MIA FREEDMAN: 'I hid my first child for 7 years.'

This article originally appeared in Babble, a weekly newsletter from Mia Freedman. Sign up here.

When I was 24 years old, I became a magazine editor. A year later, I became a mother. And I didn’t mention it publicly until my son was in second grade. By then, I was 32, and it wasn’t even hard to keep him a secret.

It was the late nineties and before social media and the mainstreaming of the Internet, having a public profile was an entirely different thing. As someone on the far outskirts of fame (aka very much D list), you could still choose exactly where you placed the boundary around your private life even if your job meant that people you didn’t know, knew who you were.

It’s hard to fathom at a time when couples have to ask guests to refrain from taking photos during wedding ceremonies so the images haven’t pinged around social media and been viewed by the sister-in-law of the bride’s former work colleague on Instagram before the ceremony is even over. Imagine having a baby or a breakup or a wedding or a holiday and deciding not to tell anyone about it for years.

My reasons for not mentioning my baby to the readers of Cosmo were complicated. I told myself at the time that as the editor of a magazine for young women, it would be unhelpful for them to know I was a mother. Bad for the magazine’s brand. Too far removed from their own lives.

Perhaps. Mostly I think it’s because I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to be a mother at 25. I had no role models for that, had no idea what I was doing or how I should portray myself publicly. My peers were living very different lives, and I was out of step, a pattern that continues to this day when I’m an actual nana while many of my friends’ kids are still in primary school.


I’ve been thinking about this because in a snarky article about Strife (the TV show coming out in a few weeks based on my memoir about starting Mamamia), a gossip columnist wrote that people were “sharpening their knives” over the “irony” that Strife is described as a “work of fiction”.

She wrote:


After stifling a chortle at the description “scruffy, unkempt, everywoman” and shrugging off the very mild sting you inevitably get when you read something about yourself that’s not true (not the scruffy and unkempt bit — I’ll own that — but the sting came from the implication that I was faking my scruffy to be likeable), I thought more about what she’d said.

Yes, at 52, I sure do look different to the way I did in my 20s. Can’t argue with that and nor would I want to. This particular female gossip columnist has made numerous comments about my appearance over the past few years; she seems kind of obsessed with it, criticising me for not wearing makeup in my Insta-babbles and mocking my refusal to have my photos retouched back when I was a newspaper columnist.

Giving her the benefit of the doubt — which I try to do even when it’s through gritted teeth — I realised there was some truth in what she said about the difference between my image in my twenties compared to now. I did look glossier back then.

If you were a mag editor 25 years ago, the only time your image appeared in the world was once a month as a postage-stamp sized photo in your editors’ letter. In a time before digital cameras, let alone smartphones, these photoshoots happened annually at most and would usually be done in a studio with full hair and makeup, careful styling, elaborate lighting and sometimes a wind machine. From the hundreds of images taken, one would be selected and then the art department would make it print-ready which means retouched.


Looking back at those photos now, you can see how camera phones and selfies have changed everything. This was my Cosmo editor’s photo in 1998:

I had a one-year-old when this was taken but I never mentioned it to readers. Image: Supplied.

I remember that photo shoot. I was bored, impatient and itching to get out of the studio and back to my desk.

These days, having my photo taken remains one of my least favourite things to do. This may seem odd given how much content I make while talking to camera but the key is… the talking. I’ve always been more interested in words than pictures. It’s why I almost never post static photos of myself even if the purpose of the post is to talk about something I’m wearing or a new haircut. It doesn’t feel natural to me, the static nature of posting a moment frozen in time. I’m more interested in communicating and connecting by talking — or writing.


So yes, it’s true that the images I put into the world at age 52 are more “scruffy and unkempt”. There are also thousands more of them. The volume of images we all take and put into the world has increased exponentially thanks to our smartphones and social media.

Magazine editors and newspapers and photographers and marketers are no longer the gatekeepers of the way women are portrayed publicly. We have agency. And that’s a wonderful thing for every woman — myself included — who never saw anyone like me reflected back to me from the media in which I marinated for the first 40 years of my life.


I never edit the babbles or fashion posts I publish each day. I never even watch them back after I record them. And I don’t ever use filters. Not because I’m better than someone who does but because I’m equal parts busy and lazy.

But also, because I don’t know what the point would be if I did. I am well aware of how I look like IRL. So why would I want to portray myself in a way that doesn’t actually exist? Or that isn’t a ballpark reflection of how I look 95 per cent of the time?

That has always seemed to me like a trap and ultimately a dual burden; for myself and also for the women subconsciously comparing themselves to something that isn’t real.

Do I put photos and videos of myself without makeup or wearing a towel on my head or with wet hair to be contrived? Fake? To disguise my privilege? No. I do it because that’s just how I look and because, like most women, I give infinitely less f**ks about what other people think of me than I did in my 20s.

Mia Freedman's Babble is a newsletter delivering content on pop culture, modern life and being a Gen Xer in a Gen Z world. Sign up here. You can read all of Mia's pieces here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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