A chat with Mia Freedman

Being a community news journalist means there is a massive variety of stories I get to write and edit.

Last week, Mia Freedman, founder of the website Mamamia amongst a whole list of achievements, came to Ringwood to speak at a business lunch, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet her, have a chat to her, and hear her speak.

She was so excited to be there on invitation. She was a pleasure to talk to for the 20 or so minutes I had. During that time we were interrupted several times as people wanted “selfies” with her. It was a request she was only too happy to oblige.

I wrote up a pretty long story which went online last week, which can be found here.

And I have republished below with a few photos of the day:

I thought I should get a photo!

Listening to media mogul Mia Freedman detail a day in her life, I was wondering if she slept.

From getting up “super early” for conference calls to the US, to office time including recording podcasts.

Her husband Jason takes their kids to school, and she does the school pick-up.

Mia Freedman says the rise of social media has put more pressure on women and girls.
Then they go home, she does a few more hours’ work, breaks for dinner, puts the kids to bed and then often gets back online after that.

She might travel once a week for speaking gigs, then every couple of months she goes to New York to work on the newest venture — Spring St (formerly Flo and Frank).

But, speaking to Freedman before her appearance at Maroondah Council’s Bizweek Eastland Lunch on August 30, I was elated to hear that she does sleep, and it’s a non-negotiable.

At a time when life can seem non-stop, and being busy is the new black, Freedman said it was important to work out non-negotiables.

“I need lots of sleep,” Freedman said.

“I get anxiety and I have medication for it but there are certain things that I have to do to maintain my mental health.”


Exercise, sleep, drinking tea — she said she was “very big on self-care”.

“I have to make sure I do those things to make sure I’m strong enough to be an active participant in my life.

“I don’t really go out. I don’t go to functions, I don’t go to parties, I don’t go to premieres, I don’t go to launches, I don’t go to anything like that.

“Once a week I will have dinner with girlfriends, because I need that to feed my soul; other than that I just hang with the family, that’s my favourite thing to do.”

I was loving Mia’s shoes!

Freedman’s appearance in Ringwood was a flying visit, but one she was excited to do.

“I never pass up an opportunity to speak to groups of women, whether it’s on the website or in person, I love doing these kind of things because so often I don’t get to engage with our audience.”

And the packed audience, almost all women who had come to hear Freedman speak, were moved from laughter to tears as she spoke candidly about her rise from editor of women’s magazine Cosmo at age 25 to being one of Australia’s most influential women.

She shared photos of her life and was at pains to show her “real” side — “I am at my desk with a big cup of tea, something in my mouth, trying to eat with no hands and to be honest that’s where I’m happiest”.

Or in the shower eating cornflakes for dinner (as shown in another photograph).

“The number one mistake women make is comparing our behind-the-scenes lives with other people’s highlight reel,” she said.

“We look at the picture and see what’s wrong with it, or we look in the mirror and see what’s wrong, or look at our CV, what’s wrong, and in actual fact we can look at it in another way, look at it and see what’s right.”


She took aim at model Miranda Kerr for the healthy birthday cake she made her son, and recommended a $4.99 cake from “Woolies” that was “not organic, not made with agave juice and definitely contains sugar”.

“I still do compare myself, we all compare ourselves,” she said.

“It’s really hard when there are things you’re not good at — in my case cooking — you feel inadequate a lot of the time.

“Women do a lot of comparing and it’s usually to our detriment.”

But she said women needed to support each other, and themselves.

“Everyone is so stressed out about work/life balance that we’re too scared to lean in when we can and lean out when we have to,” she said.

Freedman has long been a champion of positive body image.

She has called out photoshopping in magazines and started the Body Love campaign during her time at Cosmo.

But she said the rise of social media had put more pressure on women and girls.

“Even regular people are altering images on social media and we are comparing ourselves to them, and girls and our daughters compare themselves to pictures on Instagram and are feeling very inadequate,” she said.

She spoke about her love of and the importance of magazines: “they used to say that Dolly taught you about what an orgasm was, Cleo taught you how to have one, Cosmo taught you how to fake one and the Women’s Weekly taught you how to knit one. You progress through those stages and stayed with Women’s Weekly pretty much until you dropped off the perch”.

But she knew the future of media was online.


“I didn’t feel that you could be trying to connect with women who were communicating in increments of minutes and text messages and seconds and Facebook updates if you were working on a monthly magazine that you had to prepare three months in advance,” she said.

Freedman spoke about one of the main reasons she started her hugely successful website Mamamia, which brought some in the audience to tears.

Freedman had a miscarriage in 1999, finding out she’d lost her baby at an ultrasound a few days after she got married.

“It’s extraordinarily common but when it happens to you, you don’t realise that,” she said.

“Particularly before the internet, up until a few years ago if it happened to you, you felt very alone, I felt very alone.

“Losing a baby during pregnancy or soon after is a very strange type of grief, because you’re grieving for someone you’ve never met and you’re got no memories of them and you feel guilty and feel like a failure and it was your fault and it’s this very complex tangle of emotions and I didn’t know anyone been through it.”

She started Mamamia as a personal site after being made redundant after seven months at Channel 9, a time she described as a “disaster”.

After the birth of her second child, she got a call from Eddie McGuire, then the chief executive of the network.

“I was really sleep-deprived and I’d had mastitis seven times in eight months so I said yes,” she said.

“It was a disaster, not because of Eddie, he really wanted me there and his idea was right but it was a mistake of mine to go to a role that didn’t exist.”

So Mamamia started, with Freedman in her lounge room.

“It was going so well that after about 18 months I’d earned about $3 in Google ads and I’d worked 18 hours a day, six days a week,” she joked.

“But I did love what I was doing because it was fast, it suited my short attention span and it was growing this audience, I just didn’t know what to do with it yet.”


An ultimatum from her husband — “Why don’t I come on board and monetise this sucker and if we can’t do it in 12 months it might be time to get a new job” — was the turning point.

“We were definitely ahead of our time in what I thought was completely obvious, but at the time it was a very revolutionary idea that women were interested in lots of different things,” she said.

“There were parenting sites for women, fashion sites for women, gossip sites, and cooking sites for women, but there weren’t sites with everything from news to current affairs to politics to parenting to celebrity news to pop culture.

“That didn’t exist and to me that was bizarre because the conversations I had with every woman I knew was to jump around between all of those topics really seamlessly.

“If you make a woman feel good about herself, she will share your message.

“That is free marketing — every share on social media, she’s amplifying your message for free.

“You make a woman feel inadequate, guilty, fat, old, ugly, insecure — she will not share your message.”

And what do women want to read about these days?

“We’ve noticed a real shift to optimism and positivity,” she said.

“I suppose because with everything going on in the world, people want positivity, humour, optimism, looking to the light rather than ‘this is so outrageous’, outrage, anger, all those negative emotions.

“But that’s not to say you need to be dumb.”

And some words she left the audience with: “Be really careful about comparing yourself, because comparing yourself is something women do but it’s not kind. If at all possible, check yourself before doing it and be good to yourself”.

Tips for small-business owners:

— You can’t be everywhere — choose which forms of social media you want to focus on.

— Understand how social media works — it’s better to have 200 people who are engaged than 2000 followers who don’t see your posts

— Don’t worry about blogging — say it on Facebook

— Don’t look out at your audience, be in your audience’s shoes looking back at yourself and ask what your audience wants from you

— If your primary motivation for starting a blog/website is to make money, you’re going to struggle; monetisation is challenging

— Know your strengths and weaknesses and hire against them

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