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Category: Enlighten Education

Sex, Lies and Photoshop

The clip below is a really interesting opinion piece posted by The New York Times on March 10th. (Click on the image or visit: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/03/09/opinion/1194838469575/sex-lies-and-photoshop.html.)

This has particular relevance for us in Australia. Here, too, the camera always lies.

Does it matter? Yes. For some years now groups like ours have been advocating for more realistic and diverse portrayals of young women in the media; the current definition of beauty is so very narrow! Research from Mission Australia shows that for young Australian women in particular, concerns over body image are urgent. Through my work, I have seen firsthand that self-doubt can impact on every dimension of a young girl’s life: when girls are on extreme diets (and many are), or self-medicating depression by binge drinking, or being bullied by peers because they do not fit some ideal, they cannot possibly reach their full academic or personal potential.

I work with hundreds of schools right across Australia and New Zealand, and I can tell you that there is a real need to give girls skills to deconstruct the many unhealthy media messages they are currently bombarded with. The fact that our company, Enlighten Education, is so busy (we have worked with over 25 schools this term alone) is indicative of this. Schools recognise that they are not just responsible for producing strong academic candidates – they are concerned with the whole girl. They want their students to be healthy and happy and know that they are somebodies, not just bodies.

It seems that the Federal Government is also now keen to act. Earlier this month, it commissioned a group of fashion industry leaders to address body dissatisfaction levels among Australia’s youth. The group will be chaired by a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Mia Freedman. Girlfriend editor Sarah Cornish, model Sarah Murdoch and a number of representatives from health, media and youth groups will also be involved.

They have been charged with developing a voluntary code of practice for portraying body image in the media. The clear labelling of digitally retouched or modified images, greater diversity of body shapes and sizes, and mandatory model age limits are among the issues under consideration by the group.

This move is a welcome one – and has come not before time. I just hope the working party developing these standards don’t use this opportunity merely as a PR exercise. We need real action, not just a talkfest. We also need consistency: magazines cannot say on the one hand “We care about teen girl self-esteem” while on the other they allow advertisements that sexualise and objectify young women. After all, Girlfriend magazine gave free Playboy T-shirts away to readers not that long ago!

While the talk continues, we will keep working.

And we will keep listening to our client schools who are getting more and more inventive in how they follow up on our work. Teachers from St Mary’s Star of the Sea College, Wollongong, will build on it in their pastoral care program throughout the year. The girls did a reflective task recently in which they set their personal goals for the year ahead and celebrated by writing them on butterflies they decorated – and sent to me 🙂

Girls at Rangi Ruru in New Zealand created their own Hall of Fame and Wall of Shame. (See my previous blog post to get this started at your school.) Guidance Counsellor Jane Dickie sent me some wonderful feedback:

We also had cakes in the shape of butterflies to remind us to celebrate the beauty within us all. Throughout the year we will continue to carry on the themes discussed during the Enlighten programme. Not only has this been helpful for Year 10 as a whole, it has also given us ideas for working with girls higher up in the school. The saying “No girl gets left behind” has been something we have discussed with Years 11 to 13. We have also highlighted to the girls as a whole the influence of the media, and being vigilant about the pressure and ideas they are trying to sell. You are a consumer and therefore have power by not buying magazines, etc., that portray women in a negative light.

Love to hear what is happening at your school to provide girls with an alternative to the more negative messages they are surrounded with.

PS If you are establishing your own Hall of Fame / Wall of Shame, here are some new entrants:

Shame on Smiggle. They have just released a voodoo-doll-inspired pencil case, complete with a spot to insert a photo of the person you hate and pins to stick in this effigy! Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids was quick to point out why this is grossly irresponsible: Kids Free 2B Kids protests against voodoo pencil case.

Shame, too, on Sydney radio station Triple M. They are running a new competition entitled Make Me a Porn Star: “Send us a photo of your best ‘porn star’ look, and you could win $5000 to pimp yourself up! We’ll also send you and a friend to Perth for Porn Week where you will get exclusive behind the scenes VIP access and star as an extra in an Adult Film!” Is a role in a porn film something we should be competing for on mainstream radio?

Moving forward

I want to begin the year by sharing a video that I posted on YouTube earlier this month, it is an edited version of some interviews I did with Iris Productions:


 
I have been thinking about how we can all make things better for girls and have come up with a few suggestions I’d like to see you all build upon:

1. READ. Get informed. A few of the books that inspired me in 2008 and that continue to challenge and feed my thinking include:  “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” by Courtney Martin, “Adolescent Girls In Crisis”, by Martha Straus, “Faking It” by Women’s Forum Australia, ” Female Chauvinist Pigs, Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” by Ariel Levy, and “Well and Good” by Richard Eckersley.   

2. WRITE. The book that has really shaped me though has been my own. My manuscript is due into my publishers, Random House, in two weeks – what a journey writing this has been! Seth Godin (a business writer and entrepreneur) summed up the power of the writing process beautifully in the Herald a few weeks ago –

The book that will most change your life is the book you write. Write it as a blog, write it as a book you publish or write it as a private diary… The act of writing things down, of justifying your actions, of being cogent and clear and forthright – that’s how you change. It keeps you from lying to yourself all day long.”

3. SPEAK OUT – If you see advertisements that you think send out all the wrong messages, send a message of your own…enough! This year at Enlighten, as part of a new workshop we are launching entitled “Real Girl Power,” we will be encouraging teenage girls to talk back to the media by identifying ad’s they think portray women and girls in unhealthy ways.

 

Our campaign was inspired by the work of American group Mind on the Media and we are initiating it here with their blessing. If you’d like to get involved, and get the teen girls in your life involved too, download the PDF below. These stickers have been designed to be printed out on Avery labels (8 per page – product number DL08) although they can simply by printed on paper and pasted.

girl-caught_pdf_sticker – PDF for downloading and printing at home.

