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Month: April 2008

Club 21, “girl world” exposed: binge drinking, bullying, low self esteem and distorted body image.

AND the importance of moving beyond finger pointing.

Queensland school girls have formed an exclusive club, known as Club 21, which encourages members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. This number is then drawn on their hand for all to see.

The club not only operates at St Patrick’s Mackay, but has gone global via the internet and chat rooms.

This story has caused significant shock in the media. However it is unlikely this type of bullying – of each other and those who didn’t make it into the club – came as a shock to many teen girls. It was likely no surprise to their teachers either, who witness the various manifestations of the “Compare and Despair” game that teen girls are so good at playing, in playgrounds right across Australia. Recent studies show three out of five teen girls report being teased about their appearance at school. Girls in particular judge themselves and each other on how they look and on how popular they are bohabbo143v2.jpgth with other girls, and with boys.

When I was a teen girl at high school much of lunch time was spent rating our peers. It was our own little real life version of the magazines we grew up with that asked us, in virtually every issue, to decide whether particular clothes were in, or whether a celebrity was hot or not. We felt powerful playing these games – we may not have been able to control many elements of our lives, but we tried to control how we looked through diets, and we could definitely control each other through ridicule.

We may not have had a number reflecting these scores branded on our hands, but the scores were branded on our psyches.

The rules in girl rating games, both then and now, are not difficult to follow. Be considered hot by your peers and in particular by boys – and score points. Getting a highly desired boyfriend means an instant advance to the top of the club. I was lucky enough to have landed the school “spunk” at one stage and was elevated from classroom “brainiac” to the girl everyone wanted to know almost over night. He dumped me a year later for a girl considered even hotter – at just 14 she was already a model appearing in women’s magazines and parading in labels sold only to rich thirty-somethings. My dream run at the top of the charts was destroyed.

What makes this latest story of highly organised girl competiveness newsworthy is the use of technology to spread the ranks.

In my early years as a teacher in High Schools, I found it relatively easy to intercept notes critiquing other girls. Technology means these same messages can now can reach thousands of recipients in moments. Harmful messages found on toilet walls could be scrubbed off – it is much more difficult to delete messages once they have gone global.

The potential for misuse of the cyber world is alarming. But we cannot blame the internet alone. It is after all merely a tool, it is all too easy to blame the evils of technology rather than examining why our society has become more and more toxic for our young people.

Just why has girl self hatred gone mainstream and global?

Years of watching reality TV and being invited to rank contestants and evict / put below the yellow line / vote off those not entertaining enough or thin enough or sexy enough to keep us interested have no doubt played a role. And if Paris can get famous for being rich, thin and for sleeping around why can’t they? Elements of the media have been most hypocritical in their reporting of this incident. They have judged these girls harshly when these young women have really only responded to the fodder they have been fed by these same image obsessed magazines; magazines that perpetuate the misconception that success is dependent largely on appearances and sexual desirability.

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This incident is also a sad reflection of a society that makes our girls feel lonely. When they cannot find real connection at school, or at home, they look for it in cyber world and find all their deepest and darkest fears and fantasies fed on sites that promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice, sites celebrating images of “girls gone wild” trashed and flashing their breasts at parties.

The reality is many women play this same compare and despair game too. Studies have shown that while up to 65per cent of teenage girls think they are less beautiful than the average girl, 84 per cent of women over 40 think they are less beautiful than the average woman. A survey released by the Australian Women’s Weekly just this week found that only one in six women were happy with their weight, one in five had such a poor body image they avoided mirrors and 45 per cent would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it. Binge drinking appeared to be rife too, with a third of the women surveyed drinking too much and one in five women admitting she had been told she had a drinking problem.

As grown up women we no longer rank ourselves from 1-21 but many of us do get up in the morning and let the number that flashes up on our scales dictate our mood for the day.

Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful while we rush for botox. We tell them inner beauty counts whilst we invest in plastic surgery and devour magazines that tell us that it is really only about air brushed perfection after all.

