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Category: Magazines

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.

The Big Chill

My words of advice were offered to teen girls in the September issue of Girlfriend Magazine. I have had such a strong response from teens telling me this article helped them navigate a friendship that had turned toxic that I thought it worth republishing here (with Girlfriend’s permission). Feel free to pass this on to the young women in your life who may be feeling the big chill…

Image by The Notebook Doodles. Her beautiful art work is featured in our FREE mobile phone wallpapers which may be downloaded at our shop: www.enlighteneducation.com/shop

HOW TO DEAL WITH FRIENDS WHO FREEZE YOU OUT

Just yesterday you were happily splitting bestie charms and planning holiday fun, but today the reception’s so icy that you need thermals to approach. The worst thing is, you have no idea why. The friendship freeze-out is pretty common, and if it happens to you there’s not a lot you can do to prevent it. But you can learn how to get through it. We show you how.

IT’S GETTIN’ COLD IN HERE

The first thing to know is you’re not alone. “Teenage girls tend to isolate and ostracise their friends more than boys do,” says Dannielle Miller, CEO of Enlighten Education (enlighteneducation.com.au). And sadly, there’s usually no reasoning behind it. You probably haven’t done anything wrong, and there’s nothing you could have done to avoid it. Yes, it’s hurtful, but you can get through it. We know you can.

DEALING WITH THE FROST

Now is the time to tap into your inner strength. “Having a strong sense of self is extremely important,” says Dannielle. “It’ll help you be more resilient if others aren’t validating you the way you’d like to be validated.” Knowing yourself, and being happy with the person you are, will help you gain perspective on the sitch, and you won’t need to be defined by the people who are around you.

CAST A WIDER FRIEND NET

Creating a friendship network beyond school is super-important as it means you have someone to fall back on. Whether that be through sport, drama, or other friends you’ve met at parties, if your friendship group is broader, you won’t rely so heavily on the ones at school.

IN THE NOW

For the short term, rather than mope about the situation, use the extra time to your advantage. Do your homework, research that essay, or have lunch with a different group. It’ll feel empowering to not rely on one gang to have a good time. The other immediate action you can take is to chat directly to the group leader. “Have a one-on-one conversation, which is less threatening,” says Dannielle. Focus on how you feel and always use “I” words instead of “You do this”. It’s also important to try and end on a positive note, so Dannielle suggests something like, “I feel at the moment you girls don’t want me to sit with you. I’m hurt but I respect that’s your choice and hopefully we’ll catch up later”. Taking the high ground will have them thinking they’ve messed up.

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

We know that when this happens to you it feels as though your life will never be the same again, but eventually it will. “In my experience, this stuff usually blows over in a couple of days,” says Dannielle. However, if it does go on for longer, it could become serious bullying, and this is when you need to tell someone – because that is never OK. And remember, if this is how your “friends” treat you, perhaps you should think about what you really want in a friend – coz this sure ain’t it.

Article written by Sarah Tarca, Girlfriend, September 2011.

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.

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.


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?

Girlworld meets the Boyzone

I am thrilled to be one of the keynote speakers in July at the conference of the Federation of Parents and Friends Associations, of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, in NSW. I will be speaking on how to raise amazing girls and clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller will be talking about his area of expertise, boys. I am often asked what I believe are the greatest challenges girls face and I am also often asked “What about the boys?” So I am grateful to Aurora, the diocese’s monthly newspaper, for giving their permission to share this article in which both Andrew and I get to answer those very questions.

Girlworld by Dannielle Miller, Enlighten Education CEO

danni presenting to girls
What kind of a girl were you?
Bossy. Busy. I was determined to expand my empire from ruling over my little sister to becoming “President of the Universe”—until I hit adolescence. My inner dialogue then became darker and more focused on how I looked. As I had scars (I have a third-degree burn) I became convinced my body’s “flaws” would limit my potential. How telling that, as little girls, we believe we have fantastic powers and unlimited potential, yet as older girls we start to feel powerless and see our currency as based on how we look!

It took me some time to reclaim my Presidential Powers.

What gifts do girls offer?
I find young women simply delightful! They are honest (ok, I admit at times they may be brutally honest—like the teen girl who recently asked me “So did they have make-up back when you were a teen too?”), affectionate (girls at our events will literally line up to hug and kiss me), and passionate. If you capture their hearts, their minds follow.

I think as teens, girls in particular can look so grown up and act so worldly, we forget that they truly still need our love and attention.

