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Category: Women and Careers

Gender Equity – all the cool boys are championing it.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner Responsible for Age Discrimination, Elizabeth Broderick, listed a number of things she believes will contribute to gender diversity in leadership within Australia. I was particularly interested to see her note the vital importance of engaging men in the agenda:

I firmly believe that we will only see significant gains when men start working with men to solve this problem. After all it is men who dominate nearly every institution in this country, particularly in corporate Australia. If there is to be change, male CEOs and business leaders have to champion it…As the beneficiary of a number of male sponsors across my career I am a great believer in it.

Similarly, if we are serious about improving outcomes for young women, we need to engage young men and have them champion the cause. The potential that the “boy effect” has to initiate and support the “girl effect” was beautifully demonstrated by the students at  Sydney Boys High School. As part of their Community Action Project, they chose to “spread the word and change people’s thinking” and have been sharing their message with other high school students. I am hoping this video will inspire all schools who work with young men:

Want more ideas for inspiring young men? I have posted this moving video featuring Jonathon Walton before but I believe it is well worth revisiting. If a formal presentation does not appeal to the boys at your school, what about slam poetry or rap focused on championing the women in their lives? I’d love to feature more positive initiatives aimed at engaging boys and men – if you know of any, please share them here.

Babes, Bitches . . . and Blooming Awful Journalism!

This week, a blog post about the media’s sexist stereotyping of women in sport has got me all fired up, so I am sharing it with you here. There is plenty of research to show that when girls are involved in sports, it is a real boost for their self-esteem and body image, so it’s an important issue.
rachel hansenThis post is by our talented program manager for Enlighten Education in New Zealand, Rachel Hansen. Rachel is an experienced health and wellbeing educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Her research has focused on youth development, youth offending and women’s health.

Reading the Sunday newspaper over a coffee is an indulgence I absolutely love. Not being an avid sports fan, I usually give the sports section a miss. But last Sunday I picked up the Sunday Star Times sports section, because one of the issues I discuss with girls through my work with Enlighten Education is how the media portray women in sport. I had read research on the media’s treatment of women’s sport but I was optimistic that surely the situation couldn’t be quite that bad.

So I opened the 16-page sports section and started flicking through. Men’s rugby, men’s soccer, men’s rugby, men’s car racing, men’s rugby, boys’ soccer, men’s rugby. “Where are the women?!” I spluttered loudly, spilling my coffee in indignation. Finally . . . on page 14, women got a full page devoted to them. Yes, a full-page feature article on the US Open Women’s Tennis.

But don’t start celebrating. The headline?

Picture
Babes, Bitches and Bickering
And beneath the atrocious headline? Photos of five of the top women in the US Open, with a one-word description — go on, I invite you read this out loud using your best Grammy Awards presenter voice:
  • Contestant: Ana Ivanovic
  • Bitchiness: Elena Baltacha
  • Entertainer: Jelena Jankovic
  • Nicest: Caroline Wozniacki
  • Soviet Tank: Svetlana Kuznetsova.

After throwing the rest of my coffee across the room (OK, that’s dramatic licence), I started to read the article, which proceeded to illuminate for me why these sportswomen were awarded their titles above.

I soon realised that Ivanovic was not awarded the Contestant title for her tennis prowess – oh no:
“’Who’s the prettiest?’ she says,  buttering a roll, her slim wrist holding up a Rolex watch the size of a child’s fist. ‘Who’s the most popular, the most fashionable, who’s getting the most coverage?’ She smiles sorrowfully to acknowledge that, when it comes to these contests, she tends to do quite well.”
Ivanovic wins the Contestant award because she is winning the beauty and popularity contests.

The Bitchiness award seems to have stemmed from Elena Baltacha‘s comment:
“I wouldn’t go out of my way to start a fight, but if I feel someone has done or said something on purpose, then I will react. I wouldn’t just take it, I would defend myself.”
One comment seems justification enough to make a derogatory generalisation about a whole personality trait.

After being described as a “truculent teen”, Jelena Jankovic is awarded  the Entertainer trophy after stating:
“We are entertainers, as well, on court, in our own sporty way . . . We entertain the fans, they pay money to watch us play.  It’s nice to see girls who are feminine, who dress nice.  Maybe in the past there were only a couple of players like that, but now players pay more attention to it. I was one of those painting my nails different colours and matching them to my dress. If you are in a nice dress you can play better, feel better. More comfortable and confident.”
This statement sounds as though it comes straight off a Sporty Bratz doll’s packaging.