We may saddened by Club 21, but why are we shocked? Girls cannot be what they cannot see. If even the grown up girls are comparing and despairing, is it any wonder that our daughters do not know what “I am me, I am ok” looks like?

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Let’s not blame the victims here. After all, these are young girls – pushing boundaries, exploring and making mistakes. We shouldn’t fall into the easy trap of simply making these girls out to be uber bitches. Rather, they are a sad reflection of the times. We need to dig a little deeper and address the toxic messages our girls are fed and ensure these are countered with positive body image programs and messages of strength and resilience.

News flash! With the upgrades to Edublog, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did with Prue McSween on this topic. Enjoy!

  Click to listen – Dannielle Miller and Prue McSween on cyber bullying and Club 21, Radio 2UE. mp3

Imagine. Daydream…then follow through. See possibility, be bold, blossom.

This week I am inviting you to upload the PDF’s below and learn a little more about me and my heart’s work – Enlighten Education.

Who are we? What to do we do? Why does it matter?

I am very proud of both these articles. The first, “Creating Shiny Girls: moving beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers” was featured in the latest issue of the always excellent official journal of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders.

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The second, “Close to the Heart” was a case study included in the 2008 annual issue of Ms Entrepreneur Magazine. I feel honored to be included in this high profile publication alongside some very creative and savvy women. Other women profiled in the lanuch issue include Carla Zampatti, Sarina Russo and this year’s Telstra Australian Businesswoman of the Year Leanne Preston.      

ms-entrepreneur-2008-magazine-scanned.pdf 

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Enjoy.

Sport – the real winners and losers

Back in 2006 we had the Senate Enquiry into female participation in sport. The enquiry concluded, amongst other things, that female sportswear might be a deterrent to participation.

The Daily Telegraph offered the following interviews with key participants:

ACT senator Kate Lundy, deputy chairwoman of the Senate committee that produced the report, said sports should do a survey of their women participants to see whether their uniform policy was suitable. ‘The main problem people expressed here was a risk of teenage girls being turned off sport because of the types of clothing they’re required to wear,’ she said. ‘It is a body image issue on one side, but by having a bit more flexibility with respect to uniforms, you can help support young women in improving their body image. If a girl is more comfortable playing in shorts and that will keep her in the sport, let’s go with that.’ Australian netball team co-captain Liz Ellis told The Daily Telegraph while fitted body-suits were good to play in because they kept players cool, young girls should play in whatever made them comfortable. ‘It would be great to see sports clubs look at their dress codes, for teenage girls, but especially for young women of the Muslim faith,’ she said. ‘Anything to promote young women to stay in sport would be positive.”

Have sportswear manufacturers cleaned up their act and focused on producing sportswear that is flattering, comfortable and practical? Are we encouraging our girls to get out there and get involved? Is this really just old news?

Recent sportswear campaigns and events both on and off the field clearly show this race has not yet been won.  

The following ads are for the Skins range of sportswear for women – can you believe these slogans?

“Men will love you, women will hate you. Lucky you’re not a lesbian. Skins delivers immediate results for the woman who wants to look and feel like a complete bitch.”    

Then there’s:

“Get a body to die for. And watch women queue up to help with your funeral arrangements. Skins are perfect for the woman who loves the feel of claws sticking into her back.”  

Or how about:

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 Note the line: “Get the body every other woman would love. To spit on.”

My Program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown, originally pointed these ads out to me. As Storm laments, the emphasis on obtaining the PERFECT body is ugly enough, but pitting woman against woman? Grotesque. 

Need more? What about the Brooks Sports wear ad that promoted the company’s support of breast cancer (a great cause) but did so in an ad featuring two female runners with their breasts bouncing and the caption – “Nice pair!”   