Once girls have “caught out” an advertisement, they can plaster a sticker on it and send it in to us. We will compile these to share on our blog – and will also share the contact details of the companies responsible so we can all contact them to say enough!

These types of grass roots camapaigns are not only very effective in brining about real change, but also encourage girls to feel powerful.

4. CONNECT – Actively seek positive female role models for teen girls. There are some excellent structured mentoring programs, like SISTERtosister, but all girls can be encouraged to seek out older girls and women who can help them achieve. Teen cosmetic company Bellaboobabe is promoting role modelling on its new look site (which also features some very good Get Real messages).     

Over to you – what will you be doing in 2009 to move things forward for girls?

 

The two faces of Facebook

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are becoming increasingly popular; 41% of the Australian population uses a social network profile, and 70% of them have 2 or more.

I am a self confessed Facebook addict. Through FB I have reconnected with old friends and past students I taught, made new friends with like-minded women who have sought me out after seeing me in the media, and received the most beautiful “wall posts” from teen girls I have worked with who have wanted to touch base to tell me how much the day Enlighten spent at their school meant to them.

But I am careful about what I do, and don’t share on line. And I wish more young people were too.

50% of users of social networking sites don’t use any privacy controls. And even when we do use these tools, there is no absolute guarantee that our information cannot be accessed anyway. Back in September The Hack Half Hour, a brilliant ABC television show that explores various elements of youth culture, produced a highly informative episode: “Will you end up regretting what you reveal about yourself online?”This is well worth watching and, coincidentally, features my very clever cousin Tyron who is a professional hacker and strong advocate of exercising caution when on line:

A few key points to note – it is very easy to hack into our profile pages (with or without security settings in place) and even when you delete information and images off MySpace or Facebook – Google still has a record of these.

Apart from the issues around privacy, I have also seen the on-line world turn ugly when people post comments they would probably never be rude enough to make in person. Janice Turner wrote a perceptive piece on this phenomena in the UK Times recently: When hatred comes to your home page.

The following extract from Turner’s article articulates why the on-line world can be a dangerous place for those who are more vulnerable – including our young girls:

…my friend (a psychotherapist) suggested I look at Facebook with a 12-year-old’s eyes. She pointed out the popular “honesty box” application where you ask a question – “What do you really think of me?” etc – which then anyone can answer anonymously. Like a ouija board, evil yet so tantalising. My inner pre-teen came out in a terrified sweat.

Besides, said the psychotherapist, it is the ordinary stuff which devastates her patients, the photos of a sleepover to which you weren’t invited, your best friend ignoring you and chatting on someone else’s “wall”. And everyone will know, by how many friends you have, whether you’re a big, fat loser. It’s not even proper bullying, just crude kidult passive- aggression. But, boy, does it hurt.

Even so, her patients cannot stop themselves logging in. They have to look. And so the mean-girl snubs, the whispering behind hands, follow them home and upstairs into lonely bedrooms.

We think as adults we are tougher, that something as remote and notional as a chat room cannot hurt us. Indeed, it is a blast, a liberation, when talking online to say what you really mean for once, to make mischief, to dispense with uptight British niceness, or even assume the guise of an atavar, a pumped-up, better-hung version of our own weedy workaday self.

In the glow of our screens, safely at home, we think our egos are armour-plated. But there is no protection as we step on to the ten-lane superhighway of a billion heartless strangers. It can smart like hell, that withering rebuke from someone you’ll never meet…”

As valid as the points raised are, I do not think the answer lies in banning social networking sites. Rather, we should be educating users on how to use these responsibly.

As so many teen girls were starting to “find me” on FB I have recently set up an Enlighten Education Facebook Page in the hope that girls will find here a safe place to share ideas and develop a sisterhood connection with other “Enlightened” girls across Australia and New Zealand, and with our team members and assorted fans: 

I have established some guidelines for contributions though and will be monitoring the wall posts carefully.

All our words have power and may have long term implications – including those words we use on line.  

FB responsibly. 🙂  

Let us strive to create “Raging Angels”.

In the lead up end of year dance concerts, and the annual shopping frenzy that surrounds Christmas, this guest post by Sonia Lyne, Program Director for Victoria, and her newest team member, Amanda Hull, is timely.

Amanda begins:


I recently attended my 5-year old cousin’s dance recital. It was the most unsettling experience. I witnessed a group of 40 or more pre-kinders dressed in hot pants and mid-riff halters wearing fake eyelashes, layers of foundation, bright blue eyeshadow, and candy apple lipstick doing club dances and “dropping it like it’s hot”. I have to tell you, it was anything but hot. The only thing that was hot were my blushing cheeks and swelling sense of injustice. These precious little innocents were being exposed to (and exposing the viewer to) some of the raunchiest dance moves I’ve seen this side of a “gentlemen’s club”. Strangely enough, I appeared to be the only embarrassed person in the crowd. All the other parental faces were beaming with pride.

I spend many of my days dancing with pre-kinders to Wiggles songs and various other nursery rhymes. I am quite familiar with a way a child naturally dances. They are full of giggly excitement, with bouncing feet and clapping hands. Children who dance, when not performing choreographed moves and wearing costumes designed by adults, look nothing like the “Sportz Bratz Dance” wannabees I saw in action. 

When I asked my cousin’s parents what they thought of the girls’ dance costumes they replied that they looked “adorable” and that the girls were simply wearing what the dance teacher mandated for the performance.

I want to start a one woman revolution! I want to start my own dance company in my backyard with bumblebee, butterfly, ladybug, etc, costumes and age-appropriate dance moves!

There are other (less extreme) ways around this conformism too, and it must start at home. Upon reflection, I can now see that many of the mothers at this dance recital were like 5-year old girls themselves, dressing up their daughters and playing with them just as a child would a Bratz doll. I felt the pain of mothers who were influenced themselves by the myths of the media, doing their best to stay ever-youthful, thin, painted, and “sexy” for their mates.

