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Category: Resources

Books Alive 2008

Books Alive is an Australian Government initiative developed through the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body. Its aim? To encourage Australians to pick up a book and read.

As an ex-English teacher and avid reader, I love books. They feed me – intellectually and emotionally. I was delighted to share my family’s passion for reading in the Sunday Telegraph last wekeend (if you click on this jpeg image below you should be able to read an enlarged version).      

When did my love affair with books begin?

When I was two years old I was badly burnt. I received third degree burns all down my right arm and neck. As is often the case with burn victims, I also suffered two major secondary infections – german measles and the potentially life threatening golden staph.

My Great Grandmother burnt me when I went with my Grandmother, her daughter, to visit her in Tasmania. She poured hot cooking oil down me as I set nearby watching breakfast being prepared. As a small girl I was always told this was an accident, yet I questioned why no one ever spoke of this women again, let alone saw her. Why hadn’t we forgiven her I wondered, after all, accidents do happen. It was only when I was older that the truth emerged. Great Grandma had been unstable and had shown signs of violence towards my beloved Grandmother when she was a small girl too. Everyone felt instinctively that she had done this to me deliberately.

I don’t remember whether it was done to me deliberately and ultimately, it does not make any difference. It happened.

What do I remember? Despite being so small, I do remember moments of this event, in particular my Grandmother’s face as she came through the doorway in response to my initial screams. I recall thinking I must be very badly hurt as she looked stricken.

I remember my Doctor too, as I was hospitalized for almost 6 months he became a central figure in my life. Dr Jemisson was kind, gentle, and doting. In his eyes, I could do no wrong. I was his special girl. Heaven help any nurse who dared keep me waiting! I remember gifts: in particular books. Perhaps this was the start of my love affair with words, as words so often soothed me to sleep -literally. I loved being read to. I escaped pain and boredom through tales of Princesses with power and through hearing about the adventures of other little girls who faced great dangers and emerged triumphant.

I soothed myself with words too. I could not yet read of course but I would talk to myself when frightened, repeating over and over the mantra “You’ll be ok, you’ll be all right.” It was my secret spell – and I would caste it to give me strength.

And my strength pulled me through. And I kept my arm. It just looked different to those of my friends with its red, raised, twisted flesh. It’s flap of skin near my elbow that looked taunt when my arm was stretched out, and hung loose when my arm was bent. Yet as a small child this difference did not concern me – I was so much more than my body!

I was a busy, bossy little girl. I had a younger sister to organise, lollies to eat, Barbies to collect and of course, once school started, more books to devour. Childhood for me was not about my body. Rather my body was merely and instrument to carry me from one adventure to the next. When I wanted to join my friends at the beach, I just had Mum cut the toes out of one of my father’s socks and popped that on to protect my arm from the sun. Problem solved!

Yet by the time I turned 10 years of age, things definitely changed. I started noticing boys. And I started noticing the girls the boys noticed. At school the boys preferred the alpha girls – popular, pretty, often good at sport. I was a pretty enough girl and had a few close friends, but as I was more interested in reading than netball, I was definitely not alpha material. It wasn’t just at school though that I received messages about what defined beauty and sexual attractiveness. My Barbies, Charlie’s Angels, ABBA…all taught me that to be a desired woman, I would need to be thin, beautiful and immaculately groomed. No scars allowed.

I entered adolescence and, like most girls, began a new internal conversation. I was no longer casting spells to heal myself. Instead, I was engaging in darker, self destructive thoughts and telling myself that I was not enough. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not popular enough. Growing up into an adolescent girl, my feelings of inadequacy due to my scarring became quite overwhelming; I was still a bright and ambitious but my main preoccupation was with my scars and how best I could hide them from the world.

And as we choose to believe we are less because of how we look, and our inability to conform to a perfect image, we become less.

I hid. I hid my arm. I wore skivvies underneath my summer uniform, wore jumpers all year round, I avoided pools and beaches. My arm no longer seemed small – it seemed enormous. A huge, horrible, disfigured limb I would be forced to drag through what had been my oh- so promising life.

Yes, teenage girls are good at drama.

