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Category: Advertising

The Rise of Baldness . . . in Teenage Girls

Vaginal aesthetics are in the news again this week. I’ve discussed on this blog before the increasing pressure on girls and women to have genitals that conform to a false ideal — by making them hairless, surgically trimming the labia to match photoshopped images from porn, and oh, let’s not forget vajazzling!

Now the Australian government, in an attempt to tighten the health-care budget, is reviewing the eligibility for the Medicare safety net of vulvoplasty and labiaplasty surgeries performed outside hospitals. The surgery is eligible for the safety net when it’s done not for cosmetic reasons but for treating “painful or embarrassing” conditions, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. This leads me to wonder if society’s definition of “embarrassing” has changed in the past decade, given that, as the Herald notes, “the number of these procedures done outside hospital attracting payments under the Medicare safety net has nearly doubled in recent years to 191 in 2010, at a cost of $427,551.” It’s hard to believe that serious conditions affecting women’s genitals have doubled. Instead, it seems that for increasing numbers of people, having labia at all seems to have become a cause for embarrassment.

So too with another completely natural part of being female: pubic hair. I was fascinated to read a recent account by Enlighten Education’s sexuality education expert, Rachel Hansen, on the pressure in the schools she visits for girls to conform to a porn ideal of hairless genitals. Rachel wrote in her blog post “The Rise of Baldness”:

Vulvas. There are billions of them out there, and they are a pretty diverse collection. I am no geneticist, but I would say there was as much diversity in vulvas as there is in fingerprints. And as long as women have had vulvas, in most cultures they have been covered in pubic hair. Until recently…

A few weeks ago I was visiting a Catholic all-girls’ high school. I had never been there before and I was meeting with the school counsellor and the Deputy Principal for the first time. They had come straight from the staff room, where it sounded like a very lively discussion had been taking place. After we greeted each other, the Deputy Principal said that before we started the meeting they would love my opinion on the topic the staff had been musing over during morning tea. Of course I said yes – very curious by this point!

“We are all trying to work out WHY none of our senior girls have pubic hair.”

(Apparently the topic had come up in a health class discussion.)

And we are not talking about delayed puberty here. We’re talking about teen girls, and why it is the norm to have a vulva stripped of hair.

These days, many girls tell me about the immense pressure to look a particular way now extends to their vulva. It’s not enough to have perfect legs, a flat stomach and blemish-free skin – their vulva must also be bald.

Why indeed is a generation of teen girls finding themselves under immense pressure to wax or shave all their pubic hair? Because it certainly wasn’t like this 15 years ago when I was at high school. We’d shave our bikini line when necessary – just enough to ensure no stray hairs were visible when swimming. But if anyone had suggested getting rid of it all, I am sure we would have been appalled. In fact, I remember girls in my first year of high school proudly displaying their pubic hair growth – for us it was a sign of maturity, of leaving girlhood behind. Now it seems that as soon as pubic hair appears, girls are feeling the pressure to get rid of it so their vulvas resemble a prepubescent child.

I want to talk a little about pornography. . . .

This generation of youth are being exposed to explicit pornography in a way that generations before just were not. According to Big Porn Inc. “Pornography has become a global sex education handbook for many boys, with an estimated 70 per cent of boys in Australia having seen pornography by the age of 12 and 100 per cent by the age of 15.” In one recent Canadian study of boys aged 13-14, more than a third viewed porn movies and DVDs “too many times to count”.

The impact of this early viewing of explicit porn on girls’ vulvas?

If boys are getting their primary sex education from pornography, their expectation is that vulvas come in one model – hair-free. And if this is what the boys expect, many girls will comply.

I would add that it is not only boys who see these porn images. For most girls, the only opportunity to compare their genitals to those of others is through pornographic images. And those images simply do not reflect reality, for they are altered — with waxing, Photoshopping and I’m sure in some cases by plastic surgery. As I wrote in my book The Butterfly Effect, teenage girls “see the look modelled by the women on porn sites and believe exposing their genitals in this way will make them hotter”. And while boys may be the ones primarily watching the porn, the pressure may be coming just as much from girls, as Rachel points out:

One teen girl commented that it wasn’t pressure from boys to wax – it was the pressure from her girlfriends. Teens are desperate to fit in – I know that should I have been a teen in this era, there would be no way I would have wanted to be the only girl in the changing rooms with pubic hair. Hair-free vulvas are now entirely the norm. . . .

The thing that really concerns me is that no part of a girl’s body now seems immune to the beauty pressure. The pressure starts so young and this is a ‘trend’ that is driven by a misogynistic porn culture seeping in to our everyday lives. It makes me sad to think of girls being so ashamed of their vulvas in their natural state.

I haven’t got a simple solution. Other than to talk talk talk with our children. They need to know that the pornography that they are likely to see (inadvertently or not) is not real. That is not what women look like; that is not how people experience loving relationships. Give girls the message that they are beautiful as they are, and teach both boys and girls the beauty in diversity.

Rachel Hansen is the progam manager for Enlighten Education in New Zealand and is an experienced educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Rachel is the founder of Good Talks, an organisation that offers sexuality education to schools and parents.

The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power

The countdown has begun!

Ever since my book on raising teen girls — The Butterfly Effect — came out, mothers and daughters have been telling me they wish there was a version for teens. So I am thrilled to say that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power is to be released on 1 March!

I loved every minute of writing this book. Teen girls were my inspiration from the very start, and I am bursting with excitement to share this book with them. My aim is to encourage girls to question the limiting messages advertisers, the media and our culture keep pushing: that a girl’s greatest worth is her looks, and beauty comes in only one size and shape. My hope is that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers girls to find their strength and be true to their own hearts and minds.

