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Author: Danni Miller

“Youth and sex sell baby,” designer Charlie Brown.

This week’s Sunday Life (an insert with the Sun Herald) was a dedicated fashion issue. I was particularly keen to read the “Rewind, 1999” article on designer Charlie Brown’s decision to use plus size model Sophie Dahl (a size 14) for her 1999 fashion show – had it been motivated by a desire to offer women real alternatives? How much has changed now in the industry – would such a move still be considered shocking?

The answers were simply sad.

Ms Brown’s only motivation was to get exposure for her brand, “I knew she would interest the public and the press….(it) brought me lots of attention.” Was she concerned that the media had been so rude to Dahl; one journalist had the hide to ask her “…what was it like to be a freak in the fashion industry?” Only in as far as it may have impacted on her own show -“I wasn’t very happy either because they asked (Sophie) this five minutes before the show started.” 

What did the gorgeous Dahl make of this event? Ms Brown tells us Sophie spent the trip ” …fighting her own shit about her weight…she pushed a lot of lettuce leaves around.”  

Why I am shocked at the insensitivity and overt and unabashed exploitation of a young and obviously vulnerable woman? This same designer produced a range of t-shirts last season that boasted “Trophy Wife” and made the much criticised decision when she hooked up with partner Danny to set up another home across the road so her own 11 year old daughter could live there with a Nanny and not with them. Perhaps there may be more to this parental decision than meets the eye, and I hate getting into the judgement game with other women as no-one wins it, but surely that seems insensitive too? Yet despite knowing this background, I still find the complete lack of empathy and respect shocking.

And so to Charlie Brown’s proclamation that “Youth and sex sell baby.” Can’t argue with that – and Sophie certainly caught on to the latter when she made the infamous advertisement below for Opium perfume. Strike a pose indeed…

Sophi and Opium…strike a pose!

Recent events at a Gold Coast Fashion week highlight that our obsession with youth is also getting dangerously out of hand. The Queensland fashion festival has been accused of child exploitation after choosing a 12-year-old girl as the face of the event.

The selection of Year 8 student Maddison Gabriel, as ambassador of the first Gold Coast Fashion Week has sparked condemnation from within and outside the modelling industry. Maddison’s mother and organisers of the Gold Coast show have defended the move, she said Maddison, who turns 13 this weekend, had wanted to model for years but had been forced to wait until she was considered old enough.

“I’m very proud and excited for her,” she said. “Some 12-year-olds are very young but I think Maddison is a woman in her own right. The judges themselves didn’t know how old she was. They just saw her as a model against other women.”

Models this young should be protected, she may well be mature but this particular “playground” is notoriously nasty and would challenge even the most worldly of girls. It certainly damaged 22 year old Sophie Dahl who, not long after her trip to Australia’s Fashion week, dramatically lost a lot of weight and sparked concerns for her health. However, I also think there are broader implications that are equally as alarming.

The reality is that Maddison will not be the only one at risk here. The fashion parade is an adults event, the audience are adult women and the clothes are aimed at women not small girls. Every women watching the fashion show will inevitably start to compare themselves to Maddison ( “Gee…my thighs don’t look that great actually…maybe I can’t get away with this look… oh I guess if I dieted hard enough I could shave a few centimetres before summer…”). WHY would a prepubescent girl be selected to model clothing designed to sell to women?

Society is becoming obsessed with youth – and this is not just hurting women as they desperately try to turn back the clock, but our children, who are being put forward as the desirable ideal. Rush and La Nauze’s 2006 Report “Corporate Paedophilia, the Sexualisation of Children in Australia” gives a disturbing account of how showing images of young girls dressed as sexual adults feeds men who prey on young girls – it “feeds them”.

Maddison should do herself (and every other women and girl) a favour and strut and pout around home for a while first. Surely there is time later in her career for modelling women’s clothing…

“It’s not just about how you play (the game)…

but about how hot you look when you win!”Sportz Bratz

I kid you not – this is the motto for the Sportz Bratz.

