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Category: Fashion Industry

Smart and Witty vs Fake and Pretty: The new “compare and despair” game

I have noticed a trend in the quest to promote positive body image that I really think needs to be critiqued and nipped in the bud. Fast. It is typified by the slogan on this T-shirt, which is being marketed by an organisation that otherwise does positive work in the field:

I am sure the intention is good – to break down our culture’s obsession with beauty.  The problem? Pitting two types of women against each other and implying that only one type – women with intelligence – has value. Couldn’t a woman be both smart and pretty? Isn’t it possible that a witty woman may also have moments of insincerity? This seems “pretty” limited and alienating to women who may, either through genetic luck or the use of beauty products, just so happen to fit society’s notion of what is beautiful.

It’s not the only example of this “compare and despair” game that has reached prominence of late. A graphic comparing the Victoria’s Secret “Love My Body”  campaign to that of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign did the rounds too. The message? The lingerie models aren’t real women. What are they then, androids? The models may be Photoshopped and represent a body image ideal that few can attain – but does reducing women to two types and implying that one is better or more real actually help promote healthy body image and body acceptance?

We don’t need to see women reduced to stereotypes, no matter how “good” or “bad” those stereotypes supposedly are. What we need to see, and what our girls need to see, are women being celebrated for who they are, and for the brilliant, beautiful, complicated mix of qualities that makes each of us utterly unique.

Generation Cleanskin: Part 3

In the final instalment of Susan Johnson’s exceptional piece on teens and body image that we have been running here for the past few weeks, teen girls speak frankly about how they respond to the relentless pressure to lose weight and be skinny, while teen boys talk about how they deal with the pressure to work out and “bulk up.” 

Saturday afternoon at Indooroopilly Shoppingtown, in Brisbane’s west, is teenage heaven. The movies, the food court, the clothes shops: teenagers in large groups or in pairs come to meet each other or eye each other off, checking each other out in that overt, challenging way that only teenagers can.

A group of giggling girls is meeting up: the girls come here almost every day after school. It’s free dress at their school, and the first pressure felt by these girls is the pressure to wear the right clothes, the “right” brands. Zoe Robberts (“I’m almost 14”) is in Year 9 and lives at inner-west Bardon: “Yeah, you have to have nice clothes, like the brands, and there’s pressure every day on what you wear. You can’t wear the same thing twice in a week.” Bella Nielsen, 13, also of Bardon, adds that “when you’re in primary school no-one judges anyone but when you’re in high school it’s all about first impressions. If you don’t look pretty, no-one will hang out with you or they’ll ignore you and there’s lots of cyberbullying going on around … on Facebook, [there are instances where] people really bully others.”

“I got called ‘fat’ one time on Facebook,” says Kiara Cavenagh, 13, of Middle Park, and a bigger girl than her friends. Her dad is tall and she comes from a family with “big bones”: “I feel pressure because all my friends are so skinny and I am, like, not skinny.”

Immediately all her girlfriends rush in with a chorus of “But you’re so pretty, Kiara!” and Zoe Morgan, 12, of St Lucia adds: “You’re like a mini Adele [the British singer]”. It turns out that Kiara sings too, and superbly (she led me to some YouTube videos) and has won a couple of local singing competitions. Which all means that possibly because Kiara is happy in other areas, being larger than her girlfriends is less of an issue: “I can’t be bothered to diet, even though I feel pressured [to be skinnier]. I like food too much! It tastes too good …”

Bella, on the other hand, feels the pressure more: “You walk around here and there are girls who are really pretty and their hair’s just perfect and, like, every day you see yourself in the mirror and you’re so used to seeing yourself you start picking out the little flaws and everything. You don’t see how pretty you are, you just see the bad stuff like, my stomach’s too big, my thighs are too big, and all that … ”

Zoe Morgan feels pressured too: “I’m happy with the way I look but you can never be, like, perfect to yourself … sometimes I see a girl who’s, like, really pretty and really skinny and I’m like, ‘I don’t like her! She’s so skinny’ … ”

Zoe Robberts says a lot of the pressure comes from boys: “Everyone’s trying to look pretty for them, to impress them … guys don’t have to worry. Boys don’t have to worry about anything.”

But her friend Bailey Vowles, 13, of western suburban Sherwood, disagrees: “If you’re really short for a boy you get called ‘cute’ and you probably wouldn’t want to be cute in Grade 8, you’d probably want to be hot. Boys want six-packs.” Bailey concedes, however, that much of the pressure girls feel comes from the boys as well as the media: “Personally, I’ve never dated anyone and I just think the pressure you have from boys to impress them is just, like, everywhere.” Friends Ben Stickley, 14, of northside Wooloowin and James Manteit, 15, of westside Chapel Hill, sheepishly admit that boys do indeed notice girls’ figures but appear nonplussed when asked about pressure. James: “Going out with a girl, I’d prefer that she had a good physique but we’re also friends with girls who are not, like, the best-looking people, but they’re just good to talk to.”

