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Category: Power of Words

Future Me

Subject: Anxiety

Dear FutureMe,

How’s it going? You were SO anxious yesterday that you almost didn’t make it in to work at your new job. You thought you were a failure in every aspect of your life, and were doomed to a life of agorophobia. However, you pushed yourself out that door and it wasn’t so bad. Just thought you might want that reminder.

(written Mon May 21, 2007, to be delivered Wed May 21, 2008)

Subject: In the future

Dear FutureMe,

You my friend are quite the asshole. You have put yourself in some real tough situations. You had the past 15 years to make mistakes. Mistakes are good, there is no other way to learn but tone them down a bit. Your greatest fear should be yourself because have caused your self the most trouble. You are capable of much more than you give yourself credit for. Decisions have to be made and you need to accept who you are. By the time you read this I hope you have matured and have grown into the person you are capable of being. The only choice you have to make now is deciding who you want to be. During the period which you will not read this try relaxing, loving life, respecting yourself, accepting yourself and reaching out to others more than you have in the past. Goodbye and good luck!

(written Mon May 21, 2007, sent Sun Sep 2, 2007)

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The emails above are featured on web site FutureMe.org. This site encourages us to write an email to ourselves which will be automatically delivered on a specified date. 

What a fabulous concept. It allows for soul searching and goal setting. The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams! Thanks to Kevin Roberts and his inspiring blog KR Connect for sharing this:

“This simple idea has kept tugging at me. It draws on the fundamental human desire to connect with the mystery of what is to come and to secure some instant of attention in the future for the passions and aspirations of today. There’s another practical reason it appeals. Focus. The discipline of writing to your future self is the perfect way to crystallize your ideas and, even better, when you read these ideas in a couple of months or years, to assess how your thinking has changed, whether goals that were important at the time were achieved and what’s next.”

I love KR’s mind – creative, intuitive, delicious.  

What are you waiting for…

Create an email to send to the future you!

FutureMe.org

When talk is cheap – and nasty

Guest Post by Enlighten Education’s Program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown

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Is it just me or does the proliferation of mobile phones among even our youngest school children worry others too? When waiting to pick up my son from school I often see girls as young as six or seven walking along avidly engaged with their mobile phones and comparing them enthusiastically with one another. From speaking with various Mothers who have issued their girls with these diamante encrusted pink accessories I have gleaned a few reasons for their “must have it” attitude. Safety is paramount for these baby tweens. I totally appreciate this but have to wonder how dangerous a supervised pick up school zone is and when you would need to phone Mum if she drives you to school and then walks you in. These phones are dangled on lanyards around necks with a “mine is newer, got more features” attitude. Why are they not stored away in the bag? Branding is powerful and at work in the playground of the baby tween.

But the fashion thing is not really my biggest concern about the mobile phone phenomenon. Like those other Mums, it’s safety. A forthcoming issue of Teacher Magazine (produced by the Australian Council for Education Research), reports on a study by a group of Australian academics ( including my husband Dr Mark Brown) which found that as many as 93% of school students had experienced some form of bullying via mobile phones– what they refer to as m-bullying. A similar study in the US last year claimed that 85% of children aged 10-14 years had experienced cyberbullying (via the Internet). The upward trend of people using technology to harass others is really very disturbing.

Last year, the world drew breath in collective horror when it was revealed that the high profile suicide of 13 year old Megan Meiers in the US was partly due to her being tormented on MySpace by an adult posing as a 16 year old boy – in actuality, the mother of one of her former friends. And I shuddered when I read about a teenage girl in the UK who killed herself after receiving hundreds of hate messages on her phone in a matter of hours. Similar stories are found in countries throughout the world.

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The worrying thing about mobile phones is that children carry them all the time. The ability to bombard others with text messaging or to pass on humiliating photos or video is heightened. Since it is immediate in nature, the time for reflection is reduced and the speed of action and potential for anonymity are very appealing. Who hasn’t sent off an email in a huff and regretted it the next day?