Before the book went off to the printer, I sent it out to several girls for review, and I’m happy to say it received an overwhelmingly positive response. And I am honoured that two feminist thinkers I deeply respect have also put their support behind the book’s messages . . .

Finally a book for teenage girls that does not patronise or attempt to police them! The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers teen girls to make their own choices. — Nina Funnell, writer, women’s rights advocate and recipient of Australian Human Rights Commission Community (Individual) Award, 2010

Danni Miller is the big sister every teenage girl needs, offering the perfect mix of resolve-stiffening encouragement, soul-touching inspiration and real-world practical advice. — Emily Maguire, author of Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, power, choice

To be certain that your girls are among the first to get their hands on this book, you can pre-order (for $19.95 plus $5 postage and handling to anywhere in Australia). Each pre-ordered copy will be signed by me and will come with a beautiful bookmark and Enlighten Education wristband as free gifts. Click here to order now.

For a sneak peak at what The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo has to offer, check out Chapter 1, “The Battle Within”, for free, by clicking here. I hope that you enjoy it, and share it today with all the wonderful teen girls in your life!

Behold the power of shampoo!

There is a whole world of nonsense out there in the marketing of haircare products to women. There are wild claims, like “unlocks the power of nature to give you 10X stronger hair”. There is all the jargon that means heaven knows what, like “our patented Bio-Ceramide Complex” or “natural protein fortifies hair for touchable softness” (well, if the softness is touchable, I better get a bottle now!). There are all those ingredients that must do something amazing, because you’ve never heard of them before, à la “argan oil from Morocco”.

Hollywood stars who have an army of stylists to get them looking just right rabbit on about products you are fairly sure they’ve never tossed into a shopping trolley. And of course, there are those pictures of models with tresses so long, shiny and digitally enhanced that it looks more like magical pony hair.

I think this haircare-ad spoof The Chaser team did, back when they were doing the show CNNN, is just gold. A woman’s dull, lifeless hair is “letting her family down” but after using “Esteem” shampoo her hair becomes “full of adjectives”:

A lot of teens spend a lot of hours angsting over their hair, as teens always have. How to wear it, how to cut it, how to make it straight or curly or thicker or thinner, how to get parents to agree to a hairstyle — you might remember going through all this yourself. And then there is the eternal greasy hair dilemma. The same hormone change in puberty that is responsible for the extra sebum (oil) production that leads to pimples is responsible for the oily scalp and hair that many girls feel self-conscious or even ashamed about.

With all these ads promising astonishing transformations, it’s no wonder that many girls (and women) go through a tonne of hair product and a mountain of disappointment looking for the magic bottle that will give them the “hair” they see on ads. I say “hair” because no one has hair like that, even the people in the ads. They have gone through hours of styling, are lit by state-of-the-art studio lighting and are then digitally enhanced. Ken Paves, who styles celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Jessica Simpson for hair ads, was quoted as saying, “It takes four hours of prep for one hair shot.”

To cut through all this trickery, I went looking to find out, realistically, how often it’s a good idea to wash hair and what to look for in products. And you know, for all the people in lab coats with molecular diagrams swirling around in the background of haircare ads, it turns out that there really aren’t many established scientific facts about hair washing. According to How Stuff Works, there is disagreement among medical experts who specialise in hair, skin and scalp about how often to wash hair — or even whether it’s a good idea to wash it at all!

One thing that seems clear, though, is that you probably don’t need to spend a lot of money on shampoo. They give a great explanation of what shampoo actually is: it’s about half water, with a mild detergent such as sodium laureth sulfate, plus coconut oil byproducts that don’t do anything for your hair but give the shampoo a desirable texture. Check out how quickly and easily a chemist can knock up a batch:

They recommend using a cheap, basic shampoo and saving your money to spend on conditioner.

I was surprised to find out how new the idea of regular shampooing is.

Back in the 1950s, it was common for women to have their hair washed and styled once a week at the hairdresser . . . Around the turn of the 20th century, women tended to go for about a month between salon visits. — How Stuff Works

After ABC radio presenter Richard Glover interviewed Times journalist Matthew Parris, who said he hadn’t washed his hair for 10 years, he challenged his readers to do the same for 6 weeks. Five hundred people took up the challenge, and 86 per cent of them said their hair was either better or the same.

I can’t see many teen girls wanting to try that out — me neither! So this is the advice I gleaned from Paula Begoun, “The Cosmetics Cop”, who devotes her time to debunking the outlandish promises made by the cosmetics industry: “Even washing hair on a regular basis . . . causes irreversible damage. There are ways to mitigate the damage: wash hair less frequently, condition the hair, and use protective styling products and conditioners . . . don’t over-strip hair by overdoing hair dyes . . . and use blow dryers and flat irons intermittently and carefully.” She recommends that you spend more time washing and massaging the scalp, to increase circulation, than the ends.

Some girls are embarrassed because they break out in acne around their hairline, and Begoun says that can be because some of the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners “are designed to stick to hair, which means they can also ‘stick’ to skin, too, and potentially clog pores”. She suggests rinsing well, using a gentle body and face cleanser, using only just enough conditioner, and going light on styling products.

And all those products that are designed to combat limp hair? Well, products themselves might be causing the limp hair in the first place. She says it’s best to use a shampoo with few or no conditioning agents and apply conditioner only where you need it, “not necessarily all over or near the roots and scalp”.

