This week I was invited to join regular panelist, Principal of Southport High School Steven Mcluckie and three times Olympic champion Hockey Player Nikki Hudson on ABC Radio Gold Coast’s parenting panel hosted by Nicole Dyer. I think the discussion is well worth a listen. My perspective on a few issues was quite different to the other panellists- particularly in relation to girls and clothing choices (an issue also explored at my blog here). Your thoughts?
Last week I noticed a number of teen girls I am friends with on Facebook were lamenting their “winter bodies.” I posted this on my Page for them; feel free to share and republish for the young women in your life.
FEELING THE WINTER-WEIGHT-WOES?
1. Don’t obsess over slight weight fluctuations. We are actually genetically programmed to crave foods that will make us heavier in winter as our bodies strive to store fat. A 1-3 kilo gain may feel huge to you, but honestly? No-one else will notice and your health will absolutely not be compromised by this – promise! In fact, a few kilos may increase your resilience to disease and allow you to recover from injury faster. Sadly, however, I cannot promise you that constant weight whinging may not annoy your loved ones to the point of giving you a Chinese burn. And it will absolutely steal your sense of happiness. So yeah…self- loathing? That is hazardous to your health.*
2. Your body is not designed to fit in with fashion trends. We have been conditioned by media images that demand a look that is so thin, very few of us are able to achieve this through healthy means. Further, this media ideal is often made even more unobtainable as it is artificially distorted through photoshop etc. When we are bombarded with messages like these, we may begin to think we will only be loved / successful / accepted if we are also very thin. Reality? Many studies find our peers, and the opposite sex, find us more attractive when we are slightly heavier than we think is ideal. And there is no study (I dare you to find even one!) that shows ideal photoshopped-model-types lead happier, more loving lives. In other words – we are absolutely our own harshest critics. Take your body loathing and divide it by 100. Then subtract this score by another 100. Then go eat something yummy and nutritious.
3. Show YOU the love! If you really think you need to manage your weight as you just aren’t eating well ( and we all know how to get this back on track surely? We have been raised on nutritional advice since before we could read) and you really aren’t moving enough? Fabulous! Good on you for calling time out! But don’t start with self-hate. When the body feels hated it craves comfort, and for most of us, comfort equates with food. Since birth we have been programmed to be comforted by eating hence why babies often suckle simply for security or a sense of serenity rather than out of hunger. Start – and finish – with LOVE. Always! Go for long walks in the winter sunshine, get a massage, paint your toe-nails, buy a cheap pair of larger sized pants so you feel good while learning to reconnect with your body (rather than feeling literally stifled) and tell you body all the time how much you appreciate it and care for it.
Our bodies are, after all, our best, and most, forever friends. Diets? Not so much.
* Obviously I am making light here – there are serious mental and physical health ramifications associated with excessive dieting / food obsession.
This week I am hoping you’ll indulge me and allow me to share two projects I have been working on behind the scenes that have both just been launched.
As the co-founder and CEO of Australia’s largest provider of in-school workshops for girls, Enlighten Education, and as an author of three books aimed at supporting young women, I am often asked, ”But what about the boys?“
Yes. Boys absolutely need and deserve support. As the mother of a 12 year old boy, this matters to me at a deeply personal level.
Disengagement from school, the pressure to look buffed, feeling like they cannot express the full rage of emotions, fall outs with their mates, limiting gender stereotypes… all are issues plaguing our boys. Meanwhile we also need to do the urgent work that is required to educate them in order to help eliminate violence against women.
My two decades of experience in education, and my expertise in designing multi-award winning, engaging programs that can be delivered in schools, lead me to design our debut program – ”Myth Busting; busting stereotypes that harm boys.“ I also called on the wisdom of colleague and anti-violence campaigner Nina Funnell in producing elements of this – it truly is a considered, positive, and pro-active initiative.
And because I believe boys need more strong male role models, I recruited two highly experienced, qualified presenters with proven track records of working face-to-face with boys and men to lead these conversations that matter.
I am really proud of this initiative and of my team. I know that together we will create some really good fellas. Do check out our new site here: www.goodfellased.com
And secondly, the advertisement Nina Funnell and I were asked to create for the Australian Of The Year Awards has just ben launched! This ad will feature on every commercial Tv station nationally,and on all QANTAS flights. I will confess to shedding a tear when I first watched it – don’t the young women I was working with that day (from Stella Maris college in Sydney) shine?
What an honour to be asked to help promote building up the many local heroes we have in our community!