I vividly recall by the time I was 15 day dreaming about what my life would be like if I had not been burnt. I was tall, had very long legs and fancied that I could have been a bikini model if it had not been for my arm. How telling that as an adolescent my dream job was to be a bikini model! For many adolescents being some type of model is the dream job. It is not the actual job itself that appeals; it is the kudos, the knowledge that your body has been declared special. Worthy of attention. “If I looked that way, then they would love me…”

It was only in my adult years as an English teacher that I finally explored ways in which I might come to terms with my burns, indeed in many ways teaching forced me to come to terms with them as I was now a role model. If I could not accept myself, how could I possibly ask my students to accept themselves?

I searched once again for soothing words. And found them in the writing of women. Women like Naomi Wolf in the Beauty Myth – “We don’t need to change our bodies, we need to change the rules.” In women like Sofia Loren. “Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful”, and in the words of the young women I now taught, “I love how you wear your scars Miss, you don’t let them wear you.” Words healed me. And my self-talk became, once more, focused on my strengths rather than my perceived weaknesses.

I was ok. It did turn out all right.

In fact – life is magnificent. And I am a shiny girl. So here’s to all the writers who have healed and inspired me through their words.

Books can do more than merely entertain. They can help shape us. 

So, this week my dear readers, if you have not already done so, check out the professional library link (“My Library Thing”) on this blog and indulge in some of my favourite writers on all things girl related.

Read. And read to your children.

P.S I’d love to hear which books have helped shape you…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education works. 

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

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

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

She’ll grow up on her own terms.   

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

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

fakingit_sumbodyparts_lowres

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

Time:        8pm – 9.15pm

Date:        Friday, 18th July

Venue:     Darling Harbour Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Bayside  

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

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

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

sexy-inc-facilitators-guide

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

 

Enlighten Education on 60 Minutes

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

 

Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Sandra Cleary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chat: Dannielle Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has become a big issue for males now too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9girl asks: Are you breeding little feminists though?

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

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

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

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

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

2. Be a positive role-model.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e.g. peers, family interaction levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

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

 

 

Letter to my teen self

I have lifted this idea straight from Oprah’s magazine, April 2006 edition.

If you could write a note of advice to your teen girl self, knowing all that you know now, what would you say to her? I love this exercise as it encourages reflection, empathy with the plight of our young women and affirms the wisdom and strength we have gained.

Below is the feminist Naomi Wolf’s contribution:

 

And here is mine:

Dear Teenage Danni,

What a conflicted young girl you are! Your head and heart tell you that your strength lies in your intelligence and willingness to fight for what you believe in, yet you spend most weekends drowning these voices in cheap spumante and focusing only on your body’s imperfections. Stop fighting with yourself Dan – you are magnificent as you are. You can’t airbrush all your perceived imperfections and guess what? Even if you could, later on in life it is these very scars that you now hate so much that will make you unique and shiny. It is just going to take time for you to grow into yourself …trust me. It will all be more than just ok. It will be brilliant.

In the mean time, just breathe.  And keep reading . The words you are surrounding yourself with are slowly healing you. Words will always soothe you.

Be kind to your sister.

Go and kiss your Grandfather. He will always remain one of the great loves of your life and you will miss him terribly when he is lost to you.

Make up more “secret” clubs with your friends and continue nominating yourself to be Captain. It is all good practice for when you will run your own company one day.

Practice forgiveness.

Know that mistakes are not devastating. You’ll make many and will learn from them all.  

Ditch the 80’s perm.

Love, light and laughter to you growing girl,

Danni   

I’d love to read your letters!

I also wanted to share the image below with you as after writing this I went searching for a picture of my teenage self and this photo literally fell out of the album and landed at my feet; and how special that it is a photo of my Grandfather and I! I actually don’t even recall ever seeing it before – and what a gorgeous shot it is. I am 8 years old. You can see the love written all over my little face can’t you?

Let’s never understimate how vital connections to the older generation are, and how influential we can all be in shaping our children.  

                       

Love you Grandpa. Miss you always. XXXX 

Teacher Resources – ready to go!