What’s more, it seems that children generally don’t like to tell adults it’s happening. Research suggests that the peak bullying years are from 11-14 years, when kids are quite keen to give it a try. The anonymity of the mobile phone means that children who may not be capable of being physical bullies can now actively participate. We need to be very vigilant about what goes on not only in the schoolyard but increasingly behind our children’s bedroom door. Depriving them of mobile phones or internet connections is probably not practical and may even harm relationships with our kids. We need to be more proactive in communicating with them about the dangers of the “always switched on” world and give them strategies to deal with it.

Enlighten’s workshops emphasise the importance of recognising self-worth, true friendships, and personal safety.  In our workshop “Stop, I Don’t Like It” we explore the importance of setting boundaries in the real, and in the cyber, world. The following links are also very helpful and well worth downloading as a reference point:

“Mobile phones and bullying – what you need to know to get the bullies off your back,” produced by the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association.

The Child Safety Check List  produced by the Australian Communication and Media Authority- covers everything from costs and charges, to handling nuisance calls.

Stories and Mermaid Songs

“Something has happened. But how? Was it overnight, or has it been creeping up on us and we’ve only just noticed? It’s the girls, the young and pretty girls.They used to sing like sirens, like mermaids, all sweet and liquid, breezy melodies, wavy melodies, but now they’re shorn of melody, though their mouths open and close as before.

Have their tongues been cut out?”  

Margaret Atwood, “Something Has Happened”,The Tent, 2006.

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In our workshop “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty” we use traditional fairytales as a stimulus for discussion. All the pretty girls are challenged to awaken: to identify the poison apples in their lives and slay some dragons.

My favourite business writer Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi and Saatchi and author of the inspirational Love Marks, discusses why stories can be so transformational in his book Sisimo:  

1. Great stories touch us. They connect with our own desires and experiences and what we care about.

2. Great stories are contagious. The itch to pass on a great story is almost unbearable. Stories have to be shared.

3. Great stories are cloaked in credibility. They make practical sense, intuitive sense, emotional sense.

4. Great stories connect with the emotions. Genuine, compelling emotion drives every story.

5. Great stories surprise and delight. They are infinitely capable of the unexpected. It’s not just about novelty and revelations but also creativity and emotional truth.

6. Great stories have context. Whether it’s a fairy tale or a business lesson, stories weave facts and events together so we understand their larger meanings.

7. Great stories are fast workers. They get in ahead of our rationalizations and logic with their own compelling truth.

8. Great stories are crafted. We all like stories to be recounted with skill and effort.

9. Great stories make us laugh. Humor disarms us and opens us up to new ideas.

10. Great stories teach us to be smart. Through great stories we learn to spot disinformation in an instant. Shoddy stories reinforce prejudice and hide the truth.

11. Great stories introduce us to great characters; people we want to spend time with.

12. Great stories open us up to other worlds. Welcome to the world of the imagination, to new geographies, to new realities.”

I think it is sad that society has stopped telling great stories to our teenagers. They respond brilliantly to a tale well told. 

One of the most disturbing fairytales of all that seems to contain compelling truths for our girls is that of the little mermaid. Our words have enormous power, yet what did the mermaid decide to sacrifice to get her man? Her voice – her words. And her fins – body mutilation. When all this still doesn’t work and she cannot win the Prince’s love, Ariel throws herself into the sea. Heartbroken. No happy ending.

What will our girls do in the quest to be more beautiful? More loved? More?

A quarter of teenage girls in Australia say they would get plastic surgery if they could, and two per cent have already gone under the knife. Almost 60 per cent wanted to be lighter on the scales. Many silence their inner turmoil and pretend they are happy whilst behind closed doors they binge drink, self harm, play at being “mean girls” and bully others…

The Fairy Godmothers must act. Older women have to step up and act as guides and role models,  girls cannot be what they cannot see. Where would Cinderella have been without her Fairy Godmother, Sleeping Beauty without the kind fairies who tried to protect her, and Dorothy without Glynda the good fairy?