Jun 14th, 2014 by Danni Miller
Last week I shared three of the five things I, and the other noted Feminists I asked to contribute, believe we need to stop saying to girls now. You can read this post here: “That skirt is sending out the wrong message” and 5 other things we should never say to girls. It’s now time to share the other messages that, even though they may be well intentioned, do in fact have the potential to harm.
4. “She is only interested in exploring her sexuality as she’s troubled.”
It can be confronting for us to accept that our children will grow up and become sexual beings. However, self-motivated sexual exploration and age-appropriate information about sexuality are vital to our daughters emerging as healthy, whole women. Given that for many girls puberty will start in their early teen years, we should start having conversations with them about sex and sexuality while they are young. We need to offer them alternative voices and role models of sexuality to those they are exposed to in the media and in pornography. This is especially important given that advertisers and broadcasters certainly will be targeting them with messages about sexuality long before their early teen years; to me it seems damaging for girls who are just developing their own sexuality to be influenced largely by porn-inspired examples of sexuality. I am concerned not just because there are too many hyper-sexualised messages bombarding our girls, but because the ideal being presented to them of female sexuality is so narrow. Just as we are told that only a leggy size-8 model can be truly beautiful, we are now being told that only a busty, wet and wild blonde (who is solely focused on male pleasure) can be truly sexy. Women’s (and men’s) sexuality is, in reality, so much more diverse and complicated.
But before we can begin having truly meaningful conversations around our girls’ sexuality, we need to also establish a positive and non-judgemental attitude because in my experience, a negative or stigmatising attitude towards girls’ sexual development may cause harm, particularly when it comes from parents, teachers or other trusted figures.
Writer Emily Maguire offered an important caution against pathologizing female sexuality:
The idea that teen girls are asexual unless ‘activated’ by some external force. This is so common – this denial of the fact that teenage girls might be into sex (doing it, talking about it, imagining it, whatever) because they’re sexually developing human beings. It’s like, a boy who is distracted by lust, eager to gain sexual experience and proud of himself when he does so, is normal. A girl who acts this way is a dupe with low-self-esteem, a cautionary tale. Yes, there are external pressures on girls to look and behave in particular ways related to their sexuality, but more acknowledgement that not all sexually active/interested teenage girls have had their sexuality imposed on them by advertisers, pop culture or predatory men would be good. In fact, a lot of them, a lot of the time, are simply doing what feels good. (Or what they think might feel good, getting better at figuring out what that might be as they go along).
Nina Funnell, who co-wrote Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships, with me, also warned against shaming:
We still teach girls to equate promiscuity with low self-esteem and poor self-respect. Meanwhile boys are told that it’s only natural that they would want to sow their wild oats. The reality is that both boys and girls have sexual urges, libidos, pumping hormones and a desire for physical intimacy, pleasure, arousal and connection. So why do we shame girls, and teach them that they must have low self-esteem if they crave the exact same thing boys crave?
5. ”Pink is for girlie girls!”
Emily Maguire in her essay “Letter to the Girls I misjudged” laments the fact that as a young girl she associated all things traditionally girly with weakness and took great pride in being seen as “one of the blokes.” This idea was extended by Clementine Ford in her post “Betraying Our Girlhood”;
Taking up arms against the demonisation of girlhood isn’t about reclaiming our right to love lipstick or dresses or have the occasional conversation about Ryan Gosling’s bottom – although those things are all perfectly fine. The fierce determination to distance ourselves from anything perceptibly “girlie” only furthers the stereotype that women who like “girlie” things are stupid and one-dimensional – and indeed that girlieness itself is stupid and one-dimensional. Some girls – like me – rejected boys’ toys entirely as children, loved pink and watched movies about high-school girls falling in love, yet they still grew up to be strident feminists. We’re all different.
As adult women, Nina Funnell and I have both admitted to each other (almost tentatively for fear of losing some feminist credibility) that as little girls we were bower-bird like in our pursuit for all that was shiny, pretty and pink. We adored our Barbies, were besotted by anything princess-like and suspect that were they around back then — we would have sold our little glittered-up souls for a Bratz. And yet like Clementine, we somehow managed to turn out just fine ( we explored this idea in a piece published by the Sydney Morning Herald: Barbie’s not an issue if girls can think for themselves). Raising healthy, well-adjusted girls has less to do with the toys they play with ( or the colours they chose to wear) and more to do with the values we instill in them. By teaching our children to think critically about cultural goods and by equipping them with skills to navigate complex cultural messages we will be empowering them for life. Education — not panic — enables girls to see clearly, think critically, and reinvent their worlds.