More than skin deep: Helping your teen with her changing skin

I didn’t have pimples very often as a teen but when I did get them, they were huge. Naturally, on the day we were having school photos one year, right in the middle of my forehead a pimple appeared that was so big I felt like a unicorn. Really, I am not just being dramatic here! It was a study in humiliation. So I get it when girls are deeply upset about having pimples.

And, of course, so do the companies who make acne treatments, who play on teen girls’ (and boys’) deepest fears in order to move their products. You know the ads: Girl has a date coming up and a pimple appears. The end is nigh; social ruin and a life of compulsive Farmville playing beckons, with only a houseful of cats for company. But wait! Magic tube of ointment makes the zit vanish in two seconds. Cut to girl confidently smiling at the adoring hunky boy.

Ever noticed that the girl is always impossibly thin and gorgeous — in a computer-enhanced, international-model kind of way — and has the most perfect complexion you’ve ever seen, except for one barely noticeable bump? Think how it looks to a teen who actually does have pimples: if the girl on the pimple-cream ad has perfect skin and is anxious out of her mind, just how anxious should she be? Awesome, now teen girls can feel not only the crushing anxiety of having pimples, but also play the compare-and-despair game with a TV fantasy girl who doesn’t even represent what a real girl looks like!

I love this example of the genre — partly because it’s so painfully obvious it’s dubbed from an American ad, but also because I’d really like to see the school where this young lady is able to waltz in and interrupt a class in order to deliver a note to a boy:

Marketers also use the scientific approach, using fancy words (that usually sound made-up to me) and promises that their product will help girls “control” their breakouts. It’s an interesting word, isn’t it? As a teen you feel like you have so little control, so how appealing this must be.

Another highly successful tack they take is the celebrity endorsement. Proactiv costs more than many products on pharmacy shelves, even though it shares the same active ingredient as the majority of over-the-counter acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide. How do you get people to pay more for the same ingredient? Have stars that teen girls adore — such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne — give testimonials for it. (By the way, Jennifer Love Hewitt, whom you may remember from a past blog post as a champion of the fine art of vajazzling, refers to Proactiv as her “ultimate companion”. Okay, Jennifer.)

I worry that by manipulating girls’ fears of social doom because of pimples, advertisers are encouraging them to use too many harsh chemicals, which strip their skin raw and then cause more problems — which, of course, they then need more products to fix.

I asked Dr Alicia Teska, a cosmetic physician in Melbourne, if girls can harm their skin by misusing over-the-counter acne products, to which she replied, “YES!! YES!! And YES again!! People think that if a little bit of something makes a big difference to their skin, then using a hell of a lot more of it will be a good thing for their skin, and it’s actually the reverse. If they overuse medicated products, they will not only strip the outer dead layer of their skin down too much and therefore make it far more susceptible to sun damage, they can create incredible irritation and sensitivity in their skin.” This can lead to the development or worsening of eczema.

If you have a girl in your life right now with pimples, it’s important to tell her that she’s beautiful on the inside and outside, no matter what. It’s equally important to listen to her concerns and help her find out the best way to treat acne, rather than just fall for advertisers’ promises of instantly amazing skin. Acne really is an issue that needs to be addressed — for instance, a woman I know actually wagged school a couple times as a teen because she felt so ashamed of her skin. So I asked Dr Teska for some practical advice on what girls who have pimples can do.

Home treatments

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money on skin care,” says Dr Teska. “Cleanse regularly with a combination of mild soap-free cleansers once daily, and AHA or BHA cleansers (or a daily gentle AHA/BHA scrub) once daily to encourage increased turnover of keratin and dead skin cells, as these will easily block pores.” (AHA and BHA are types of acids.) “If black- or white-heads have already formed, a night-time treatment with an AHA/BHA gel or topical Vitamin A product (preferably low-strength retinoic acid, not retinol) will be necessary.

“The key is not to rely on only one approach. One needs to attack acne from multiple angles to get a fast response.” Dr Teska suggests balancing acid-based products with non-acid-based ones, such as Australia’s ASAP and the French brand Avène.

GPs, cosmetic physicians and dermatologists

Dr Teska suggests that girls with any type of acne, even mild cases, should go and see an expert for advice. “If your GP has an interest in skin, your GP might be a suitable point of reference.” She says that GPs tend to prescribe long-term antibiotics or the oral contraceptive pill, or may refer patients to dermatologists for the drug Roaccutane. If you are wary of jumping straight to medication, you may want to get an opinion from a cosmetic physician, because while they can prescribe antibiotics and the pill, they also give non-drug-based skin treatments that GPs do not provide.

Does makeup make pimples worse?

A lot of girls want to hide their pimples with foundation or concealer, but wearing makeup to school is a thorny issue in many households, not to mention the old advice that it makes acne worse. “The last thing any teen girl wants to hear is that they can’t wear makeup to school anymore,” says Dr Teska. “I always say to the girls I see, ‘If you feel the need to wear the makeup to cover your acne, then that’s okay for the short term.'” Once a girl is on a treatment program and seeing improvement, she encourages them to gradually wear less makeup. “Obviously the sort of makeup they’re wearing is important . . . Anything that’s oil based is going to dramatically aggravate the acne.” Dr Teska suggests girls use only oil-free formulations.

To squeeze or not to squeeze?

I asked Dr Teska about the truth behind the advice that squeezing pimples causes scars. And yes, your mother was right. When you squeeze a pimple, “you’re introducing infection and trauma . . . and can cause permanent scarring.”

