty of other places too. If you get the chance to hire Jenna, take it. If you don’t, just enjoy reading her work.


2 thoughts on “Another blogger doing investigative journalism – on the fashion industry

  1. Pingback: Investigative journalism on 03 Aug 09 « The Centre for Investigative Journalism News Blog

  2. Mouli Cohen

    Good for tatiana! She seems to be doing great work exposing an industry which, for all its vanity, certainly has a shady underbelly. Undercover journalism you would think would be having some type of resurgence in this new world of information and access, but I don’t see all that many blogs exposing stories from the inside out.


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