Don’t buy into the myth that older women have nothing to offer. The media perpetuates the quest for youthful perfection. Older women are virtually invisible and either taken off air when their use by date expires (which happens when they are mid-thirties) or sent off for surgery.

Women need to be more supportive of each other regardless of age. We’re all battling with the same dragons. We all have moments when we look despairingly into the mirror and ask, “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

There is great power in the collective female voice. Will we give power to the negative, to the compare and despair game? Or will we choose a different song? Our “Sleeping Beauty” workshop opens with the powerful song “Wake Me Up” by Evanescence. The lyrics include ” Wake me up inside (I can’t wake up) Wake me up inside (save me) …speak sentences, sing again. I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems. Got to open my eyes to everything. Bring me to life…”

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Let’s all open our eyes. Let’s create new realities for our Princesses and for ourselves.

Let’s create our own Happy Ever After.

P.S. I worked with the girls from All Saints Grammar yesterday and reading through their feedback comments this morning I was reminded yet again of how powerful great stories are, and of the urgent need for Fairy Godmothers! Take 5 minutes and read through their comments – what beautiful, honest words

I found the girls extraordinary – so many hugs, so many smiles.     

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The Grinches Who Steal Innocence…

I am really pleased the media has supported us in our outrage over the numerous examples of inappropriate products and services being marketed to little girls in the lead up to Christmas.

An interview with me over the inappropriate promotion of brazilian waxing on children’s web site girl.com.au featured recently in the Adelaide Herald Sun:

Herald Sun : Children’s Site Promotes Brazilian Waxing

Melinda Tankard Resit from WFA and I also collaborated on an opinion piece that was published on page 11 of the Sydney Morning Herald on 4/1/08

SMH: The Grinches Who Steal Innocence

Prue Mc Sween on 2UE interviewed me too and showed genuine interest in the agenda. Could it be that society has finally reached tipping point? Worth a listen…you may access below or via my Vodpod.  

Prue Mc Sween and Dannielle Miller – 2UE 4/1/08 

Loving Wonder Woman!

Those of you who know me will know I LURVE Wonder Woman. Always have. It is not about the star spangled pants or hot red boots (although both are kind of cool). It is all about her Amazon attitude and – most importantly – her Golden Lasso.

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Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso is actually officially known as the “Lasso of Truth”. Once she wraps it around the baddies, they must speak words of truth to her. YES – our words are powerful. YES – they can take us to dark places, or to light, love and laughter. This would be one prop I would love to have…along with her Goddess Powers of course!

You can understand my excitement then when I read on Feministing this week that for the first time, the Wonder Woman comic will have an ongoing woman writer! Although women writers have made “guest appearances” since WW was launched 66 years ago, Gail Simone will be the first regular. The New York Times profiled Gail Simone: “Ms. Simone was effusive when discussing Wonder Woman. ‘She’s just the best kind of person,’ she said. ‘She was a princess who didn’t need someone to rescue her. I grew up in an era — and a family — where women’s rights were very important, and the guys didn’t tend to stick around too long. She was an amazing role model.’ ”

Ms. Simone came to the attention of DC Comics through her site Women In Refrigerators– an online chronicle of the suffering experienced by female comic-book characters. She makes some excellent and disturbing points about how women are presented in comics –

It occurred to me that it’s not that healthy to be a female character in comics… superheroines have been either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator… Some have been revived, even improved — although the question remains as to why they were thrown in the wood chipper in the first place.

Not every woman in comics has been killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or had other life-derailing tragedies befall her, but given the following list it’s hard to think up exceptions:

All of Savage Dragon’s girlfriends (dead)
Alysande Stuart (dead)
Amethyst (blinded, merged with Gemworld, destroyed in LSH; became a power-hungry witch in Book of Fate)
Apparition (one of her three bodies dead, soul bound to boyfriend)
Aquagirl (dead)
Arisia (dead)
Aurora (Multiple Personality Disorder, depowered)
Batgirl I (paralyzed)
Batwoman (dead)
Betty Banner (abused, changed into a harpy, multiple miscarriages, dead)…”

And this was just her A – B list!