How sad.  

I treasure the real beauty of women: their ability to reproduce, to run a household, to kiss an injury and magically make it better, to demand justice for their children, and insist on preserving their innocence. Unfortunately, these are not the traits that our society upholds as “beautiful”. I felt for these mothers and wanted to present a few Enlighten Education workshops to them, in the hopes that the positive, self-affirming messages would also trickle down to the daughters.

Sonia continues:

Yes, we can all be change-makers. And yes, it does start at home and with the decisions we make about what is, and is not, ok for our daughters.

Amanda and I had the honour of attending a forum recently hosted by St Michael’s Grammar School. “The Early Sexualisation of Children and Young Teens” forum was presented by popular actress Noni Hazelhurst and Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2B Kids and comedy writer/performer. Both speakers were informative and captivating.

There were numerous occasions where I found myself nodding pleasantly in agreement and other times where I found myself consumed with either anger or optimism, stirred by their statements. One of those poignant moments was when Noni Hazelhurst announced she wanted to create a room of “Raging Angels”. YES YES YES… 

Don’t we all have a strong desire to be active guides in our girls’ lives – and active against the toxic messages they are presented with? 

As a parent, I do my best to be a “Raging Angel”. I do filter and ”switch off” but I am also aware that at times I am no match for the endless avenues of sexualised imagery that appears on billboards, mobiles, at cinemas, shopping malls and supermarkets. I recently visited a toy store and upon entering the girls section I felt overwhelmed by the raunchy nature of the branded dolls section. Obviously the Bratz dolls were leagues ahead of the rest but it was sad to see that many of the other branded dolls now look very similar. Even Barbie has succumbed and taken a turn for the worst. I thought to myself, “This is not good enough for our little girls, how far will these companies go?”… alas, further than I anticipated. The following clip clearly illustrates the irresponsible nature of the minds behind these dolls. Somehow I don’t think the Bratz team were sitting around their meeting table discussing the value they can add to little girl’s lives when they came up with this “ingenious” idea.

 

So wrong on so many levels!!!

As Christmas is fast approaching I wanted to find alternatives to these ridiculous dolls. It is easy to criticise, but I do not just want to just deconstruct – I also want to offer alternatives!

I was able to find the following dolls for younger girls that clearly allow for creativity, exploration and yet still maintain childhood innocence.

The Only Hearts Club™, is a content-based brand of dolls for real girls that is drawing raves for combining beautiful, real-looking dolls, with content that delivers a much-needed, positive message to girls. Only Hearts Club™ dolls look and dress like real girls, and they deal with the same experiences and issues as well. You can click on the following link to find out more: http://www.onlyheartsclub.com. How interesting it is to compare the Only Hearts Sports doll (above) with the Bratz Sportz doll Amanda included in her opening! 

The all-new Australian Girl Doll is another fabulous alternative. I love the story behind this launch. Australian Grandmother Helen Schofield was so angered by the hyper sexualised dolls that were being pitched to her granddaughters that she decied to invest her retirement fund into creating dolls that are a more enlightened alternative!

 

www.australiangirldoll.com.au

You may recall last year Danni also wrote a post that suggested some wonderful gift ideas for girls – this is worth revisiting too: Christmas Gifts For Girls

My Christmas wish? We allow our daughters to dance to their own beat.

We set boundaries and seek out creative alternatives.  

We heal our girls – and their mothers.

And we bring the Rage in 2009!

A week of mixed emotions.

This week I have been:

Inspired by singer Vanessa Amorosi as quoted in the Sun- Herald November 2nd. We are told she fell out with record execs after she refused to mime or take her clothes off: “It was that time and era, it was the Britney Spears days – it was all about sex sells. Of course I resisted because I was 16. There’s nothing sexy about a 16-year-old…I’m very,very driven and I work hard. I don’t get pushed into corners.”

Sickened by the Amnesty international report that a 13 year old Somalian girl was stoned to death by 50 men in front of 1,000 spectators. Her crime? She was convicted of adultery after being raped by three men.  http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/rape-victim-13-stoned-to-death-in-stadium/2008/11/03/1225560735918.html 

Grateful for my work. This week in NSW alone we have worked with (and fallen in love with) over 450 girls and received the most beautiful, stunning feedback. The newspaper report below provides a useful insight into why teenage girls desperately need to hear strong, passionate, alternative voices: http://maitland.yourguide.com.au/news/local/news/general/program-gives-teens-an-image-boost/1353359.aspx

Angry at the media’s treatment of the 14 year old teen girls who wrote their mobile phone numbers on their backs when sunbathing at a Sydney beach. Were these girls putting themselves at risk? Absolutely. Was it a foolish thing to do? Yes. But does this silliness mean they are “slappers” ( as I heard Paul McDermot on Good News Week call them – after also making a joke about how sexy he finds 14 year old girls) ? NO! How about this judgement by Nikki Goldstein as reported in the Daily Telegraph: “Really what they’re saying is ‘Dial me up for sex’ . . . when they’re actually below the age of consent.” They are not saying this at all! These young girls may want attention ( and, more likely, a giggle amongst themselves) but is it right to assume they are asking for dial-a-sex?  Would commentators have been so scathing is it had been a group of boys publicly displaying their mobile numbers? I was furious too at the snide reference in the report to the girls being from the western suburbs. This detail has no relevance and was clearly just another excuse for the media to judge “westies”.

Interested in a recent report from the US that links sexual content on television to teen pregnancy and the implications this has for parents.

“We know that parents are busy, but sitting down and watching shows together with their teen, talking about the character portrayals, talking about what they just witnessed, and really using it as a teachable moment is really, I think, a good recommendation from this research” (Lead Researcher Anita Chandra.)