Despite being the number one seed for this event, Caroline Wozniacki, winner of the Nicest title, gets only the briefest of mentions:
“Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki . . . is one of the nicest in the top 10.”
Because really, what interest would there be in a “nice” tennis player when there are beauties and bitches to discuss? None whatsoever, it seems.

And Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova obviously doesn’t live up to the sexiness factor necessary for women to play in the US Open, taking out the Soviet Tank award.

To further my dismay, this derogatory and juvenile article was written by a woman. Numerous quotes are scattered throughout this Sunday Star Times article that portray the women as simpering bimbo fashionista bitches. Strangely enough, despite not once mentioning anything about any talent any of the tennis players have, the journalist at times seems to be trying to take a feminist perspective regarding the discrimination that abounds in the women’s tennis circuit — although she clarifies that the issue is definitely “not the most pressing in feminism today”. It is often women who are propagating the sexualisation and objectification of women.

The journalist’s claim that most of the world’s top female tennis players consider their on-court fashion their primary source of “empowerment” is a ridiculous statement. What research is she basing this on? Whether it’s “brilliant exploitation of a sexist media” or “a complete sellout”, this journalist is part of it.

The article portrays the world’s top tennis players as if they were Bratz dolls, characters in an imaginary world of bling and beauty, the tennis a mere hobby on the side. In fact, I checked in on the Bratz website this morning and realised that the Sunday Star Times article was just a grown-up version of Bratz Chatz. (Note to the uninitiated: Bratz dolls are marketed at girls age 2–11.  There are five scantily clad, heavily made-up Bratz dolls, each with their own “personality” and “passion for fashion”.) Let me share with you this morning’s inspiring Bratz Chatz that occurred between the doll characters this morning:

Sasha: Dancing is sooo much easier for me than sports. I love watching Cloe play [tennis] but it is so hard for me in gym. I have to sing to get through it!
Jade: Yeah, I would much rather watch sports than play them but I get plenty of exercise walking around the mall every weekend, lol!
Yasmin: Cloe convinced me to play tennis with her and I totally fell in front of Cloe’s very cute coach. I don’t know how she focuses on the game!…

So our young girls play make-believe with sexy fashionista bimbos and the media continues the conversation for our real-life tennis heroes.

Thank you, Sunday Star Times, you made my search for discriminatory reporting of sport far too easy and time efficient. I am horrified that it is 2010 and demeaning and offensive drivel like this is the only mention of sportswomen in New Zealand’s biggest newspaper of the week. I am heartened only by the fact that it was not a New Zealand journalist. Yet why the need to import this from the UK?

I hope you will join me in emailing your dismay to the Sunday Star Times editor: david.kemeys@star-times.co.nz.

(Note: I was unable to link to a free version of this article online, but it appears to be an edited version of an article that appeared in the Guardian UK on 19/06/10.)

Media stereotyping of women in sport is universal, affecting not just NZ and the UK but Australia, too. I’d love to hear what you all think about this issue. To see some other perspectives, there is the guest post Women in Sport Hit the Grass Ceiling by Australia’s federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, and I wrote about this previously here: Sport: The Real Winners and Losers — Danni.

Beyond Cyber Hysteria — Part 1: What is working?

I have recently begun presenting seminars for parents on how they can best support their children — girls and boys — to manage cyber world. This new seminar is called “The good, the bad and the ugly of cyber world”. (To make a booking for me to present this at your school, please email me: danni@enlighteneducation.com.)

When we hear disturbing news reports about children who have been tormented to the point of desperation by cyber-bullies, or groomed and exploited by online predators, it is tempting to want to simply shut the technology off! Yet whilst it is important to be alert and aware of the dangers, it is also important to take a balanced approach and recognise the huge opportunities that technology has opened up for us all. Over the next few weeks I want to share some of the insights I present in my new seminar and offer parents and schools some ways forward.

1197866_open_door_classics_3Firstly, what is the state of play?

Make no mistake, we are all wired up. Some fascinating cyber facts can help put the scale of change into perspective.

— It has been estimated that there are:

  • 1.73 billion internet users worldwide, with 20,970,490 in Oceania and Australia
  • 234 million websites
  • 126 million blogs
  • 27.3 million tweets posted on Twitter every day
  • 260 billion page views on Facebook per month
  • 1 billion videos viewed on YouTube every day.
  • 90 trillion emails were sent in 2009 (81% were spam).

— What are teens doing online?