Research clearly shows one of the best things girls can do to promote a healthy body image is become involved in sports. enlighten actively encourages girls to get physical but also deconstructs some of the stereotypes of women in sport that are unhelpful and explores the sexualisation of female sport stars. Some information from the Government’s Australian Sports Commission web site reiterates why this holistic approach is so important:

Stereotypes influence the types of sports in which women are likely to participate. Not only are sports labelled masculine or feminine, those female athletes who participate in sports are also subject to being labelled and stereotyped as either masculine (possibly lesbian) or feminine (conforming to the ideal). Sport can be a liberating experience for women, in that it offers them a chance to be in control of their own bodies. However, when women start to develop attributes that are perceived to be masculine, for example, muscle bulk and competitiveness, they are often subject to a type of harassment that comes of stepping outside the conventional range of the idealised female body type…

Diet and exercise are used by women to alter their body in order to conform to ideal female images. These practices control women and can lead to eating disorders. There is concern regarding the relationship between eating disorders and elite female athletes, especially in sports with an emphasis on aesthetics and body presentation. Research has clearly linked negative body image with the prevalence of eating disorders, and the susceptibility of those women with negative body image to develop poor eating behaviours. The relationship is consistent, almost every person suffering from an eating disorder suffers from a severely distorted body image.

Research in the United States has found that women who participate in sports and physical activity have a more positive body image than those who don’t. Participation in sports elicits approval from peers, family and friends, and helps women feel that their bodies are capable and competent. These positive feelings produce a positive body image. Although body image is profoundly shaped by social, political, racial, age and gender factors, these experiences are not static and are vulnerable to other more modern influences. We have the power to resist and change these stereotypes.

By refusing the stereotype, women will have access to a greater diversity of experiences that shape body image and self-concept.”

You may also find the report entitled Fit to Lead, produced by Womensport West, interesting reading.  

Findings indicate that: ” …a significant number of teenage girls perceive the sporting arena to be male-dominated. Their experience and comprehension of this domination varies, but whatever its manifestation, the interaction is frequently regarded as negative.”

What I most enjoyed reading was the possible solutions girls proposed. These include encouraging female students to design and choose their own sports clothing ( I can relate – my 8 year old daughter Teyah HATES her baggy PE shorts with a passion and has cried over these!) and providing non-traditional sports for girls.  

Teyah has embraced Taekwondo and I delight in the fact that her teacher, Di Carn, is not only fabulous at the sport  (she is a Commonwealth Gold medalist) but a wonderful teacher and female role model – patient, professional, powerful. A real life “kick butt” Princess Fiona!

What else works?   

I also believe that sport models the connection between out thoughts and our results. If we think we will achieve, we are far more likely to. All sports stars are aware of the power of positive thinking and getting in the zone. We use the analogy of the sports star psyching herself up before an event to explain to the girls how important their self talk is. Our words can heal or harm.

I applaud Adidas’s new Womens Philosophy and advertising campaign:

Sport is not an obligation

It`s a game

So play

And have fun

It`s up to you

Throw away expectations

And surprise yourself along the way.

Impossible is Nothing.”

It is up to us. We are in control. Powerful stuff.

P.S – Some interesting comments here, particularly on sportswear! Do read and offer your thoughts…

P.S.S Found excellent YouTube clip on the media’s representation of female athletes – an American one but worth a look:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/luadmO7Cugc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] 

National Body Image / Eating Disorder Week

You may be aware that the week commencing 3rd September 2007 was National Body Image / Eating Disorder Awareness week. I thought I would attach the following article for your interest and to assist you in your vital work in this area – it is an article from the Professional School Counseling Journal, February 2007, and is entitled counseling-adolescent-girls-for-body-image-resilience.doc

It is an American journal article but highly relevant to the Australian school context. The model identifies five protective factors that contribute to girls’ abilities to resist sociocultural pressures regarding thinness. Specific prevention and counseling strategies that school counselors (and teachers) can use to promote positive body image in adolescent girls are provided.

I was particularly interested in this finding:

Rather than a pathology-driven model that emphasizes treatment for the concerns of girls in clinical samples, the most promising programs incorporate protective factors that build on girls’ strengths, promote resilience, and buffer them from the development of body dissatisfaction and subsequent disordered eating practices.”

The article goes on to provide a number of practical strategies and presents a large body of research to support its recommendations.

Well worth a cuppa and a read.

The poignent poem below is by Claire Clements. Claire first contacted me after seeing us featured on A Current Affair in May 2006. We were profiled along with Professor Susan Paxton, Australia’s preeminent expert on girls and eating disorders. It is my understanding that Claire has struggled to gain weight and regain her health after a long period of illness.