Annoyed at the blurb for a book entitled “The Big Book of Girl’s Stuff” that is promoted in my daughter’s school book club (Scholastic) this month. It reads: “The no 1 totally must have for all Aussie girls! Find out how to make a fake belly button piercing, what to do about a killer crush and more!” Mmmm…all the REALLY important stuff is given priority. 

How has your week been?  

 

Enlighten is our heart’s work

We were delighted to be asked to participate in the “Business Sense” series. This televison series will be aired on Channel 9, 730am Sundays (commencing August 10th), on Foxtel’s Sky Business, and on QANTAS in-flight entertainment.

The series profiles successful small businesses and looks at what they are doing that is working. After each small business is profiled, later in the show a business expert offers their words of wisdom too.  Insights are provided by business leaders including John McGrath, CEO McGrath Real Estate; John Symonds, CEO Aussie Home Loans; Karen Matthews, CEO Ella Bache; Katherine Sampson, Founder & MD Healthy Habits. Well worth watching!

Enjoy this extract from Episode 14 and gain an insight into why my partner Francesca and I founded Enlighten. We believe that by building Respect and inspiring Love, our business will change the world for girls.

P.S Exciting news! Just this minute discovered Enlighten has been announced as a Finalist in the 2008 Australian Small Business Champion Awards, Educational Services category! How affirming.

You may recall last year we won the National Award for Children’s Services. This year there was a new category for us to enter and we are thrilled to once again have our work acknowledged externally.


Fingers (and toes!) crossed for another win!

 

NZ: Our girls…”Barbie Bitches”?

I am really enjoying sharing some guest posts written by various members of my amazing Enlighten team with you all! A warm “Butterfly Effect” welcome to New Zealand’s Program Manager Kelly Valder…

 

Guest post by Kelly Valder – newzealand@enlighteneducation.com

“Barbie Bitches” – what a term huh? For many it brings to mind platinum blonde hair extensions and lots of cleavage combined with skimpy pink clothing and an attitude that dictates that pretty and thin is everything and those who don’t shape up are clearly “losers”. And of course this term is used in the US (where Paris Hilton and co. are idolised) and sometimes in Australia ( Big Brother’s Bridgette leads the pack there at present) but not really in NZ…

Well, believe it or not, this term – and others like it – is now being thrown around here. Who would have thought? How did we get to this? In order to look for answers we firstly need to look at what’s happening around the globe.

A simple internet search under ‘teenage girls’ through international newspapers and educational journals exposes a variety of issues that are all alarming. In the U.S.A. it is reported that more than one in four teenage girls has at one time carried at least one sexually transmitted disease. A recent study of 25,000 European teenagers found that girls were three times more likely to commit acts of self harm than boys. Earlier this year in Australia, we learnt about Club 21, a group of teen school girls who encouraged their members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. And this is just a snapshot of some of the issues… scary!

So what’s happening here in Aotearoa?

• A New Zealand study found that 80% of females were within normal weight limits, but only 18% of them thought their weight was normal; 1
• 1 in 4 NZ teenage girls may suffer from the symptoms of an eating disorder; 1
• Dieting is a $100 million industry in NZ; 1
• The prevalence of emotional health problems, including depression, eating issues and suicidal behaviours, are alarmingly high amongst female students. The rates of these problems in NZ youth are up to twice those found in a recent national mental health survey of young people in Australia; 2

Not surprisingly, it seems then that our Kiwi girls are becoming just as obsessed with their looks as other teens around the globe.

What links may be emerging between the pressures girls are feeling to be beautiful and thin, and their behaviour?

Girls are no longer just silently imploding – they are also acting out. In March, two scantily clad teenage girls were found unconscious on an Auckland pavement, supposedly from an overdose of booze, party pills and ‘P’ (methamphetamine or crystal meth). Earlier this year a Napier family had their house targeted by aggressive and violent teenage girls. Education Ministry figures show a 41 per cent increase in girls being stood down, suspended or kicked out of school for assaults between 2002 and 2006. The way violence is dished out is changing too. Experts point to a new gang-like mentality among schoolgirls where a popular “queen bee” uses friends to bully or hurt to cement her position of power. The term “Barbie Bitches” became a frightening new part of our vernacular.

A few weeks ago the Good Morning programme featured a story on “Barbie Bitches” in our NZ schools. School principals reported that reality television has played a major role in creating these gangs of “Barbie Bitches” who are bullying either physically or through the cyber world. A quick look at television programs such as “Living Lohan” and “Americas Next Top Model” point to the fact that our educators may be right; these type of shows encourage girls to be ultra competitive and to play unfair in order to win. Don’t like someone? Just vote them out! Behave badly? Doesn’t matter as long as you look gorgeous doing it!

I can’t help but think that our NZ girls are crying out for positive role models and we need to step up and take action to provide them with some real alternatives right now!

Is it all doom and gloom? No. Not if we get on board and make our young women a priority. Our schools and the MoE are addressing  these issues with a low tolerance approach plus other more general initiatives including the ‘Team-Up’ site with information for parents and caregivers, new anti-bullying resources for schools released this month and ‘Ka Hikitia‘ an initiative aiming at improving educational outcomes for Maori students.

Thankfully, Enlighten Education, whose award winning programs I am proud to bring to NZ, is not the only organisation to realise that our girls are in crisis. There are fabulous resources, such as headspace.org.nz, that have been established to support our young people, their families and schools. However, Enlighten’s focus is unique as its programs have been specifically designed to cater to the particular needs, and the learning styles, of teen girls.

The Enlighten Education workshops are about celebrating all the things girls love about themselves, challenging them to rethink negative and destructive behaviours, and changing the way they respond to their environment and each other. It gives them the tools they need to “unpack” the images and messages they are bombarded with by the media as well as looking at strong, intelligent female role models who can inspire them to be all they can be. The CEO and co-founder of Enlighten Education, Dannielle Miller, summed up our wish for all girls beautifully in her recent post:  

“She’ll be a teen who will set boundaries, deconstruct all the mixed messages she will be presented with, and make choices she is truly comfortable with. She will not allow her sexuality to be shaped by misogynist music, plastic Paris-wannabe dolls, or the contemporary media environment that would have her believe that everyone is up for anything, all the time, and that to be hot she will have to get more make up and less clothes. She’ll grow up on her own terms. That is my wish for her. That’s my wish for all girls. That is what I will continue working towards.”

