Skip to content

Category: Fashion Industry

“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.

Sugar, Spice and Stronger Stuff

Teenage girls have been getting a lot of media lately, much of it alarmist, with headlines such as ”Do you know what your daughter’s doing tonight?” and ”Lies, scams and deceit — just your average teenage girl”. In on online feature recently, Australian fashion editors had a go at girls for dressing like ”streetwalkers”.

Girls see this media coverage, too, so I guess it’s no wonder they often say to me after an Enlighten workshop that they thought it would be “just another boring lecture about the things we do wrong”.

While we must be realistic about the very real issues that girls are facing, I believe it is just as important to recognise the positives and engage with girls, not alienate them. We need to move beyond finger wagging. I know that Martin Luther King Jr wouldn’t have inspired anyone by declaring “I have a nightmare!”

Writer Emily Maguire’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this month, “Sugar, Spice and Stronger Stuff”, touches on this issue and talks about how best to help our girls navigate the sometimes dangerous world in which they live. I am grateful to Emily for allowing me to share an excerpt with you here.

Emily Maguire is the author of three novels and two non-fiction books. Her articles and essays have been published widely including in The Monthly, The Australian and The Age and in 2007 she received an Edna Ryan Award (Media Category) for her writing on women’s issues. Emily was named as a 2010 Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year and is the recipient of the 2011 NSW Writers’ Fellowship. Her latest book is “Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice.”

 

 

We need a reality check. . . . A minority of teenage girls routinely abuse alcohol or illegal drugs. A minority put themselves at risk of social stigma or criminal prosecution by sexting carelessly. A minority of those who are sexually active don’t practice safer sex. But most understand the potential dangers of drugs, alcohol and sex and make choices which minimise those dangers. Those who continue to put themselves at risk need specific, possibly professional, intervention. Impersonal, generalising panic over behaviour is unlikely to change it.

But of course, not all harm can be avoided by even the most sensible girl. There is, for example, the barrage of media messages about their apparent physical unacceptability. According to a 2010 Mission Australia survey, body image is the top personal concern for young people. Sexual assault also remains a major problem with the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society reporting that 38 per cent of female secondary students have had ”unwanted sex”.

It’s scary stuff. Little wonder that some parents are tempted to lock their daughters in a room free of TV, internet and phone. But one day those girls are going to have to step outside and then what?

Although we wish the world was a safer place and should work to make it so, we need to prepare girls to live in it as it is. This seems obvious when talking about boys: of course they need to learn resilience and determination and rebelliousness against those who would hold them back or harm them. But we’re still so damn precious about girls. We pretend that passivity and fragility are innate, even as we expend a great deal of energy on instilling and enforcing them.

. . .

In her book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons details the ways in which adults ”discourage the emergence of physical and direct aggression in girls” and ”either encourage or shrug off” the ”skirmishes” of boys. In one study, adults told girls in their care ”to be quiet, speak softly or use a ‘nicer’ voice about three times more often than boys”.

Teenage girls are often criticised for being sullen and underhanded, for resorting to passive-aggressive silences and unexplained bursts of tears, yet we’ve spent a decade or so training them to suppress. What do you do with the natural teenage rushes of emotion and hormones and excitement and rage when you’ve been repeatedly told not to draw attention to yourself, not to argue back, not to speak unless you have something nice to say?

We know girls face a sometimes hostile world and yet we train them to be meek in the face of it.

. . .

If girls are human then they should be allowed to explore the full range of human experience. They should be allowed to look to rock stars as well as pop princesses, pirates as well as sailors, vigilantes as well as stoic victims. They should be allowed to find inspiration in rebels with or without causes.

Fictional role models are a start, but there are plenty of real-life teenagers who demonstrate courage and resilience. Jessica Watson is already a role model for many teenagers, but how about Ellyse Perry who, at 16, played for Australia in both cricket and football? How about Angela Barker who spent her teen years in a nursing home after suffering a severe brain injury and now campaigns for the rights of young people with disabilities? Or Kalinda Griffiths who began her career as an indigenous health researcher at 17? How about the 170,000 young people who are primary carers for parents or siblings?

Poster available at www.enlighteneducation.com.

These kinds of real-life examples don’t just serve as inspiration to teenagers; they serve as a reminder to adults that teenagers of both sexes are capable of much more than our society gives them credit for.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Many teenagers possess powerful self-awareness (the flip side of teenage self-obsession) and a great capacity for constant questioning and insightful cultural critique. What they tend to lack is self-control, the ability to envisage the consequences of their actions and, obviously, life experience. That’s why we adults need to have their backs. We can encourage toughness while offering advice on how to minimise damage to the self and to others.