It’s tough raising girls—right?
There are absolutely many challenges. We know body image is a huge concern for many young women; in fact surveys have shown as many as 94% of girls say they do not think they are as beautiful as the average girl, and up to 25% say they would like to change everything about themselves.

Binge drinking is a huge concern too—teen girls are the biggest binge drinking demographic in this country.

The most problematic thing is that girls can look as though they are doing well. They are experts at putting on the “I’m all right” perfect girl façade. Yet behind bedroom doors, they may well be imploding.

The key I think to parenting girls and boys is to reach out. Read what parenting experts have to say (not just my book of course, but get lots of viewpoints so that you are informed), talk to the parents of their friends. It really does take a village to raise a child.

What is the single biggest challenge facing girls today, and how might parents address it?
I believe that despite all the progress feminism has helped women make, the ultimate glass ceiling still seems to be our bathroom mirrors. Girls caught up in playing the “compare and despair” game will not reach their personal or academic potential. Their inner dialogue will convince them that despite all they achieve, unless they can fit the increasingly narrow ideal of beauty that they are bombarded with, they will not be “worth it”.

I love the fact that healing our girls really encourages parents also to heal themselves. Girls cannot be what they cannot see. Our girls will not see themselves as whole unless we as parents see ourselves as whole too. We “big girls” need to stop engaging in toxic self-talk, lamenting the ageing process, yo-yo dieting . . . we need to step up and be role models for our daughters.

If you could give parents of girls one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t believe the self-fulfilling prophecy that mothers and teen daughters are destined to fight and drift apart. Don’t expect her teens to be troubled. Rather, connect with her. Enjoy her. Teens need us just as much as they did when they were toddlers! Every stage of parenting has its challenges but every stage also has joy . . . see the joy now too.

If you could give teachers of girls one piece of advice, what would it be?
See her as a whole person not just an academic candidate. Don’t dismiss her personal issues. If a teen is fighting with a friend, that matters most to her. You can forget learning until there is a resolution! It is strange to me that we never take time to explicitly teach such vital skills as resolving conflict. When we work with girls in schools they hang on our every word when we help them learn how to make sense of “Girl World”! We have a generation of young women who are being expected to cope with an increasingly complex world, yet they may only have child-like strategies to fall back on.

Boyzone by Andrew Fuller, clinical psychologist

What kind of a boy were you?
I was quite a shy boy but very lucky. Not only did I have my parents and family, I had an aunt and uncle who owned a farm so I got to play and roam. My neighbours also adopted me and I had breakfast with them every morning until I went to secondary school.

What are the joys that boys offer?
Boys are gung ho, wild, touchy pranksters who love stories, games, jokes and mucking about. They are the masters of minimalism. If you ask them to write 50 words on something and they write 51 words, they think they have overdone it. They are the practitioners of just-in-time management which is why they will leave almost any chore to the last possible moment.

It’s tough raising boys—right?
Keep boys busy and it’s pretty straightforward. They want to know you are there for them but they don’t want you in their face. Let them know that you respect them and even though they will pretend that they don’t want to hear you, make sure that they know you love them.

What is the single biggest challenge facing boys today, and how might parents address it?
We’ve narrowed the definition of success so much that many kids, girls as well as boys, think they are failures and cannot succeed. We can be the antidote to this craziness by insisting on our children’s right to be individuals and to find success in their own ways. Be the person who turns to young people and says, “I have no idea what you are going to do with your life or how you are going to get there but I know you will be an absolute world beater.” Believe in them.

If you could give parents of boys one piece of advice, what would it be?
Mothers of boys need to know that they provide a role model for his future relationships with women. Care for sons but don’t be too ready to rescue them. Love them but expect them to solve their problems. Don’t let them wriggle out of hugs or conversations with you. Know when to “become invisible” when their friends are around but be there as a backup.

Fathers of sons need to learn to stop trying to improve their sons. If a father can accept his son for who he is and believe in him, he does more to build his confidence and self-esteem than all advice and lectures put together.

If you could give teachers of boys one piece of advice, what would it be?
Boys thrive best as part of a “gang”. The most important gang they will ever belong to is their family. The second most important gang is your classroom. Run your classroom like a gang! Have clear rules and high expectations. Be the leader of the gang. Let boys know how to succeed and they will shine. Also know that boys’ love of games and competitions overrides any lack of motivation they may feel so run your classroom like a mix between a computer game and a game show!

To learn more about Andrew Fuller, go to www.andrewfuller.com.au. To read Aurora, click here. And for more information about the Federation of Parents and Friends Associations’ July conference, call Linda McNeil on (02) 4979 1303 or email her at linda.mcneil@mn.catholic.edu.au.