Barbie Bitches? No thanks!

1 Scary Statistics from around the world, article from www.nzhealth.net.nz taken from the BBC, Time, NewsWeek and research from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
2 A health profile of New Zealand youth who attend secondary school, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.
3 The health of New Zealand youth, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.

 

 

“She’s just a cute Tween…but she grows up to be a curvy, cool Teen!”

Unlike most little girl’s dolls, which are designed to represent older teenagers or women, Mattel’s “My Scene, Growing Up Glam” doll openly set out to depict a tween, a girl aged 8-13 years. She is dressed in lace stockings, short skirt, diamante belt, midriff top and wears a full face of heavy make-up ( complete with false eye lashes). Her cute accessories? A teddy bear and school books:

Twist the screw on her back (oh how symbolic!) and her abdomen stretches. It’s gruesome to watch. She looks like she is being stretched by a medieval torture device.

Hey presto! Now she’s a “curvy, cool teen.” But wait, you say, all that has really changed is that her stomach has stretched to make her appear taller! 

How telling. It seems there is no physical difference between an 8 year old girl and an older teen in Mattel land.  Nor should the clothes they wear differ. The accessories do change though – she trades in her school books and teddy bear for a full make up kit (“Whoa, her make up changes too!”) and some glossy fashion magazines. Flats shoes are out – its all about the stilettos now. Out too with cute hair clips and in with designer sunnies.

 

Where do I begin in explaining why this type of doll is so toxic for our daughters? And why do I feel I must actually explain why this is not acceptable. Isn’t it self-evident?

In the wake of the Senate tabling the findings of its much anticipated inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment in parliament last week, more than ever I feel I need to justify my concerns.

The committee observed “…that children are certainly more visibly sexualised in terms of the media to which they are exposed. This basic assumption was not challenged by any evidence received, and is based on recognition of the increasing targeting of products to child-related markets and the greater exposure of children to information via the many available media forms, and particularly the Internet. However it would be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm.”

Why would it be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm? Because not enough long term research has been done yet on the impact of the sexualisation of children on their physical and mental health? Does anyone think for one moment that any research that is commissioned will come back showing that stealing childhood has actually been helpful? Healing? Why do we need to wait for more numbers to come in before we act – there has already been a large body of research that has alerted us to numerous potential dangers including an increase in eating disorders, self harm, risky sexual practices.   Why can’t we err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting children?

Clive Hamilton, former Director of the Australia Institute whose report ‘Corporate P-dophilia’ prompted the Senate Inquiry, summed up the recommenations thus: “The recommendations..amount to nothing more than a polite request that advertisers and broadcasters might perhaps, if it’s not too much trouble, consider listening to community concerns a little more.”

I have found the debate surrounding the Inquiry very interesting too. Those who dare question the path society is taking have been labelled prudish, out of touch, alarmist. Catherine Lumby, the Director of Journalism  and Media at UNSW, expressed concern that some commentators were viewing children as “uncovered meat”, she told the world she was “furious” that children were being made to feel ashamed about their bodies.  

I will join Catherine in her fury if anyone dares suggest children’s bodies are provocative and need to be covered up. I too will dismiss as alarmist anyone who wants nappy advertisements banned. But I haven’t met, nor heard, from any of these types. I haven’t seen people up in arms over singlets, or nappy ad’s or innocuous pictures of girls looking pensive. Such people may well exist at one end of the continuum, just as those that design t-shirts for toddlers emblazoned with “All my Daddy wanted was a blow job” do exist at the other end of the scale. 

Do I have a problem  with little girls wearing singlet tops? Absolutely not – unless they are emblazoned with slogans like “Porn  Star”, “Flirt” or “Tease.” A 10 year old girl I worked with in a school recently turned up at her school camp wearing a shirt that read, “Wrap your lips around this.” Can you see why I might be concerned about that Ms Lumby? And this is not by any means another extreme example. Raunchy messages aimed directly at young girls are mainstream.

I am concerned too not just because I think there are too many hyper-sexualised messages bombarding our girls, but becuase the messages presented are so narrow. It’s all big (fake) breasts, pouts, and male fantasy soft porn. It’s all Hugh Hefner bunnys and pole dancing. Women’s sexuality (and men’s) is in reality so much more diverse and complicated. Just as we are told that only a leggy blonde size 8 model can be truly beautiful, we are now being told only a busty, wet and wild blonde can be truly sexy.       

And Ms Lumby just for the record, I have never had a problem with teen girl magazines offering age appropriate advice on sexuality. Magazines are a valuable source of information as some parents do feel uncomfortable having these important conversations with their children. But I do think some of the advice and articles offer too much too soon – do tweens and teens really need detailed information on anal sex and to be told it is a “personal choice” ? Isn’t there a risk that a twelve year old will feel left out when she reads in the June issue of Dolly that over 21% of the readers profiled in their sealed section say they lost their virginity between the ages of 10-13?

And it’s not even just the advice and articles that concern me – it is the mixed messages buried within the pages that really trouble me. The mag’s occasionally do offer great articles on self esteem and body image, yet they allow advertisements for mobile downloads that include slogans like “Save a virgin, do me instead” and “Fancy a quickie?” I never wanted magazines to be banned. I just wanted common sense self-censorship, and age appropriate guidelines on the covers to alert parents and readers to the fact that the content might not be as innocuous as the oh-so-wholesome airbrushed covers might lead one to believe. It seems even this was asking too much. 

