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The Fug Girls Look Back on Ten Years of Celebrity Snark

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Heather Cocks, left, and Jessica Morgan are the Fug Girls. Photo by Kim Fox
Heather Cocks, left, and Jessica Morgan are the Fug Girls. Photo by Kim Fox

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We all have opinions on terrible celebrity fashion choices, but bloggers Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks actually had the balls to make a career out of it. You could say the duo that started the beloved celeb style blog Go Fug Yourself back in 2004 was way ahead of the snarky curve.

The Fug Girls, as they are known, started the site as a joke while working in TV writing. Ten years later, the two have made it their full-time job, keeping an ever-loyal audience in the know about all the awful (and occasionally awesome) things stars wear. Readers flock to the site for hilarious and biting commentary, but know Go Fug Yourself won't ever cross into malicious territory.

On the heels of the site's ten-year anniversary, Racked caught up with the Fug Girls to talk about which red carpet trends they hate, how they've handled awkward celebrity encounters and what ethical boundaries they adhere to.

How did you two meet?
Heather: When I first graduated college, I worked as a journalist for a daily paper in Austin. Jessica and I were both freelance writing TV show recaps for the website Television Without Pity. I chatted with Jessica on the recap forums that freelancers communicated on. When I moved to LA to work on a TV show, I didn't know anyone out here. She seemed great and her writing was really funny, so I thought I could meet her and she could show me the ropes. We set it up over email and met at a bar, and a love match was born.

Why did you decide to start the blog?
Jessica: Mark Lisanti from Defamer once called us the Fug Girls and it stuck. We didn't start the blog for anything other than to entertain ourselves. It was an accident! We went shopping one time and we were very highly caffeinated, and we saw that all the ads and posters at the Beverly Center were really ugly for some reason. It was all unappealing and we started joking that maybe this is the style now. Maybe fugly is the new pretty and we just don't get it? We thought it was hilarious and started the blog as an outgrowth of a joke between the two of us. We never thought anyone else would read it.

Where were you working at the time?
Jessica: Both Heather and I were working in reality TV. We were story producers—she worked on America's Next Top Model for quite a while, and I did a variety of shows and documentaries.

What was the blog landscape like in 2004?
Jessica: This was back in the day, when Perez Hilton was still Page 666 before Page Six told him to cut it out. This was ten years ago—there was not the proliferation of fashion or celebrity blogs that there are now. In a lot of ways, we were fortunate to get our foot in the door before there were so many of them.
Heather: We were lucky because the gossip sites back then did gossip chiefly. They didn't talk a lot about clothes so we accidentally slid into a sweet spot nobody else was specifically servicing. A lot of those other websites would throw links to our site, whereas nowadays they would just cover it themselves. Acquiring readers just meant that they had to find us, and we had a lot of people linking to us, like Gawker and Television Without Pity.

Did you ever think the blog would be as successful as it is now?
Jessica: Gosh, no. We literally started it as an in-joke. We didn't have any business plan or think Go Fug Yourself would be anything, It's been quite a ride.

How do you make money?
Jessica: The site is primarily monetized through advertising. We also write for New York Magazine and do other freelance writing and have our books that bring in other income, but this is our primary job.
Heather: We are also the only employees of our website, so we do all the writing. We have a partnership with a company who does our website and ad sales, but it's just us. Since we don't have any employees to pay, our overhead is really low.

Who sets the tone for the site?
Heather: The tone comes very organically from us, from who we are. We like to be ourselves, and the readers come and we comment. We like a friendly vibe. We like it civil: We don't care if they disagree as long as they do it nicely.

How do you control the comments?
Jessica: We moderate our comment section fairly heavily. We are lucky in that our readership as a whole is smart and funny. We don't—knock on wood—tend to attract people who stir the pot. Our big rule is that we try not talk about people's bodies in a negative way. People can't help their genetics, but they can certainly help what they put on top of their genetics. We really try and keep it polite. I think of our comment section as a dinner party Heather and I have thrown where everyone is welcome, we are really excited to see them, and if you say anything that's inappropriate to say at a dinner party than it's inappropriate for the comments.

Are there any celebrities that are off-limits?
Heather: These days, the paparazzi culture is such that half the time you don't know if the person called the paps themselves. As far as I'm concerned, when you see a picture of someone walking to the market, there's a 50-50 chance they wanted to be seen. But we do pull back from celebrities that confirm they are having challenges, mentally or emotionally. For example, when Britney Spears was attacking paparazzi with an umbrella, we pulled back on covering her. We were like, 'Something else is going on here, it's not funny to talk about someone's ugly tube top when they are shaving their head and lashing out at people.' It didn't feel appropriate. We also backed away from Rihanna after the whole Chris Brown thing. It didn't sit right with us to be ragging on her outfit days after she had bruises on her face. There are also some celebrities that keep insisting everything is fine, like maybe a Lindsay Lohan. There's a point at which we need to say, 'Okay, if that's the game you're playing, that's the line you will live by, and it's open seas.' We try to be considerate. We'll never be perfect and our readers know that we're doing our best. We try to be careful and take it case by case.

Do stars ever call you out or contact you?
Jessica: We have heard from some. By and large, people are actually very good sports about it. When you get to a certain level of celebrity, you are smart enough to know that being a baby about someone not liking your pants will only do you harm. Elisha Cuthbert emailed us and was a good sport about it. Kirsten Dunst mentioned us in a press junket a long time ago and called us geniuses, even at a time when we were really mean to her! The advent of Twitter has made it easier: You'll see people favoriting or retweeting us when we mention them, so that's always fun.
Heather: Lena Dunham said [on Twitter] that she reads us every day and she doesn't care that we are mean to her because she thinks we're funny! That's the nicest thing that's ever happened to me.