Don’t you just love good quality, free lesson plans and teacher resources? This web site one is one of my more recent discoveries:

btn_homemagazine_over.jpgMy Pop Studio www.mypopstudio.com

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Their blurb:

“My Pop Studio is a creative play experience that strengthens critical thinking skills about television, music, magazines and online media directed at girls. Users select from four behind-the-scenes opportunities to learn more about mass media:

In the Magazine Studio, users compose a magazine layout featuring themselves as celebrities. They write an advice column, explore the power of digital retouching, and reflect on the role of body image in today’s culture.
In the TV Studio, users edit a TV show where the story keeps changing but the images remain the same. They examine their TV viewing choices, comment on teen celebrities, and compare their daily screen time with others.
In the Music Studio, users create a pop star and compose her image and song. They explore the power of music in selling a product and search for truth in media gossip. The comment on the values messages in popular music.
In the Digital Studio, users test their multi-tasking abilities. They share their experiences with the challenges of digital life online. They consider the “what if’s” of social networking sites and reflect on the power of media and technology in their social relationships.”

I have played around on this site and think it will have enormous appeal as it is really educational, interactive, and fun! There are also excellent accompaning lessons and activities for teachers and parents too (all free and downloadable as PDF’s).  

 I particularly like this one on photo fakery  photo%20fakery.pdf

“After playing Photo Fakery, students look at the web site of a professional photo re-toucher and read and discuss a persuasive essay about the impact of digitally manipulated images on personal identity and cultural values. This activity strengthens reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing skills. After reviewing the vocabulary as a pre-reading activity, students read independently and complete the questions. Afterwards, they discuss the questions provided on the worksheet.”

It would be marvellous to adapt this exercise for seniors by getting them to read through the highly controversial and illuminating article that appeared in The New Yorker this week on premier photo retoucher Pascal Dangin – “Pixel Perfect.” This article is jaw dropping.

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Pascal is the photo retoucher the magazines call in “when they want someone who looks less than great to look great, someone who looks great to look amazing, or someone who looks amazing already-whether by dint of DNA or M·A·C-to look, as is the mode, superhuman.” We are told that in the March issue of Vogue alone “Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore.” Not surprisingly, his work is not credited in the magazines that pay him to “translate” their images. How disturbing is this observation by writer Lauren Collins: “Dangin showed me how he had restructured the chest-higher, tighter-of an actress who, to his eye, seemed to have had a clumsy breast enhancement. Like a double negative, virtual plastic surgery cancelled out real plastic surgery, resulting in a believable look.”  

Dangin is the man behind the Dove Real Beauty / Real Hypocrisy controversy I mentioned last week – in this article he claims he did the retouching on their ad’s too: “Do you know how much retouching was on that? But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

Used any excellent resources in your classroom? Love to hear about them!   

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

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

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

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

miller.pdf

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

ms-entrepreneur-2008-magazine-scanned.pdf 

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Enjoy.

Supporting girls with self esteem and positive body image – what works best?

A number of innovative schools and gifted, intuitive psychologists have crossed my path of late – all seeking out ways in which they can best assist the girls they care for to develop a positive body image and respond intelligently to our toxic “girl hating” culture.  

Firstly, I have thoroughly enjoyed Professor Martha Straus’ seminal work “Adolescent Girls In Crisis – Intervention and Hope” ( 2007, published by Norton). Here is a small taste: my abridged version of her stunning “Ten Tips For Working With Girls”:

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1. Make and keep promises.

2. Admit your mistakes and apologize.

3. Hold hope – be a holder of hope for the future.

4. Trust the process – beware that our desire to be transformative in some way does not come across as criticism or disrespect (don’t be just another adult who knows best).

5. Identify choices, ask for choices, take joy in choices – frame in choices eg: is this what you want?

6. When they’re at a loss for words, guess and guess again – many teen girls remain concrete in their reasoning and have a limited vocabulary for expressing their feelings so we must frame for them eg; I feel really angry about this – do you?

7. Base expectations on developmental age, not chronological age – they may have adult sized problems and only child like strategies to fall back on, they may be overwhelmed by expectations they consistently can’t meet.