Do I sound like a sore looser? I feel like one. There was a lot to loose.

I am comforting myself by holding on to the belief that despite the senate’s softly, softly approach, the process itself has at least brought about a heightened awareness of the issues.

Instinctively, we all know that we do not need a government report, or a team of academics, or a myriad of research papers to tell us that enough is enough.

And despite the divisions there is one point on which every one seems to agree – education is key. Girls and boys, now more than ever, need to be savvy media navigators. They need to be given the skills they need to make sense of the adult world that is becoming more and more part of their childhood world too. Teaching and helping girls navigate Girl World is the work that I love passionately, and it is the work that my team and I are gifted in doing well. 

Education works. 

This week my own real life “too cute tween” , an eleven year old girl I worked with at a school recently, was told by her dance teacher that she had to start wearing not just a full mask of make-up for her dance concerts, but false eye lashes too. When her mother, who has completed my course for parents, questioned why this was really necessary she was told by the dance teacher that the eye lashes would “increase her (daughter’s) confidence.” Mum and “Ms Enlightened Tween” are both saying no. Neither are comfortable with this and both feel that long batting eyelashes are just too much. As is so often the case, the dance teacher tried making Mum feel stupid – “But all the other parents think it is fine.” When Mum investigated this claim, she found that four out of the ten dance mothers were also actually really worried about the appropriateness of wearing false eye-lashes but they had been scared to speak out.

And whether you think the eyelashes were actually harmless or harmful is ultimately immaterial. What I love is the fact that this little girl will no longer allow herself to be stretched and pulled into becoming a “curvy, cool teen.”  

She’ll be a teen who will set boundaries, deconstruct all the mixed messages she will be presented with, and make choices she is truly comfortable with.  She will not allow her sexuality to be shaped by misogynist music, plastic Paris-wannabee dolls, or the contemporary media environment that would have her believe that everyone is up for anything, all the time, and that to be hot she will have to get more make up and less clothes. 

She’ll grow up on her own terms.   

That is my wish for her. That’s my wish for all girls. That is what I will continue working towards.

P.S In an effort to offer parents something positive they can latch on to a resource, I have asked Women’s Forum Australia to reproduce here an article from their excellent publication “Faking It.” The extract below in PDF format is entitled ” The sum of your body parts – reducing women to sex objects: how it happens and how it hurts us.” It is a great catalyst for conversation – and we must continue having powerful conversations. 

fakingit_sumbodyparts_lowres

Interested in finding out more? “Faking It” is also being launched in Sydney in July:   

Time:        8pm – 9.15pm

Date:        Friday, 18th July

Venue:     Darling Harbour Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Bayside  

This will be one of the World Youth Day events, a chance for the Get Real! message to go global. The event is open to all, even those who are not official WYD participants: go along and be empowered and inspired to GET REAL! I spoke at the launch held in Perth earlier this year and thought the night was just brilliant. So inspiring! For more information, or to let them know that you’re coming, contact

Erica on 0414-690-487, or email WFA at: nsw@womensforumaustralia.org 

Finally, the PDF below is the Facilitator’s guide for the Canadian Documentary on the sexualisation of children entitled “Sexy Inc.” Even if you have not seen the film, the booklet offers excellent discussion questions:

sexy-inc-facilitators-guide

STOP PRESS – there has been a change of venue for the “Get Real” event – it will now be held in the Parkside Ballroom, Sydney Convention Centre. Same start time. I have been asked to be the MC – hope to see you there!  

 

Enlighten Education on 60 Minutes

Thank you to everyone who has responded so favourably to the feature story 60 Minutes ran on our work and the important issue of the sexualisation of our children. For those who missed it here is their story brief:
 

 

Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Sandra Cleary

You have to wonder what on earth’s happening to our kids. Especially little girls.

They’re bombarded with sexy images. Raunchy video clips, billboards and store catalogues.

Then there are the trashy fashions, explicit undies, even Barbie dolls in skimpy costumes.

The message is you’ve got to be “hot” to be cool.

No one can deny that sex sells, but why sell it to young children?

That’s a question currently confronting the politicians in Canberra.

They’ve launched a Senate inquiry into the whole issue of the sexualisation of children.

Fair enough, but many experts simply say – let kids be kids.

The full story can be viewed on the 60 Minutes site:  www.sixtyminutes.com.au

I was also asked to participate in a live on-line interview after the program aired. This was challenging as I had to dictate my responses to the questions to a host who then typed them for me – hence I may sound inarticulate at points! The transcipt is below.

Chat: Dannielle Miller

Monday, June 23, 2008
60 Minutes presents a live interview with Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education about teen body image..

Interviewer: Dannielle thank you for talking to us tonight in our live online chat room.

Dannielle Miller: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Effie asks: Hi Dannielle. Have you been getting a lot of support with schools on your program?

I think you are doing wonderful work and want to wish you all the best in your success.

Dannielle Miller: Thank you for your kind words. Our programme has been very well received. We founded the business 3 years ago in NSW and started with just 3 schools and now have more than 60 we work with nationally. Last year we also won Australian Small Business of the year for Children. We are of course very proud of this but it would also be lovely not to be so needed. The reality is that our girls are in crisis. We are very pleased that so many educators now acknowledge they are responsible for the whole person. We believe that girls cannot achieve their personal and academic potential if they are pre-occupied with body image and self-esteem issues.

Anthea asks: Do you have any funding for your program, where are you taking it to at the moment?

Dannielle Miller: We deliberately set the business up to be non-commercial so do not receive funding support from any entity. Nor do we receive Govt support at this point in time, however disadvantaged schools in Western Sydney have had our programmes subsidised and we have been achieving outstanding results with girls in these schools. Our programmes range from $30 to $45 per girl and in the majority of cases schools would ask parents to pay this. It was important to us to maintain the integrity of the work rather than accept corporate sponsorship.