  • 14% blog
  • 8% use Twitter
  • 8% visit virtual worlds
  • 38% share content
  • 62% get news
  • 48% buy things
  • 31% get health, dieting and fitness information
  • 17% get information about sensitive topics.
  • 41% of the Australian population has a social network profile, and 70% of them have 2 or more.
  • And about a third of high school students interviewed said they learned about sex predominantly through viewing pornography on the internet. (More on the implications of this for the development of healthy sexuality and positive relationships in another post!)

As I’ve argued in a previous post and in my book The Butterfly Effect, in our rapidly changing world, connection is vital. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be multi-literate — that is, to be competent in the manipulation of a range of media. There is considerable evidence that whilst girls are more successful at reading and writing than boys, more girls than boys are in trouble in relation to ICT literacy. NSW Department of Education and Training research tells us that:

girls (in Australia) were more inclined than boys to see IT as boring (36% compared to 16%) or difficult (23% to 11%). These factors result in more boys than girls studying technology related subjects. Analysis of NSW High School Certificate (HSC) 2002 computer programming student population revealed that only 17% of the total entrants were female. The trend is also demonstrated in the TAFE sector with women comprising approximately 40% of all Information Technology enrolments for 2001. This indicates a decrease in enrolment share from 1996 when women accounted for 50% of IT enrolments.

This trend is evident right across Australia and in New Zealand. If it continues, young women are at risk of becoming part of the information-poor and of being excluded from the new and emerging jobs of the future. Let’s not allow fear to drive us to further isolate and limit our girls. Rather, let’s inspire girls to get savvy and to use ICT as a tool to meet their own needs.

On the positive side, technology has the capacity to allow for:

Connecting. Whilst we often hear negative reports about teen girls behaving badly on Facebook, Enlighten Education’s Facebook page has become a testimony to the capacity young women have to be thankful and engage in meaningful dialogue about issues that matter to them. We have had almost 3,000 teen girls join since we launched it earlier this year and we have had only one negative comment posted on the wall to date. Girls post images that inspire them, point out ads they find sexist or limiting and offer their thoughtful opinions on topics we pose for discussion.

find_us_on_facebook_badge

Informing. There are some fabulous sites out there for young people. Some of my personal favourites include: www.myfuture.edu.au (career information), www.reachout.com.au (youth-friendly information on topics such as depression and eating disorders), www.whatareyoudoingtoyourself.com (aimed at curbing teen binge drinking), www.mypopstudio.com (a creative play experience that builds media literacy skills), www.newmoon.com (a safe online community especially designed for young girls), www.latrobe.edu.au/psy/projects/bodylife/ (a free online program to assist girls with body image dissatisfaction), www.operationbeautiful.com (a grassroots movement aimed at ending negative self talk).

Creating. Many girls are creating their own blogs and websites to promote causes that matter to them. I love teen girl Parrys Raines’ site, www.climategirl.com.au, where she discusses all things planet-loving. My own teen, Jazmine, posts her amazing photography on Tumblr so she can share and get feedback from other budding photographers.

Educating. Many schools are doing incredibly innovative things with technology and have moved way beyond encouraging students to make their own PowerPoint presentations. Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta, is widely considered to be at the forefront in encouraging teachers to use ICTs (information communication technologies) as enablers to facilitate deep learning. He shares some of his favourite sites that promote true collaborative learning at his very good blog: www.gbwhitby.parra.catholic.edu.au.

So, Step 1: Join in! Get to know the online world your daughter or students inhabit.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

—Mark Twain.

Familiarity with the online world will become increasingly important as you learn some of the strategies that will help you protect children and ensure they are safe online — more on that next week.

A Conversation with Germaine Greer*

IMG_1118[1]Enlighten Education sponsored the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasian Biennial Conference, which was held last weekend on site at Ascham School, one of our long-term clients. I always enjoy these events as so many of our client schools are members of the Alliance and it is a delight reconnecting with all the educators we have developed such strong relationships with. This year’s conference was particularly inspiring as there was a stellar line-up of speakers including Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, Cheryl Kernot, Dale Spender, Andrew Martin and Germaine Greer.

Television host Andrew Denton once described Greer as  “not so much a human being as a force”. I had expected her to be formidable and challenging, and she delivered. With a view to keeping the conversation alive, I want to share some of the points she made and pose some questions her sessions raised, which I believe are well worth wider discussion. Please, join in, either by commenting here or by taking these questions back to your staff rooms to discuss as a faculty. I have aimed my questions at educators, but they could be easily adapted and discussed amongst parent groups.

