Issue # 4 Feature: Tara Moss
Issue # 4 Feature: Tara Moss
Interview by LUCINDA KENT
Tara Moss is a classic femme fatale who looks like she wandered straight off the screen of film noir, or out of a pulp fiction crime novel. Statuesque, stunning, with a wry smile painted perfectly blood red, she’s got looks to kill and a razor-sharp wit. While she looks like a screen siren from a long gone era, there’s one key difference: she’s the one calling the shots, and she ain’t nobody’s damsel in distress.
Moss – an author, model, advocate, and academic – rose to fame in equal measures for her fashion shoots and crime novels. She has just published Speaking Out, her eleventh book, a feminist manifesto and guide for young women lost in the 21st century world of social media, slut-shaming, and Instagram-dictated beauty standards. On the back of her film-noir inspired shoot with Laud, Moss shared her real-life passion for all things vintage, as well as the shocking statistics that drove her to write Speaking Out.
You’re familiar to many Australians first of all through your best-selling fiction books, but in more recent years for your powerful memoir, and now a book of advice for young women. What are your thoughts on how in 2016, despite world leaders from Justin Trudeau to Beyonce declaring themselves feminists, some young women still see feminism as a dirty word?
I doubt there will never be a safe or uncontroversial term for acknowledging the past oppression of women and the fight for basic human rights, or the ongoing battle for gender equality. Women fighting for the vote were called ‘Suffragettes’ which was a term of derision used against those women and later taken on by the activists themselves as a term of empowerment – much like ‘queer’ is a term taken up, or reclaimed, by some of the LGBTIQ community today. In the 60s and 70s women fighting for equal pay and reproductive rights were termed ‘Women’s Libbers’ and again it was used as a term of derision and those women were cast as anti-social troublemakers. Today the most common term, and the dictionary definition for advocacy of gender equality women’s rights is ‘feminism’ and again it is used as a term of derision despite the fact that polls consistently show the vast majority of the population agree with the ideals of feminism – valuing men and women, having equal pay and equal rights. Considering the documented history of the women’s movement and the way women have been treated for battling for the rights we take for granted today, it sadly does not surprise me at all that the term ‘feminist’ or ‘feminism’ or any other term that identifies the fight for gender equality is still commonly demonised. We attach all kinds of associations to feminism that are not in the definition of the term. The frequent use of the term ‘feminazi’ is perhaps the most telling, because advocating for equal rights regardless of gender is apparently just like the Holocaust. As a person whose family survived that terrible era I find that term perhaps the most insulting to people’s intelligence, not to mention insulting to memory and history.
It’s shocking that women in positions of power such as Hillary Clinton are described with incredibly gendered language; shrill, feisty – these are words that are rarely used to describe men. You co-opted this sexist language on the cover of The Fictional Woman, wearing your detractor’s labels in a defiant image. Do you think women should lean into this sort of language to change it’s meaning, or do you think some words will always be used to demean women?
There are, in my view, many ways to reach the same destination. Some find co-opting and subverting the demeaning language levelled at women or other marginalised or demonised groups empowering, and in some cases I heartily agree. The cover I designed for The Fictional Woman was meant to confront the hard realities of the labels and stereotypes women face. My face, my fictions. (Others experience different highly pejorative labels – ‘faggot’ or ‘abo’ or any number of awful terms.) But I am not suggesting that by choosing to be photographed with those labels for a book I wrote exploring those themes, that I now want to be called ‘bitch’ or ‘bossy’. I don’t accept that I am a ‘bitch’ whether meant positively or negatively. I am not. A bitch is a female dog or otter. No, I am not a bitch, but in reality I have been called that, and many other women have been called that as well, as part of their marginalisation socially or professionally, and it has a misogynistic history, as a term. For me, confronting the terms by no means suggests acceptance of them. That cover suited the subject matter of The Fictional Woman.
Body politics has really come into the national and international conversation in the last few years, with pop culture icons like Amber Rose to Dita Von Teese embracing and showing off their bodies, sending the message they dress for themselves, not for men. Do you think we are getting closer to a time where women will no longer be judged for their bodies?
I am deeply concerned about how women’s and girl’s bodies are treated, in real and practical lived terms, in Australia and abroad. I am deeply concerned about the high rates of sexual assault and gender based violence that have not declined despite every other crime in Australia declining in recent decades. 1 in 5 women are raped. 1 in 3 experience sexual or physical violence from someone they know. Three women are hospitalised each week in Australian with brain injuries caused by family violence. 1 in 10 under 30 have intimate images shared without their consent. 90% of intellectually disabled women in Australia have been sexually abused. This reality troubles me deeply and daily.
Conversely, I am not concerned at all about how women and girls (and those who don’t identify as female) choose to enjoy or display – or not display – themselves and their bodies. Naked or covered, painted or natural, sexy, unsexy or otherwise, gender fluid, femme or butch, athletic and/or full figured, I think our differences and our minds and bodies are beautiful and anything but sinful. Puritanical attitudes towards women’s bodies have always done little to alleviate the oppression of the women in possession of those bodies. In fact, those attitudes have done a lot to further oppress and demonise women. This is why I believe in freedom of expression, including the expression of the self as a whole, real, sexual and complicated human being.