Ben: “Yeah, if they were, like, fat and stuff I’d care but I guess as long as the person’s nice, and nice to hang out with … ” Both think there is just as much pressure on boys as girls. James: “Girls definitely like boys who are muscled.” If James had more money he would spend it on clothes but, as it is, he tries to wear tight clothes to reveal his torso. He regularly works out.

Kean Coghill, 16, of Doolandella, met Aaron Eastment, 15, of Oxley, also in the outer west, at the shopping centre last year. The pair of mates now regularly travels there to meet their friends and look over the talent. Kean reckons “girls are mainly interested in looks these days” and both he and Aaron plan on starting bodybuilding soon. Aaron: “Yeah, most guys want to bulk up.”

Kean admits that, like most guys, “I do go for good-looking girls but they have to be nice too. But to be honest, the first thing you go for is good looks.” Of Aboriginal descent, Kean is sporting a new tattoo in honour of his grandfather who recently died. He wears a chain around his neck and a “snapback”, an American baseball-style hat worn backwards. He regularly straightens his hair, too, and wears the “right” brands, but that is about as far as his fashion-consciousness takes him.

Aaron, of mixed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, has been wearing braces for two years (“It hasn’t stopped him getting girls,” says Kean). Aaron’s fashion routine sometimes extends to straightening his hair but within minutes it is curly again so mostly he doesn’t bother.

They can’t talk long, these boys – they’ve got places to go and girls to meet. So they say goodbye and walk out into the mini-city of the shopping mall, the meeting place of thousands of teenage boys and teenage girls, skinny, plump, bosomy or muscled, anxious to look hot.

 

I would like to thank Susan Johnson and the Courier-Mail’s QWeekend for allowing me to share this insightful investigative piece. Susan Johnson is a full-time journalist and the author of seven novels; a book of essays, On Beauty (part of the Melbourne University Press series Little Books on Big Themes); and a memoir about her experiences of motherhood, A Better Woman.

Generation Cleanskin: Part 2

In part 2 of Susan Johnson’s excellent investigative piece on teens and body image that I introduced here last week, she looks at the effects of the unprecedented pressure on girls to wax and to see dieting as an essential part of being a woman. I am pleased to have contributed my voice to those of the experts quoted in this part of her must-read feature!

 

If anxiety over body size has long been recognised as part of the territory for teenage girls, now a new pressure has been added: being free of body hair, as if perpetually pre-pubescent. Once common only to Middle Eastern cultures, bodybuilding, gay culture and pornography, body hair removal has permeated mainstream culture, making its greatest impact on young women. Fashionista Victoria Beckham’s wish (“I love Brazilians – they ought to be compulsory at 15, don’t you think?”) looks as if it may be granted.

Since the late 1990s – when television show Sex and the City popularised the “Brazilian”, a hair removal practice that originated with the G-string bikinis of Rio – waxing or shaving the pubic area has become increasingly common. One American study estimated that 20 per cent of American and Australian women now remove their pubic hair, the largest group being women under 25.

Exact statistics do not exist in Australia to quantify the proportion of teenagers denuding themselves of body hair, but the anecdotal evidence is telling: at a Brisbane high school Year 12 formal last year, talk among those who attended revealed there was only one girl in the Year 12 class who went to the dance with body hair. The rest came sans leg hair, underarm hair and pubic hair.

The recent proliferation of waxing clinics throughout Queensland, together with the increase in waxing injuries seen in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, suggests body hair removal is undergoing a popularity boom. An inner-city doctor told Qweekend she had seen a marked increase in her practice of burns and infections as a result of hot wax accidents. In Victoria, the Monash University Accident Research Centre’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit estimated about 90 people a year were admitted to hospital with waxing injuries.

One of Queensland’s biggest chains of waxing salons, Brazilian Beauty, is owned by Francesca Webster, 39, and her partner Andrew Bryant, 41. They opened a store in inner Brisbane’s New Farm in 2004 and now have 14 salons throughout Queensland and interstate, many of them franchised, with an annual turnover of $10 million. Although it is company policy not to treat anyone under 18 for Brazilian waxes, Webster says they sometimes see mothers bringing in daughters for bikini-line waxing before swimming carnivals.