If a girl knows you’re on her side — that you won’t treat her as stupid or fragile or dishonest or assume she can’t handle anything more challenging than buying top-up credit for her phone — then there’s a better-than-even chance she’ll listen to your advice about when to bite her tongue and when to scream like a banshee. And when something goes wrong, as it inevitably will, it’s more likely she’ll tell you about it if she knows you won’t panic about her lost innocence and vow to guard her with a shotgun until she’s 21.

. . .

There’s the example of the 14-year-old who was at the movies with her friends when a man in his 20s put his arm around her shoulder and asked her to come sit with him. She said no and he went away but she was shaken. Talking it through with her friends, there were suggestions that her outfit was ”kind of sexy” and so maybe she shouldn’t dress like that any more. Others in the group thought that was unfair: her outfit was amazing and she felt great in it. She just needed to be ready for men who thought she was older or looking for a boyfriend or whatever. Together, the girls came up with a strategy: the next time she (or any of them) had an adult man crack on to her she should say — very loudly — ”I’m 14!” and if he persisted, she would — louder still — tell him he should be ashamed of himself for trying to pick up a child.

There’s no doubt the ideas behind this solution came from a thousand conversations with adults and peers and from various forms of media. When it came to the crunch, the girls were able to talk it through, support each other and come up with a strategy that acknowledged unfortunate realities while refusing to cower in the face of them. Talk about empowering.

Unfortunately, when the girl told her parents about the incident, she was banned from going to the movies with her friends. Again, an understandable impulse but the girl feels punished for fighting her own battle and will either stop doing so or — more likely — will be sure to keep future battles a secret.

It can be dangerous out there. We can teach girls to be frightened and meek, to aim to be mere silent witnesses rather than victims. Or we can teach them to fight, not just for themselves but for others who can’t. We can teach them that the world can be terrifying, and that sometimes, they should be terrifying right back at it.


The Blame and Shame Game

This week I have noticed an alarming trend on Facebook. Many of my teen girl “Friends” have been liking sites that make jokes about “sluts”. I don’t want to give these sites anymore oxygen here but there does seem to be a fresh wave of pages dedicated to this. I became so concerned I immediately sent out a message via our Enlighten Education FB page:

Amazons – here is the deal. I am friends with loads of teens and I notice many are “liking” sites that refer to girls as sluts or make jokes about sluts. Man – this makes me sad! There is NO excuse ever to call another woman a slut or make assumptions about her sexuality. By joking like this, and labelling, we give others permission to do the same…Love, Light and Laughter , Danni xxxx

I was reassured when within the space of 20 minutes, at least 45 girls had agreed with me and a number said they were sharing this as their status too.

EMsigningI thought it timely too to publish a guest post by one of my favourite young Australian feminist writers, Emily Maguire which further explores the dangers in defining women, and teen girls, by their outfits.

Emily is the author of three novels and two non-fiction books. Her articles and essays have been published widely including in The Monthly, The Australian and The Age and in 2007 she received an Edna Ryan Award (Media Category) for her writing on women’s issues. Emily was named as a 2010 Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year and is the recipient of the 2011 NSW Writers’ Fellowship. Her latest book is “Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice.” I am thrilled to share an extract from “Your Skirt’s Too Short” and hope it will illicit debate and discussion. I’d also like to add another argument here in defence of teen girls; whilst we are often quick to judge, we forget it is the culture that surrounds them (which is largely adult created) which tells them at every turn that their currency is their looks, and their capacity to be sexy. How can we condemn girls wearing short skirts when we have brought them Bratz dolls dressed in exactly the same attire since they were toddlers? Why wouldn’t a young woman want to dress like the role models popular culture presents her with? And if we are so quick to judge, why are we not surprised when they judge each other so harshly too?

Let’s not allow ourselves to get caught up in the blame and shame game, nor turn a blind eye when we see teens engaging in versions of it that are masked as being merely for LOL’s.

The meaning of a miniskirt

A good friend of mine was told by a senior co-worker that she should ‘rethink her clothing’. She asked for clarification. ‘You tend to dress like a slut,’ she was told. Note the accusation was not that she was a slut, but that she dressed like one.

If we agree that the term slut means to have more sexual partners than the user of the term finds acceptable, what does it mean to dress like one? Amongst the women I know there is absolutely no way you could guess who has slept with the most men simply by looking. Hell, look at me in my baggy jeans and overcoat and try and guess my sexual history.

Anyway, back to my friend who was told she dressed like a slut at work. I started to describe what she was wearing when this comment was made, but I went back and deleted it. Because, however much I want to defend her by explaining why her outfit wasn’t ‘slutty’, doing so would imply that, had it been skimpier/shorter/tighter/different, then she would have deserved the label.