Don’t wait

Dr Teska’s final words of advice are: “Whatever you do, please ensure that even mild acne problems are treated rapidly. This is a critical time of your teenager’s identity development, and issues such as mild or moderate acne may seem trivial to parents, but to a teenager they can have enormous consequences.”

A happy, peaceful, girl-power Christmas!

At Enlighten we believe it’s vital to not only help girls develop the tools to deconstruct toxic media and marketing messages, but also to offer them positive alternatives, so this year we’ve made an extra-special effort to provide girls with products that are inspiring and empowering. As we head into Christmas, I thought I’d profile these, and some other great gift alternatives created by amazing women. If you’re like me and you think girls deserve better than what many retailers are offering — Playboy-branded bling, T-shirts with sexy slogans — then here are some other gift ideas for the girls in your life.

Girls of all ages (and their mums, too) are just loving the Enlighten posters we had custom designed, featuring gorgeous imagery and uplifting messages. Some girls like to cover their bedroom walls with all eight of the posters, which are only $5 each — you can check them out at Enlighten’s website. I know a lot of people have had it with the commercialism of Christmas, and I agree that it shouldn’t really be all about spending. So another way to treat girls is to download the posters for free as wallpaper for their mobiles; for that matter, treat yourself, too.

On our site you’ll also find our free iPhone app, which each day features different inspiring quotes, self-affirming messages and web links to info that all girls should know — plus, it looks stunning! (We hope that one day in the future we will be able to roll it out for Android phones too.) For parents and people who work with teen girls, my book The Butterfly Effect: A positive new approach to raising happy, confident teen girls can make a great gift. (P.S. the girls’ edition, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, will be out in March next year, just in time for International Women’s Day!)

 For Real GiRLS!, a fantastic new Australian magazine for ages 7 to 12, has just hit newsagents and Coles stores. It is the brainchild of designers Sonia Pereira
and Liz Purdue. Liz came to one of my parent seminars after her eldest daughter, Rachel, did an Enlighten workshop at Pymble Ladies College. The themes of my presentation struck home with Liz, who at the time was working on several girls’ magazines, including Bratz and Barbie. Now the mother of three is working with a team of designers who are all mothers, producing a magazine that is a true alternative to the other magazines on offer for girls. There is no beauty, fashion, celebrity gossip or ads — oh, sweet relief. Her experience working on girls’ magazines and reading the fan mail that came in convinced her that “girls don’t really want to read a mag about celebrities and popstars (if they do they can access far more recent info for free on the net) and they are certainly not interested in makeup . . . they are far more focused on friendship than fashion!” This magazine will make girls and their parents equally happy. 

Another magazine concept, for girls aged 8 and up, is New Moon Girls, which combines a magazine and social networking site where all of the content is created by girls themselves — artwork, fiction, poetry, videos and more. There are no ads, and a year’s subscription gives girls 6 issues of the printed magazine and access to the social networking site, which is fully moderated and designed to be educational and build self-esteem and positive body image. Nancy Gruver founded New Moon almost 20 years ago, inspired by her twin 11-year-old daughters. It is based in the US, but the magazine can be shipped to Australia, so an annual subscription can make a great present. If you want to check out the social networking site, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial.

If you’ve been trawling through the shops in the lead-up to Christmas, you might have been infuriated by some of the hyper-sexy clothes targeted at young girls. So check out Pigtail Pals, which is run by Melissa Atkins Wardy, a mum and entrepreneur who was fed up with the stereotypes found in children’s clothing and wanted role models for her daughter that exemplified courage, intelligence and imagination. “Our motto is to ‘Redefine Girly’ and raise girls with the message they are smart, daring, and adventurous,” according to Melissa. “Our designs show girls as doctors, astronauts, pilots, pirates, exploring the ocean, and playing with dinosaurs.” They also have stationery, hats, tote bags and backpacks with positive messages for girls.

If you’ve been in the toy aisles lately, chances are it was just as infuriating. Perth woman Helen Schofield was looking for dolls for her granddaughters to play with and found herself asking, “Why do so many young girls seem to be enslaved by the need to be sexy at such an early age?” Rather than wring her hands in anguish at the poor choices on offer for girls, she decided to create a range of dolls herself. She and her husband risked their retirement funds and created Australian Girl, a range of five dolls that represent the lives of real Australian girls; the brand encourages self-acceptance and care for, and awareness of, others. Being a big reader ever since I was a child, I love the fact that the Australian Girl website encourages girls to make up stories about their dolls. The company even launched an adventure fiction book in which the dolls’ characters travel back in time and discover things they never knew about Australian history and significant Australian women.

Do you know of any other positive, empowering gifts for girls? I’d love to hear about them.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful — and girl-power! — Christmas.

Playboy for Diva: Now young girls can help prop up a failing porn company!

Pic credit: Collective Shout
Playboy’s profits are in the toilet. Actually, they began posting big losses at least five years ago, when their magazines started to lose popularity.

The answer? Slap the Playboy bunny logo on every product in the known universe. Adults, children, male, female – Playboy doesn’t mind. If you have money, they’re happy to take it. There are energy drinks that boost the libido, doona covers, pencil cases, T-shirts – and now a range of sparkly earrings, necklaces and rings at Diva.

Diva’s market is primarily tweens and teens. No matter what the company says about it being a store for all ages, the pink love hearts all over their website, the “BFF us on Facebook” button and the ads in girls’ magazines are all a bit of a giveaway.

In a press release, the company described the Playboy jewellery as “the perfect amount of jewels and just the right amount of sexiness” and said the range “will have every girl feeling glamorous and red carpet ready”.