The Glass Ceiling

There is a current trend towards affirmative action policies that Greer does not believe will work. She fears that rather than truly addressing imbalances in power, they will only set up inexperienced women — who may not understand how the boys’ club that is “the corporation” works — as “cannon fodder”. She argues that this is what happened in England when the 1997 general election saw more women elected to the House of Commons than ever, yet many of the new female MPs grew disillusioned with the lifestyle of an MP. Nine of the so-called “Blair Babes” either chose not to stand or lost their seats in the 2001 general election. She also questioned why so many women seem to be opting out of leadership “just as they are most likely to be catapulted to the top due to affirmative action”.

Instead of playing a “numbers game”, Greer suggested we need to redesign democracy and build models of power that are more horizontal and truly inclusive.
What changes do you believe are necessary in order to encourage increased female participation at the leadership level?   

Greer expressed concern that girls, particularly in girls’ schools, are primed to take on leadership roles but then when they leave school, they are faced with systematic boys’ club rules that limit them. She fears there is a risk girls will feel guilty and internalise their inability to break through the glass ceiling.
Do you agree?  

Educating  Girls

Greer believes young women  judge each other more than men do. “Boys are more emotionally committed to each other,” she said.
Is this your experience in working with young women? If so, how can this be challenged?  

Greer believes girls are far more anxious as students and fear making mistakes: “I say to my students, ‘I don’t mind if I don’t agree with what you say, I just want you to have something to say!'” She talked about there being a “defect” in their self-confidence. Greer made the point that “as an economic driver, women’s insecurities are a billion-dollar business” and cited the cosmetic and diet industries as examples of this. She believes schools should “liberate the voice” of girls. 
Does the fear of failure paralyse girls? If so, how can we create classrooms that encourage risk-taking?  

Greer lamented the trend towards raunch culture and overt sexuality as a type of liberation. She referred to the sexualisation of children as “generalised paedophilia”.  She believes grown women are not visible enough in our culture: “We rarely see grown-up women who take up space.”
If girls cannot be what they cannot see, is it more important than ever to seek out healthy alternative role models? How have you managed to achieve this at your school?

*Apologies to Ms Greer if I have inadvertently taken anything she said out of context. Do I sound anxious about making a mistake? Yes, when it comes to Germaine Greer, I am! She left clutching a copy of my book, The Butterfly Effect. I lay awake the next night fearing that it might arrive back in the mail covered in red pen corrections — but Ms Greer, at least I have dared to find my voice!

“Could I Be a Model?”

Over the past couple of weeks, guest blogger and Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis has shared thought-provoking insights into the world of modelling. For young girls, the decision about whether to try to model needs to be made jointly with her parents, and I hope that Nikki’s posts will help you talk with your daughter if the topic comes up. 

I have to admit that when a young girl tells me she wants to be a model, it triggers all sorts of concerns for me. I am sure I’m not alone and that similar questions spring up for you: Will someone try to ply her with alcohol or drugs? What if she gets rejected by all the modelling agencies? And a question that resonates strongly here at Enlighten Education: What if she is asked to pose in a raunchy, adult way?

There is ample evidence that children are being sexualised at too young an age by exposure to a relentless barrage of hypersexual images in the media, advertising and popular culture. We can only guess at the damage it does to the young models who are actually posing for those images.  People were rightly outraged by the sexy makeup, clothes and poses that Australian model Morgan Featherstone was put in for a photo shoot . . . at the age of 8. She and her mother appeared on this 60 Minutes story on which I and other experts spoke about why it is so wrong to portray girls as sexy women.
womens-forum

Click on the image above or here to go to the URL to view Little Women

Let’s say your young daughter is one of the handful of hopefuls who get signed up by a modelling agency. There is every chance that she may be asked to pose in a way that is too adult or too sexy for her age, and you will need to agree on how to respond to situations like that. I urge all parents of young models to teach their daughter to ask questions before she goes on a job, about what she’ll be wearing and the image she’ll be portraying. Until she has developed those skills herself, go along with her and do the asking. If a modelling agency makes you feel prudish or “difficult” for wanting to be informed about how your daughter will be portrayed, then maybe they’re not the right agency for your daughter. 

Until at least the age of 16 girls need a trustworthy chaperone. The ideal situation is that the chaperone, usually a parent or another trusted guardian, sits quietly in the background — but quickly steps in if a girl is asked to do something that is not age appropriate or she feels uncomfortable about. As shoots can run for 12 hours, the chaperone issue needs to be considered when your daughter says she wants to be a model. Chaperones are especially important for the small percentage of models who break into the high-fashion stratosphere, where champagne and pills may be on offer. In recent years there have been some pretty depressing stories about young, inadequately chaperoned models going off the rails.

