Journalist Vanessa Croll, who now works as a senior writer and producer at News Corp Australia, felt a responsibility to speak up after watching Lorna Jane’s “crocodile tears” on 60 Minutes.
There was a time when such an awe and sense of admiration came over me while reading articles highlighting the sportswear founder and her lucrative entrepreneurial qualities.
But after watching an interview she did for 60 Minutes — in which she “broke down in tears” while denying claims that bullying and fat-shaming are rife at her company — something inside me snapped.
“I feel vulnerable,” she sobbed.
And that’s where I call bullshit and claim “crocodile tears”. Not from a place of hate, but from a place of hurt.
It is not good enough to say the media is doing the wrong thing by you in reporting on certain events. If Clarkson’s company is being sued by an ex-employee who claims she was bullied by her manager into losing weight, then that is newsworthy.
If a woman on Instagram claims her photo was taken by the company without her permission and reprinted on Lorna Jane singlets which were then sold for profit, then that is newsworthy.
If a poorly written ad is posted with measurements for a receptionist/fit model and there is a public uproar, then that is newsworthy.
Just explain yourself and get on with it. Don’t play the victim and call out the press for the “things they are saying about” you, which is exactly what Clarkson did in her interview on Sunday night.
From an aerobics instructor to self-made multi-millionaire, Clarkson’s story is an inspiring one.
So when I landed a job as a personal trainer some 10 years ago at the gym she owned, I was elated. As a 20-year-old aspiring health and fitness guru, affiliating myself with a brand that exuded enthusiasm, natural beauty and inspiration felt like an immense personal achievement.
“Maybe you’ll even get to see her,” one of my awe-struck friends said when I gushed about my new employment.
Not only did I get to see her, I became her personal trainer and was even “lucky” enough to be used as her catalogue model.
“Who, me?” I thought when she asked me to model her active wear. “Really?” Having never modelled before then, to be asked by the creator of a highly regarded and respected multi-million dollar brand was extremely humbling.
And considering the weekly pay I was making was just enough to cover rent, petrol and food, the notion of a financial boost was more than a little welcome too.
Plus, as narcissistic as it might sound, being able to say “I’m a Lorna Jane model” felt good. So I jumped at the opportunity.
The first shoot was exhausting but a lot of fun. I did my own hair and makeup and threw myself into it with everything I had. Clarkson said there was no time for food breaks as we had 30 different looks to get through, which meant 30 different outfit changes and a multitude of energetic poses.
This would have to be squeezed in between my morning and afternoon personal training sessions with clients.
As a person, Clarkson was lovely. She was motivated, trained hard and oozed positivity. She was encouraging and professional and it was — as I had hoped — thrilling to have the opportunity to be a part of what she had created.
Then it came to getting paid.
“It’s only in our budget to pay you $70,” Clarkson told me.
The photos were used in catalogues distributed to every Lorna Jane store. When the catalogue hit the shops I remember feeling so proud. “Look at me now, Mum!”
But there was always an underlying suspicion that the pay wasn’t adequate.
Maybe it’s just because it was my first time, I thought. Over the next year I continued to train Clarkson. In my mind we were friends. Every season I repeated the same process.
Whenever I raised the issue of money and suggested I should be paid comparative modelling fees, I would get the response: “I need to check with [my husband] Bill. We might be able to extend the budget”.
This never happened. I was occasionally given sample clothes as a reward, some still with pins in them.
I was being used.
Clarkson’s business partner and husband, Bill, would occasionally come into the gym where I worked on the gym floor as a personal trainer.
On one occasion he pulled me into his office, sat me down and stood above me while berating me for “doing the wrong thing” in his club.
After asking what he meant he would tell me I was taking money from clients on the gym floor and stealing from the gym.
Absolute rubbish. But he was relentless in his accusations.
On another occasion he called a meeting with every personal trainer in the club and pointed me out as someone who was “bad at their job” and “had an attitude problem”. Claims made by a man who was rarely present in the gym while I was there.
It was an extremely confusing time and I became more exhausted and deflated by the situation. On one hand I had an encouraging, positive relationship with the namesake of a business I once admired and on the other hand I had been reprimanded by her partner and husband for committing imaginary iniquities.
What it boiled down to was that I was clearly being taken advantage of.
It wasn’t OK but I was unsure of what to do.
Then I was asked to recreate a photo a previous model had shot for Lorna Jane. Clarkson told me they weren’t going to use her photo as they would prefer to use me and — how exciting! — she told me she convinced her husband to pay me $150 for it. Later I would learn the same photo with the previous model was not going to be used as the photographer had requested payment for it. So they used me instead.
The image was of me running up the Kangaroo Point stairs in Brisbane. This image was used in many Lorna Jane stores, and in many it was featured larger than life as a floor-to-ceiling cover behind the cash registers. I took the $150 and made moves to find work elsewhere.
The image has been used for almost 10 years now. Friends have snapped pics of over the years and sent them to me after spotting the photo in stores in Australia and New Zealand, but when I see it all I feel is a sense of shameful vulnerability.
I’ve come to learn of the actual amount models are paid for these types of jobs and it is clear I was taken for a ride.
What Clarkson and her husband have created is a credit to their hard work and drive. But when someone speaks up to claim they have felt bullied or wronged by a person in your employ, do not go on national TV crying that you feel vulnerable.
Because, yes, Clarkson is “only human”, as she said in the interview, but she is a human with a great deal of influence.
This influence is especially powerful in the minds of young girls and while I believe her Move Nourish Believe philosophy has inspired many, also at the core of her business is how she treats the people who are devoted to helping her succeed.
My advice to my old boss: pay attention to how your employees are feeling, take responsibility and understand the legacy you leave in the wake of your rise to the top.