Yeah . . . no. For young girls there is no “right amount of sexiness”. Nor do they need to feel “red carpet ready”.

News flash, Diva: maybe you haven’t noticed, but pretty much every child and adolescent expert has warned against the increasing sexualisation of girls. The American Psychological Association says that sexualisation has a negative effect on girls’ “cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and beliefs”.

The objectification of younger and younger females – from padded bras to Playboy bunnies — turns girls’ burgeoning sexuality into something that’s not for their pleasure at all. It teaches them instead that they’re playthings, to be displayed and logoed and ogled. – Mary Elizabeth Williams, salon.com

The Playboy logo is creeping into our culture everywhere. The Easter bunny even visited the Playboy mansion in the film Hop. It seems that companies such as Diva want us to view this brand, which makes money out of girls getting naked to please men, as nothing more than harmless, mainstream fun.

I know some of you have been dismayed that there are girls sticking up for Playboy on Diva’s Facebook page. That is their right – but I want to make a case for what Playboy really means.

1. Playboy is not harmless, mainstream fun. It is not a cute little bunny.

2. Playboy is Hugh Hefner. He is 85. He lives in the Playboy mansion with his girlfriends, all at the same time. It’s no so much that he could be their father, more like their grandfather. Or great-grandfather. He ain’t that cool really, is he?

3. Playboy isn’t harmless or soft porn. As Collective Shout notes, some of Playboy’s films “depict women enduring body punishing and violent sexual acts for men’s sexual pleasure”. Some of their films have titles that are sickeningly degrading of teen girls and women. I encourage you to sign Collective Shout’s petition demanding that Diva stop selling the Playboy line. Just to give you a heads-up, if you’re under 18 or sharing this with girls, some of Playboy’s film titles are mentioned on the petition, and they ain’t pretty. It is clear from the titles alone that this brand sells material that denigrates women and treats them as objects.

4. Criticism of Playboy isn’t a new thing. Writer and feminist Gloria Steinem exposed the truth of the Playboy Bunny’s life when she wrote a magazine article after going undercover to work at the Playboy Club almost 50 years ago. It wasn’t glamorous. It was badly paid, exploitative and denigrating. She pretended to the woman interviewing her for the bunny job that she had been a secretary. The interviewer looked at her and said, “Honey, if you can type, why would you want to work here?”

5. Playboy is not about women expressing their sexuality. It’s not about liberation. It’s about making money from women’s bodies. This marketing line on the Playboy site sums it up, really: “Get all these girls for 1 low price!”

Don’t be surprised if some girls seem hostile to criticism of the Playboy brand. Many teens see a brand almost as an extension of themself. They can be incredibly loyal because they have invested (quite literally) so much in a brand. One girl wrote on Diva’s page: “I personally own almost everything playboy and love the brand. In fact the phone case on this iPhone is playboy and the handbag on my knee is playboy.” To put this into context, this generation is the most brand aware in history. For instance, the average teenager in the United States has 145 conversations about brands each week.

And the fact that a girl is a loyal Playboy fan right now doesn’t mean she will be forever. At various points in my early teens, I thought the ultimate career would be supermodel or Playboy bunny. Then along came Naomi Wolf . . .

What I’m saying is, no matter how Playboy-saturated girl world currently seems, all hope is not lost. Our protests do count and we can make a difference.

We need to tell retailers it is not okay to steal our girls’ childhoods just to make a buck. The Diva website has a button on its Facebook page that says “We love your feedback” – so let’s give it to them! Add your voice to the debate going on right now on Diva’s Facebook page.

Many people have made compelling arguments on Facebook and I want to share with you Simone Patterson’s, which is very revealing of the company’s decision to keep the Playboy products on store shelves despite the possible consequences on girls:

I spoke on the phone with the GM (general manager at Diva) today, I asked her if she would agree that there core demographic was tween or girls aged around 8 – 13. She replied that yes, it was . . . Amongst many other things, I asked her to consider that what a child sees online, when they google playboy, as a result of seeing it in their beloved diva store, would be their 1st introduction to porn, and how did she feel about that. Her reply, ‘that would be regrettable.’

So far, the company doesn’t seem moved to do anything about the possible effect Playboy branding has on their young customers. The company tweeted this over the weekend: “We understand Playboy is not for everyone and we are sorry if you take offense to the new range but lots of our customers love it!” (Basically: so long as it sells, it’s okay by Diva.)

We need to keep up the pressure on Diva. I urge you to also tell Diva’s parent company, BB Retail Capital, how you feel. They have been selling Playboy-branded products through two of their other retailers, Bras N Things and Adairs, for a while. Now with the Diva range they appear to be expanding their use of the Playboy licence. They need to be told that, as Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids puts it, “any company promoting Playboy products are promoting the porn industry – it’s that simple.”

I call on other companies that sell products through Diva and BB Retail Capital’s other retailers to exert pressure, too. Does Disney really want to see their brand being marketed to girls right alongside Playboy’s?

We also need to get a conversation going with the girls in our lives and encourage them to question what the bunny represents, and what wearing it truly means. Is it a fashion statement or a walking advertisement for a porn company?

Playboy’s aggressive campaign to license out the bunny logo is working. In 2010, they halved their loss from the previous year. This was partly thanks to increasing their licensing revenue by 63 percent, to $14.2 million.

So no matter which way you cut it, wearing the Playboy bunny means helping a porn company stay in business – the business of objectifying women.

