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Month: October 2008

Buying love?

The article below first appeared in the UK Daily Mirror in September of this year. It raises so many issues relating to teen girl friendships, self esteem, body image and parenting that I have decided to copy it in its entirity here.

Below the article are questions worth considering. Teachers: this would make an excellent stimulus for a discussion in class. Should any of my educator readers use this, I would encourage you to submit some of your students’ responses here as comments.

I bought my daughter a EUR21,000 body to beat the bullies; Lesley Bennett’s teenage daughter Becky was desperate to change her looks after years of bullying and Lesley didn’t hesitate to spend her life
savings putting her under the knife. 
Helen O’Brien, The Daily Mirror, September 30th 2008.  

Gazing at her dazzling smile and admiring her new-found confidence, Lesley Bennett has no regrets about spending her life savings on her daughter Becky’s looks.

Despite having an enviable figure and an attractive face Becky’s self-esteem was shattered by years of bullying at school.

But still many parents would have tried counselling before spending EUR21,000 to give their daughter a new body.

“I’ve no doubt I did the right thing. I’d do it again without a second thought because Becky is happy now,” says Lesley, 51.

Only child Becky had always been bright, popular and bubbly. But when she started a new school at 14, Lesley noticed a change. “My enthusiastic daughter was gone. She used to love singing and going with friends to after-school clubs. Now she wouldn’t do anything.”

Every morning when Lesley dropped off Becky at school she watched her daughter trudge alone and miserable through the gates. Teachers assured her it was just a teenage thing.

But things got worse. And excuses to skip school started. “She moaned about a bad stomach ache or a migraine. I knew something was wrong.”

Eventually, Becky came home from school and broke down. “The bullying was relentless,” Becky, now 22, explains. “It didn’t matter where I was, the bullies always found me.

“I spent every break locked in the toilets, hiding from the names – ‘ugly’, ‘disgusting’, and ‘pale skeleton’. I was an easy target because I was the ‘new girl’. I don’t know why they took a dislike to me, I did nothing to provoke them.

“The bullying was never physical but they threatened to cut off my hair. It was really stressful and because I’d started at a new school I had no friends. I felt completely alone and I had a real fear of going to school.”

When she started wearing make-up, hoping that if she looked pretty her tormentors might leave her alone, the bullies called her a slag.

Lesley says: “I felt so guilty. Why didn’t I see something earlier? I felt I’d failed her. I felt angry that these kids were ruining my daughter’s life. Why Becky? She was gorgeous.” After two years of constant name-calling Becky left school with five GCSEs vowing never to return to education.

“If I’d known about the bullying earlier I would’ve considered home tuition. The bullying ruined everything,” Lesley adds.

Eventually, Becky summoned the courage to study graphic design but when some of the school bullies turned up at the college she immediately left.

A shadow of her former self, Becky began to suffer panic attacks and increasingly couldn’t leave the house.

“The bullies had left her terrified and vulnerable,” says Lesley. Just the thought of going out filled her with fear.

“She used to love shopping, now she didn’t leave her room. I didn’t know what to do.”

Lesley tried persuading Becky to see a doctor but she adamantly refused. Lesley adds: “I didn’t want to turn into a bully myself and force her, so I just tried to be supportive.”

For Becky’s 18th birthday she didn’t have a party or go out clubbing like most girls her age. She sat at home with Lesley, dad David and her grandmother, and celebrated with a slice of pink cake.

Lesley says: “We tried to make her birthday as special as possible but there was a sense of sadness that she wasn’t out with friends.”

The next day Becky sat her parents down and told them the extent of her depression.

“I told them how much I hated myself, ” Becky says. “I told them I wanted to change and I knew how. I wanted cosmetic surgery and I begged them to help me financially.”

Becky showed her parents pages of research she’d been doing on cosmetic surgery and told them how desperate she was to change her body.

Lesley says: “She’d clearly spent years collating all this stuff. And then I looked at Becky and I could tell she was close to a breakdown.

“I reassured her that she was beautiful as she was but she was convinced the only way she would ever be happy was with surgery.”

With the teeth, the boob job, the liposuction, the fake nails, hair styling and tanning, Becky’s wish list added up to EUR21,000.

“It was our life savings. But I couldn’t think of a better use. Getting the real Becky back was priceless,” Lesley adds.

As soon as Lesley and David agreed, Becky booked to get her teeth whitened and straightened. A year later, when she was 19, she had her breasts enlarged from a 32A to a 32C. And the following year, when she was 20, she had liposuction on her inner thighs.

“I was terrified when she was wheeled into surgery but I shouldn’t have worried. The results spoke for themselves.

“Afterwards, she looked – and clearly felt – fantastic. It was as if with each operation Becky’s confidence was being restored,” says Lesley. And to finish the look, Becky booked a fake tan, fingernail extensions, haircut and colour.

Lesley watched the cost mount but had no regrets. “As Becky blossomed into a beautiful, happy young woman, I didn’t begrudge the cost for a single moment.”

Becky, of Penge, South London, says: “The bullies dragged me down so much that I began to believe everything they told me. The surgery was for me to feel like my life was mine again.”