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?

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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.

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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.

Hands off our vaginas

I lament the use of terms such as “liberation” and “empowerment” to sell women more and more product. In this post I want to particularly question the use of terms implying female empowerment in the growing trend to convince women to change what is surely something quintessentially female — our vaginas.

Case in point?  The latest series of advertisements for Schick Quattro’s TrimStyle all-in-one razor and bikini trimmer. The ads invite you to “celebrate your inner confidence” and, using the language of liberation, “free your skin”.  According to the company’s PR blurb,  five everyday Australian women were photographed and filmed for the campaign wearing nothing but lingerie, in and around some very public locations in Sydney’s CBD.  Men are shown gawking at them, whilst other women look on admiringly. The women do have inspiring stories — there is a single mother and a cancer survivor — yet surely as the advertisement is for a bikini razor and they are seen posed in lingerie, we can only assume that their confidence actually comes from having well-groomed vaginas.

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Speaking of well-groomed vaginas reminds me of one of the most flabbergasting moments in talk-show history. In January last year Jennifer Love Hewitt famously discussed on American TV that she had devoted an entire chapter of her new book on relationships to decorating her hairless vagina with jewelled decals — a practice known as “vajazzling” that is gaining in popularity here, too. Hewitt told her host “Women should vajazzle their vajayjays . . . It really helped me.” She went on to say, “After a breakup, a friend of mine Swarovski-crystalled my precious lady . . . and it shined like a disco ball.”  It really “empowered” her, she insisted  (although apparently she was not quite empowered enough to use adult terms for her anatomy).

Forget the war on terrorism — if the amount of ads for decorating, shaving, waxing and electrolysis are anything to go by, it is the age of the war on women’s vaginas.

Actually, it is not just grown women who are being told they should doubt their own genitals. During the formal season last year, beauticians noted a huge increase in the number of young women wanting “intimate” grooming treatments. Girls as young as 14 were asking for Brazilian waxes. Enlighten Education’s Program Manager for New Zealand, Rachel Hansen, who is also a women’s health and sexuality educator, tells me of a school in NZ for Year 1 to 13 students that ran a beauty salon’s ad for Brazilian waxing in the school diary. Imagine pulling out your five-year-old daughter’s homework diary and an ad for Brazilian waxing jumping out at you.

It seems teens no longer even know what “normal” is. In episode one of the UK’s 2009 Sex Education Show, when teens of both sexes were shown images of women with pubic hair, they gasped in what seemed to be shock or disgust. The producers had set out to show that in reality “we all come in all different shapes and sizes. From penises to pubes, bums to boobs whatever you’ve got it’s all perfectly normal.”

Cosmetic surgeons would have us believe otherwise. As if waxing, plucking, electrolysis and decorating is not enough, far more serious procedures are being widely promoted by surgeons as  important for restoring women’s “confidence”. Researcher Karen Roberts McNamara argues that women are going under the scalpel to have their vaginal openings tightened and their labias made smaller because they have been convinced this will “normalise” them and thus give them confidence:

The sanitized ideal of the clean, delicate, discreet vaginal slit, so widely used in the plastic surgery industry discourse, functions in such a way as to cast the bodies who have not undergone these procedures as necessarily dirty and unsightly . . . Scholars have noted that in years  past, women rarely had the opportunity to see other women’s vaginas and thus had no sense of how a typical vagina might look. Yet with the mainstreaming of the adult entertainment industry, the situation has changed dramatically. Now, a beauty standard has emerged, one established primarily through porn actresses, nude models and strippers . . . The irony of this situation is that in pornographic films and photographs, everything from eye colour or stretch marks, to genitalia, can be modified digitally.

Amanda Hess, in her excellent piece “The Problem With Defending The Sacred Choice To Vajazzle”, concludes with a call-to-arms of sorts that I am taking up, and that I urge all girls and women to take up.

For now, the more extreme performances of femininity, like breast implantation, vaginal ‘rejuvenation,’ and Vajazzling aren’t considered the norm for women. I’m not going to be met with shock when I remove my pants and reveal to my sex partner that I haven’t converted my pubic mound into a shiny disco ball. But these days, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to be shocked that I’m not perfectly waxed. The body hair ship may have sailed, but vaginal modification is at a point right now where we are still in a position to fend off the tide. And my greatest fear is that someday, we will wake to find that our girls are being routinely Vajazzled upon puberty, and realize that we never stood up to say, ‘This…is . . . ridiculous.’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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