The clothes may not be revealing, but the advertising campaigns certainly are – play sport just to look hot, hot, hot. These ads feed the very real risk of exercising excessively as a means of controlling weight.  Research clearly shows excessive exercise and eating disorders go hand in hand. These ads also alienate women who may not be comfortable with ruthless competition, nor with being viewed as just a pair of tits in sneakers.

And what about the treatment of the trailblazing Rebecca Wilson on The Footy Show last week? Rebecca is the first female panel member to join the traditionally blokey show. A good move from channel 9 to add her expertise – particularly when football generally is trying to reclaim its female fan base after a series of disgraceful incidents involving players indiscretions over the last few years.

So how was she welcomed to the team?  

Sam Newman used a staple gun to attach a cutout picture of Wilson’s face to the forehead of a mannequin. The life-sized doll was dressed in nothing more than a sheer, skimpy, aqua bra and underwear set. Samantha Lane from fairfax media recounts: “Inspired by a letter published in this newspaper’s Green Guide section that discussed what Wilson wears on Footy Classified, Newman made clumsy attempts to dress the mannequin but mostly he manhandled it. He flicked the top of the knickers, he put his hands squarely between the doll’s legs and he thrust it into the face of Craig Hutchison, who sits alongside Wilson on Monday nights. It was violent and vulgar.”

And this in a climate where a DVD was recently produced and launched with great fan fare for AFL players to help them develop their respect for women! Melinda Tankard Reist spoke for many women when she expressed her dismay over the need for such tuition:

So, it has come to this. We have so failed in the very basics of civilised human interaction that the Australian Football League has been forced to hire a swag of actors and a film crew to make an interactive DVD to help players understand that perhaps it’s not a good idea to pretend to be your best mate so you can have sex with his girlfriend. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Let’s spell it out together, boys!” The AFL wants to help the lads recognise that taking advantage of a woman who’s had too much to drink, doesn’t rank as the noblest decision they could ever made. “C-O-N-S-E-N-T: Shout it out for me, boys!”What’s next: teaching men not to bash women over the head with a club and drag them into a cave by their hair?”

Seems Sam Newman might need to spend the night in front of a good DVD… 

I’ll end on a positive.

I have praised adidas before for its fantastic portrayal of women in sport in the advertisements for their women’s range. I LOVE their latest one featuring celebrity trainer Michelle Bridges. The caption reads:

“Play a sport where the rewards are respect, self belief and inner strength. Play by your own rules.
Play gym. Impossible is nothing.”

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Michelle was made famous through her involvement with Tv’s The Biggest Loser. I have questioned this show’s emphasis on dramatic weight loss at all costs, and the promise of a new, perfect life as a direct result of the new perfect body, in a recent Opinion Piece I wrote that was published in the Herald. HOWEVER, this campaign gets it just right – the rewards for participating in sports must include self respect, self belief and inner strength. Surely the bonus is the improved fitness and toned body?

I met Michelle Bridges briefly this week and was struck by her genuine passion for what she does and her commitment to assisting her clients to feel good, not just look good. She also told me that as a young teen girl sport was her physical and emotional outlet. It kept her sane and strong. I want more of these role models for our girls! Bring it on adidas! 

Supporting girls with self esteem and positive body image – what works best?

A number of innovative schools and gifted, intuitive psychologists have crossed my path of late – all seeking out ways in which they can best assist the girls they care for to develop a positive body image and respond intelligently to our toxic “girl hating” culture.  

Firstly, I have thoroughly enjoyed Professor Martha Straus’ seminal work “Adolescent Girls In Crisis – Intervention and Hope” ( 2007, published by Norton). Here is a small taste: my abridged version of her stunning “Ten Tips For Working With Girls”:

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1. Make and keep promises.

2. Admit your mistakes and apologize.

3. Hold hope – be a holder of hope for the future.

4. Trust the process – beware that our desire to be transformative in some way does not come across as criticism or disrespect (don’t be just another adult who knows best).

