Jezebel Founder Anna Holmes Presents at Smith

Kyle Kaplan '15 Editor-in-Chief 

On Tuesday, March 25, the Wurtele Center for Work & Life hosted a talk presented by the founder of Jezebel, Anna Holmes. At the panel, Holmes described her work experience in women’s magazines and how they inspired her to start the website that would become Jezebel.

After its first viral post in July 2007—which featured an un-retouched photograph of Faith Hill—Jezebel emerged as one of the most popular online media outlets with a focus on gender politics. Holmes, the websites founding editor, was careful to point out that Jezebel’s content, although widely read by feminists, does not mean it is a feminist blog. “I never described Jezebel as a feminist blog, because there were websites that were feminist blogs and identified as such. What I was trying to do was create a pop-culture site that would politicize young women.”

According to Holmes, Jezebel was formed to offer young women an enclave from a toxic media environment where their looks and sexuality were the only topics of discussion. It was in the interest of critiquing this that she offered  $10,000 to whoever could provide Jezebel with the best un-retouched photo.

Holmes stated, “I know photos in women’s magazines are heavily retouched, and these pictures aren’t just lying around.  I did feel and know that perfectly attractive women were being shaved and shaped in ways to make them look even more attractive.”  She went on to say that posting before and after photos of a well-known celebrity was a way of exposing the doctored representations of women’s bodies in magazines.

How did she select a winner? “We got an image of Faith Hill that would be on the cover of that month’s Red Book. They really thinned her out. We put this up on the site along with the printed photo and all hell broke loose.”

Homes said that Jezebel was not the first online blog to post a retouched photo next to an original as a response to unrealistic beauty standards. However, this post was the first one to earn them public recognition. She said of her readers, “I wanted to acknowledge their interest in celebrity culture, but not in a way that would make them feel badly about themselves.”

In addition to providing daily articles that called out misogyny in popular culture, Jezebel’s success can also be accredited to reader’s comments. Homes explained that with the help of those responding to writers, “Jezebel became a little community.” One comment she remembers in particular was shown on CNN, which further affirmed Jezebel’s growing and at times overwhelming attention.

When asked by Director of the Wurtele Center for Work & Life, Jessica Bacal, how Jezebel’s success affected her on a personal level, Homes said,  “I was not interested in having power and being paid attention to... I wanted the writers to get attention. I asked them to every single day, get up and look at a collection of links to stories that I had pulled for them, have a back and fourth about the stories we were most interested in, internalize those stories, and then refashion it in their own words. They had forty-five minutes to do it, then do it again.”

Homes continued to say that her own efforts, which included working fourteen hour days to make sure there was a new post every fifteen minutes, was the reason she decided to leave Jezebel in 2010. She now works as a freelance writer, and helped co-author a cultural encyclopedia called, “The Book of Jezebel.”