Dannielle Miller, a Sydney author and CEO of Enlighten Education, which specialises in girls and body image, is not surprised that young women are now facing yet another pressure regarding body image. In her work lecturing in schools, she sees some 20,000 young women annually and says she is “staggered” by the overwhelming number of teenage girls unhappy with their own bodies. “Almost 99 per cent of young girls will say they are overweight, or not beautiful enough, or that they need to be changed in some way,” Miller says. “In our desperation to combat obesity, which may or may not be valid, there is now such a fear of fat in our culture that one of the results is girls doubting their bodies and thinking that their value is measured in the numbers on the scales.”

Miller says an overwhelming number of young girls have mothers who are on a perpetual diet. “Girls see dieting as a rite of passage and part of what it means to be a young woman in our culture: to be a female is to be on a diet. Girls learn very early that they need to take up less space … the ultimate glass ceiling for girls seems to be the bathroom mirror.”

According to Miller’s data, seven out of ten 15-year-old girls are on a diet, with 8 per cent “severely dieting”. She says that 94 per cent of teenage girls “wish that they were more beautiful” and 25 per cent say they would like to change “everything physical” about themselves.

Boys appear to be catching up with girls in potentially dangerous dieting practices, including starvation, purging or vomiting: 16 per cent of girls have engaged in such practices and 7 per cent of boys. “Pressures on young males are definitely on the increase,” says Miller.

A mother of a 10-year-old son, plus two daughters aged 17 and 13, Miller says that “parents are deeply concerned about this stuff”. She argues that magazines with airbrushed and photographed images, combined with television reality programs such as The Biggest Loser, have created a culture of hysteria about fat. “I’m not by any means pro-fat; of course not, I’m pro-health, and if you’ve got a child who isn’t healthy, then absolutely focus on health as a priority. But I think it’s an urban myth that Australia is a country with an obesity problem. When you speak to health professionals it’s clear that a definition of obesity depends on the criteria used to define obesity. The BMI [Body Mass Index] is actually a very antiquated and one-dimensional measurement … sometimes it’s the definition itself that causes the problem.”

Miller argues that the definition of health should be broader. The narrow focus on body weight and dieting among adult Australians is negatively affecting our young people. “Statistics show that 95 per cent of people on a formal diet will have regained and added some extra weight within the next five years. Formal diets don’t work … it’s a bad example for our children and we are setting them up for a long-term dysfunctional relationship with food.”

 

This is an excerpt from Susan Johnson’s article “Generation Cleanskin”, which appeared in the Courier-Mail’s QWeekend. Check in next week for the final instalment, when teen girls and boys talk candidly about their attitudes to — and angst about — body image.

Generation Cleanskin: Part 1

I am excited to be able to share with you an outstanding article on teens and body image, for which Australian journalist Susan Johnson extensively interviewed leading experts and kids themselves. With thanks to the Courier-Mail’s QWeekend, which originally published it, I will be presenting this engaging and important piece in three instalments over the coming weeks. In Part 1 this week, Johnson investigates why girls and boys are both feeling unprecedented pressure to fit a narrow body image ideal . . .

 

Skinny and denuded of body hair if you are a teenage girl and “built” and “muscled up” if you are a teenage boy: welcome to a world in which children as young as eight feel anxiety about body image. If Western society is supposed to be more “equal” than ever before, then idealised notions of what a teenage girl should look like and what a teenage boy should look like tell a different story. In this tale, all the girls look like anorexic 12-year-old lingerie models and all the boys resemble the Incredible Hulk.

Once the province of starving teenage girls, “body dysmorphia” is the term used when anorexics look in the mirror and see a fat girl looking back. Now the term “muscle dysmorphia” – sometimes also colloquially known as “bigorexia” – is increasingly used in relation to the body image issues of teenage boys. Today, both sexes are feeling the pressure.

Dr Lina Ricciardelli, associate professor in psychology at Melbourne’s Deakin University, has researched and written a number of papers on children and body image. In a 2009 study of children aged between eight and 11, she and her team found that 25 per cent of girls compared their weight to their peers, while 26 per cent of boys compared their muscles. By the time these children are teenagers, body image pressure can seem overwhelming.

Ricciardelli found that worries about body image can develop at an early age. “Children regularly compare their height, weight and muscles with their peers and this is natural, but on the flip side it can have serious implications when children are still developing their self-perceptions and identities,” she says.

The study threw up some interesting differences between boys and girls: “Girls were more likely to focus on their peers who they felt had a better body, particularly on those features they wish they had or could change, whereas boys tended to focus on their strengths and used social comparisons to feel good about themselves, helping to build their self-esteem. While comparisons seem to help boys to feel more positive and confident, girls tend to show signs of lower self-esteem and feel more discontent with their figures.”