Take Action!
Sign the Collective Shout petition here.
Write to Diva here: contact@diva.net.au
Let them know what you think on Diva’s Facebook page.
Tweet them here.
Phone them: 02 9938 3311 or 1300 348 228
More contact details for Diva can be found here.

A daily dose of awesome: Introducing Enlighten’s new FREE iPhone app!

Much excitement here at Enlighten today . . . After months in development, our very own free iPhone app is being launched to the world! Download the free app at

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-butterfly-effect/id465813126?ls=1&mt=8

to receive daily:

  • AFFIRMATIONS —  self-affirming messages to boost self-esteem and body image
  • INSPIRATION — wise words from amazing women
  • INFORMATION — web links to info every girl needs to know

The idea to create an app came to me when I tried (unsuccessfully) to find a cool-looking app with positive messages for Teyah and Jaz, my daughter and stepdaughter, who are 12 and 16.

Girls are bombarded every day with messages from the media and advertisers that their worth is all about their looks, and that ‘girl-power’ means being able to raunch it up. This app is an antidote! It’s designed to be fun and gorgeous looking, while providing a daily reminder that we are not just bodies, but somebodies.

We are offering this app free because we want to reach as many girls as we can with positive messages about  body image, self-esteem and feminism — in a medium they enjoy and use every day. Let’s face it, we could all do with an alternative to the endless grind of messages telling us we’re not “enough” (thin enough/pretty enough/rich enough, etc.). Help us spread the love by telling everyone in your network!

Schools, organisations and anyone else with a website or blog, please think about putting this button on your site to give readers the opportunity to download the free app. The widget is simple to install, promise! Just click here for details.

Just copy and paste these lines anywhere on your site to grab this widget*:
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://www.enlighteneducation.com/widget/enlighten-app.js“></script>
<div></div>
It will appear like this on your site and when visitors click on it, it will take them straight to Itunes where they may download it for free:
 

I hope you and the girls in your life enjoy a daily dose of inspiring quotes, self-affirmations and links to the best info on the web, for Amazons who want to make a difference in the world.

* If you have any problems installing the widget, simply email our brilliant web support team for assistance: info@sosavvy.com.au 

Organisations that are featured in the Information section of our App will receive an email later today advising them of this with a special  widget they can use that promotes the fact they are being highlighted on “The Butterfly Effect App.” 

27/9: Stop Press: Clever Emma Elias, 15 years old, edited a launch video for this App which we just love! We also love the original music this clip features by Cat Vas; the song is entitled  “Ladies Marry Pirates.” Thank you Emma, and thank you Cat!

Taking the Blues out of Puberty: Part 1

I didn’t get my first period until I was 15 years old. I was the last within my circle of friends, and by then, even my younger sister was a veteran (oh the indignity). You’ve never seen a teen girl more prepared for this milestone than I was. I had been carrying tampons in my school bag for so long I think they may well have past their use-by date! I had even had practice in breaking the news to parents as my best friend had been too embarrassed to tell her mother when she started her period and I had broken this news for her : “Mrs Manton, our Janelle has become a woman…” The main feeling I recall when I started menstruating was that of relief. Finally, I was in the “big girls” club! I was so elated I ran into my school assembly and screamed out “I have my period!” to my friends- not realising the teachers were already present and waiting to start. My Year Advisor was very gracious and began the assembly by congratulating me.

For many girls today though there is not this same sense of preparedness, nor do they think there is much to celebrate. A significant number too are going through puberty younger than ever before. I was asked by Kerri-anne recently to discuss why, and what the implications are.

This is such an important subject that I wanted to find out more and draw on the expertise of Enlighten Education’s own sexuality education expert, Rachel Hansen, who is my guest blogger this week.

Rachel Hansen headshotRachel Hansen is the progam manager for Enlighten Education in New Zealand and is an experienced educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Rachel is the founder of Good Talks, an organisation that offers sexuality education to schools and parents.

Most women have a very vivid memory of where they were when they got their first period, what they were doing and how they felt. I was 12 and very reluctant to grow up – life was good as a little girl! On the day my period started I was playing make-believe games with my little brother and sister in our garden and I noticed blood on my undies. I cried and cried and cried. I sat by the window for the rest of the day, watching my siblings play, having decided with great sadness that now I had my period I was too old to play those games. I felt a real sense of loss, and also despair that I was no longer in control of my body.

Research indicates that this moment is happening at increasingly younger ages than in previous generations. Over the past 20 years, the average onset of menstruation has dropped from 13 years to 12 years, seven months, and indications are it will continue to drop. As the average age has dropped by five months, it means that those girls at the lower end of the bell curve are also starting earlier. So nowadays it is increasingly common for girls to start menstruating as early as 8 and 9 years old. Researchers have found that 15 percent of American girls now begin puberty by age 7 (measured by the girls’ level of breast development). This is twice the rate seen in a 1997 study, and the findings are likely to be similar in New Zealand and Australia.

Why are girls reaching puberty earlier?
Some of the more widely supported theories about why this is happening are:
• As our standard of living has increased, so has nutrition. This means that there is less stress on girls’ bodies, allowing puberty to start earlier.
• Increased rates of obesity are thought to be a factor, as girls are now younger when they reach the level of body fat required to trigger puberty.
• There is a suspicion that increased levels of environmental chemicals that mimic the effects of hormones are causing girls to start puberty earlier.
• Interesting research from New Zealand indicates that girls exposed to stress at home (such as parental marital breakdown and domestic violence) were more likely to start menstruating before girls living in more settled home environments. One of these factors is that if a mother enters into a new relationship, the presence of a new man in the home triggers a hormonal response in girls that can lead to earlier puberty.