Given how highly competitive the industry is, I guess it’s no wonder that there are scammers out there who capitalise on girls’ intense desire to break into modelling, plus their lack of knowledge about how to actually go about it. If an agency flatters your daughter and tells her they want to represent her, and then they ask for a fee — that is not a legitimate modelling agency. If a photographer says your daughter must have an expensive portfolio of shots before approaching an agency, they are not legitimate. Same goes for modelling schools that make overblown guarantees of a career at the end of their course.

The big reputable modelling agencies do not require girls to have gone to modelling school. Nor do they require them to have a portfolio already. On their websites, they give clear instructions on how to begin the process — usually by sending in a few snapshots, her age and measurements. If a legitimate agency is interested in signing up a girl, then they will give a range of options for photographers who can put together a portfolio. If you’re suspicious about a company, contact your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading department.

Young models have the potential to earn far more than their peers — who might, as I did, work at McDonald’s. Too much money too young can be a toxic recipe, so it’s vital for parents to keep a judicious grip on the financial reins. If you find yourself needing to help your daughter manage a substantial income, a starting point for financial advice is the Australian government’s financial literacy website. In New Zealand, there is the excellent independent financial advice website Sorted. Sound financial management (and getting a good education!) is vital for young models because, as noted in the Australian government’s job guide, a model usually retires at the ripe old age of 25. 

For me, the most difficult issue is knowing what to say when a girl of 13 or 14 looks at me and asks, “Do you think I could be a model?”  It’s insane to try to answer the question factually. There are only a couple of requirements you can be certain of at the big modelling agencies: that she needs to be at least 173 cm tall and a size 8 to 10. Beyond that, ideas about what makes a girl attractive are subjective, and what the fashion industry finds attractive can be mystifying to us ordinary folk. Really, the only person who can answer the question is someone at a modelling agency.

What it is important for us to try to answer is the real question that lies beneath it. “Do you think I could be a model?” is not just a question about career choices. It’s also shorthand for “Do you think I’m beautiful? Do you think I’m special?” And the answer to that should be easy. All girls are beautiful. And special.

Be honest. Tell her that you are not in a position to know whether she could be a model. But that most importantly, modelling is not the only — or even the best — way to feel beautiful and special. Praise all of her achievements and wonderful qualities, not just her appearance. Talk about all the talents and skills she has if modelling turns out to not be the right thing for her.

And make sure she knows that no matter what she chooses to be when she grows up, you’ll be there to support her all the way.

Model Obsession — Part 2: Career reality check

Last week Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis shared stories from her time as a young model dealing with the body-image pressures of the fashion world. This week, to help inform the many girls who want to be models, and their families, Nikki gives us an insider’s look at the positives, the negatives and some of the practicalities of life as a model.

Girls who love clothes and makeup will enjoy many aspects of modelling, such as wearing new fashions before their friends do, having expert makeup artists working on them using top-of-the-range products, getting invited to launch parties, and receiving free products and goodie bags. When girls think about the positives of being a model they immediately think of these perks, plus all the attention. But there are also long-term and substantial benefits a girl can get from modelling if she handles it well.

Modelling is a chance to meet and learn from a wide range of different people. I have worked with artists in their own right such as fashion designers Alannah Hill and Akira Isagowa, choreographers Jason Coleman (from “So You Think You Can Dance”) and John “Cha Cha” O’Connell (who worked on “Moulin Rouge”), and many brilliantly talented photographers and hair and makeup artists. Some of these contacts have led me toward other opportunities such as acting, writing for dance publications and mentoring young performers. Modelling also brings some girls the opportunity to travel overseas, and that can be great learning experience.

A model has to develop good interpersonal skills. She needs to be able to walk into a room full of strangers, put her card or portfolio down, confidently say “Hi” and present herself. A lot of clients only want to work with girls who are nice, bubbly and easy to be with on a long shoot. My agent says to me: “Sometimes, Nikki, I think you get booked because they know they can stand to spend 12 hours with you!”

Being a model has helped me gain confidence and become the presenter I am today with Enlighten — and I am more passionate about this job than anything else I have ever done before. Modelling has been part of my journey, for it has taught me exceptional presentation skills. I might go to a casting for something like a yogurt commercial and not have any actual props to hold. They just turn the camera on, and I’ve got to pretend to get out of my car, open the boot, get the dog out, walk the dog, then eat a pretend yogurt. And I’m just making an absolute fool of myself! Then I walk out and think, “Okay, if I can do that, then I can stand up in front of 90 girls at an Enlighten workshop and put myself out there!”
Fourth from left - modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at 29! Noqw that i am 30, I am usually ionly considered for shoots as a mother  M
The fashion industry is obsessed with youth: me, second from right, modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at just 29!