Girls too need to be told that there are many ways in which they can chose to be a girl and a woman. Enlighten Education Presenter, and Manager for WA, Nikki Davis agreed:
When I work with teen girls I tell them upfront that I have always been attracted to very traditionally “girlie” things – I demanded to choose my own (usually pink) clothes from age 3, dressed up as a Princess at every available opportunity and I still love high heels and make up. I then go on to tell them how important feminism is to me and how powerful I believe we all can be as women. I love to see the relief on the faces of a number of girls in the room as they realize that they don’t have to trade in their nail polish or love of clothes to be strong and independent with opinions that matter. I think telling girls that they have to fit into any sort of “mould” is incredibly limiting and we risk perpetuating age-old ideas around women having labels like ‘sporty’, ‘girlie’ or ‘tough’. There’s no reason why a woman can’t be all of those things if she chooses to be!
Once again, I’d love to hear from you. What messages do you think we deliver to young women that are harmful?
Jun 4th, 2014 by Danni Miller
The following guest post is by the wonderful Angela Mollard. Angela is a columnist, parent and author of parenting book The Smallest Things. I loved contributing to this post (originally published in Sunday Life, May 25) which is reflective of articles I’ve written on this very theme, including a piece that was published in the feminist anthology Destroying The Joint; Beyond jeering – an unapologetic love letter to teen girls.
Remember when we could barely get through a week without a pity party for Jennifer Aniston?
“Poor thing,” we’d collectively exclaim, as another magazine cover would reveal she was permanently lonely, grievously scarred by Brad, intimidated by Angelina and either pregnant or DEVASTATED by baby loss, often in the same week.
Occasionally she’d find a new boyfriend and the magazines would go on 24-hour bump watch, or she’d get her hair cut and look particularly foxy, and we’d all breathe a sigh of relief and think, phew, thank goodness for that, Jen’s alright.
It’s a thing we do with young women — build them up, obsess about their hair/clothes/boyfriends/character, then when they do something silly, or we get bored, you can feel the global tut of disapprobation.
“What’s that, everyone? An apology for treating me like one big sop story for so many years?”
It happened to Gwyneth Paltrow (Oscars speech 1999) and Anne Hathaway, and right now it’s Jennifer Lawrence — “oh I tripped again, is it still cute?” – who’s about to plummet from acclaim to disdain.
It’s one thing if you’re famous and can mitigate the fallout with a $5 million campaign for Chanel, or a trip to the Bahamas with your 30 favourite besties. But when the scorn and the faux hand wringing leaches down to young girls as a whole, we really need to step away from our assumptions and see them for who they really are.
Because if you believe the hype — and the occasional breathy columnist — girls are in crisis. They hate their bodies, they can’t communicate with boys, they’re obsessed with selfies, they’re the victims of porn-style sex, and they have terrible relationships with their parents.
No one talks about boys like this unless they’re a young footballer running amok, in which case they’re the architect of their own stupidity.
Well I’m calling bullshit, because if every sentence that starts with “girl” then ends with “neurosis”, “body-obsessed”, “eating disorders”, “anxiety” “self-harm” and “social media addict”, we may as well hand-deliver the script at birth and leave them to live it out. Girls can’t be what they can’t see and yet there’s an industry thriving on telling them how badly they’re messed up.
So here’s what I see.
I see girls communicating better than ever. It may not be face to face, but they’re expressing themselves and talking about their lives, whether via Facebook, Instagram, Kik or Snapchat.
Dannielle Miller, author of Loveability: An Empowered Girls Guide to Dating and Relationships, points out that social media has broadened their friendships beyond the school gate.
“Look at Debbie and Sue in Puberty Blues — they either had to meet up or talk on the phone. Today’s kids are powerfully connected and that’s reinforcing their human relationships.”
Yes we hear of girls being “dumped” online or via text, but wasn’t it ever thus? I’ll never forget Mark Munro (sorry mate, but I’ve waited years for this) enlisting his friend. “Angela, it’s Tim here. Mark doesn’t want to go out with you anymore. Bye.” There are still those jerks (of both genders), and long may they be pilloried.
What else? Oh, I see literary heroines aplenty. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent make Little Women look like, well, little women. But it’s John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars — due out in cinemas on June 5 — that’s become a social media supernova.
Quirky, philosophical and funny, it tells the story of two teens who meet at a cancer support group. Like Love Story, the best-selling book in the US in 1970, it’s bittersweet, but with none of the “love means never having to say you’re sorry” nonsense. The characters, Hazel and Gus, are the furthest thing from clichés, but their love is every teen’s — “As he read,” says Hazel, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
Granted, one of the agonies of modern love is the public way in which it is played out. Status updates and Facebook feeds give a constant reminder, but as Miller points out, that’s not “teen typical”. As she says: “All of us are trying to make sense of relationships in the age of technology.” Seeing the person you love move on brings pain, but it also grows greater resilience.