Outraged asks: Danielle, how much does the ‘male gaze’ impact on media, given that many photographers, cameramen and advertising execs are men?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. I have not looked closely in this area however it would seem quite likely that the male gaze would impact on the way women are presented. It is important to note that many editors of teen girl magazines that do not always present positive images and role models are women. Quite often women are subject to the very same pressures and also want to conform to societies expectations. There is pressure on us all to be hot, hot, hot.

awol78 asks: I think the real issue – beyond the paedophilic angle – is the long term affects that this is having on our young people themselves. Low self esteem, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery… And… let’s target the real culprits here – beyond your Jessica Simpson’s, your Paris Hilton’s… Where is this sexualized culture coming from? The whole size zero phenomenon..? It’s the advertisers at the top. Sex sells – and nothing will ever change that. So well done on these programs – we need more in schools… Is there anything for BOYS and YOUNG MEN..?

It has become a big issue for males now too!

Dannielle Miller: Your are absolutely right in suggesting that we need to be concerned about so much more than just the way in which paedophiles may or may not view these images. In fact that is not a focus of our work at all, rather we focus very much on how girls view themselves as a result of being exposed to our toxic culture.

Yes, girls are suffering from eating disorders. Yes, self harm is on the increase. Yes, girls are binge drinking. Any concerned parent or educator would have to start questioning the messages they are bombarded with. Our programme is strength based which means that we affirm the knowledge the girls already have and more than that we provide them with the tools they need to unpack our adult society.

There are many excellent resources out there because we are by no means a voice in the wilderness. I would highly recommend accessing my blog where I post weekly reports and resources. Kids free to be kids, who were also profiled in the 60 Minutes story, do some wonderful work in this area as well. Women’s Forum Australia also have a publication entitled “Faking It” which does a tremendous job of combining the research on the sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies with a highly readable approach.

We need to actively seek a variety of tools and programmes that can be powerful voices of difference. As for your query as to what is out there for young men, I would have to say that I’m not aware of a similar programme that operates in schools targeting these issues. However, I would agree that boys also do need to presented with programs that enhance media literacy and emotional literacy.

IceKat asks: I’m curious as to what age you run your courses for? How young is too young?

Dannielle Miller: Our programmes are designed to be delivered in high school with girls aged 12 to 18. However this year I have had a number of primary schools ask me to work with their 11 to 12 yr old girls in Year 6. These schools are saying to me, self-esteem and body image issues are creeping into their playgrounds too. I applaud principals who want to be proactive.

The school executive at the primary school I was filmed working with on 60 Minutes, said to me quite clearly that they did not want to wait until their little girls were in trouble. They did not want me coming in to fix a problem, rather they wanted me to come in and help prevent a problem.

I think it is important to instil in all children from a young age a strong sense of self and give them age appropriate information on their emerging sexuality. The key word there, is age appropriate. My little girl who is 10, knows all about air brushing, photo shopping, and is encouraged to question images of girls and women that are not positive. I do not however even expose her to many of the highly sexualised songs, film clips etc because I am in no hurry to steal her childhood.

9girl asks: Are you breeding little feminists though?

Dannielle Miller: I hope so !!!! Perhaps this question implies there is something wrong with that?

To me feminism has always been very much about respecting and honouring women, and recognising that they deserve equality. It is easy for us to become complacent about women’s issues as in many ways we have made so much progress, yet surely when we look at the Pussycat Dolls and the magazine filled with wrinkle creams, images of Paris Hilton and Co. and diets, we can all see there is still work to do.

ShellyK13 asks: What can we as parents and myself as a teacher do to combat the barrage of sexual images and innuendo that our kids deal with every day?

Dannielle Miller: Again, I would encourage you to hook into some of the excellent resources that are out there. On my blog http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org I have gathered some amazing resources and also have a professional library. In a practical sense the following ideas may also prove helpful:

1. Talk to your daughter honestly and non judgementally about sex and her own sexuality.

2. Be a positive role-model.

I am actually writing a book for mothers at the moment.

3. Tell your daughter you love her for who she is not how she looks.

4. Offer positive alternatives by that I mean magazines, books and websites that offer positive images of women and sexuality.

5. Speak up! I love that Julie Gale song from Kids Free to be Kids, write to companies that sexualise children and tell them to back off !

Companies will only make hype-sexualised toys and merchandise if we continue to buy these things.

kenny78 asks: Shouldn’t the parents of any child have the right to view these pictures prior to them hitting the print. Surely a parent would have enough sense to be able to tell whether something is going to look too provocative?

Dannielle Miller: Parents do have the right to view images of their children before they go to print. You would hope therefore that they would make the right choices. I must also stress, that some children are very vulnerable and do not have adults around them that make good choices. As a society we need to protect children by setting our own standards as well.

savethegirls asks: When do we stop blaming society and media and start taking responsibility for how we, as parents raise our kids? Sure, it’s hard when they are constantly being bombarded with these messages, but as caregivers we are the ones the buy into it all as well, by buying the clothes, magazines and not controlling their access to harmful media.

Dannielle Miller: I would agree with you, that as parents we need to set boundaries absolutely. However, as I mentioned above, not all parents are necessarily good at doing this for a number of reasons, which means that as a society we also need to set our own community boundaries and standards. I think also that as parents, even if we are incredibly well intentioned there is so much that is simply beyond our control.

We know that with teen girls, the peer group is incredibly powerful, this is why we work in schools with a full year group of girls so that all the girls hear the same messages, and decide themselves which boundaries they set and support each other and develop a sense of sisterhood. Yes it is important that parents don’t fall into the trap of trying to be “too cool” or their child’s best friend. Our children need us to step up but they also need to have some reprise from the more toxic elements of popular culture that really are engulfing us all.

ramsay asks: There is validity in educating children in awareness of paedophiles and dangers, but do you think your education techniques go too far and encourage children to single out others who are not ashamed of their bodies and ware bikinis etc (Children in mid to late teens) I do.