However, the most recent comprehensive national survey into young Australians and body image conducted in 2008 by Mission Australia found that body image was an issue of concern for a staggering 22.2 per cent of Australian boys and young men aged 11–24 years old. And, according to 2011 statistics by the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel website (produced in association with Eating Disorders Victoria), about 3 per cent of Australian teenage boys now use muscle-enhancing drugs such as steroids.

In an article in InPysch, the journal of the Australian Psychological Society (APS), the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, Steven Gregor noted that while women and adolescent girls have had to deal with pressures regarding body image for years, what is new is “that men and adolescent boys are now under the exact same pressures”.

He quotes Elaine Hosie, a registered psychologist and a director of counselling working with adolescent males, about the influence and role of the media: “The media promotes a certain idealised image of what it means to be a male. In regard to the body image debate, the media plays a large role in the idealised notion of what it is to grow from a child, to an adolescent, to an adult male.”

Hosie and Ricciardelli agree on the pernicious influence of the media as a major contributing factor to teenage body image anxiety. Ricciardelli says that “without question the media is completely saturated with images of thin, ‘ideal’ bodies, much more than ever before. Plus there are mass media of more kinds than ever before; the internet has thrown up such things as [social media website] Facebook and online videos and on and on and on. There are increasingly sophisticated technologies and marketing strategies now.”

It is not only the multiplication of media but its increased sophistication that has transformed the media into such a powerful tool of influence: where once a photograph was a recorder of images and the camera did not lie, now a photograph can cheat and distort and a photograph will never again be simply a photograph.

“The media is manipulating bodies much more,” says Ricciardelli. Between dangerously skinny models, boys with six-packs and Photoshop, the gap between ordinary flesh-and-blood girls and boys and idealised images of girls and boys has grown wider and wider.

There are no statistics on the numbers of young men and boys using private gyms in Queensland but anecdotal evidence indicates that the worship of the “built” male body, previously only seen in gay and bodybuilding cultures, has made its way into mainstream culture too, and particularly into teenage male culture. When popular young amateur Sydney bodybuilder Aziz Shavershian (known as “Zyzz”) died last year of a heart attack, probably brought on by his steroid use, he had 120,000 followers on Facebook, many of them teenage boys: now his page (maintained by fans) has 283,266 “likes”.

Dr Peter West, formerly of the University of Sydney’s Research Group on Men and Families and author of a landmark paper on boys, men and body image in 2000, says that in the 12 years since his study, body dysmorphia has only increased. “When I was growing up in the ’50s bodybuilders were regarded as weird; no-one went to the gym, unless you were doing boxing or something. Everyone just went to the beach or played cricket or football. It’s not like that today,” he says.

Of course, for as long as there have been human bodies, there have been inventive ways to fashion them: from African and Amazonian peoples inserting clay plates into their bottom lips, to Indian women putting jewels into their nostrils. Fashions come and go, too: in ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures men regularly removed all body hair, possibly because the pre-pubescent and newly pubescent hair-free, androgynous male body (rather than the female body) was believed to be the embodiment of beauty.

Dr Ricciardelli of Deakin University’s other area of expertise is male beauty and body image throughout history. She argues that the male body has been evaluated and scrutinised as an aesthetic ideal since ancient times. What has changed, however, is that today many boys are internalising messages promoted by a powerful media. “[There is a] perceived pressure that women are expecting men to shape up to the media images,” she says. Her studies have found that leanness and youthfulness as well as a sculpted appearance have become important standards of male beauty. In pursuit of this ideal, Ricciardelli’s studies suggest that up to 60 per cent of young adult men in the US and Australia have removed body hair (below the neck) at least once.

Ricciardelli is one of an increasing number of academics and psychologists advocating preventative work with teenage boys. In the APS InPysch article, Elaine Hosie argues that more psychologists, medical practitioners and teachers need to work together to ensure better outcomes for teenage boys: “I would say it [body image dissatisfaction] is not something that’s in their [adolescent boys’] awareness. The reason for coming to a counsellor would be about more concrete issues such as: ‘I’m doing really badly at school’, or ‘my girlfriend has dropped me’, or ‘I can’t get a girlfriend’, or ‘I don’t like my teacher’ – they externalise things; they blame the world. [But] these are the presenting issues, which often mask more serious health concerns such as body image dissatisfaction.”

Ricciardelli believes treatment needs to take into account “cognitive adjustment of distorted views about themselves” – just like teenage girls with anorexia.

 

I am pleased to have contributed my voice to those of the experts quoted in Part 2 of this feature, which I’ll bring you next week. In it, Johnson delves into issues such as the pressure on girls to diet and remove all their body hair. 