Modelling can also be an inroad to related careers such as acting, television presenting, or working as an agent, booker, makeup artist or photographer. The key is for a model to always be planning for the future, even at the height of her career. The fashion industry is obsessed with youth, so models as they head towards 30 start to get panicky if they haven’t trained for any other role and perhaps left school at 15 or 16. As a girl, my primary focus was always to finish school and go to university.  

A lot has been said about the photoshopping trend in magazines and advertising. I once got a total shock when I saw a magazine picture and didn’t even recognise myself. When Sarah Murdoch appeared on the cover of Women’s Weekly free of airbrushing, she said, “I think when I’m retouched in photographs it’s worse, because when people see me in real life they go, ‘Oh God! Isn’t she old!'” But the fact is: once a model is past a certain age, clients don’t bother to hire and then retouch her unless she has a big name. Indeed, only the big names such as Sarah Murdoch ever have much chance of getting the high-paying, glamorous jobs. 

For the vast majority, modelling won’t pay the rent on its own. The hard reality in Australia is that only the top 5% of models are doing the amazing jobs — the fashion magazine editorials, the sides of buses, Australian Fashion Week. The rest are doing the type of jobs that I have mostly done — the mall and department store catwalk shows, catalogues, That’s Life magazine. The pay for those jobs is not all that high, and there is rarely enough work available for girls to model full-time. All the more reason why they need to acquire additional skills.

The financial pressure is heightened by the fact that as a model you are expected to be ready for castings on short notice, and that means spending big dollars (and hours) on being manicured, pedicured, fake tanned, fashionably dressed, and having good hair and teeth — all the time. 
 
Another thing girls should be aware of is that modelling can change the way people see you. Others sometimes make an immediate assumption that I’m not particularly bright, and that is incredibly frustrating. Guys might assume that all models are party girls and I must be out all night at bars. Women automatically think that life must be easy for me and I have never worried about my body or appearance (if only!). Or they transport me right back to the schoolyard by picking my flaws — “I can’t believe she models with a bum that size” and so on. When you’re on a catwalk or in a magazine, you are putting yourself out there to be judged, and that judgment won’t always be favourable.

Similarly, models need to get used to being rejected at castings. There will be times when you are not what the client needs — maybe they needed a petite blonde and you’re a tall brunette — and models need to learn not to take it personally.

Ironically, all these negatives I’ve raised do have the potential to be positive, if they help a girl develop resilience. If she can learn to deal with the inevitable self-esteem jolts of modelling, she can draw on that inner strength for the rest of her life, in any situation.

The key to becoming resilient rather than being crushed is to do what we talk about with girls through Enlighten: remember the real reasons why you’re special. Perhaps you fit into society’s idea of what is good-looking, and you can model, make some money and have some experiences — that’s fine. But remember why your friends like to spend time with you. Stay focused on all the other achievements and activities you’ve got going on in your life.

They are words for us all to live by.

I know that it can be a real source of anxiety for parents when their daughter announces that she wants to try to break into modelling, so next week Dannielle Miller will conclude this three-part series of blog posts by looking at ethics in the industry, hypersexual images of girls in advertising and how to talk with your daughter about her desire to model. 

 

With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".
With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".

Nikki Davis, BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Model Obsession — Part 1: Body image

Huge numbers of girls dream of becoming a model. It really is almost an obsession. But a girl’s choice to pursue that dream can bring a mixture of pride, uncertainty and downright anxiety to her parents. I wanted to know more about why modelling is so very appealing to teen girls, and how the reality compares to the dream. So for insight, I turned to Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis, who spent a number of years dancing and modelling professionally after completing her BA Communications degree, and continues to do some modelling work. She writes my guest blog this week, looking at what makes modelling attractive to so many girls, and the self-esteem and body image issues that arise in the modelling world. At Enlighten we strive to help girls and their parents make informed decisions about the future, so in following weeks Nikki will talk about the positive aspects of being a model, along with the practicalities and the challenges. 

When girls I’m presenting to for Enlighten find out I have done modelling, there is this sense of awe. “What kind of modelling have you done?” “Are you on any television commercials?” “What magazines have you been in?” “What clothes, what designers?” They want to know everything!