The YouTube clip below also questions the portrayal of women in cartoons. the young filmmaker who posted it, “Tomalley” makes some really valid points: “The portrayal of females and femininity in cartoons, in particular, is quite skewed, to say the least. When they do have screen time, which isn’t often, they are often objectified, overtly feminine, begin rescued or absurdly sexualized. This is an issue in American media as the target audience of such productions is primarily children. It is no wonder why the youth of our society grows up with distorted views of women.”

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Get that lasso out and round ’em up WW. No more victims…no more Bimbos.

All power, all the time. 🙂

P.S It would be worthwhile getting students to deconstruct the way women are portrayed in cartoons and comics – they would really enjoy this exercise! How about asking them to create their own Superheroines too – what super powers would they have?

P.S There are some really interesting perspectives and new threads in the comments here – join in!

Dear Body…

A young English girl “Mememolly” started a phenomena on YouTube when she posted “something of an apolgetic love letter” to her body.

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Since she posted this in March, many others have posted their own “Dear Body” letters. Some are quite lovely: 

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I turned 38 TODAY and it has got me thinking about what I would like to thank my body for:

Dear Body,

I am really happy with the way we are growing old together.

Thanks feet for being so pretty. I love the way your nails look when they are painted. I don’t always treat you so well though and I know it hurts wearing high heels all the time. I have stopped but hey, we both know the damage is done. 🙁  

Thanks legs. You are fabulous; so long and you rarely change shape, even when I eat loads of junky foods. You have made me feel glamorous on many occassions.

Belly – what can I say? You are a podgy, bloated little thing aren’t you? I have tried exercising you, sucking you in and constraining you in in special “Bridget Jones” style bloomers… but you will just not be denied.

Breasts – you will not be denied either but you are lovely. You make me feel so feminine. And you fed both my children – that was truly amazing. I will be forever grateful.

 Arms. My special body parts. Lefty – you are a bit of a non-event really aren’t you? I don’t write with you and you are quite non-descript. But righty – yes, you have tales to tell. I love your scars and burn now. Really. I do. You make me strong, unique and show the world I am a girl with a history of bravery. I am sorry that I hid you for so many years when I was young but I just hadn’t learnt how to deal with something so large. We both had to grow into the tight, twisted and melted flesh.  

Face – you are just fine. Elegantly shaped eyebrows, a few wrinkles that show you have lived, laughed and worried. Nose – a little smaller may have been better?

Hair – I am sorry I bleach you but I just can’t stop now. Too much invested in this “blonde thing”. You do well to hang in there and I do treat you to great shampoos and head rubs from my girlfriends.

Thanks Body for getting me this far. You are so resilient and so strong. You rarely get sick and you can withstand great pain.

You are an Amazon’s Body. Happy Birthday. xxxx

Love to read your letters.

This might also make a great activity to do with a class or with your daughter?

Helping Girls Develop a Positive Self Image – Tip Sheet for Parents

Karen Robinson from Women’s Forum Australia recently forwarded me the link below. It is a very useful resource from the Australian Psychological Society; a Tip Sheet for Parents on how they can best support their daughters in developing a positive self image. Do check it out…

http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/girls_positive_image/

I also wanted to take the opportunity to say a big hello to all the amazing parents I met recently at St Brigid’s in Perth.

I was invited by the school’s magnificent Principal Ms Amelia Toffoli to go over to WA and present earlier this week with Sonia Lyne, the Program Director for Victoria. We worked with 450 girls and a number of their parents. I should be exhausted but am actually exhilarated! Our young girls are beautiful, funny, affectionate, and deep thinkers – working with them is never a drain. 🙂

The feedback we received was awe inspiring but I did want to share a few special comments as I think they serve as “Tip Sheets” of their own – they clearly articulate what engages girls to the learning process and highlights what they are so desperately seeking from older women…

I really got a lot out of today as I liked the truth and confidence you guys shared with us in all your stories. At the moment I have been struggling with myself but you really helped me. I love you guys. Tori

 My favourite part of today was just talking. Being told things no one ever tells me. I learnt to love myself, the importance of words and that I’m perfect the way I am. You guys are really sweet. Thanks so much. Shannon

The way you are so enthusiastic Danni makes everyone else want to be too. Anon.