The consequences can be profound
Traditionally, puberty has marked the transition from childhood to adolescence or adulthood. Many girls absorb the message that beginning menstruation means that they are a woman. Just as I did, some girls who get their periods early can experience a sense of grief and loss, as they don’t feel ready to leave childhood.

For many girls, puberty marks the moment that they start to define their self-worth by the way they see themselves in the mirror. And all too often the girls don’t like what they see. Such a response is understandable: at the same time as girls are experiencing an increase in body fat and a widening of their hips, they are bombarded with messages from the media that suggest the perfect beautiful body resembles a prepubescent male or has proportions that can only be achieved through disordered eating or extreme Photoshopping.

I was so embarrassed by my body when I was younger that I couldn’t tell my mum I’d started my period, when I was 13. I lost it for 2 years thereafter as my weight plummeted, so I didn’t really have to deal with it and when it came back I was so angry. It meant a) that I had to deal with this THING happening to my body and b) I wasn’t a ‘good enough’ anorexic. My mum tried to talk to me about it, but I’d just slam doors and refuse to talk about it, or hide under my bed.

I found the changes in my body very distressing. I remember when I started growing breasts, initially at 12–13 and then again when I’d gained weight at 16–17 and I’d make deals with God that if I didn’t eat/was nice to my brothers/did all my homework/didn’t shout at my parents/etc., etc., that these things would go away. They didn’t. Now I’m kind of glad of that. – Ella

It is particularly concerning that evidence suggests that girls who reach puberty earlier have a more negative body image than girls who reach puberty when older.

Some girls eagerly anticipate their first period because they believe it will propel them into a world of sexual desirability and adult experiences. For girls at both ends of the spectrum, we need to be quite clear that getting your period does not equate to womanhood. Becoming a woman is far more than our bodies changing. We need to be careful about the symbolism we use surrounding menstruation and the expectations we place on girls.

Experiencing puberty at a younger age means that girls’ childhoods are being compressed and often their minds are not ready to deal with the changes that their body is going through. Many struggle to understand and cope with hormone-influenced emotions and sexual impulses, and are not ready to deal with sexual interest from males. Physical maturity often doesn’t reflect girls’ cognitive and emotional development.

In their study of the evolution of puberty, New Zealand researchers Gluckman and Hanson concluded that for the first time in human history we are maturing physically much earlier than we are maturing psychologically and socially. Meanwhile, our education system and our expectations as parents are grounded in the 19th century, when there was a closer match between physical and psychosocial maturity. “There will have to be adjustment to educational and other societal structures to accommodate this new biological reality,” they write.

poster - you are loved
The effect of this “new biological reality” is compounded by our consumer culture’s relentless march to shorten childhood. Prior to the late 1990s, marketers had not discovered the concept of tween, a phenomenon that now has girls wearing makeup and high-heels and their parents taking them to beauty salons or to get waxed. And the target market gets younger and younger, as we’ve seen with child beauty pageants. Earlier physical maturity, coupled with a highly sexualised society where girls are bombarded with the notion that sexual desirability is of utmost importance is a toxic combination – which is why it’s more important than ever to keep talking with our kids and showing them we love them for who they are, not for what they look like.

This is part one of a three-part series. In next week’s post, Rachel will look at what parents and schools can do to best support girls through puberty.

Asquith Girls High: Looking at the Big Picture

At Enlighten, we know that girls flourish and shine after our workshops, because we’ve seen it with our own eyes (and felt it in their big warm hugs!). But our work does so much more than give girls a self-esteem and confidence boost on the day. We aim to be part of a wider and ongoing culture change for the girls we work with, at school and beyond.

We encourage schools to maximise the benefit of our work by using it as part of a big-picture approach, and this week I’d like to share with you what I think is one of the best examples of a school doing just that. Jane Ferris, the principal of Asquith Girls High School, a public school in Sydney, last year attended a national conference in Melbourne that I was a keynote speaker at, “Insights: A Fresh Look at Girls’ Education”. In an unusual and forward-thinking move, she had brought along three of the school’s staff, too. They were inspired and felt that Enlighten’s message was what they needed, as part of the school’s broader program of improving outcomes for girls. Jane said:

When you have 900 young women attending an all girls’ school, it is a great opportunity to focus on issues confronting young women today. Since girls now outperform boys in external exams such as the HSC, it is too easy to consider that all the battles have been won and we no longer need to worry about issues in girls’ education. However, something is still holding young women back in our society as they are under-represented in business, our legal system and politics – what a waste of so much talent! Also, sadly, women as a group have too many experiences of abuse and violence. Therefore as a school we need to support young women to have a positive outlook, believe in themselves and ‘have a go’ in all that they strive to achieve.

From the outset, Jane saw that the greatest value would come from involving the whole school, so she organised her own one-day staff training conference for the teachers. I spoke, along with a number of other experts in teen girls’ issues. Then I came back to present to the girls, and something I have never experienced before happened: Jane released the entire welfare team for the day so they could come and watch me in action with the girls. This turned out to be incredibly valuable, because it meant that once I left, the staff had a deep understanding of what the girls had learned and experienced. They could speak the same language with the girls as I had, thus giving ongoing life to the work we’d done that day. The staff were empowered to be part of the culture change.