Susan Johnson, a full-time journalist at Qweekend magazine, is the author of seven novels; a book of essays, On Beauty (part of the Melbourne University Press series Little Books on Big Themes); and a memoir about her experiences of motherhood, A Better Woman.

Body image and self-esteem programs: What really works?

Doing what I love: Presenting to girls

All school children should take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons.

This is the finding of a three-month inquiry by the British government into young people, body image and self-esteem.

Yes! Governments are now at least trying to catch up with parents and educators who have been concerned for years that girls and boys are hurting because of the unrelenting pressure to fit narrow, impossible-to-achieve physical ideals.

I am heartened by the fact that British MPs from across the political spectrum declared that body image and self-esteem lessons should be compulsory for all children. The Australian government didn’t go quite that far when it established policies based on the work of its National Advisory Group on Body Image. The Australian policies are a start, but as I’ve discussed here before, I think they need strengthening before they will bring about the impact that is needed.

Just as they do in Britain,  kids in Australia and New Zealand need more body image and self-esteem programs in schools – and just as crucially, they need the right type of programs. So, when it comes to body image and self-esteem programs, what really works?

The British inquiry confirmed that media images of unrealistic bodies are largely to blame for young people’s body image angst and self-esteem battles. This is why we think it is so important to equip girls with media literacy skills. Policing and patronising simply won’t work, as anyone who’s ever tried banning TV, taking away internet privileges or chucking out magazines will tell you. The end result is usually a resentful girl and an atmosphere of distrust at home. Besides, no matter how hard you try to stem the tide of harmful images, they are everywhere – on billboards, the sides of buses, you name it. The best gift we can give girls is to help them develop lifelong skills to look at advertising and media critically, deconstruct them and make up their own minds. Only then will those photoshopped images representing the ideal woman lose their seductive and damaging power.

At Enlighten, what we want to see are girls with healthy all-round self-esteem based not on appearance alone but on all that a girl has to offer the world. Her brains, compassion, humour, business smarts, sporting ability, musical talents – whatever her own unique attributes happen to be. A big part of creating healthy self-esteem is building up resilience, the ability to bounce back after facing adversity. It is important for kids to have a solid sense of their own self worth so that they don’t crumble when things don’t work out as they hoped – when their marks aren’t as good as they expected on a test, their boyfriend drops them, they don’t get a role in the school musical. The stakes only get higher as kids grow up and face adversity as adults, which makes it vital to develop coping skills from a young age.

So we love what Geelong Grammar is doing. Teachers there are following the principles of “positive education”, which was developed by US psychologist and educator Martin Seligman, who is probably best known for his book Authentic Happiness. In positive education, students are taught not only traditional school subjects but also the skills to be happy and resilient.

This is not about kids walking around with a smile on their face, ignoring critical human emotion. It’s about a flourishing person who is in control of their emotion, who can deal with adversity, knows that adversity is going to hit them and there will be sad times and bad times, but they can bounce back from that. Geelong Grammar Vice-Principal Charlie Scudamore

Some public schools in Victoria have adopted a similar approach and are seeing great results, and South Australia is doing a pilot study with Seligman to see whether they should introduce positive education in all schools in the state system.

Feeling the love: Me with a beautiful girl who brought her well-worn copy of my book for teen girls along when I presented at her school

Positivity is crucial when working with girls, because only by embracing the positive and connecting with girls’ hearts can we truly effect change. Often girls shuffle into our presentations expecting the usual lecture – do this, don’t do that – but leave on a high because we create a positive, loving vibe and an atmosphere of fun in order to get very serious messages across. We see the results in the faces of the girls as they light up, and we know that the impact lasts long after the girls have left school for the day. We hear it from parents:

I had two daughters come home this afternoon absolutely passionate about their experience with Enlighten Ed today, it seems to have been able 2reignite all the girl power I’ve been sending their way since they were toddlers, except in a fun, fascinating, non-dorky-mother atmosphere. Thanks for trying so hard to equip our little girls for the harsh and hideously sexualised world that lies ahead 🙂 – Olivia Brasington

And we hear it from educators and the girls themselves. One of the schools we work with in Tasmania drafted a reflective survey for their girls one year after we presented there. When asked if the presentation made a long-lasting change to the way they behave towards other people, responses included:

Yes, I believe it did. I have a better perspective of my life, and how I see myself and other people.

Yes, I have come to respect who people are and what they believe in.

Yes! I have stopped basing everything on looks and started looking at the inside of people. I’ve realised I can have amazing friends that don’t need to be popular or pretty. I’ve started being more happy with myself.