It is really quite powerful and I thank her for sharing:
CURVES By Claire Clements

I am being reborn

Learning to breathe again

And with this comes awakening

Of the body and the mind

I have never been a woman

Though, once, I believed I was

Looking through a window

To a field I thought more green

But the window now has curtains

Which I keep shut tight

And for a while I lived in shadow

Alone

Void, even, of my soul

But now I am emerging

Not like a butterfly, no

But like a caterpillar

Feasting on fresh new leaves

Preparing for what I, eventually, will be

But now, here I am

Expanding. Growing.

And how wonderful it feels

To run your hands over your body

And feel pure meat and flesh

Not bones

To be feeding off flavours

Not internal organs

To look and see molehills

Not indentations

To breathe without fearing

For the pressure on my heart

To shower and take pleasure

In lathering my stomach

To have eyes appreciate my curves

Looking at them with relief, pride, happiness

Not eyes full of sexual hunger

Not eyes of a man

But with eyes of a friend

A parent, a sibling, a niece

To sit with my cat

Without her falling off my lap

To feel that life may actually be achievable

And not live in a cloud of despair

To have curves

Finally

Like the
Queens and beauties

In paintings from before

Like Cassandra

Like a goddess

Like a bear

Like a caterpillar

Storing up the padding

To last me through my transformation

Until I am that butterfly

To use food for its intended

A celebration of life

Of Nature

To finally be a woman

That you can look upon

Without grimacing in disgust

For I am on my way to curves

And I have never felt more beautiful.

Women and Success – Daring to Shine

  • I want to share with you some very exciting news – enlighten education has just been short listed as a State Finalist in the Small Business Champions Awards, Children’s Services Category.

These Awards are hosted by the Commonw814218_silhouettes.jpgealth Bank and the Australian Government and are the largest and most prestigious national awards for small businesses. Judging is made based on an assessment of our performance in key areas including the services we provide, our commitment to our clients and the local community, the results we have achieved (business growth, external awards, recognition given by industry experts etc) and the ways in which we develop and motivate our staff. We are all exceptionally proud of this achievement and optimistic that we may take out the Award when the announcement is made late October. Fingers crossed.

I have also, much to my surprise and delight, been listed as a Finalist for Small Business Champion Entrepreneur.

The entire award process has got me thinking about some of the personal qualities one must have (or, conversely, the qualities that need to be developed) to achieve professional success. Recently, enlighten has been contracted by the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) through Vocational Education and Training to run a series of customised Career Gal programs for girls in Years 9 – 11 in ten Western Sydney schools. The DET Project Coordinator (Vicki Clark) agreed that in addition to our standard careers program for girls ( the program focuses on identifying the skills required for success in the modern workplace, examining issues relating to women and careers, resume writing, entrepreneurialism etc) we should deliver our core body image workshop. The rational behind this was that unless girls can move beyond their all pervading concern with body image and poor self esteem, they will not be able to reach their full personal or professional potential.

When in Victoria recently for the annual Alliance of Independent Girls School Conference, I was fortunate enough to hear American Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project and President of the Ms.Foundation , speak on why women can and must help rule the world. I think she best sums up the importance of offering a body image component to our Careers Course when she states, “ Have we closed the gap in politics and in business? No – there is a host of barriers – cultural and emotional, societal and historical that keep women from getting traction. We must deal with these perceptions…one of our major problems is that we don’t think we have a problem.” Deborah Rhode, expert on gender equality at Stanford University sums it us thus: “Many traits traditionally valued of women (humility, passivity) also perpetuate women’s inequality.”

Until we can get the girls to see that they can do, be and desire for more – and that in fact it is ok for them to not only develop their skill sets, but actively promote their achievements, they will not engage with the changing nature of work.

I ran the first of this series of events at a Penrith High School last week with their Yr 9 girls. The results were fantastic and their comments reinforce the importance of a holistic approach towards career development –

career_gal.jpgI thought it would be boring and just about careers but we did self esteem stuff too and that made it really fun and made me feel positive about the whole day and my future. Larissa

I really appreciate everything you said. Thanks for today as I learned I CAN be what I really want to be and that I am a beautiful girl. Mel