5. Identify choices, ask for choices, take joy in choices – frame in choices eg: is this what you want?

6. When they’re at a loss for words, guess and guess again – many teen girls remain concrete in their reasoning and have a limited vocabulary for expressing their feelings so we must frame for them eg; I feel really angry about this – do you?

7. Base expectations on developmental age, not chronological age – they may have adult sized problems and only child like strategies to fall back on, they may be overwhelmed by expectations they consistently can’t meet.

8. Build Teams. Find connections for them – other adults they can turn to, peers etc

9. Empathy, empathy, empathy.

10. Don’t underestimate your role in their life – adolescent girls want to be seen, heard and felt.

I particularly LOVE this quote:

“On my best days, I help adolescent girls find their ‘selves’ in the midst of a cacophony of other competing voices – parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, celebrities, and the loud insistence of popular culture. I know that clear speaking in therapy serves as a model for speaking truth everywhere. Seeing, hearing and feeling my best voice also strengthens me, and the connection between myself and the girls I work with.”

Oh yes! This is exactly how I feel after working with girls in our workshops.

In March Sonia Lyne (Enlighten Education’s Program Director, Victoria) and I travelled to Perth to work with all the girls (Year 7 -12) from St Brigid’s Lesmurdie. The school were keen to establish a whole school approach and incorporated an event for parents, as well as a link with the wider community via the launch of Women’s Forum Australia’s BRILLIANT publication Faking It. (EVERY school should have at least one copy of this groundbreaking yet highly accessible research as a teacher resource!).

PDF copy of the full week’s program – “Celebrate, Challenge and Change at St Brigid’s”: ee_stbrigid_a4broch_hr.pdf

The results were fabulous – so many girls were informed, inspired, understood and (re)connected. One of my personal highlights was the Movie Night. I was touched that almost a hundered girls arrived (in their PJ’s) to watch a film with Sonia and I, eat popcorn, and generally be silly.  A simple night. All about celebration.

Their school Principal, Ms Amelia Toffoli, was there amongst it all…how brilliant! In fact, many of the teachers were very actively involved. All embraced wearing our  hot pink “Princess Power” bands ( aimed to reinforce the messages each of our workshop explores). Even the Head of Senior School, Mr Jim Miller, wore a hot pink band too. Teenagers yearn to connect emotionally and feel like they belong not only to a family, or to a friendship group, but to a wider school community. 

I arrived back home absolutely exhilarated. 

Equally as exciting was the invitation to work with the Years 5 and 6 girls at St John Vianney’s Woolongong.

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Enlighten has never worked with such young girls before, however, their school executive insisted that they wanted to be proactive and support their girls before the real crises of adolescences overwhelmed them. I found the girls  so incredibly enthusiastic and simply delicious! The local press did an excellent article on the event which really highlights why special initiatives are so valuable – open this if for no reason than wanting to see these gorgeous girls’ smiling faces! May I say it again – THEY ARE YUMMY!

Illawarra Mercury – 1/4/08 : iq-story-on-body-image.pdf

I cannot let the opportunity pass to share the feedback Fran Simpson, the school’s Religious Education Coordinator, provided us with:

“Dannielle performs magic! She is a fairy godmother to all those sleeping beauties sitting in classrooms and in playgrounds. She takes the girls on an inner journey of self discovery in a very short time…it is one very magical day filled with sparkle and glitter. Dannielle’s gentle and loving touch coupled with her insights and expertise allowed each girl to soar to new heights. I love what Enlighten Education did for the girls. It’s amazing. The Enlighten program fits all girls needs perfectly. Enlighten Education is the most valuable educational workshop I have EVER used.”

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I love this work! I love being a Fairy Godmother!

Finally, kudos to the Victorian Government who are offering secondary schools positive body image grants of up to $5,000 to support them in undertaking and promoting activities with young people.   

The Grant guidelines not only provide an insight into what the funders are looking for in terms of accountability and sustainability, but to the types of initiatives that generally work best within the school context:

programguidelines_positivebodyimagegrants08.pdf

Applications for this close on April 18th. 

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