We are always trying to find new ways to get serious messages across in playful ways that engage girls. Recently we produced these stickers designed to go on mirrors and provoke thought and discussion. The stickers are on sale at our site, where we also offer free resources to engage girls, such as our beautiful-looking iPhone app and wallpapers with inspiring and empowering messages.

A school where we regularly present has ordered a sticker for every school bathroom mirror . . . including those in the boys’ toilets. The school told us:

It’s exactly the type of message we want our students to understand and it is delivered in a way which will engage them and get them thinking and talking.

And this is the most important part of all, the key to any program or intervention with young people: get them thinking, get them talking. Create a supportive environment for ideas to take root and flourish. Win their hearts, so that their minds will follow. And always, always keep the lines of communication open.

 

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.

Twattish prudes and Playboy bunnies: Just another day at the Diva Facebook page

Jewellery retailer Diva’s Facebook fan page continues to be a hotbed of (barely moderated) comments about their new Playboy line that I talked about last week. Unfortunately, what could have been a forum for debate quickly became a cyberbully’s paradise. A handful of fans of the retailer – and many more trolls who seemed to be on the page simply to insult people – filled the page with taunts.

I posted the following comment on the page and also emailed it to Diva’s head office:

Diva your FB page has becoming increasingly filled with personal attacks and obscene language (not to mention it appears to now be haunted by young men who wish to insult women). This is a direct result of you introducing a porn-inspired range. It now means this page is no longer suitable for young girls. How do you feel about this? And, as this is your public profile, do you intend to monitor this page and moderate comments? Finally, based on the comments here it seems very obvious that the vast majority of CONSUMERS (ie: not young boys or 1-2 young women who are very brand loyal) now say they have lost respect for YOUR brand and feel alienated by this marketing decision. How do you intend to win back consumer confidence? Looking forward to listening to your responses.

My comment got 50 ‘likes’ yet I am still waiting for a response from Diva. So are scores of other people who went on the Facebook page and politely and rationally explained their concerns about Diva marketing a porn-branded product to tweens and teens.

I received a lot of positive comments but also the now almost-obligatory obscene comments (which came from a young guy who admitted he just likes stirring up strangers on the net).

The company was painfully slow to do anything about the hurtful, bullying insults all over their Facebook page. I don’t want to repeat any of the actual posts here – I don’t want to give the trolls any more oxygen – but the blog Corporate Failings summed it all up like this:

Insults relating to concerned customer’s gender, intelligence, sexual orientation, race, disabilities & weight have spewed forth unrelentingly.

One ‘fan’ even went as far as taunting a concerned customer suggesting they’d do well to take their own life because of their appearance. Diva was no-where to be found . . .

Diva finally began removing most of the worst bullying and adding their own comment:

Hi we like hearing your views but we are not ok with personal attacks on each other, so we will be deleting any posts that are considered bullying. Feel free to post a cleaner version as we are happy for you to have your say. x

The thing is, there are still some very hurtful comments on the page – the usual stuff about weight, age, appearance, oh, and calling us “twattish prudes”. Meanwhile, we are all still waiting for an actual response by Diva to our concerns. After waiting four days, this is all we got, and some pictures of flowery brooches and headpieces:

Hey, sorry we haven’t been able to respond sooner, we didn’t expect to be so busy over the last few days. As you’ve probably seen by now we’ve had heaps of FB comments, tweets and news stuff and on top of that we had a long wet weekend here in Sydney.

So now we are catching up on all of the things that we are cramming in to 4 days! One things for sure, we love our fashion, it always comes with lots of emotions, always changes and moves so fast.

So we know you are all looking for the next trend. We are loving that it’s spring carnival and we’re totes excited about seeing all your fashion on the field this year.

Here are some great pieces perfect for the races!

I love Caitlin Roper’s response:

So just to clarify, Diva’s official response was: Look, pretty flowers!

It is deeply concerning to me that the internet, which holds so much promise as a way to connect and share ideas and beliefs, can so easily become a venue for hateful speech designed to intimidate and silence. And all too often, it is women who are on the receiving end, something I have written about before, in Sticks and Stones. Facebook itself has sat on its hands while people set up fan pages celebrating rape and other types of violence against women.

I went of Kerri-anne recently to talk about my own experiences as the subject of an online hate campaign on Facebook against me after I made a comment about girls kickboxing. A prominent member of the kickboxing community said he wanted to punch me in the face and encouraged thousands of Facebook users to join in on the abuse. I ended up personally ringing a number of these people and confronting them about it, which was very interesting because a number of them turned around and apologised profusely, not quite realising the extent of their actions. Some ended up issuing public apologies.

Even when bullying is happening in cyberworld, we can – and should – stand up to the bullies.