I know a woman who had the phrase ‘Muslim bitch’ thrown at her as she passed a group of young men outside a convenience store. Her reaction, and that of all of us who heard about the verbal attack, was to label those young men ignorant, bigoted pigs. The idea that she somehow brought this on herself because of her clothing is frankly offensive.

Yet my ‘slutty’ friend looked immediately to herself to discover why she had been insulted, and almost everyone she told about the incident asked her to describe what she was wearing at the time, as though the answer would somehow excuse or explain the insult. Why do women, who would not dream of blaming the victim of racial or religious vilification, automatically move to check what they might have done to ‘incite’ sexist insults?

The comparison with my hijab-wearing friend is apt and I want to explore it a little further. Some people would argue that she did indeed incite the thugs by dressing in a way that advertises her faith. As this well-rehearsed argument goes, women who wear the hijab know that they stand out in the community and so can’t complain when they are abused or discriminated against because they are choosing to draw attention to themselves.

There are plenty of problems with this line of argument, but two in particular are relevant to our discussion about my allegedly slutty-clothed friend. First is the assumption that women’s clothing is a costume meant to signify to our audience what role we are playing, and that we should not complain when our audience responds accordingly.

Of course clothing is a social signal. Many people dress to signal their rejection of mainstream aesthetics or their identification with a sub-culture, for example. Adherents of certain religious groups do the same thing. Even those of us who don’t dress to express membership of a specific group, do adjust our attire depending on the location. We do this because we understand that jeans and sneakers ‘say’ something different than a suit or a bikini or a cocktail dress.

But recognising that clothing is a social signifier is not the same as saying that it invites a specific response. You see a woman in a dress that reveals a lot of skin: maybe her choice of clothing signifies a desire for attention. Maybe it signifies that she is part of mainstream fashion culture. Maybe she loves the colour or fabric. Maybe she wants to keep cool while out dancing. It’s not the right of others to pass judgment on what a woman is ‘saying’ or ‘asking for’ by dressing in a particular way.

The other problem with assuming that women in hijab or short skirts or whatever are inviting a particular kind of attention is that it’s impossible to anticipate how a random person will react. You might think your mid-calf skirt and long-sleeve blouse is modest but that Taliban wannabe at the bus-stop could become inflamed by your naked ankles. And the woman who was abused for wearing a hijab may leave it off next time and be insulted instead for her form-fitting skirt.

Certain ways of dressing may attract more attention than others, but some men will continue to insult women on the street no matter what the women are wearing. The office creep who stares at his colleague’s breasts or legs will do so regardless of how she is dressed, and there has probably never been a rapist who has let a potential victim walk on by because her dress was ankle length.

The subject of slutty clothing becomes particularly fraught when it is concentrated on teenagers. Most have heard their mum or dad utter the timeless classics: ‘Your skirt’s too short!’ or ‘You’re not leaving the house dressed like that!’ I don’t know how many times I’ve heard men—nice, progressive, liberal men—make comments along the lines of ‘I wouldn’t let my daughter dress like [Paris Hilton/catwalk model/random girl standing at a bus stop] because I know how teenage boys think.’ It’s not sexist to suggest teenage girls cover up, they argue, because it’s a biological fact that teenage boys are obsessed with sex and will think about, if not try to initiate, intimate acts with said innocent but skimpily dressed young girls.

Let’s get real: teenage girls do sometimes wear skimpy clothes. You can sort of see how some older people might make a comparison between the tiny skirts and skin–tight tops of teenagers and those of street-walking sex workers. But I bet that if those same critics opened up their teenage photo albums they’d find the same so-called hooker-wear proudly on display. I’ve seen photos of my mum and her sisters as teenagers and they’re wearing skirts so short that I can’t believe someone didn’t write an editorial about the improper influence of Twiggy. Chances are your parents have similar pics stashed in a drawer somewhere.

See, the clothing of ‘young people today’ is exactly the same as the clothing of young people yesterday (every yesterday) in that it is designed to: a) differentiate their generation from the one previous—whether Mum is a right-on feminist or a traditional homemaker, dressing like a burlesque dancer will work nicely to show the world you are not your mother; b) identify with a culture or sub-culture; and c) display sexual awareness and interest.

Obviously it’s the last one that agitates parents and excites the commentariat into a scarcely concealed sexual hypocrisy. The Australian current affairs magazine The Monthly illustrated an article about ‘sex and power in the age of pornography’ with a full page photo of teenage girls in very short skirts. The Sun-Herald’s feature titled ‘Sass to sleaze: the new girl power’, worried that raunch culture has ‘gone too far’ and then went rather far itself using three close-up photos of starlets’ breasts, another pic of a singer’s bare thighs and one of a pole dancer. The presentation of these two articles is representative of the mainstream media’s approach to the subject: young women are perved on, photographed, used to sell papers and then told to stop being so damn sexual.

