'Awful tactic used to shame Lara Bingle'
When I was 13 a man in my life informed me of his clever new AFL sledging tactic. You see, on the previous night he'd developed a penchant for screaming out "LAAAAARAAAA BIIIIIIINGLE" whenever Carlton's Brendan Fevola lined up for goal.
"People started joining in," he told me, stoked to be behind the co-ordinated harassment of opposition players all the way from the MCG's nosebleed section.
It was 2007, Lara Bingle, now Lara Worthington, was unfairly depicted in the media as a home-wrecking, scheming woman, capable of unhinging her jaw and swallowing your boyfriend whole at any moment.
From the people in footy stands to the ones on prime-time television and radio, this much was clear: Lara Bingle had extended her 15 minutes of fame from the 'Where The Bloody Hell Are You' ad by engaging in a weeks-long affair with married Coleman medallist Brendan Fevola.
A long time passed before I learned that when Lara Bingle met Brendan Fevola, she was just a teenager - freshly 19. It would take even longer to deconstruct the pernicious ways the Australian media tore the model to shreds from the very moment she found herself bathed in the spotlight.
RELATED: Lara Worthington reveals baby name
When it comes to how Australia treated Lara Bingle, we could start in a million different places, but for the sake of chronology I'm going to take you back 15 years, just before the Fevola affair fiasco.
At this point in time, Zoo Weekly Australia - purveyor of A+ journalistic endeavours such as 'the search for the country's hottest asylum seeker' - was a fledgling men's mag. March 27, 2006 would mark the release of their second issue, and the men in the Zoo boardroom really wanted to capture the attention of 'Stevo' and 'Robbo' at the local servo.
Perhaps that's why when they saw 18-year-old Lara Bingle - pretty, young, freshly famous, ogled by hetero men everywhere - they saw their perfect prey.
If you picked up the second edition of Zoo Weekly, you probably assumed Lara Bingle chose to be the cover star. You, understandably, would have also assumed the teenager was just fine with multiple images of herself being published inside, including the one that had a speech bubble saying "I'll make you come" edited onto her face.
To accompany the "world exclusive" Zoo photo shoot was a press release titled "Lara Bingle Poses Topless for New Men's Magazine."
It was only after the teenager pursued Zoo's publisher EMap in the Federal Court for defamation that a few important truths emerged: Lara Bingle did not pose for Zoo Weekly.
She posed for a photographer with the sole purpose of fleshing out her modelling portfolio. And she certainly didn't pose topless - every image in the magazine showed her in a bikini. She didn't know about the "I'll make you come" speech bubble.
She didn't know anything about the magazine prior to its publication at all, actually.
By the time the court case was under way in December, the Australian public didn't care all that much for the truth. They were too busy gobbling up the 'Lara Bingle is a home-wrecker' false narrative.
Sure, when Bingle and Fevola entered an affair after meeting at rehearsals for the AFL Footy Show Grand Final, he was the married father-of-two. But it was single teenager Bingle who bore the brunt of our fury.
The media gleefully played and replayed audio snippets of a voicemail message Bingle left Fevola - "I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall right now … can you call me?" - and wheeled out all the obvious puns in their headlines.
And once she was connected with the poster boy for frosty blonde tips (also pretty decent cricketer) Michael Clarke in January 2007? Oh, it was game on.
There were examples in News Corp publications too. She was described as a "KEEN sports fan". According to another article, Clarke's ex-girlfriend was "the latest casualty in model Lara Bingle's pursuit of champion sportsmen".
In 2010, when Bingle was the victim of revenge porn - an image of her naked body was taken without her permission, distributed around via text messages, and eventually published in a Bauer women's magazine - an 'expert' in the field unfairly said it was "incredibly naive" for celebrities like Bingle to find themselves in such compromising situations.
"People in the public eye should be very careful and aware of the fact that photographs taken of them in what could be an embarrassing situation could pop up in the future," they said.
This was part and parcel with the mood of the moment: "Psssst! Female celebs! Never be naked or trust a man, ever. If you do either of those things, you're silly and stupid and that's on you."
In response to the revenge porn incident - something that with adequate proof could be deemed a criminal offence today - sports journalist Peter Roebuck wrote in a then Fairfax newspaper that Clarke must choose "love [for Bingle] or leadership [of the Australian cricket team]". Why? Because Clarke was apparently "locked into a love affair with a beautiful but possibly unstable young woman" with "headstrong ways" who "craves attention and courts controversy".