Professional shots Nikki uses to promote herself with prospective clients.
Professional shots I use to promote myself to prospective clients.

When I was 14, I started at a new dance school that also had a modelling agency, and I began getting my first serious offers of work. The fact that people were approaching me to do modelling was very exciting to me. If someone said to Mum, “Can we do photos of your daughter?” my little ears pricked up. The thing that frustrated me about my mum as a child — but that I’m thankful for now — is that she didn’t really allow me to do any professional work until I was about 16. That was when I did a Channel 7 ad, and I was absolutely blown away by the glamour of it all.

The main reason that I was drawn to modelling, and why I think girls are now, was the simple pleasure of having confirmation that I was special. It validates that you have the “right” look. You think breaking into modelling will cancel out any of your self-esteem issues and doubts because it means that you are what society thinks is beautiful and special.

But of course the reality is far more complicated than that.

Me to Vin Diesel's right - complete with fake tatoo!
Me to Vin Diesel's right (complete with fake tattoo)

In some ways modelling does make you feel special, and in some ways the glamour does come through. I remember once I was in the newspaper after being hired to walk the red carpet with Vin Diesel. I’d had a totally glamorous makeover, and I thought I looked pretty amazing — I loved it! The next day, I had all these people I went to school with — funnily enough some of whom had teased me at school — texting and emailing me. And that kind of thing is fun.

Then sometimes it all comes crashing down.

You’ve been feeling pretty special sitting in the hair and makeup chair for 3 hours before a shoot or a catwalk show, and you go over to the rack of clothes . . . and you don’t fit the pair of jeans they’ve given you. All of a sudden you land with a thud back on Earth. So at each job, you would walk in feeling nervous. It was a panicky feeling; your heart would beat quickly. If you didn’t fit something, you’d have to put your hand up in the crowded fitting room and say, “I don’t fit this, and a dresser needs to go and get me the next size up,” and someone would shout across, “Aw, Nikki doesn’t fit the size 10; you have to get her a 12.” On one occasion, I had a photographer who was used to working with very thin high-fashion models say out loud, “I can’t position her in a way that doesn’t make her legs look fat!”

When these things were happening to me, I was around 19 to 21, and like most women that age, my body was changing a lot. I tried a low-carb diet and lost a bit of weight, and the other models and the dressers started praising me, saying, “Oh! Oh, you’ve lost weight. Oh, you need a smaller size in this!” Many unhealthy relationships with food and exercise have been started this way. I was given so much positive feedback that I became quite obsessed with not putting the weight back on — which is of course exactly what I did, because I became so concerned with weighing my food and denying myself that when no one was looking I’d eat four blocks of chocolate.

It was also around this time that fashion swung from the Cindy Crawford look to Kate Moss, and clients wanted the quite skinny girls. It blew my mind that my figure was out of fashion. I thought if I lost weight and I was smaller, everything would be good because I’d be making more money and I’d have a better career. The pressure that your income relies on how much food you put in your mouth is really overwhelming.

At that stage of my life I had just finished uni and wasn’t focusing on much else than modelling and dancing, and that was a big part of the problem. I think that’s when modelling gets a bit dangerous: when it’s all you’ve got going on. All you’re thinking about is your body all the time, and your looks all the time, with nothing else to distract you.

My advice to young models is to always have something else going on in your life as well. To be studying, to be learning another language, to be writing or producing art, to be training as an actor or TV presenter — something else that’s not pure modelling. It is important not to get so hung up on looks that you lose perspective. I have met models who won’t go out with their friends because they have to stay home and put four coats of fake tan on. You can get so caught up in looks that you forget to live.

Finally, I relaxed into the idea: “This is who I am. Book me or don’t book me. Don’t book me and then torture me when I get there because I don’t fit something.” It’s so hard for young girls, because they don’t have that maturity. I didn’t have that attitude until I was 27. I’d had time by then to develop the other parts of me. I’d been writing for a dance magazine, and I’d been working in production and events, so I knew I had a lot more to offer than just my looks. That self-confidence takes time to develop, which is why if you skip uni and go straight into modelling when you’re 17 and you do put on weight or your look goes out of fashion, it can seriously affect you.

I am grateful that my parents always made me feel as though my appearance and success at modelling weren’t the most important achievements in my life. How well I did at school and how I treated other people were more valued. I don’t want to give the impression that modelling is only full of negatives for girls, because there is good stuff to be had from modelling — but it is crucial that we put a girl’s looks into perspective, stressing that the kind of validation modelling brings is not the be-all and end-all, and prettiness is not the most important value a girl has to offer.