My favourite part was ‘Stop I Don’t Like It’. It was very helpful in a practical way. I love how you girls really connect with us. You guys are extraordinary people. Tabitha

I just loved that you greeted when I first walked in as it brightened up my day and made me feel happy. I am beautiful no matter what. I love you. Bridgit

This workshop was so helpful. Especially the speakers. They had so much anticipation and helpfulness! They believe in us so much and I believe they can change the WORLD and I hope that I can look up to you guys and give that advice to my children and everyone I meet. It was YUMMY! Rebecca

When you girls have the confidence to love yourselves, then we realise it is ok to do the same. You are “da bomb diggity!” Jordan

Would I recommend this? HELL YEAH! I loved sharing the notes at the end from our friends as it made me feel good inside. I had a wonderful day and it is good to let things out that are positive. I hope you loved us because we loved you. Kamisa

It was hilarious, I really enjoyed listening and learning. I respect my body and love me now.  Anon.

I thought today would be a bit boring and not very useful. My favourite part was listening to Danni tell stories, she is a darl and we all got the warm fuzzies. Sonya and Danni you’re full of energy and are great at what you do. I learnt to be myself, about strength, love and to be  accepted for who I am – I won’t change for others! Jacqueline

Danni and Sonia are crazy and funny and make everyone laugh lots which means we learn lots!  AWESOME!!!!! Chelsea

I loved the Friends workshop as it made me feel good about myself, I learnt the type of friends you have reflects the type of person you are. You guys made everyone feel good about themselves today and showed us that it is ok to love ourselves. Ashni

AWESOMELY exciting and fun, you got the messages through to everyone! I loved that you were both so open and truthful! You rock, I learnt to FLY!!!! Bianca

Grab them by the emotions (capture the heart and the head will follow), be truthful and real (be brave – show them that you are not perfect either), and bombard them with positives. 

Notice them.  Love them.

Beginnings…

I have just finished reading an insightful new book by Courtney E. Martin, “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, the Frightening New Normality of Hating Your Body.”   Courtney laments the fact that many young women, raised by feminists who told them they could be anything,  have misinterpreted the power messages and are now obsessed with becoming everything…successful, thin and pretty. Self hatred has almost become a rite of passage for many teenagers.

Courtney challenges readers to “step through the looking glass” and create new stories. She emphasises that no one story describes our healing as women, but rather that there are a series of moments when the light is let in.

There is no healing without help.

There is no power as potent as possibility.

There is no transformation without truth.

There is no change without vulnerability.

There is no wisdom greater than that found inside you.

There is no beauty without struggle or aberration.

There is no statement like your life. There is no end.

There are only beginnings. “

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enlighten aims to be just one more beginning of a series of amazing, brave, wild adventures into self acceptance, and indeed self-love, for many girls. Wow. We love this role. 🙂   

Let me now pose a challenge to you all  – what is one small step you will make this week to end the culture of self hatred and help create a new beginning for yourself as a women?

  

An uncommon dialogue

Some months ago I first read a true story by Australian writer Debra Drake, An Uncommon Dialogue. It struck me as both incredibly brave and insightful; in it she chronicles her fight for sanity after a long bout with mental illness which was a direct result of her experiencing quite horrific neglect and sexual abuse as a child.

The story is written as a dialogue betwen Debra and her ever patient and consistent Psychiatrist Phil. As an avid reader and ex-English teacher I have read many books that have moved me, yet this had a profound effect on me – so much so that I contacted the author to offer her my encouragement and congratulate her on her brave decision to recount the important, life saving dialogue between herself and her therapist.

In my email I mentioned that I have chosen to work with young girls and hope that I too can offer an important, alternative conversation around gender and identity. I told Debra that for young girls experiencing the type of extreme circumstances she was in, perhaps my words of celebration and challenge may not have had much of an impact, but that I sincerely hoped and believed that for many girls enlighten is indeed a powerful voice.

