Social change from a selfie? You #WISH

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
October 03, 2014 /

Click here to view original /

In one of A Current Affair’s finest moments, they sent an intrepid lady reporter out on the town. In a fat suit. Proving that investigative journalism is still alive – and idiotically inflated – in Australia.

This malarkey, for the record, was to expose the reality that – brace yourself – larger women get treated differently than their thinner sisters. Shocking, I know, but true.

My surprisingly-still-fresh memories of that fat suit farce were on my mind when I first read about the #WISH campaign: non-Muslim women donning head scarves to show solidarity with their veiled sisters. (Cue obligatory selfies of celebrities looking curiously like Audrey Hepburn.)

For me the same gripes and cynicism underpin both stories.

ACA’s “double standards” segment was nothing more than a ratings grab in line with their brief to jam as many fat/freaks/finance stories into their allocated half-hour as possible. Far from a genuine attempt at agenda setting – to actually get people thinking about discrimination, challenging stereotypes and, God forbid, doing something about size-ism – the story was merely a Shallow Hal-esque early evening freak show.

Just as ACA used a fake-fat reporter to achieve cut-through – to get noticed in a mediascape chockfull of other equally bad “news” items – #WISH reeks of the same attention-seeking pong.

Achingly similar to the #nomakeupselfies (allegedly supporting breast cancer but in practice involving well-lit photos of celebrities looking still-beautiful sans lipstick) and the #waterbucket challenge (more akin to #neknominate than anything to do with ALS), #WISH is already more about “look at me” rather than “look at discrimination”. It’s a way for celebrities and wannabes to participate – in the most public fashion possible – in something with a slight air of compassion and political savvy, even if, in practice, it’s simply an extension of narcissistic selfie culture with the addition of fabric.

Another link between the ACA fat suit and the #WISH scarves is the glorious luxury of The Dabble. ACA’s journalist got the opportunity to cosmetically plump it up, play at being fat for the day, then go home, back to her slim life, slim privilege, and not merely peel off her fake fat, but shed the discrimination, the mocking, and the feeling of being different. She was, of course, merely a tourist in otherness and got to return to “normal” – and all the benefits afforded – at the end of the day.

Each non-Muslim woman participating in #WISH partakes of this exact same luxury. Grabbing a scarf, covering our hair and uploading a selfie to Twitter is about playing with the most superficial elements of Islam and pretending to have a clue what life is like living in a country where your Prime Minister thinks you are confronting. Scarfing it up and duck-facing it into a smartphone grants not even a glimpse into life as a visible minority in Australia. Such behaviour frames being Muslim as something primarily centered on fashion and worse, exploits real discrimination as an opportune moment for self-publicity.

By far my biggest gripe with both stories is the superficiality. Not simply the superficiality of dressing up fat or Muslim, but the folly that that doing so is activism. I’ve mentioned the #nomakeupselfies and the #waterbucket. A hashtag that achieved more publicity than both is #kony.

Kony who?

There’s a reason why involvement in social media campaigns such as #WISH are so frequently downplayed as slacktivism. Invariably they are examples of the laziest form of political… <cough>… participation imaginable. Incorporating a headscarf into our daily social media lifestyles isn’t consciousness raising; rather, it is attention seeking and it is about a privileged delusion that non-Muslims can dress-up, partake of and then somehow protest discrimination. All using the mystical power of the selfie.

This is not how social change happens.

© Lauren Rosewarne