But teenagers, whatever they wear, are sexual. We seem to have no trouble accepting this about boys: think of modern pop culture classics like American Pie or Superbad in which the quest for sex is an integral part of male bonding and coming of age. The fact that male sexuality is not feared and restricted like female sexuality is evident in the way our culture looks at teenagers. Adults may roll their eyes at boys with their pants half fallen down but there’s no panic about boys showing their bums in order to attract sexual partners.

Yes, clothes for teen girls do tend to reveal more flesh than those for boys, but that’s a reflection of a culture in which women are always provided with less fabric than men (think tux compared to evening gown; men’s business shirt compared to women’s), rather than a signal that they’re up for an orgy. They may well be up for that or anything else, of course, but their outfits aren’t going to tell you that. Clothes do communicate messages, but you have to understand the language to read them properly and, when it comes to teen culture, most adults don’t have a clue.

Teenage boys, on the other hand, do. Many of them are also, it is fair to say, preoccupied with sex, but that fact has no connection to what the girls around them are wearing (just like teenage girls think about sex no matter what the boys around them are wearing). A heterosexual teenage boy is capable of being turned on by anything even resembling a woman’s body. If a girl goes to school in a shapeless sack, teenage boys will spend all day imagining what is under it. Does anyone think boys in the 1950s didn’t have fantasies about what the girls hid underneath their pleated skirts?

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic – Short Film from Plastic the Film on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we raising a generation of narcissists?

There are more narcissistic young people in this generation than ever before. That’s the finding of a long-running study by US psychology professor Jean Twenge, who was in Australia recently. She gave 16,000 university students across the United States psychological testing and found that 30 per cent were narcissistic. This is a doubling in the number of narcissists in just three decades.

Naturally her findings created a bit of a stir in the media, and I went on Mornings with Kerri-anne for an in-depth discussion about it:

The research potentially has major implications for this generation’s future, because narcissism isn’t just spending too much time in front of the mirror or being a bit “up yourself”, which is the way we often use the term in everyday language. A person is classified as narcissistic if they:

  • have an inflated sense of self
  • are arrogant
  • think they’re unique and special
  • believe they are entitled to be treated better than others
  • take the credit for others’ achievements
  • lack warmth and empathy
  • can’t form lasting relationships
  • are highly materialistic
  • continually seek attention and are very vain about their appearance
  • get angry or even violent when things don’t go their way.

Often, things initially do go the narcissist’s way, because they show great confidence and charm. But because their sense of self is built on a shaky foundation, the honeymoon—whether it’s in a new job, a relationship or a friendship—may end quickly and dramatically.

So then, what does Twenge’s research mean for our kids? How alarmed do we need to be?

First, let me say that while giving workshops in schools all over the country, I see far more under-confidence in girls than overconfidence, especially about their looks. I see less vanity and more anxiety. Rather than lack of empathy, I am usually overwhelmed by girls hugging me and saying “I love you” at the end of my session. In my experience, girls are often very keen to get involved in their community and help other people by doing volunteer work.  And even if girls are more focused on having the newest and best of everything than earlier generations were, let’s not forget that they are also the most marketed-to generation: they see between 400 and 600 ads per day.

Twenge’s research in fact backs up my observation that the majority of girls aren’t all that much more narcissistic than earlier generations. She points out on her website that “the average person is only moderately more narcissistic now than 15 years ago.” It’s at the far end of the scale, where a person could be diagnosed with clinical Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that there is an alarming jump: “There are three times as many young people vs. older people with the disorder. That means there are many more highly narcissistic people now than just a decade or two ago.”

There are things we can do to stop the trend. It comes down to modelling the behaviour we’d like our children to show; as I always say, girls cannot be what they cannot see. If the culture around them is all about having the newest and best of everything, getting plastic surgery and being famous for doing nothing, can we blame kids for being focused on those things, too?

Young people are bombarded with images of celebrities who make narcissism look like a desirable lifestyle choice. (I’m sorry to say that Charlie Sheen’s approval rating has gone through the roof with young men recently, according to a poll in The Australian.) They are bombarded with advertising and marketing for products that will make them look richer, thinner, hotter (and more like a celebrity!). You will never be able to stem that tide—but you can talk to them about the media they consume and support them in forming their own judgments and values.