Jane notes that since starting their work on girls’ issues, the school’s “staff are more aware and taking things on board . . . At the nucleus is a gender team of staff and executive that have led a girls’ education conference and follow-up in all faculties.” They use every opportunity in the curriculum to promote the theme, Jane notes:

As Danni says, the most common glass ceiling holding girls back is the mirror they look in. Therefore this has proved a very positive starting point for our students, to think about themselves more positively. We want to follow through on this and get them to realise the pressures they are under as consumers. Through English and Commerce we want them to learn to deconstruct advertising and identify how they are being targeted in ways that not only ensure they buy more, but at the price of feeling they are not good enough. Through the curriculum we also want to make sure they learn about positive female role models.

Judging by the girls’ passionate and positive feedback, they were powerfully moved by the workshops I led. I am truly touched that one of the girls, Bec Torrington, in Year 9, has even nominated me for a Pride of Australia award in the Inspiration category. But kudos to Jane for seeing that there is wider, ongoing work to be done:

Danni is a highly motivational speaker and clearly has had a positive impact on the way our students feel. However, there are no quick fixes or magic wands. As a school we have to continue to promote a message of positive outlooks and friendships amongst our students.
In planning one always need to look at the big-picture rather than isolated programs or initiatives. Our approach is one of developing the whole young woman with a breadth of learning opportunities and extra curricular activities – to empower her with the experiences and skills to succeed in the world outside of school.

"Enlightened" girls completing the 21 day challenge.
"Enlightened" girls completing the 21 day challenge.

In light of Jane’s point about school staff working together to maintain a positive culture for girls, I’ve put together some discussion starters that schools might like to consider at their next staff meetings or staff development programs. These are based on previous blog posts, which can act as an impetus for discussion. Staff could split into groups, each considering one of these discussion starters, then report back to the whole staff:

Keeping Feminism Relevant
Rather than just fretting about and lamenting the plight of teen girls, at Enlighten we offer a viable alternative: feminism! This week a commentator in the UK made this excellent point, which I feel sums us up: “Feminists can make cause with traditionalists in wanting to limit some of the more extreme effects of an exploitative culture . . . But let’s be clear. We can only help [girls] if we have a good alternative to offer: the role models, the interesting jobs and the alternative ways of enjoying life that make a padded bra and a bit of rude dancing on the telly not shocking – just rather dull.” Yes!

About feminism:
International Women’s Day: Keeping Feminism Relevant
Putting Girls’ Issues Back on the Radar

Discussion starter:
– How are you connecting the young women at your school to the women’s movement?

Raising Girls Who Have the Courage to Be Imperfect

About embracing imperfection:
The Courage to Be Imperfect

Discussion starters:
– What signs are there that girls are numbing the feeling that they aren’t good enough?
– What steps can we start taking today to make the girls in our lives feel confident that they are loved and worthy?

Beyond Mean Girls

About bullying:
Bullying: It’s Time to Focus on Solutions

Discussion starters:
– In what ways does your school celebrate differences?
– What resources does your school currently access to assist in creating a safe environment for all students?
– How could these initiatives be enhanced?

Cyber Gals

About girls and information and communications technologies:
Real-World Tech Influencers

Discussion starters:
– How are the young women at your school encouraged to do creative, inspiring things using technology?
– Who are the female tech-influencers within your school who your girls can use as role models?

Girls and Eating

About girls and eating disorders:
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Eating Disorders and Primary School Children

Discussion starters:
– How can your school encourage girls to make healthy choices without shaming them?
– How might the relationship girls have with food affect their academic performance?

Be aware of your dreams . . . they just might come true!

A couple of weeks ago I talked about research that proves that gender stereotypes are alive and well in Hollywood. Now a friend has sent me the perfect antidote: “Plastic”, a beautiful, clever short film written and directed by an award-winning young Australian woman, Sandy Widyanata.

As the film begins, we see Anna nervously preparing for a first date with Henry, a man she has secretly loved for years. She has nothing to wear, there’s a huge pimple on her nose and she feels fat. If only she could change a few things and look a bit more like those girls in beauty magazines . . .

Anna discovers that she can do the impossible and can sculpt her body to look just the way she wants. Would you do the same if you could? And how far is too far?

I don’t want to give too much away — it really is worth spending the 6 or so minutes to see how the story unfolds. The film is a great discussion starter for teen girls. It raises interesting questions about what real beauty is, what we really need in order to be happy and what it means to be true to yourself. And best of all, it is also simply a great film, so girls are just entranced. Enjoy the film, and then take a look at the suggested lesson plan activities below.

Plastic – Short Film from Plastic the Film on Vimeo.

Classroom Activities
A big thank you to Kellie Mackerath, who told me about this film. Kellie used to be a teacher and an Enlighten presenter, and now works full-time at NIDA and directs theatre. She has these great suggestions for classroom activities after screening “Plastic”:

— The film opens with an image of a moth. Like a butterfly, a moth can symbolise transformation. As you watch the film again, plot the journey of the moth. How does its journey relate to Anna’s story?

— What are the images that Anna surrounds herself with in her flat? These images assist Anna to make some important decisions in the film. Which images encourage her to make positive decisions? Do an audit of your environment (including your bedroom, the places you study and your virtual spaces). What images/messages are you surrounding yourself with? In the classroom, create a wall of images and messages that inspire you.

— The magazine in Anna’s bathroom is called Real Beauty. In your own words, define what you believe “real beauty” is. As a group, create your own “Real Beauty” magazine.

Thanks also to Sharon Witt, author of the Teen Talk books,
for these valuable discussion starters:

— If you had the power to mould your body into the ideal you believe in, what parts would you change and why?

— Do you think changing these parts of your body would make you any happier?

— Towards the end of the film, when the moth lands on the side table next to the photograph of Anna, did you feel she was more beautiful in the photograph? Why?

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