Have you gotten into an ugly situation with a subject?
Heather: We've never been in ugly situations. I would hope celebrities know that's not on-brand for them or us. We look at it as, "We don't hate your soul, we hate your pants." We hope they take it in the spirit it's intended, and if they don't, we can't control it. Sometimes I cross that line with the Kardashians. Kim does not help herself. I will cross that line because there are certain celebrities that are commodifying themselves, and she is definitely one of them, and I don't feel as bad commenting on the image she is presenting. But for the most part, we try to keep it to the clothes.

Do you ever see stars in real life and hide?
Heather: At one Fashion Week, which we were covering for New York Magazine, I went to a Rodarte show that Kanye West was at. Most celebrities come near the time the show starts to minimize the fuss around them, but Kanye was just standing there in the front row with no entourage, which would never happen today. I saw him get approached by the Daily Front Row, and I waited my turn and we ended up talking for a while. The whole time I was thinking, "I just wrote about your hideous pants on our website a few days ago!" But obviously I didn't say anything. Back then, he wasn't as touchy about that stuff as he is now, but it was definitely going through my mind.

Have you had to take posts down?
Heather: I don't think so. We've never posted anything that we don't stand by. As a website, we've evolved. When we first started, we were really goofy but we grew up as people and grew into our policies of how to treat certain issues and certain people. Even those entries are still up, the ones that are crasser and meaner. It's part of who we are, but for the most part, we've never had opinions that are not a part of who we are. I remember when Britney Murphy died and we had a bunch of entries up about her because she usually didn't look great, unfortunately. Someone suggested we delete her archives because it was disrespectful. But I didn't think someone passing means you need to delete records of anything they ever did. You don't need to whitewash their existence. Would she want us to pretend she never existed? I doubt it.

Why do you think celebrity fashion taunting has become so popular? Is there schadenfreude there?
Jessica: It's not hate-watching as much as it is looking at celebs with their advantages. They are loaded, have a stylist, a trainer, and a team devoted to making them look good, and they still looking terrible. So people find that fascinating. People think, if I had Jennifer Aniston's resources, I'd look better than her! There's a pleasure in that.

Who are your favorite people to hate on?
Jessica: It's not a specific person, but a circumstance where someone is A-list plus kooky. Their craziness is delightful. There's a sweet spot for me, where the person is pretty famous and interesting. It's easy to look at a D-list celebrity who dresses in a tacky way for attention. Like, I like it when Chloë Sevigny goes out and looks insane.
Heather: Cate Blanchett is a great example. I don't hate on her, but she sometimes wears some weird clothes and it's kind of great because she's lovely. There's always an interesting debate with her, so I love talking about her.

What are some red carpet trends that drive you crazy?
Heather: I am so over writing about dresses that have transparent skirts. There are only so many times I can make a shower curtain joke! I really need that to move on. And we're always over the leggings trends, where people use leggings as pants.

How have you been able to build such a strong brand?
Heather: The Fug Girls byline has helped us. We've been able to build a freelance career—it gives people a way to feel like they know us. We aren't just a website, we're people. We stumbled into this way to brand us as humans and our website as a business. That helps a lot and builds an atmosphere of friendship, from a branding standpoint. Like Aliza Licht, from DKNY, built a great brand for herself and the brand she works for by not treating the job like an excuse to hint at their clothes, but to talk about Gossip Girl She put a person behind the brand, and that was a huge difference. That is really important. Don't just use Twitter to send links with your content, do it in a way that's personal. We tweet personal things, we talk to people. That's the fun part.

Is there any shame involved with the celebrity beat? Are you ever worried you'll be categorized with the paparazzi?
Heather: I don't think we're lumped with the paparazzi because we're not the one taking the photos, chasing celebrities in restaurants in our cars. But I don't think there's any shame in what we do, and I think we do it well. And I'd rather do something well that I love than be miserable at something else. You don't want me to be a doctor. I'll just stand over here in my corner and do what I'm good at. Maybe that doctor will have a crappy day and go to his computer to blow off steam and get a laugh at the site. Everyone has a role in this world and I'm cool with that.

What were some early challenges the blog faced?
Jessica: The biggest one, at first, was getting images. We started Go Fug Yourself before the big image houses had partnerships with bloggers. We weren't a fan blog and we had money, but we still had trouble getting licensed images from, like, Getty Images and obviously our website lives and dies on the visuals. We actually talked about the struggles of this to the Wall Street Journal in 2005, and having that article got us in contact with Getty and everything worked out great. But that was a big one for us, we had to figure out how to break out of a situation that wasn't easy. You're used to saying, "I will give you this money and you will give me this product" but that wasn't the case and it was really frustrating.

Are there any challenges you face now?
Jessica: Right now a challenge is to have interesting material to discuss. The challenge is that no one is leaving the house! For us, we respond to stuff in the moment. In the work season, we have oodles of stuff to talk about, but in August, we don't have as much.
Heather: For me, the freshness of it is a challenge. There are these events where I don't know what else to say, and I want to feel like I'm giving something to the reader. I don't want to throw something up and say, "Eh, whatever." I don't want them to feel like they are getting their theoretical money's worth, I want them to be happy with the site. So there's a little performance anxiety where I think, "Oh my god, am I dry today?"

Do you feel like you struggle to stay relevant?
Heather: I think we'll always be relevant. There will always be movie premieres, award shows, Met balls, and people will always want to be photographed in high fashion. It's a refillable well, so as long as we can keep up, we'll be okay. There might be a time when blogs will be irrelevant, but hopefully but then we'll figure out a way to expand. But in the meantime, people want to laugh, look at clothes, and I hope that will never go out of style.

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