Becky’s panic attacks stopped. And soon she began a new life as a model.

Lesley adds: “Today, Becky’s confident, outgoing and happy. In fact, at the age of 22 she’s got a new life. You wouldn’t recognise her from the girl she was before.”

But Becky has another boob job planned for the beginning of next year, although she insists she’s saving up to pay for this one herself. “Surgery made me feel my life was mine again.”

What they spent

Teeth EUR7,500

Boob job EUR7,000

Liposuction EUR5,000

Fake nails EUR500 (a year)

Hair restyling EUR200

Tanning EUR800 (a year)

Total EUR21,000

Possible questions for discussion

Have you ever witnessed bullying at your school? How did it make you feel viewing this?

Why do you think some girls target other girls for bullying?

Is verbal bullying as serious as physical bullying? Explain your response.

What types of things should schools do in an attempt to eliminate bullying?

What can you do to help eliminate bullying?

How can parents best support their daughters when things are not going well for them at school?

What are your thoughts on Lesley’s decision to pay for the cosmetic surgery Becky wanted?

Do you believe Becky’s new body will ensure she has a new life?

Is there too much pressure placed on young women to conform to an idealized image of beauty? Who do you think places these pressures on girls?

 

Girl World

I have noticed a spate of articles in the media of late on “mean girls”; commentators have been quick to highlight, and to almost revel, in tales of adolescent girls who bully others.

I work face to face with hundreds of teenage girls from right across Australia and New Zealand each week. What do I see? Is bullying and bitchiness as rampant in our classrooms as the media would have us believe?

Planet Girl can be a place filled with cliques, secrets, passive aggressive exchanges, and tears. Much has already been written about the ugly side of teen girl friendships. And let’s face it, it is easy to be negative about teen girl world for it can be a political, intense, place. Unlike the boys who often get physical and then forget and forgive their differences, girls do tend to ostracize their enemies and use words as weapons and this can be far more scarring and damaging long term. Many women I speak to in my seminars for parents still vividly recall the pain of being teased by other girls. And still feel guilt over the times they teased other girls.

Girls may also be bullied one minute, and the bully the next as they jostle for position with the social hierarchy. In the years I spent as a teacher and in student welfare roles, I witnessed some truly devastating episodes of girl bullying. I have seen girls’ lives made literally miserable by their peers.

Often the reasons behind this victimization are bewildering. A girl I met in my work with Enlighten sat scribbling furiously on her feedback form for me after the workshop. And as she left the room she held me – for a long time. When she left I read her comments, they included this poignant insight into the devastating effect the other girls at her school had had on her:

“I learnt today that I am beautiful and I’m not ugly because they (the other girls at my school) might say I am, I’m not what people may say I am. I can imagine, I can love, I am beautiful, I also have purpose…”

When I asked her teachers what this girl’s experience of school was like, they told me that ever since High School began she had been tormented – pushed down stairs, spat on, ignored. Why? The other girls all thought her ears stuck out.

This type of mean girl behaviour must be taken seriously by the adults who witness it and action must be taken. The ABC’s Life matters recently broadcast an interesting program which explored ways in which parents and schools could deal with bullying and help girls develop positive relationships – it is well worth a listen. Other useful resources include the video clips “Words Hurt”, “Cyber bullying talent show” and an interview I did earlier this year with Prue McSween. All can be found in my video library – Vodpod.     

Left unchecked, girl hostility can escalate and become a systematic campaign of verbal, and physical, violence. Experts point to a new gang-like mentality among schoolgirls where a popular “queen bee” uses friends to bully or hurt to cement her position of power. The term “Barbie Bitches,” a term to describe gangs of girls who believe they are beautiful, popular and have the right to intimidate those deemed less worthy, has became a frightening new part of our vernacular.

Yet despite all the politics and the potential for drama, I also find that the friendships between teen girls can be breathtakingly beautiful and authentic. And it is this positive, healing side to female friendships (a side that the media so often ignores) that I really want to further explore and celebrate this week.

Many girls deeply love their friends and their peer relationships provide a sense of belonging and acceptance that is sadly sometimes missing for them at home, where family members may seem to be time poor and over-scheduled.

I love the way girls giggle together, the way they play with each other’s hair and cuddle, the way they can be so fiercely loyal and protective of each other. When I ask girls who really knows them, understands them and loves them, the vast majority will tell me it is their friends who make them feel these essential emotions.