  • I thought it would just be a person talking about careers and nothing else which would be boring but Danni caught my attention and it was all interesting. I learned the media changes things, to feel good in my own body, that girls have a lot of insecurities but really we can do it! Writing a resume that shows we have skills and are confident is really important. Today was FUN! Anon
  • All of it was truthful and amazing. I learned everything from how to treat people with respect to achieving the right strategies to get the job I want. Reegan
  • Ok – today was life changing! AMAZING! I learned I am beautiful, unique, and I can put my skills together and write a resume and get good career advice. THANK YOU DANNI.Chelsea
  • The lady Danni was amazing and had a massive impact on my whole career, you’ve got to work for what you want. I will. Jacoda
  • Aim high, respect life and each other, be positive. All the facts today were true and meaningful. Kaylah
  • It was really effective. I learned how to write a good resume, the skills workplaces are looking for, to have confidence in myself (as I do have skills!) and to think positive. Melissa

Whilst we are all aware that a positive self esteem is a desired employability skill, perhaps we need to more actively support girls in developing this before we try to get them interested in articulating their other skills in a resume or in a mock interview situation. Indeed, this capacity to recognise and articulate our talents and achievements is a skill all women in the workplace need to develop.

Whilst studying towards my MBA we examined gender differences in the workplace and how they can impact on recognition of performance:

There is certainly evidence that gender differences in self-assessment generalise to the work situation; Lindeman et al (1995) found that female staff in a sales and marketing company were less likely to overestimate their performance – which was measured objectively – than were males… In the context of feedback processes, Wohlers and London’s (1989) study of self-awareness in managers showed that female managers tended to rate themselves lower than their male counterparts and lower than their own bosses rated them… Higher levels of feedback might reduce the false confidence of some male managers and increase the self-efficacy of some of their female counterparts. If this turns out to be the case, then 360 degree feedback will have proved to be a very significant process in the evolution of organisations, the development of their effectiveness and the enhancement of equality. ” (“The implication of research on gender differences in self – assessment and 360 degree appraisal.,”Human Resource Management Journal., London, 1999., Clive Fletcher.)

team-2007.JPGThis external recognition of our work does therefore, mean so very much on so many levels; it models for the girls we work with that we are not only proud of what we do, but prepared to put our hand up and say we do it well! As Marianne Williamson (a wonderful writer on spirituality and women’s worth) so eloquently states:

“There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you…and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence liberates others.”

May you all continue to shine – and seek opportunities that allow others to see you are large. XXXX

Mixed Messages

During one of my discussions with Board members from the Australian Women’s Forum they highlighted the hypocrisy inherent in many of the programs that say they are designed to promote healthy body image. Apart from magazines that pretend  to be “a girl’s best friend” whilst feeding their insecurities and advocating consumerism,  other cosmetic companies are now using the “we care about girls / want to promote a positive body image” as a marketing ploy. 

Dove has launched their REAL Beauty campaign and hope to promote a teacher training seminar through schools.  Whilst some of the materials they have put together  may well be useful ( have you seen the You Tube clip that shows the truth about airbrushing? Evolution? well worth a look)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/iYhCn0jf46U" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

There are obviously some real conflicts of interest when Dove’s core business is selling beauty creams and cellulite potions! What really infuriates me though are the mixed messages. Dove is owned by Unilever – Unilever are also responsible for Impulse (no REAL beauty messages there – the slogan is “Feel irresistible”) and LYNX. You may have seen the LYNX ad’s – where pretty girls are reduced to uncontrollable sexual gyrations at the mere smell of Lynx on really plain / inappropriate men ( one girl resorts to stripping the much older father of her boyfriend!).  Not good enough. These ad’s are completely inappropriate and only reinforce the sexualisation and objectification of women. 

A Year 8 girl in a workshop I ran recently in Canberra pointed the Lynx ad’s out as causing her real anxiety…as we were running the new “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty” workshop at the time she drew a very clever parallel –
“It is like the old Ugly Duckling / Beauty and the Beast story – girls are meant to see the inner hotness in all guys and just fall at them. Where are the plain girls that can be transformed though? Plus why are girls always acting like strippers on TV nowadays? It is embarrassing to watch.”

If you’re looking for another very clever clip (that is not ultimately designed by Unilever to rake up sales and get their brands into our classrooms) show your girls the short film produced by Kiri Davis entitled A Girl Like Me.  

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/17fEy0q6yqc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

It looks at the promotion of skin whitening by the beauty industry and the profound effect this is having on girls from different cultures – who start to see their dark skin as the enemy. It is really moving…

Faking It!