Debra responded and advised me to never underestimate our work and the power of even fleeting conversations that offer “news of difference” :

“My psychiatrist and I often wondered what kept me as sane as I was given the circumstances, I believe it was the moments of kindness from strangers and the few odd words I heard that hinted that things could be different for me…I clung to these. What you are doing is enormously important.”    

Can the words we hear, even if we only hear them very briefly, really change and heal us? Long term?

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Certainly the girls we work with tell us they can:
“I thought it would be a boring lecture where the whole time all you are thinking about is ‘When will this finally end?’ BUT Danni really connected with everyone, and out of all the things people in my life have ever said to me, and out of all the lectures I’ve been given, I really listened to you and to everything you said and I TOOK EVERYTHING IN.” Courtney, Year 9.  

“I am in shock as I didn’t think it would be so interesting – I think you  ladies should continue talking to other schools of young people. You can teach  girls so much as everyone listens to you and is really interested in what  you have to say.” Anon. Yr 8

Apart from this type of very positive immediate feedback, we also get BEAUTIFUL letters and emails from girls  (many of these make me quite teary) and I do think they are worth a read as they offer a powerful insight into the adolescent mind. letters.pdf

Certainly my own life experiences have show me that words can be powerful agents of change.

I recall some of the words that scarred me, and rejoice in the words that later healed me with the girls I work with through enlighten.

However, I also vividly recall  another “light bulb” moment.  I was in Yr 9, Maths, with Mr Scott. He was joking with the class and I boldly told him he “loved himself” ( in girl world, loving yourself, or thinking you are “good” is the ultimate crime –  isn’t that a sad indictment on teen girls self esteem!). Mr Scott looked at me and said, “Danni, yes I do love myself. I am great. I hope you love yourself too. I hope all you girls love yourselves. You’re really lovable girls.”   

Wow. I am sure that I had been told how important it was to love and accept myself before, but that day I really heard it. For me, it started a quest to find out more – was it actually OK to like myself the way I was?  It started a new type of self talk…” I am alright, I am lovable…” rather than “I am not pretty enough, I am not as popular as…not as skinny as…” There were so many NOTS in my adolescent mind!

How can we ensure that more really important messages are heard?
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enlighten realises it is important to balance the head (knowledge, facts, reason, experiences), the hand (allow some DOING, application of the learning) and the heart (encourage passion and an emotional connection). Research indicates that teenagers are particularly interested in hand and heart connections!

Andrew Fuller’s excellent “Don’t Waste Your Breath, an Introduction to the Mysterious World of the Adolescent Brain”  offers three particularly sage pieces of advice to all of us who wish to have meaningful conversations with teens : “Grab them by the emotions,” “Bombard them with positives” and:

Never underestimate your power. Adolescents need someone around them – an adult who has more options that they do. Someone who they may battle with, but someone who ultimately they imitate and emulate and believe it or not, that someone is you.”

Steve Biddulph, in his outstanding article in the Sydney Morning Herald Teenage Girls Under Attack (a must read!) goes so far as to argue that :

A successful and happy adolescence entails hundreds of conversations about what matters, who you are and what you stand for. Yet many teenage girls are basically abandoned by distracted parents and the impersonal melee of large secondary schools. The rise of themed peer groups like emos and goths, the hazards of queen bee-style bullying and exclusion are a consequence of this adult abandonment. Kids band together for comfort that the adult world is not providing. “

Is it perhaps not the fact that teenagers don’t want to listen that is the real issue, but rather that we are all too busy and distracted to make time for conversations?  Are we just too busy to have dialogue that has meaning?  

It may surprise parents to know that when I ask girls what is the one thing they think would really help and support them in making sense of their world they overwhelmingly respond it would be just spending more time with their Mums. More talk. More cuddles. 

What are you waiting for – go have a chat. It may fall on deaf ears, but then again – it may also prove to be an uncommon dialogue.

 P.S Love to hear what words have helped shaped your identity and allowed you to make sense of your world…add a comment.

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