Someone who is doing just that is 14-year-old Sydney girl Julia Weber, who has released a book, ILY (I Love You) – One Teen Girl’s Guide to a Bully-Proof Adolescence. Julia has been subject to bullying, including cyberbullying by a group of boys at a school dormitory. What upset her most was that only a few boys were doing the actual cyberbullying but the rest, about three-quarters of the boys, just stood by and did nothing to stop the bullies. “It’s those people – the bystanders – who we have to change,” says Julia.

I couldn’t agree more.

For tips on combating bullies, and some helpful links, see Bullying: It’s time to focus on solutions.

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.

“Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out.”


This is the product description for a Girls size 7-16 long sleeved t-shirt that American chain JC Penney was offering for sale on its website – under the “Self-Esteem” category (oh please). But wait, it gets worse: the t-shirt slogan reads, “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.”

So outraged was American mother and activist Melissa Wardy, that she took to Twitter and Facebook to begin a social network campaign to get the product pulled – and she won. This isn’t the first time Melissa has taken action though. In fact, she is so committed to ensuring we “change the way people think about girls” and recognise that girls are “smart, daring and adventurous” that she started her own clothing line for girls with the aim of redefining “girly”.

The Pigtail Pals-Redefine Girly product range includes my personal favourite – a shirt depicting a female carpenter with the slogan: ” I broke a nail…”

There’s also a shirt depicting a female Doctor with the slogan “Call me in the morning.” Compare that to Nurse Barbie’s message for girls as seen in a toy shop near you right now: “Get new shoes and call me in the morning!”(on the box of the current vintage Barbie range). Me thinks Nurse B may end up with a medical negligence law suit on her hands if she gives out that kind of advice to her patients. The dolls may date from 1961, but so too does the message which is a recent addition to the newly packaged Babs.

These are by no means isolated examples of products and campaigns that would have girls believe “Math class is tough!” (talking Barbie’s first words to girls in 1992) or that our daughters should be more preoccupied with bling than brains: “Don’t theorise, accessorise!” (slogan courtesy of the Bratz dolls). Shine reports that earlier this year the Internet was  a buzz over David & Goliath T-Shirt that read, in pink bubble letters, “I’m too pretty to do math.” Then there was the one with “Future Trophy Wife” written on it. There’s also reality shows like Australia’s Beauty and the Geek, and a plethora of television programmes and films aimed at teens that send clear messages about what defines desirable – and it ain’t the bespecled “brainiac” who hangs alone at the library and only finds love and popularity once she ditches the books and gets a make-over. For every smart, savvy Hermione, there seem to be at least 5 genuinely clueless-yet-cute Gossip Girls.

I have noted some big girls playing the “dumbing down” game in social situations too and laughed out loud at this cartoon featured in an opinion piece by Liz Jones at the Daily Mail:

I thought it fitting this week to hand my blog over to Melissa to allow her to explain why we should all be working towards offering girls far more empowering, inspiring messages than those that would have our girls pass on their homework to the lads…

Pretty’s Got Nothing To Do With It

Tomorrow I send my child to her first day of school. Her first day of kindergarten. Her first day of formal education in a public school with years and years and years of learning to follow.

So I’ll ask you kindly to get out of her way, JC Penney. You too, Orbeez and Skechers. Mattel and your Monster High, we’ve already had words.

My daughter will not be sent to school with the message from her parents that she is inadequate. She will not be taught hat she is incapable of learning, and mastering, what is taught to her at school. She will not be treated as though she were delicate. Tea cups are delicate, girls are not…

Despite the direct contradiction to their charity Pennies From Heaven, this shirt teaches girls to expect very little from themselves, that their looks supercede their intellect, and that ‘being pretty’ will get you by. Pretty’s got nothing to do with school. Oh, and that little notion that the academic work should be left to the boys. In 2011, we are teaching the grand daughters of the Women’s Lib movement to forsake their education and have their looks be their main focus.

So don’t buy it, right? It is just one shirt. Right?

Wrong. WRONG.

It is the culture of consumer beauty and self-objectified sex surrounding our girls that drips right off a script page from a Kardashian-esque reality tv show. The message that beauty and sexiness measure a woman’s worth, and that one can never be too young to focus on these things.

Exhibit B: Orbeez Soothing Spa with magic rainbow de-stressing beads, for that stressed-out 11yo in your life. Because, OMG, school is just like soooooo freaking hard! You can watch the commercial HERE.

Orbeez wants you to know that school is hard!
Orbeez wants you to know that foot spas help your hurting brain from all that learning!

Who needs hard things, like learning, when you can relax at the spa and work on being pretty. How I went through my entire girlhood in the absense of spa products and services usually reserved for adult women of a certain income and lifestyle, I’ll never know.