8. Build Teams. Find connections for them – other adults they can turn to, peers etc

9. Empathy, empathy, empathy.

10. Don’t underestimate your role in their life – adolescent girls want to be seen, heard and felt.

I particularly LOVE this quote:

“On my best days, I help adolescent girls find their ‘selves’ in the midst of a cacophony of other competing voices – parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, celebrities, and the loud insistence of popular culture. I know that clear speaking in therapy serves as a model for speaking truth everywhere. Seeing, hearing and feeling my best voice also strengthens me, and the connection between myself and the girls I work with.”

Oh yes! This is exactly how I feel after working with girls in our workshops.

In March Sonia Lyne (Enlighten Education’s Program Director, Victoria) and I travelled to Perth to work with all the girls (Year 7 -12) from St Brigid’s Lesmurdie. The school were keen to establish a whole school approach and incorporated an event for parents, as well as a link with the wider community via the launch of Women’s Forum Australia’s BRILLIANT publication Faking It. (EVERY school should have at least one copy of this groundbreaking yet highly accessible research as a teacher resource!).

PDF copy of the full week’s program – “Celebrate, Challenge and Change at St Brigid’s”: ee_stbrigid_a4broch_hr.pdf

The results were fabulous – so many girls were informed, inspired, understood and (re)connected. One of my personal highlights was the Movie Night. I was touched that almost a hundered girls arrived (in their PJ’s) to watch a film with Sonia and I, eat popcorn, and generally be silly.  A simple night. All about celebration.

Their school Principal, Ms Amelia Toffoli, was there amongst it all…how brilliant! In fact, many of the teachers were very actively involved. All embraced wearing our  hot pink “Princess Power” bands ( aimed to reinforce the messages each of our workshop explores). Even the Head of Senior School, Mr Jim Miller, wore a hot pink band too. Teenagers yearn to connect emotionally and feel like they belong not only to a family, or to a friendship group, but to a wider school community. 

I arrived back home absolutely exhilarated. 

Equally as exciting was the invitation to work with the Years 5 and 6 girls at St John Vianney’s Woolongong.

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Enlighten has never worked with such young girls before, however, their school executive insisted that they wanted to be proactive and support their girls before the real crises of adolescences overwhelmed them. I found the girls  so incredibly enthusiastic and simply delicious! The local press did an excellent article on the event which really highlights why special initiatives are so valuable – open this if for no reason than wanting to see these gorgeous girls’ smiling faces! May I say it again – THEY ARE YUMMY!

Illawarra Mercury – 1/4/08 : iq-story-on-body-image.pdf

I cannot let the opportunity pass to share the feedback Fran Simpson, the school’s Religious Education Coordinator, provided us with:

“Dannielle performs magic! She is a fairy godmother to all those sleeping beauties sitting in classrooms and in playgrounds. She takes the girls on an inner journey of self discovery in a very short time…it is one very magical day filled with sparkle and glitter. Dannielle’s gentle and loving touch coupled with her insights and expertise allowed each girl to soar to new heights. I love what Enlighten Education did for the girls. It’s amazing. The Enlighten program fits all girls needs perfectly. Enlighten Education is the most valuable educational workshop I have EVER used.”

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I love this work! I love being a Fairy Godmother!

Finally, kudos to the Victorian Government who are offering secondary schools positive body image grants of up to $5,000 to support them in undertaking and promoting activities with young people.   

The Grant guidelines not only provide an insight into what the funders are looking for in terms of accountability and sustainability, but to the types of initiatives that generally work best within the school context:

programguidelines_positivebodyimagegrants08.pdf

Applications for this close on April 18th. 

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

Christmas gifts for girls…the good and the very, very UGLY!

Why is it that every toy catalogue that lists gifts for girls then offers up Bratz, Barbies, kitchen sets, and pages of pink? I know some of it is definitely fun. Teyah (my 8 year old daughter) has the oh so cute “Littlest Pet Shop” high on her list – but be warned Santa – no Bratz here thank you very much! I found the image below for Sportz Bratz in the latest Target catalogue – can someone please tell me how the last doll plays sport in fishnets, killer high heels and a midrif top?  

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I have been wanting to buy a few alternative gifts that offer all the little girls I LOVE something more and thought I’d share my findings with you.