Porn? Yes, it’s a thing. But increasingly visible are the messages to counter it. In her school workshops, Miller teaches girls how to set their own boundaries and to challenge the idea that “boys do” while “girls get done”.
As for fears that they lack “commitment” — that relationships are now referred to as “having a thing” — it’s just semantics. As a 21-year-old friend told me: “The idea that we don’t have real flesh and blood relationships is just stupid. Me and most of my friends are in relationships and we talk about our feelings, hopes and aspirations.”
Body image concerns and learning how to protect themselves from abuse remain critical issues for girls. But as Jennifer, Gwyneth, Anne and now J-Law have proved you are so much more than the messages peddled about you.
I’m thrilled to be sharing this brilliant post by a colleague I adore; the always-wise Dr Karen Brooks. This was first published by The Courier Mail, 26th May.
I had the opportunity to talk to this on channel 7′s The Morning Show. You may watch this segment below.
At the Positive Schools Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference held at the Brisbane Convention Centre last week, teachers were told the emphasis on self-esteem in education and parenting has failed our children.
Rather than creating happy, confident kids, the self-esteem movement has contributed to what behavioural psychiatrist Dr David Sack calls “a generation of self-obsessed, irresponsible and unmotivated kids”.
Other experts describe kids unable to deal with adversity, anti-social behaviour, gross egotism, selfishness and an overweening sense of entitlement.
Described sometimes as cottonwool, eggshell and even teacup kids (because they’re so fragile), children raised under the self-esteem banner have no resilience and crumble at the first sign of criticism or difficulty.
Where and how did something so well-intended go so wrong?
The self-esteem movement began in 1969 with the publication of Nathaniel Braden’s book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Over the next 30 years, his idea that high self-esteem was the most valuable gift we can give to children was absorbed into the popular consciousness, the education system and parenting.
Evidence of its pervasiveness can also be seen in reality TV and the huge self-help industry, including motivational speakers.
But it seems as if the ideas and methodologies Braden spawned have backfired.
Deakin University Adjunct Professor Helen McGrath, argues “… a lot of the people who gloat about how to develop self-esteem are now writing about how this is actually a dangerous thing to do because what we are really doing is producing kids who are narcissistic because we focus too much on telling them how good they are, how wonderful they are, how everything they do is fantastic”.
Some have been taught to have no resilience and crumble at the first sign of difficulty.
Some have been taught to have no resilience and crumble at the first sign of difficulty.
Handing out ribbons to every child in a race; discouraging competition, ensuring no report card contains words that might offend, upset, or indicate (God forbid) how ordinary or bad a child’s performance at school really is, we’ve created a conformists’ paradise of mediocrity, where those at the top are given the same kind of accolades as those at the bottom and no one strives anymore.
After all, what’s the point when everyone is “special”, “gifted” and “smart”?
Focused on showering praise and positive comments upon our kids to shore up self-esteem, even when they don’t deserve them, it’s only recently we’ve noted the concomitant rise in depression, body dysmorphia, bullying and anxiety.
Discouraged from giving honest critiques of students’ abilities and understandably nervous about the fallout when they do, teachers are forced to pander to the ideals spouted in this outdated and hideously damaging self-esteem movement.
The consequences of this are not only a dumbing-down of every level of education but a fear of candid and constructive feedback – the cornerstones of life-learning. Parents who fight their kids’ battles – whether it be poor test results, being left out of a team or bad behaviour in the classroom, are teaching kids they don’t need to deal with adversity, change their manner or try harder either – not when mum or dad steps into the ring on their behalf.
Yet kids only blossom when they can move out their parents’ shadows.
There’s no doubt that social networking facilitates narcissism, encouraging a generation to use any means at their disposal to shore up their fragile self-esteem and seek approval (“likes”). In the cyberworld, increasing risks are taken to maintain a distorted sense of self-importance and relevance – think of sexting.
Dr Lauren LaPorta, chairman of the department of psychiatry at St Joseph’s Regional Medical Centre in New Jersey, argues that through social media, “Relationships become shallower and more fleeting; self-interest exceeds the common good. The costs of narcissism, then, are paid by the society at large.”