Learning hurts! Pretty is fun!
My response? To do what I do best and offer girls a different message:

Melissa’s inspiring designs for girls, including this latest response to JC Penney, may be ordered at her site: www.pigtailapals.com. Items may be shipped to Australia.

Size Apartheid. We’re Over It.

In the past week there has been much discussion over size. A diet book aimed at girls from 6 years old and up caused outrage by nutritionists and lead to me having a rather heated debate with Kerri-Anne on her television program regarding the current hysteria over the widely reported obesity crises (my argument? Basically that health may take many shapes and sizes and we need to stop obsessing over numbers, particularly when it comes to measuring and weighing our children). The National Eating Disorders Collaboration Conference (NEDC) was held in Sydney just yesterday too; its aim was to collaborate on best practice approaches towards treating and preventing eating disorders which are sadly on the increase and are now manifesting in children as young as 7. Simultaneously (in perhaps one of the worse examples of poor timing ever) Fairfax fashion writer Georgina Safe  caused an on-line furore over her opinion piece which slammed a plus-size fashion parade at the Fashion Festival of Sydney. 

Given the debates that are raging over how much space women should be allowed to quite literally take up, I thought it timely to offer a response to Ms Smart and turned to the fabulous Wendy Harmer for this. Wendy has just launched a new “online playground”, The Hoopla, aimed at women. I  was a guest over there earlier this month: you may like to read my post “Love thy daughter, Love thy self.” The following guest post is also featured at The Hoopla this week.  

 

Try as she may, there’s no way Fairfax fashion writer, Georgina Safe, can dress this one up. In her opinion, some of the plus-size models in the recent Myer “Big Is Beautiful” catwalk parade were fat and ugly.

How else can you interpret this: “While there were some pretty faces, others were wanting. Granted, some of them were regular citizens rather than professional clotheshorses, but this still defeats the purpose of inspiring consumers to buy the clothes.”

Hmmm. That’s as plain as the nose on your, or their faces. Safe even takes a swipe at one model who, on being selected for the show, said she’d be able to relax and eat a few cream puffs.

Oh, the outrage!

Safe goes on to say: “Plus-size shows and models should be judged by the same standards as any other fashion shows and models, as was observed by the director of plus-size agency Bella Model Management, Chelsea Bonner… ‘Plus-size models have to be just as aspirational, just as tall and just as heart-breakingly beautiful as any other model,’ Bonner says.”

But, hold on. Weren’t some of the models “regular citizens”? I imagine that was partly the point of the exercise, wasn’t it?

The parade took place as part of the Fashion Festival of Sydney and, as far as I can tell, was supposed to be an inspiration for big women who want to be fashionable.To make fashion more democratic and accessible for we ordinary schlubs.

But then there was the problem, according to some, that the plus-size models were not integrated into the main catwalk shows, but relegated to their own frumpy parade.

No problem for Safe, who clearly agrees with size apartheid, and writes: “But I disagree with Bonner on another point: while she applauded Fashion Festival Sydney for staging a plus-size show, she says true size equality would not occur until models beyond sample size were integrated into all runway shows. ‘Just chuck one or two in each show; don’t make an issue of it, just do it,’ she says.

“Frankly, why should we? Standard-size models, like Olympic athletes, are a genetically gifted species. Most consumers understand they will never look like them. The simple fact is that clothes look better on beautiful, slender young women. If the collection is lacklustre and the models are less than top-notch, what was the point of Tuesday’s show?

“The only truly stunning model on the runway was Lawley who, by the way, appears to have whittled down from a size 14-16 to a size 12.”

(Which means, given her height, she wasn’t a plus-sized model anymore by the standards of the majority Australian women, who, in most statistics I read, come in a comfy size 14-16.)

Safe misses the point, in my opinion, when she compares models with Olympic athletes.

Our athletes are applauded for their strong, fit bodies. By contrast we know that young women in many runway shows are dangerously underweight and when young girls try to emulate them, they risk developing eating disorders.

We also know that so many “regular citizens” look at fashion shows and cannot see a thing to wear as modelled by size 6, teenage coathangers. With the fashion industry in the doldrums, it would seem sensible to appeal to the majority of larger-sized women, of which I am one (too many “cream puffs” I suppose). I took a lingering look at many of the clothes and found a few there I’d buy.

Really, what is the point of sending a snippy fashionista along to a show that’s trying, for once, to make bigger women feel good about themselves?

If the clothes weren’t exactly “inspiring” as Safe says, that’s one thing. Making rude comments about women’s prettiness or otherwise is another. And in this article, Safe reveals her own character as “wanting”, if you ask me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a breakfast of cream puffs.

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