Protecting the next generation from rising narcissism also means making sure that when we praise our kids it really means something. There has been a trend over recent decades to repeat to children that they are special and unique. Increasingly, medals are awarded just for turning up. Of course, this has been done with love and the best of intentions to boost children’s self-esteem. But to create self-esteem that has a solid foundation, we need to:

  • acknowledge real achievement
  • encourage children to be involved in their community
  • encourage them to explore which skills they are good at and identify those they need to work on
  • help them understand that while they see instant successes on reality TV, for most people achievement is the result of hard work and discipline; a good way to do this is to encourage teens to take a starter job.

Finally, here is a great piece of advice from Jean Twenge, who is herself the mother of two young children. When she was asked on Melbourne radio what parents should do instead of telling their kids that they’re special, she answered:

What most parents mean when they say that to their children is “I love you”, so say that instead. That’s a much better message.

It occurred to me that perhaps if the research had been done on Australian or New Zealand young people the result may have been different. What do you think? I would love to hear your perspectives, and your stories about the girls in your life and how they’re developing their own sense of self.

Things that make me go MMMM . . .

Girls cannot be what they cannot see — please don’t become a victim of the fashion wars.

The Sunday Telegraph‘s “Sunday” magazine ran with a back-to-school theme recently, headlined “Style up your school-run chic.” The fashion spread inside was a 1950s-inspired shoot featuring “neat prints, demure hemlines and retro-inspired accessories”. Scan I truly hope the headline was an error and this shoot had nothing to do with showing mums how to dress for the school run. The thought of having to arrive at my children’s school by 8.30 a.m. with coiffed hair, heels, pearls (also prominent in the spread) and pink lippy flawlessly in place would be enough to make me home school my kids. (And trust me, after spending the last six weeks at home with them, that is a not a threat I would make lightly.)

I note, too, that at this time of year the celebrity-watching sites have taken to critiquing the stars doing the kiddie drop-off with the type of enthusiasm usually only displayed by my son for his Nintendo. Toxic celebrity body-police site “The Skinny Celebrity” elicited 65 highly animated (read “frenzied” . . . what is it about these sites that make them so compulsive?) comments on Elle Macpherson’s chosen outfit for the school run. Frankly Elle’s look here is very similar to mine — running tights, sneakers, unbrushed hair, a big jumper or t-shirt. Okay, okay, I may not look quite as sleek when I pop this all together but it seems more realistic than the twin-sets. Agree?

FP_IMAGE_6632077/FP_SET_6631124

Don’t get me wrong, if I am attending a school assembly I will cheerfully run a comb through my mane and attend looking neat and tidy. But if I am just doing kiss-and-drop? Well, I have been known to do this in my Wonder Woman PJs should we be in a rush.

I recall a conversation with a friend I had once that left me speechless. She was lamenting the fact that she was getting increasingly anxious about getting dressed to take her children to their private school as she never felt she could quite pull off the designer look the other mothers seemed to do so effortlessly. “Even when I do kiss-and-drop, I know I am expected to look good from the neck up. I feel pressure to get my hair just right and to have the latest designer sunnies.” Oh. My. Goodness. What hope do our girls have to keep the ranking-based-on-looks game in check if even the big girls are engaging in it?

Please — don’t buy into this game. Wear what seems appropriate and makes you comfortable. Don’t comment on other mums and what they are wearing. Trust me — no one wins the compare and despair game.

Sign of the times?

I took my 11-year-old daughter, Teyah, into Jay-Jays to buy a new t-shirt. I was all ready to be outraged at inappropriate slogans as I have seen some shocking slogans in stores that target tweens and teens in the past (think Jay-Jay’s 2008 misguided “Little Losers”, which included “Miss Wasted” and “Miss Bitch”). I have to say, I was  pleasantly surprised at how empowering some of their latest styles are!

IMG_1052Their new “So-so Happy” range directs a percentage of profits to the awesome Reach Out, an organisation aimed at supporting young people with a range of mental health and wellbeing issues. “So-So Happy” slogans include “Free 2B Me” (Teyah grabbed this one) and cool fundraising “Reach” wrist bands also sit at the counter at a very reasonable $2 (yep, we will have these, too, thanks).  Jay-Jay’s other ranges include a singlet with the slogan “Are you afraid to LOVE? No one is going to love you if you don’t love yourself.” This message may be a tad threatening for my liking (no one is going to love you?) but hey, I can see the intention is good.

The most interesting part of this shopping experience was when I spoke to the manager at the Castle Hill store, Jodie Souter, and asked her if the shift towards slogans with more positive messages was a deliberate one or if I had perhaps just shopped on a good day. “We used to market a lot more sexy type slogan tops but frankly they didn’t sell very well,” she told me. “This new approach is flying out the door. We have noted a big jump in sales with the more empowering gear.”