Dannielle Miller, CEO of Enlighten Education, who runs self-esteem and school-to-work-transition workshops for young people, believes that self-esteem is all about connectedness, compassion and community – an ability to empathise with others. She says in order to value yourself, you must value the person next to you. Appreciating the skills you have, upskilling where necessary, she encourages young people to respect what others bring to situations, to be prepared to start at the bottom and to adapt.
Like many other experts, Miller believes high self-esteem isn’t the problem as much as false self-esteem. Steve Baskin, writing in Psychology Today, would agree. “Self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. When children stretch themselves, they expand their sense of their own capability and then feel confident to tackle the next challenge. Confidence comes from competence – we do not bestow it as a gift.”
In other words, despite what Braden argued in the 1960s, self-esteem does not cause high grades, high grades (earned through intellect, study, dedication, passion and a combination of all these) cause high self-esteem.
In shielding our kids from the vagaries of life, we’re doing them a huge disservice. We insulate them from experiences that encourage growth, mental toughness and build healthy self-esteem. Worse, we reinforce the notion they’re not capable of coping on their own.
If we want to prepare our kids for adult life – one that’s often harsh – then we owe it to them to give them a gift all right: resilience.
Dr Karen Brooks is an associate professor at the UQ Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies.
Sorry Batman, Spiderman, Thor, and Captain America but where the hell is my Wonder Woman movie?!
The only female warriors we’ve been presented with on screen in recent times possess a traditional male version of power. It’s all kick-boxing, weapons, sensible black pants, hair-tied back and hangin’ with the boys. Think The Hunger Game’s Katniss, The Divergent’s “Tris”, Captain America’s ally The Black Widow…
Not that there’s anything wrong with girls who display more traditionally male types of power or chose to present themselves in a more traditionally male manner, and as these franchises have done terrific business we are obviously craving something beyond the damsels in distress that have long dominated our screens (after all, how many times can one watch a charming Vamp rescue a Bella?). But nor is there anything necessarily wrong with power that presents itself in other more traditional feminine ways – as the long-haired, female-loving, all-shiny, truth seeking, WW well knows.
And if films featuring female heroines are rating through the roof, then why aren’t we bringing to the screen a role model that will show there are many ways to be a girl – and many ways to be a powerful person? Even Joss Whedon (famous for creating Buffy and, more recently, writing and directing the Avengers) wrote a script for a movie and the studio canned it. Incidentally, Whedon was once asked why he wrote so many strong female characters to which he replied, “Because you’re still asking me that question”.
WW also has huge widespread appeal; I’m certainly not the only woman to have a major girl-crush on this kick-butt princess who is really the alter ego of Princess Diana of the Amazons, a nation of women warriors in Greek mythology.
Why is it that so many of us devotees to this woman who is said to boast the wisdom of Athena and the beauty of Aphrodite?
Well not only does she rock some amazing star-spangled knickers and to-die for red boots, but she fights crime using possibly one of the coolest super-tools ever, the Golden Lasso of Truth, which compels baddies to speak honestly to her. In the early days of the comics, though, the lasso’s power was broader than that: if Wonder Woman caught you in her lasso, you had to obey all her commands. The writer who created Wonder Woman back in the 1940s, psychologist William Marston, said the lasso was a symbol of ‘female charm, allure, oomph, attraction’ and the power that ‘every woman has … over people of both sexes whom she wishes to influence or control in any way’.
When it came to creating a weapon to put in his super-heroine’s hand, he didn’t just adapt one of the many traditional masculine examples he could have chosen from. Instead, being a man interested in the power of the mind, he recognized the power of femininity and turned it into a weapon itself. Bam! No wonder Ms Magazine made her their first cover girl in their inaugural issue that boasted the headline, “Wonder Woman For President.”
It is the combination of femininity and power that makes WW particularly swoon-worthy – and unique.
The studios may fear that despite the success of the futuristic warrior-girl films we may not yet be ready for a female super-heroine. After all, Catwoman and Elektra were major flops. But perhaps the need for WW goes beyond the need to make money? Certainly the co-star of Captain America, Anthony Mackie, thinks so. In a recent interview he expressed why he thinks it is so important that girls should also feel represented: “There should be a Wonder Woman movie. I don’t care if they make 20 bucks, if there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman… There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.”
So here’s my question to you Hollywood… if you can fund God-awful films like The Hangover III, and Movie 43, and if we can have five Spiderman films in the past decade, and six Batman films since the ‘90’s, then why can’t we offer little girls at least one film featuring the ultimate girls-can-be-anything-and-everything Princess who fights for justice, love, peace and sexual equality?
Because want to know the golden-lasso-style truth?
We need her.
And so do you.