Bingle, Roebuck bizarrely claimed, was nothing like the wives of "Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Steve Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar". Oh, no. Those women "had the maturity and adaptability needed to survive the demands of the distant life".
"As a result they were able to sustain stable family lives and solid homes as their husbands soared and sank. They understood their role, did not make any extra demands." So much so, evidently, that Roebuck didn't feel the need to include any of the women's names.
Ah, misogyny. Bingle was a disaster who had failed to have "ever emerged from the chrysalis of youthful beauty" while Clarke was one step away from becoming the "sincere and big-hearted man" he's always been. All he needed to do was dump his fiancee!
In 2012, two years after the Bingle-Clarke engagement ended, a News Corp publication ran quotes from an unnamed source pumping up Kyly Boldy's tyres (Clarke's now ex-wife) while simultaneously letting the air out of Bingle's: "With Lara, it was all about her," they said. "With Kyly it's all about him."
The nasty false narrative that Lara Bingle is trashy and self-serving has quieted as time has passed, sure, but it hasn't vanished entirely.
Even 2020 articles written about the model drag-up mentions of Fevola and Clarke, as if a couple of ex-boyfriends from the mid-noughties define anything about who Lara Worthington (she changed her name after marrying actor Sam Worthington in 2014) is today.
Her ex-fling spent a few weeks in a South African jungle and emerged a national hero, but Lara?
We haven't made it so easy for her to forget.
In March, a rejuvenated and mostly redeemed Brendan Fevola took aim at the people trolling and "slut-shaming" his 21-year-old daughter Mia online.
He said on his breakfast radio show: "Blokes can do whatever they want. They can go and date girls and no one judges them. It's a lad thing. But as soon as a girl does it … Mia's been with a couple of football players. That's OK. People date tradies. That's their profession.
" … As a father, that hurts … [Mia] can date whoever she wants, she can go out with whoever she wants, whenever she wants. She's a 21-year-old girl. When we were 21 we were doing whatever we wanted.
" … It just pisses me off that people can write that and say vile things online about any girl, not just Mia."
At that moment I wondered if Fevola made the obvious connection to the appalling treatment of the teenage Lara 15 years ago.
I wonder if he, with the gift of hindsight and an extra dash of maturity, suddenly understood that situation for what it truly was. I wondered if his compassion for women extended beyond those he is immediately related to.
I braced for the acknowledgment of his own role in perpetuating the 'man-eater woman, hapless impulsive man' myth, but no such acknowledgment came.
Another thing I have continued to wonder is just what Lara Worthington is made of.
Even today, when I have told people that my podcast co-host Zara McDonald and I were publishing a two-part series on this story, a handful cocked an eyebrow as if to say "she brought this upon herself".
Those same people may tell me - and Zara - that this is simply a tale of the past, and that our country's treatment of Lara Bingle is irrelevant today. I don't buy that.
The way we have historically spoken about famous women involved in sex scandals is deserving of time and analysis now - from Lara all the way back to Yoko Ono and beyond. If we don't talk about historical cruelties, how do we expect to grow and do better for the next teenager who finds her name printed in headlines?
Lara Bingle wasn't squeaky clean, and I'm sure Lara Worthington isn't either. She's made a few questionable decisions in her time (selling an exclusive interview to the same women's mag that published her nude photograph comes to mind).
But if any of our private lives became public fodder at the age of 18, would any one of us emerge unscathed?
I know I wouldn't.
The Australian media tried just about every trick in the book to villainies and sexualise a teenager. They didn't pull punches, and the attacks that started in 2006 didn't relent for the better part of a decade.
Today, Lara Worthington is a woman on top. She donates 100 per cent of her skincare company Share The Base's profits to three charities: WWF Australia, Humpty Dumpty Foundation, and Bowel Cancer Australia.
Last year, according to Marie Claire, those donations exceeded $100,000. On top of her philanthropy, she's still thriving as a successful model, working for the likes of Tom Ford Beauty, David Jones and Mecca Cosmetica. And when she's not working? She's a happy wife and mother to three boys.
Lara Worthington is not perfect. But I tell you what, she is bloody tough.
The two-part Shameless podcast series 'Scandal: The slut-shaming of Lara Bingle' is now live in all podcast apps. Listen to episode one on Spotify.
Originally published as Awful tactic used to shame Lara Bingle