Recently, as part of my research for the book I am working on for Random House, I asked hundreds of teenage girls to share with me what they love about their female friends. I thought I’d share just some of their responses with you here now too:

“They understand mostly where I am coming from. They know when I am grumpy or upset how to deal with this. Although when stuff goes wrong it is horrible they are always willing to listen.” Ali 16

“How there is no pressure to ‘act up’ or to impress them. They accept me for who I am, not what I try and be.” Elizabeth 15

“They deal with the same problems as me. In conversations we often have moments when we realise how similar our issues are, and how much of a strong helping force we can be to each other.” Anon 15

“I love the confidence of my friends, the way they always strive for something higher; whether it be in school or socially and the way I know that they actually care about me and would always support me.” Haley 15

“I love the fact that they are all different from each other and from me. They respect who I am and my choices. I trust them with my life and can’t live without them.” Amanda 15

” I love how they don’t see me on the outside, and how they love me because of who I am. I can ask them for advice knowing that their advice will actually help me.” Julia 16

“I love how we can let go of our egos with each other, we can be stupid and silly but at the same know that there are always one or two of us who are mature ‘big sisters’ who have our backs.” Yan 16

“Being able to talk about private stuff I like the most. I have a guy friend who I tell my problems or difficulties to, but my girl friends, they also go through periods, shaving, cramps, bad hair days, etc. and it is nice to have them there to talk to. I also like not having to impress them, with boy friends there is always the ‘urge’ to impress them, with my girl friends it’s just us, and it’s fun.” Katie 17

“Female friends are great as you can never run out of things to talk about. I love being able to share everything about intimacy, body issues, etc and not being judged.” Abigail 17

“What I love about my friends is how they are always there for me no matter what and there to cheer me up if I’m feeling down. They are always fun to be around and make school all the better having them with me. Also they would never judge me on something and will always encourage me.” Montana 13

“I love my female friends because I can talk about anything with them. We can talk about things that I would never bring up with my mum.” Aimee 15

“Something that I love about my female friends is that no matter what you can always talk to them and even when you are smiling they always know when something is wrong. Basically without them there would be no way that I could live.” Carly 16

“Things I love about my friends is the happiness they can bring to you. A strong friendship can make you feel like you’re floating, even in your darkest times.” Laura 14

“I love all my girlfriends with all of my heart. They are easy to talk to and give great advice back. They help me go on the right path and not wrong. They are the soul of my body.” Courtney 14

How heartwarming. Female friendships are so valuable, and are so highly valued by teen girls – and by us older girls too! I’d love to hear just what your girlfriends mean to you, and how your female friendships have brought you love, light and laughter.

Let’s not ignore the problems that do exist, or turn a blind eye to bad behaviour. But let’s also unpack what works, and celebrate the many healthy relationships too.

Does size matter?

Guest post by Enlighten’s Program Manager for South Australia, Jane Higgins

An article in the Adelaide’s Advertiser on Saturday 20th September, 2008 sparked my interest.

Apparently a review of the Australian Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industries was released this week by the Federal Industry Minister, Kim Carr. The review recommend that $5 million be put towards developing a “consistent Australian sizing standard.” They argue that women are frustrated by the discrepancy in sizing in different stores. Being a size16 myself, I find I can range in size anywhere from a 14 – 20 and it is annoying to be at the mercy of a label’s decision of how to size their garments!

What is astounding, is that our clothing sizing has been based on the American research conducted by Berlei in 1926.

So much has changed since then including the size, lifestyle and habits of women. A National Size and Shape survey conducted by Henneberg and Veitch in 2004 involved taking 65 individual measurements from 1300 women and 100 men across the country, and was backed up by a study of 5000 people. It found that women today are up to 20% heavier than they were when the Berlei survey was done. Shock horror!! The average measurements of an Australian woman in the regular size range is now a 92cm bust, 74cm waist and 99cm hips, which fit a size 16 on the current Standards Australia garment rating. Further they found that the average woman in Adelaide was 77kg, and the women in Brisbane, 73kg. In fact Veitch goes onto say that 50% of Australian Women are not catered for with the present sizings .

According to this research, I am finally normal!!!! Will wonders never cease??!!

Some critics of the present sizings suggest we use numbers 1-5 as a new way of identifying our appropriate sizing. This week I went to a fashion parade of a big women’s label that uses S, M, L but being a 16 is equal to a Small in their range. As a mature woman I have a different body shape to a 20 year old woman who is also a size 16. My boobs are saggier, my tummy is flabbier and I have fat stored in places I never knew existed.

Attempting to buy up to date fashion in my size is incredibility difficult. But my solution has always been to buy most of my wardrobe from op shops. What fun I have finding that barging that reflects who I am in an individual way. I am also aware that this constant buying is not only placing stress on our bank balances, our sense of ourselves but also the environment. Apparently it takes about 2700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt!!!!!!!!!!!

Another issue worth considering is the impact our “passion for fashion” may be having on the environment. A report from the Council of Textiles and Fashion Industries found we are becoming a nation that considers clothing to be disposable . It showed that in 2007, women under 30 bought 102 items of clothing a year, double that of women over 30. There are now concerns on where these cheap clothes go after women decide the garment’s use-by date is up. Fuelling the high turnover of clothing is the new wave of fast-fashion stores that produce cheaper clothes flooding into stores every week.

Our worth cannot be measured by an arbiturary size. I am more than my size 16 – much bolder, bigger and fuller than a number could ever reflect! If a new sizing standard is to be introduced it must consider women of all ages, shapes and sizes – not just the antiquated cardboard cutouts from the past.

Now … I must write to Federal Industry Minister, Kim Carr and let him know I would develop a National sizing Standard for $4.9 million!!!

With love
Jane

 

 

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