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Category: Advertising

“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" /] 

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…

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