As to whether we are closer to a time when women are no longer judged for their bodies, there have always been those who judge women that way, and maybe there always will be some, but if those people are rejected for their attitudes towards women we are getting somewhere. If we choose not to body shame and fat shame and judge women by those superficial standards, and remain open to allowing women true autonomy and freedom of expression and choice, then we are getting somewhere.
We aren’t there yet.
Do you think your daughter is growing up in a world that is safer for women, or more dangerous? Children aged 10 and younger have social media accounts, and every day we see news stories of women being bullied or harassed (the simple act of being a woman on Twitter almost guarantees threats ranging from death to rape.) I went through adolescence just before the dawn of Facebook, do you think it’s actually made it worse world in which to be a teenage girl?
I am passionate about online ethics and safety, and I am currently co-producing and writing a documentary on the subject. Research strongly points to the seriousness of online abuse, which has not been treated seriously enough by the law, in my view, but research also points to the great freedoms and benefits of digital technology and online spaces as well. This is a new area of academic research and reports are hard to cross reference because a lot of studies use vastly different methodologies and definitions of abuse, but we do know that about ¾ of Australians under 30 of all genders have experienced at least some online abuse, and a significant report put out by UN Women in 2015 found that worldwide women and girls were 27 times more likely to be seriously abused online, feminine usernames received more threats than masculine usernames, and about 9 million women have experienced a form of serious cyber violence since the age of 15.
Despite those particularly shocking stats, the same study also found that the vast majority of women and girls felt the internet gave them greater freedom. That freedom is worth fighting for. The internet has improved my life and will likely improve my daughter’s life too, compared to earlier generations – providing greater freedom of information and expression, access to services in remote areas, and more, but that doesn’t mean that everything about it is good. There are serious problems that need addressing, and those problems tie in strongly with offline abuse and attitudes about women and girls and other groups, gender, race, sexuality, consent, and other complex issues.
Your personal style has always been glamorous but has moved towards the classic pin-up style recently – red lips, vintage clothes, corsets – what is it about this look that you’re drawn to?
I am interested in history, style and design, but not fashion, per say. In fact, I have something of a negative view of ‘fashion’ in terms of the technical definition as something that is a ‘trend’ that necessarily ‘changes’ in a fashion cycle. If something is identifiably ‘this season’ there is strong probability that I won’t like it. 1880s or 1940s though…
Part of my interest in vintage is aesthetic, in that I find it visually beautiful, and also relates to the fact that mid century vintage, in particular, suits my curvier body shape since I became a mother in 2011. I now have a somewhat larger hip spring than current designs are cut to fit – 14 inches from waist to hip rather than say, 7 or 8, which is more of the slim-hipped modern standard. The mid century was a time when more clothing was cut for my kind of shape. In addition to those practical and aesthetic reasons, the wearing, mending and promotion of vintage is a sustainable practice and a form of recycling. I believe in using what has already been produced, where possible. Our old home furnishings, our vintage caravans, our second hand car – these are other examples. I also own some modern clothing, but I like to mix it with vintage for aesthetic and ethical reasons.
Fashion for a long time was considered frivolous because it is the domain of women, but fashion as the true art form it is being embraced more and more. Many of Australia’s biggest labels now bare the name of the woman designing them. Who are designers you admire?
The garment industry was initially run completely by women, but the idea of the high status designer really only began in the 1800s with Charles Worth. Men became associated with designing clothes, as authority figures who knew what women should wear, though of course the industry still overwhelmingly employed women to make the actual clothing. A few real standout women designers broke through in their time, including Madeleine Chéruit, who helped pave the way for other female designers, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and more. We should not underestimate what it took for those women to be the pioneers that they were.
Speaking Out is a handbook for young women, really women of all ages. What advice do you most want to impress upon women in 2016?
Speaking Out is a handbook in the literal sense, filled with specific advice for how to research, write, engage confidently in public speaking, handle criticism, trolls, bullies and more, so it is hard to distill down, but if there is one key message, is that we have the right to speak out. We have just as much right to speak out, be heard and take up public space as the next man. Not more and certainly not less. We have a right to a full life and to participate in democracy, and have a life free from violence, bullying and silencing. It’s vital that we know it in our bones, and respect that right for ourselves and others.
Famous women seem to stay silent when their space is invaded – model Gigi Hadid was even criticised for fighting back against a man who grabbed her – why do you think that is?
Unfortunately, historically and presently, women – famous and otherwise – are often penalised for speaking out about abuse. If it’s hard for women with some power, imagine what it is like for those without? Victim-blaming and shaming is a part of our cultural response to abuse that needs to stop.
You’ve had incredible longevity in the public eye – do you have a health and beauty routine that has been consistent or has it evolved over time? Do you have any go-to products that you’ve always got on hand?
My beauty routine is quite basic. I believe I am lucky with my skin, and I protect that good luck with daily sunblock and hats, even in winter. Now that I am 43 that protection really shows. I drink a lot of water, and I experiment with different makeup, which I enjoy, but I don’t do a lot else, to be honest. I get impatient in salons, actually, and I don’t generally get facials or that sort of thing. Pampering is lovely, but not a regular part of my life.