Dannielle Miller: You are mistaken. Perhaps the way the story was edited has let you to think we talk to children about paedophiles or the dangers of wearing swimming costumes or posing proactively. We do none of this. I want to be very clear here, we would never make children feel ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. Rather our programmes are very celebratory.

jessica.ann asks: Have you re-visited any of the girls that you have spoken too later in their teens to see the effects of the ‘programme’?

Dannielle Miller: Yes we have. Evaluation is very important to us, we ask the girls for their feedback at the end of each event and it’s always outstanding. We also ask the schools 6 to 8 weeks later to provide us with more detailed feedback. Many schools have us work with the girls each year so we definitely get the chance to speak to them and hear how they are progressing. If you are interested in reading some of this feedback and looking at some of the statistics do visit our website http://enlighteneducation.com . Girls also write me lovely letters and send me emails. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we are making a difference.

AustAccom asks: The only way the media will change is by having the laws changed re censorship and sexualisation of children and normalising these images in society do you agree ?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. Self-regulation obviously hasn’t worked. I am hoping that the Senate Enquiry will encourage some changes. Society has reached tipping point, I think the moral majority will send a very clear message to Canberra that we have all had enough.

Corrinne asks: You spoke a lot about the media as a major influence on teens, I was just interested in what other factors you believe have a significant impact on young girls/’tweens’?

e.g. peers, family interaction levels

Dannielle Miller: There are a number of things that impact on teen girls and our programme is very diverse. 60 Minutes focused on our discussion of the media and dolls as these elements were the most appropriate given the excellent story they put together. We also help girls deal with their friendships, we talk to girls about setting boundaries in relationships, about managing stress, handling academic workload … really, we recognise that young women are multi-facetted.

Pixel asks: Hi Danielle, what is your advice for a 12 yr old who wants to be 15 tomorrow ?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. It’s sad isn’t it that young girls are in such a hurry to grow up. Although I would tell her to enjoy her childhood she probably wouldn’t listen. I know however that by creating a unique experience like what we do in our programmes we can encourage our young people to slow down.

We have a generation of young women dealing with adult problems whilst they only have childlike strategy to fall back on. I guess if it was my little girl I would do all I could to encourage her to revel in her childhood. Sorry I probably haven’t been overly helpful because really that’s the 6 Million Dollar question isn’t it.

sbelly18 asks: There are too many worries for kids, they are not allowed to just be “kids” anymore. No playing with dolls or climbing trees. It’s not acceptable for young ones, and they will be teased and tormented for it now. Do you agree?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. There are a number of reasons why childhood is disappearing. I also think that as much as I love technology it too, can be a grinch that steals innocence. Our children are often spending more time online than they are exploring face to face real relationships. I’m not being a luddite here, just realistic.

Teen girls tell me that they are “wired” pretty much 24/7, many even sleep with their mobile phone by their bed. Where is the downtime? The dreaming time? I also think that many parents over-schedule their children. Do our kids really need so many activities? So many formally organised play dates? Do they all have to be genius’s?

There is great value in the simple act of play. I know that as a little girl I spent a lot of time organising all the children in my neighbourhood, running clubs, and generally being a bossy little miss! In hindsight it was all great practise for running my own company.

Angela asks: Hi Danielle I have a 10 year old daughter that says she is sick and can’t eat dinner, Dr’s won’t do anything, I don’t know where to get help?

Dannielle Miller: I have to say up front that I’m an educator not a doctor. I would suggest if you are concerned (and you should be), you seek out a doctor who is more understanding. Sadly girls as young as 8 are being hospitalised for eating disorders. I’m not suggesting necessarily your daughter has an eating disorder but it is wise for us all to be vigilant. There are other organisations that specialise in this area like the Butterfly Foundation who may be worth tapping into. Links to them and to other expert mental health practitioners are available on my blog.

Shellreyn asks: Danielle, do you have any advice on how I should educate my young son with regard to appropriate behaviour towards these young girls, when he’s being bombarded by media images of sexualised pre teens?

Dannielle Miller: I hear you ! I have a 6 yr old little boy who loves to chant “boom chicka wawa” which is the jingle from the lynx aftershave commercial. This series of commercials is just vile ! I get so furious that our boys are being encouraged to view girls as eye candy. I have found that I need to be quite clear with my son about what my expectations are.

I also take the time out to talk to him about why saying things that may seem harmless really can be quite hurtful. I think as mums we also need to role-model for our boys what strong confident look like. Again, we should not buy into hyper-sexualised goods and services. I try and find alternative women that he can really admire for example, he now looks up to Princess Leia from Starwars, Wonder Woman and loves to be my little scout seeking out songs, dolls and adds that he thinks “aren’t nice to girls”.

AngelEyes asks: Can I ask by keeping our daughters away from all of the songs, mags etc do you think they may be in danger of rebelling and becoming more like the Paris’s of the world?

Dannielle Miller: We simply can’t keep our girls away from all this. I would never suggest locking girls in the tower. What we can do is give them the critical thinking skills that can help them unpack and make sense of all the messages that are presented to them. Research clearly shows that education and information will not encourage rebellion. I am not a prudish person and our programme certainly does not aim to shelter girls, rather it equips them to be savvy media navigators.

Interviewer: Unfortunately we are out of time, there were so many questions that could not be answered. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Dannielle Miller: I would like to thank all those who asked questions, debate and questioning is essential. I hope that the community interest and concern for this important issue is maintained. Love, light and laughter to you all … Danni

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

Many thanks to the beautiful “enlightened” girls from St John Vianney’s Primary who were filmed with me. I love you all! 🙂 You are my little Amazons…

 

 

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

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

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

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

miller.pdf

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

ms-entrepreneur-2008-magazine-scanned.pdf 

954919_mirror_dream.jpg

Enjoy.

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