I didn’t examine all the products in the store and am by no means endorsing this retailer, though I can’t help but think this may be a sign that consumers have reached tipping point and we are no longer buying into labels that sell out on our kids.

Heads up other teen brands!

Hating this Valentine’s campaign

My Victorian Enlighten Education team member Catherine Manning is the powerhouse behind Say No 4 Kids (not to be confused with “say no TO kids”, a slip of the tongue I once made that had all of us Enlighten mummies in fits of laughter). This nonprofit grassroots movement  is encouraging everyone to sign a petition to have pornographic material removed from the view and access of children and young teenagers. As Cath says, “If cigarettes can go back behind the counter, why not porn?” Not happy to just stop there, Catherine recently began lobbying her local chemist chain store, which has decided to promote the sale of perfumes for Valentine’s Day by using the language and imagery of pornography. Catherine explains the issue best in her email to me: “I was really shocked that this was deemed appropriate. The young female sales assistant working at the store said she felt extremely embarrassed and upset, and had complained to head office to no avail. She said all they needed was a red light hanging from the ceiling.” Cath called it harassment, and she’s right.

166435_492312187733_256300977733_6291142_1230942_n
Call 03 9462 9111 to register your complaint. Tell My Chemist that “hardcore” doesn’t sell perfume, and boycott their stores until they withdraw this offensive campaign.

The standard we walk by is the standard we set. Perhaps the marketing crew at My Chemist needs to have a chat to the team at Jay-Jays?

A new body does not equal a new life

I was incredibly saddened to hear that 23-year-old former German Big Brother contestant/porn star Carolin Berger died after her sixth breast enlargement surgery. Sky News explained: “She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicone injected into each breast. But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma.” What a waste. It made me want to revisit an earlier post of mine, The Reality of Cosmetic Surgery. In this post I shared my own battle to accept my body — scars and all (for my readers who may not know, I received third-degree burns on my right shoulder and arm from an incident in my childhood). My concluding words in that post ring as true as ever:

The power of words to heal is something we should all take to heart and remember in our relationships with the girls in our lives. Cosmetic and plastic surgery may appear to promise happiness and success, like we see on reality TV, but it can really only alter our bodies. It’s the words we use to talk about ourselves and one another that have the power to truly heal our souls, and to change lives.

I’d love to know what has got you thinking and going “MMMM . . .” this week.

Because we’re worth more.

* Trigger Warning -displays and critiques images that may disturb.

Today marks the last day of the annual international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, explains why we all need to act to prevent violence against women:

Many women in Australia experience violence as an everyday reality and the statistics are shocking. The most recent national data shows that one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, nearly one in five women has experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 and almost every week, one woman is killed by her current or former partner.

One of the first steps an abuser takes in self-justifying their violence against another is to dehumanise them. And all around us—in advertising, on the net, in music videos and TV shows and movies—we are bombarded with images of women who are dehumanised, degraded, reduced to their body parts, or Photoshopped to a machinelike ideal of “perfection”. When degrading images of women become commonplace, what chance is there of building respect? Without respect, can we ever curb violence and abuse?

On the final day of the campaign, I’m calling on marketers and advertisers to think about the way they portray women. Because only by changing cultural attitudes can we change the culture of violence.

Scan-19-1f7mq74

I did a workshop with the gorgeous young women at Quakers Hill High School in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. One of their teachers, Jenny Linklater, is an avid reader of this blog and a supporter of Enlighten’s work. She teaches visual arts and wanted to show me an article in the October issue of ProPhoto, a magazine for professional photographers, that had alarmed her. It was a profile on the 2010 Australian Professional Photographer Of The Year, Peter Coulson. Many of the images of women he was applauded for were shocking to say the least, like these “cheeky” (BTW—is it just me or are you also sick of anything offensive against women being dismissed as merely “cheeky”?) Raven shoe advertisements he produced that apparently thrilled and highly amused the client.

Smallerscantoilet

In the accompanying article we are told Mr Coulson has an “absolute love of fashion”, which he likes to mix with the macabre: “He has a weird sense of humour.”

I don’t get the joke. And whilst he may love fashion, there is certainly no love for women depicted here.

These images dehumanise women . . . in order to sell shoes.

Are we really worth so little?

Speak up. In your homes, classrooms and online.

screen-shot-2010-08-12-at-10-49-06-pm

Peter Coulson has been asked to present at major industry events as a “mentor” to show other advertising photographers how they too can create “strong” images like this for their clients. Email the editor of ProPhoto, Paul Burrows: pburrows@next.com.au and let him know that images like this aren’t “cheeky”, they’re damaging. Let Coulson’s client, Raven Clothing & Accessories, know that consumers are tired of being sold products with degrading images of women. You might also want to express your opinions to the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), which honoured Coulson with the award and organised an industry event he spoke at.