I wanted to share with you, amongst other things, an interesting new resource. You may recall me posting a Sun Herald article by Miranda Divine ( Paradise glossed: magazines driving girl poisoning culture)  that labeled many magazines aimed at teen girls as “Girl Poisoners” – sexualizing them and reinforcing their negative body image.  

Australian Women’s Forum, a group of professional women and academics, have just launched a magazine style alternative entitled “Faking It”; this reflects the body of academic research on  magazines, mass media and the sexual objectification of women.

enlighten was at their Melbourne launch and we are particularly impressed with its combination of academic rigor and appealing visuals; it will certainly appeal to older teenage girls and provide a powerful stimulus for conversation ( please note, I would suggest it would be most appropriate for girls from 16 onwards as much of the content does focus on issues relating to sexuality and some articles are, whilst incredibly important, confronting e.g. “Girls : Too Sexy Too Soon” on the premature sexualisation of girls and the links between this and serious 506792_doll_.jpgmental health problems).

Recent talks I have held with parent groups highlights the fact that this magazine will also feel a real need for parents to have access to information that is presented in a way in which allows an insight into their daughter’s increasingly complex world (flyer: wake-up-sleeping-beauty-program-for-parents.pdf – in case you think this new enlighten initiative may also prove beneficial.)  

I have discussed how parents and schools may access this magazine with AWF Board Member Karen Robinson and she has indicated that individual copies (@ $15 plus postage) may be ordered directly from their web site.  However, multiple copies of 20 or more can be ordered for $10 per copy with postage waved. It may be worth putting a note out to parents to see if there is interest and allowing them to get these through the school.  As an ex-English KLA Coordinator, I think it would also prove highly useful as a resource in the Senior English and / or PDHPE classroom. 

With permission, I have attached a sample article from the latest issue for you Hate Your Body – We Show You How– I am sure you will find it informative and valuable in its own right. I shall be meeting with AWF when I am in Perth next month working with 450 girls from St Brigid’s College WA; I am keen to offer the team a school perspective and would welcome any comments or suggestions you may have as I will forward these to the ladies on your behalf.   

 idealism.jpg

On another note, some general items of interest:  we have recently been nominated as Small Business of the Year, Children’s Services! Finalists are announced in October so fingers crossed for us. Another exciting October event in our calendar:  I have also been asked to give a presentation on gender and supporting teenage girls with body image issues at the Australian Council of Education Leaders (ACEL) annual conference in October – over 1,200 Principals and teachers will be in attendance and perhaps I may even see some of you there. Please say hello! Finally, we have added a new link to our web site – “enlighten and the community.” We thought it was important to publicly promote our corporate values; we believe that by building respect and inspiring love, business can move the world.

Do check it out and note the NSW launch of our mentoring program for young girls who are entrepreneurial will be happening soon.  It is my aim to personally mentor one girl each year and support her in using her creative energy to add value to the wider community… many of you may know I have a strong background in both founding and managing mentoring programs and in developing curriculum aimed at enhancing enterprise skills so I will relish utilizing all these skills again!

So much happening – loving it all. I hope you are all feeling just as inspired by your work…

Plastic Girls

An interesting article on Ninemsn , Quarter of Girls Want Plastic Surgery , provides some interesting statistics on teen girls and their body image.  

A quarter of teenage girls in Australia say they would get plastic surgery if they could, and two per cent have already gone under the knife. Almost 60 per cent wanted to be lighter on the scales, and 45 per cent said they knew someone with an eating disorder. The survey also gives a picture of drug use, showing that three per cent have tried the party drug ice, five per cent had swallowed an ecstasy pill and 13 per cent have smoked marijuana. Only 13 per cent admitted smoking cigarettes. Meanwhile, about half said they drink alcohol, with one in five confessing to having done something they regret while they were drunk. Global issues, like terrorism and the environment, were a concern for 78 per cent of the sample, while 85 per cent worried about achieving at school. Peer pressures were also a reality for many, with 70 per cent of girls confessing they had been bullied. Bronwyn McCahon, editor of Dolly, said while it was an exciting time to be a teen there’s no doubt the challenges facing young girls today are greater than ever.

754301_hips_dont_lie.jpgThere certainly are challenges, and one cannot help but think magazines like Dolly have actually contributed to the pressure to be perfect (see Miranda Divine’s Paradise Glossed, a recent article in the Herald on magazines as girl poisoners).     

Surely we can demand more than this for our girls…    

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