Indigo Girls. Australian magazine written by young girls with a little help from a few passionate women. No airbrushing – beauty in all shapes and sizes! What about subscribing? indigo-subscription-form.pdf

Faking It. Special one off magazine that reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media and the sexual objectification of women. For 16+? Ideal too for a parent with a teenage daughter who wants to know the truth behind the glossy mag’s. Order through Women’s Australia Forum.    

2007-12-06-1003-55_edited.jpgIndigo Dreaming positive affirmation cards for children (as seen left and published with permission in My Photos). These are just beautiful and each boxed set contains an instruction booklet outlining ways in which these can be used to empower children to think positively. I bought mine at Dymocks but the Indigo Kidz web site allows you to order on line.   

You Go Girl. Gorgeous little bright book that celebrates each girls beauty and strength. I have seen mini-versions at most newsagents; publication details are in my Library. Speaking of which… there are loads of other brilliant reads in there that would also make amazing gifts.   

Wonder Woman action figures and merchandise. Actually, these are really on my Wish List! I am in lust with a poster I have just seen on the Ms. Magazine’s site – they have a whole section for WW merchandise 🙂 

Piggy Bank– I love encouraging girls (and boys!) to save and become financially independent.  I bought Teyah’s best friend Christen a butterfly Piggy Bank for her Birthday recently and she loved it – she is filling it so she can then pay to go on horse camp. SOOOO cute.  

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CD’s – So many little girls I have had stay over have just loved the Butterfly Dreaming meditation CD put out by occupational therapist Denise Allen. Can be contacted on 02 43651666. 

2f79_2.jpgAND let’s not forget many girls are not into pink… or even butterflies at all! My sister would have cringed at some of the gifts I have suggested here. When we were growing up, she was far more excited by Star Wars ( Han Solo, Yoda – just not Princess Leia!), and Lego building sets. Go girl!   

There are so many other great options – stationery (little girls cannot seem to get enough of papers and stickers!), active toys (trampolines, skates, bikes, balls etc), torches, sleeping bags ( yep, Teyah is planning a sleep out – under our pool table!) … love to hear your ideas! 

Also thought I’d add some of my BAH HUMBUG discoveries. Ebay want to convince teen girls that they need ultra expensive designer items in order to be “Cool for school” – $220 Sass and Bide jeans? PLEASE! This is not the OC! Marissa Cooper is dead!

As most students in Australia wear a school uniform I can only assume Ebay was pitching this for the odd mufti / plain clothes day schools do hold. OH that is so cruel. I still clearly recall the HELL the night before such events – lying awake obsessing over what I would wear in order to be seen as “cool” by my peers. AND I was only trying to choose between pretty standard gear – imagine if I had felt the added pressure of thinking it had to be Burberry!  GRRRRR…

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Even worse – and I DO NOT UNDERSTAND this – when googling “Girl Power Gifts” I came across a site aimed at young girls – www. girl.com.au . It claims to be “Empowering Girls Worldwide.” It must be aimed at pre-teens and young teens as its home page promotes films including Disney’s Enchanted, High School Musical, and the “Smart Cycle” -a toy for preschoolers. HOWEVER – it has a special page devoted just to….BRAZILLIAN WAXING! I kid you not! This is the advice offered to young girls…

The Brazilian bikini wax is an acquired taste and is not for everyone. Some women can endure the pain while others it’s just too much to bare. For those of you interested in modeling it’s a must, but I’d recommend a lead up before you take the plunge.

Brazilian waxing involves spreading hot wax your buttocks and vagina area. A cloth is patted over the wax, then pulled off. Don’t be alarmed if the waxer throws your legs over your shoulder, or asks you to moon them, this is normal and ensures there are no stray hairs. A tweezer is used for the more delicate areas (red bits).

So why does it appeal. Nobody really likes hair in their private regions and it has a childlike appeal. Men love it, and are eternally curious about it.”

All I want for Xmas is for companies that exploit and poison girls to stop pretending they are a “girl’s best friend” and back off 🙁

I have emailed girl@girl.com.au to tell them how I feel and to demand they remove this page. Why don’t you speak up too?

P.S. I have decided to make my outrage public – listen to the audio from my interview on 2UE 11/12 below ( also appears in my VidPod) :

Audio: Interview on 2UE 11/12

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?

  

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