The standard we walk past is the standard we set. This week in particular, let’s set higher standards.

Footnote to last week’s post on NZGirl’s “Lovely pair” campaign: Rachel was given the opportunity to debate the founder Jenene Freer on Close Up Tv . During this heated discussion, Jenene made the case that it was a genuine attempt to raise awareness of breast cancer and to raise money for research. On Tuesday of this week the foundation has put it on record that it neither supports nor endorses the NZ Girl campaign in any way. NZGirl have now added the following to their Facebook page: “The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation have requested we clarify any reader confusion and state that the ‘lovely pair’ campaign is in no way supported or endorsed by The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.”

The real Halloween horror: it’s just another excuse to sex girls up too soon

Just when you thought you’d seen every possible way for marketers to pressure girls to be too sexy too soon, along comes another opportunity for stores to sell product and sexualise girls . . . Halloween! Though we may not have grown up with Halloween as a tradition, trick-or-treating is entering our culture in a big way.

For my daughter, Teyah, and son, Kye, 11 and 8, any celebration that involves dressing up and lollies is bound to be popular, so I took them to a Halloween store at The Supa Centre (Home Hub), in Castle Hill, to pick out a couple of costumes. I’ve always known the centre as a whole to be a fine place to take the kids.

So just how did this casual little school holiday outing to a suburban shopping centre end up with me appalled beyond belief, racking my brain for a response to a perplexed 8-year-old’s question about bestiality and hightailing it out of the store just before security came to escort me out? I went on Mornings with Kerri-anne to tell the story. (Note, when I say “homemaker centre” in this video, I’m using the term generically. The place I’m talking about is called The Supa Centre but is listed on-line as Home Hub Hills.)

The little girls’ Halloween costumes were stomach-churning examples of sexualising kids at too young an age. This one is available in sizes to fit girls aged from 3 to 10:
major flirt

When Halloween becomes an opportunity to sexualise little girls, we’ve crossed a line. Girls aged 3 to 10 should never be dressed up as major flirts. Full stop.

And what do little girls have to look forward to when they grow up? Those ubiquitous bunny ears, of course:
playboy

If I sound like some kind of prude, let me just say that I don’t have an issue with women dressing up in a sexy way if they want to. And I totally get it that Halloween is one night of the year when people might want to express their wilder side.

What I object to is that, yet again, women are boxed into a narrow view of what “sexy” is. We shouldn’t be allowing Playboy (or any other brand) to define what “sexy” means. Not all of us feel at our sexiest or most feminine stuffed into a tight corset and fishnets. Real female sexuality is more interesting and diverse than the big-breasted, long-legged Playboy stereotype!

What I object to is that yet again women and girls are being made to believe that their true currency is their body and the best they can aspire to is to be sexy. Standing in that store was exactly like this cartoon by Andy Marlette, which sums it up perfectly. Boys can be superheroes, literary characters and martial arts experts. Girls can be . . . sexy.

andy marlette
Reproduced with thanks to Andy Marlette

What I object to is that there is simply too much blurring of the line between adulthood and childhood. Girls aged 3 to 10  have sexualised soldier and sailor outfits. Women and teen girls have sexualized Sesame Street costumes, like these I saw on Feministing:

The website sluttyhalloweencostumes.org (yes, seriously, it exists) asks: “Who doesn’t want to see a slutty version of our favorite Disney character?” Well, me for one.

The line between childhood and adulthood is often further blurred by retailers who place adult products at children’s eye level — think FHM near the chocolate bars at the checkout. The Halloween store I visited at Castle Hill seemed to be mainly aimed at kids, and I counted 11 children under the age of 10. Yet the adult costumes were mixed in with the children’s ones. Playboy was in amongst Star Wars. But even worse than that, there were some deeply offensive costumes for men openly on display for kids to see. They were too graphic to show on Kerri-anne or to show here. One costume had a fake sheep attached to the groin area. Another had a blow-up doll dressed in a G-string attached to the crotch so that it would appear that she was giving the man oral sex.

I was angry that my children were exposed to this. My son actually asked me “What’s that man doing to the sheep, Mummy?”

But I was polite when I went and asked the manager why this merchandise was on display for kids to see. I think my question was a very reasonable one, but I was asked to leave the store.

When Home Hub Hills’ management rented space to this retailer, I’m sure they assumed they would be selling the usual witch’s brooms and scary masks and lollies. I want to stress that in the past I’d always had good experiences at this shopping centre with my family. This weekend, the centre held a Cat in the Hat Family Fun Day and I can’t imagine that the management would be okay with kids visiting the centre possibly being exposed to depictions of bestiality and oral sex.