As my face has aged I’ve gone for heavier skin creams – I think of them as my ‘old lady creams’ – and that works for me. I also avoid alcohol or lots of salt for a day before any shoot, for obvious reasons. I don’t mind looking older, but I want to look well, and showing up hung over or dehydrated doesn’t do anyone any favours. Hiking does wonderful things for physical vitality and glow, as does good sex.
If I had three beauty tips they would be boring but true and time tested:
1. Don’t smoke.
2. Don’t go out in the sun and tan yourself.
3 Always look after your health the best you can.
That last one isn’t about being perfect, it’s just about being kind to yourself. It’s simple really, and not something you can buy.
How does wearing lipstick and makeup make you feel? Is it a type of warpaint, or part of your daily routine?
I enjoy colour, style and makeup. It isn’t a necessity (except when I am on TV or on stage, for technical reasons. You get washed out.) but it is a pleasure for me. Personal expression has often been part of my way of coping with the world. This isn’t about money, but about the cultivation of personal style or personal items that make me feel like me. My tattoos. My mother’s pearl earring studs she married my father in – things like that. Sometimes it is as simple as my red lips, which have become a kind of signature for me. I call them my ‘red steel’. Whenever I am sick or down, I know I am ready for the world again when I put my lips on. It’s like, ‘Okay, let’s do this thing.’ Red lipstick also has a fascinating history, including use as a patriotic symbol of Allied women in WWII. When so many luxury goods were in short supply, red lips were something women did not give up.
What are your thoughts on the media focusing on your red lipstick rather than your actions on your recent charity trip overseas? Is any and all attention good for the plight of refugees, or so you think focus on your appearance distracted from the purpose of the trip?
What was most telling about ‘Lipstickgate’, as we’ve laughingly dubbed it, is that I had already returned from the trip when it unfolded. There was a delay of a week or so. While I was in Syrian refugee camps on a daily basis last year in my role as UNICEF’s National Ambassador for Child Survival we had regular updates and images we offered the media to illuminate the humanitarian crisis – images of babies, children, women and men in the camps, images of the conditions and more. No media chose to cover it at the time, so we mostly used social media and my writing to inform the public, and then we were fortunate to get me on Sunrise to discuss the issue on my return, and I ran some of my reporting in SMH, the Age and Marie Claire. There is real fatigue on some of these major humanitarian issues, sadly, and that impacts media reporting, donations and aid, which in turn impacts real life and death situations. I’ve seen this first hand in my 9 years with UNICEF. [Moss’s role with the charity is unpaid.]
Then, a week or so later, a couple of negative and uninformed comments from trolls online about my lipstick got seen and, incredibly, became the mainstream story. I travelled to the Middle East with little more than a backpack with a notebook and pen, Doc Martens, jeans, and my UNICEF shirt, but yeah, I had my lipstick. A lot of publications that hadn’t been interested in the humanitarian issue ran with a story about my makeup. In other words, the humanitarian crisis facing millions of human beings was not news, but there was always room for a good makeup shaming/slut shaming piece. As I commented at the time, ‘Aid workers who are there every day wear some makeup, jewellery and normal clothes with a vest or badge identifying their role. Many refugee women and girls wear decoration, including what jewellery and makeup they’ve been able save from home, find or make in the camps, particularly eyeliner. This is a cultural norm. I even attended a business skills session with refugee women learning professional makeup skills so they could try to gain employment and independence. A wonderful Lebanese not-for-profit was providing each participant with a professional makeup kit and instructor…. So if you see pictures from these places and only notice the superficial, it’s worth pausing for a moment, doing a bit of research before criticising, and perhaps considering that if your only comment about such things is on lipstick, accusing someone else of superficiality is really too ironic.’
We are talking about real people’s lives here, yet lipstick was the story to some, and that says a lot about the state of our broader cultural and media narrative today. The 30 seconds I take in the morning to put on my red lips is not something I will apologise for. Not now and not ever.
Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls is available now, you can follow Tara Moss on Instagram @taramossauthor
Skin: NARS Sheer Glow Foundation in Santa Fe, Radiant Creamy concealer in Custard, Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder, Bronzing Powder in Casino
Cheeks: NARS Deep Throat Blush
Lashes: Eyes Wide Open by Mecca Cosmetica
Eyes: Eye Paint in Black Valley, NARS Eyeshadows in Soft Matte Mushroom, Condura, Habanera, All About Eve
Brows: NARS Brow Perfector in Kalamata, Brow Gel in Blonde
Lips: Audacious Lipstick in Charlotte.
Iggy used La Biosthetique products
thickening cream, plumping blowdry cream, formule laque hairspray
IMAGE 1 and 3
therm-o-flat thermo active gel fluid, glossing spray, aerosol shine spray.
Sleeveless Society 1960’s dress, Sleeveless Society ring
IMAGE 1 and 3
The Vintage Drawer 1940’s dressing gown, Sleeveless Society Necklace, Sleeveless Society Ring