If a shopping centre’s management receives enough complaints about a retailer, it may affect their decisions about whom to lease shop space to in the future.  So if you’re as concerned as I am about protecting children from adult content, please join me in contacting Home Hub Hills’ management. Ask them to do whatever they can to prevent retailers from displaying inappropriate adult merchandise where children can see it. Here are the contact details from their website:

Home Hub Hills

Telephone: 02 9634 1116 
Fax: 02 9634 4288 
Email: hillsreception@fenixrealestate.com
Mailing address: PO Box 7067, Baulkham Hills NSW 2153

With Friends Like These . . .

The Huffington Post recently published a hilarious and oh-so-accurate send-up of women’s mags, “17 Things Every Women’s Magazine Will Tell You (That You Should Ignore)” by Alida Nugent of blog The Frenemy. Here is a taste:

slide_11289_148557_large

1. Jennifer Aniston is really hot but she is also very pathetic. We want to have her hairstyle and her arms, but only to carry on her legacy when she dies alone.

slide_11289_148584_large
8. This is a somber photograph of a girl followed by her story about how a terrible, awful thing happened to her. Here is another story about a congresswoman who made it in a man’s world! Here is a 28-year-old with a fashion business! Women don’t get paid as much, and third-world women have it harder, because these are our serious pages! (Followed by raunchy sex tales!)

Coincidentally, the following critique of women’s magazines appeared on the Post Secret website this week. (Post Secret an ongoing art project that invites people to submit postcards decorated with their inner thoughts.) I think it is spot on, too:

cosmo

Although it is almost like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought it would be a cathartic exercise to come up with my own examples of the things every women’s magazine will tell you (that you should ignore). Here are a few I came up with:

41YBGKOL2vL._SL500_SX288_

1. “Don’t theorise, accessorise!” (or variants thereof). Want to get noticed in the workplace? Dress for success. Why not try fishnets for that sassy / sexy edge that says: “I am the gal for the job!” The image above was SERIOUSLY included in a piece aimed at “women lawyers, bankers, MBAs, consultants, and otherwise overachieving chicks who work in conservative offices and need to look professional, but want to be fashionable.” Somehow, I don’t think I’d hire the barrister in the short shorts.

self-esteem

2. Here’s a great article on positive body image and self-esteem written by someone we know you will trust! This gives us huge credibility and we can now emblazon our cover with a slogan like: “Perfection is boring — join the body revolution!” We will also now go on all the daytime talk shows and nod earnestly about our commitment to improving body satisfaction for women! Hell, we are now so OBVIOUSLY onto solving this huge issue that we will join a government advisory group on body image! The rest of our mag? Oh — DUH! It will be business as usual — loads of airbrushed images, a bombardment of hard-sell advertising for moisturisers and waxing and diet products, and an invitation to engage in the compare and despair game, in which we all rank celebs based on their looks. Vive the revolution!

lindsay-lohan-harpers-bazaar

3. Lindsay Lohan is either “Bad-news Lindsay” and we all pity her and worry (read get thrilled by) her “out of control” antics, or she is “Good-news Lindsay”, who is making a comeback despite all the obstacles she faces (which, judging by this cover, may include being airbrushed to the extent that she is virtually unrecognisable, even to herself — no wonder she is confused; we sure are). Sometimes Ms Lohan seems to be reported as both evil and saintly on the same day . . . perhaps she really does have a twin, as depicted in The Parent Trap? Will the real Lindsay Lohan please stand up? Hint for those wanting an indication as to whether the mag intends to depict her as tragic or triumphant: Airbrushing = Lindsay is a fresh-faced success! (Yay, Team Lohan! We knew you could do it — and help us sell lip gloss at the same time! It’s a win-win!) No airbrushing + unflattering lighting = We shake our heads in shock and become very self-righteous (now turn the page and we will advise you on how to party like a pole dancer and assert your girlpower by flashing whilst not spilling your cocktail).

Our New Zealand Program Manager, Rachel Hanson (who has contributed some excellent blog posts lately, here and here if you’ve missed them), offered this:

image001

4. Forget world hunger, terrorism and climate change — it’s body hair you should really be worried about! Unless your genitals look prepubescent, you are so not going to get THE MAN. Waxing, shaving, lasering, threading — no pain, no gain!

It is vital to encourage young people to deconstruct media messages and talk back to the media, rather than to merely be passive consumers. Why not use this exercise to inspire the girls in your life and get them thinking about the messages women’s magazines in particular might be sending them that are really not helpful? We’d love to see their entries. Email them to us at: enquiries@enlighteneducation.com.

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Please prove that you are not a robot.

Skip to toolbar