The good stuff to be had from modelling? Increased confidence, interpersonal skills, resilience — these are a few of the qualities it can help girls develop. Next week, I’ll get into those positives, along with some hard practical realities of making a living out of modelling. Until then, we would love to hear about your experiences with girls and modelling.

Nikki Davis,  BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Grants for girls

This week I want to share some really interesting websites that offer grants for young women. Are there young women in your life who might be able to access these?

The Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation was created to “inspire girls and women across Australia to dream and achieve”. What a fabulous slogan! Beachley was inspired to start this foundation for young women as she had struggled to fund her early surfing career (imagine a male pro surfer having to go without sponsorship for 8 years and being forced to work four jobs as well as training and competing!). The list of girls she has chosen to support so far is impressive and looks beyond those just interested in sport. Young women passionate about pursuits such as ballet, opera and African studies have all been assisted.

Beachley tells us that “the foundation is an investment into the future of Australian women. A little bit of finance or just the knowledge someone believes in their personal ambition may be all it takes for a female to achieve greatness and ultimately happiness.”

Who else is encouraging our girls ?

The Vicsport website is one which is fabulous for sporting girls, and it also hosts great articles about women in sport and in leadership roles in general.

Youth NSW also has some excellent links to lots of opportunities that would appeal to young women, such as the Future Leaders Awards, which recognise and reward young Australians who have shown strong leadership and potential, and Write in Your Face, which is a funding program supporting emerging forms of writing practice by young writers or organisations working with young writers. I love that the latter invites proposals from people who are using language in innovative ways, including writing for zines, e-zines, comics, multimedia, multi-artforms or cross-media works, websites, live performances and spoken word.

Federally, there is a whole website dedicated to grants and a search for “women” and “youth” brought up a few interesting options, such as the Local Champions Program for young sportsmen and women, and the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

If it is arts you are after, then the Australia Council for the Arts is the place to go!  Search under “Grants”. You will find everything from music to dance to literature.

Other private foundations worth considering include:

The Amanda Young Foundation. This was created in memory of a young woman who tragically died as a result of meningococcol disease. The organisation exists not only to raise awareness of the disease but also to encourage young leaders in Western Australia. They have a Leaders Award and a fellowship coming soon.

The Future Leaders Awards recognise and reward young Australians who have shown strong leadership and potential. The awards also aim to inspire others to engage in environmental and community issues and make a difference. Here I found awards in areas ranging from jazz to writing to climate action.

The Audrey Fagan Enrichment Grant program is offering girls in the ACT grants of up to $2,000 to pursue study in a field of interest.

Finally, should you decide to pursue any of these opportunities, the following site has a few good basic tips for writing successful grant applications: Tips for Writing Grants. If the writing process really intimidates you, the excellent site Our Community has a list of experienced writers who can be paid to complete grant applications on your behalf.

Do you know of any other funding opportunities young women can access? If so, please share these!

Encouragement

I am thrilled to report that on Wednesday I was named by The Australian newspaper as the country’s top emerging leader in education, for the work that I do with girls through Enlighten Education.

As I accepted my award from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at a lunch at Parliament House, I felt deeply honoured — and more important, encouraged by the fact that the work we do with young women has received public recognition. I see my award as proof that it is now widely accepted that we need to equip our girls to make sense of an increasingly complex world and to shape it themselves, so they can move beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers.

The award has also got me thinking about the leaders that I most admire. I am very impressed with Kate Ellis, the federal government’s Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth, for speaking up about the importance of tackling body image issues among teenagers. Hallelujah, sister! And a significant role model of mine is Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination and Age Discrimination Commissioner of Australia’s Human Rights Commission. Immediately after her appointment in 2007, she embarked on a nationwide tour to listen to what people all around Australia had to say about discrimination, and that act really resonated with me. I apply this lesson to my own work: in designing programs for teenage girls, I have learnt that it is vital to listen to them and connect to what they are doing and experiencing in their own lives, rather than assume I know what issues concern them.

Who are the leaders you most admire? What qualities do they possess?

I’d love to hear your reflections on the nature of leadership, too. What makes someone a great leader?

Finally, given the public recognition I have just received, this seems an apt time to acknowledge my Enlighten Amazons – the woman I am privileged to lead. My love and gratitude go to: Francesca Kaoutal (my business partner and Enlighten’s co-founder), Sonia Lyne, Alana Benjamin, Melissa Coutts, Storm Greenhill-Brown, Louise Beddoes, Catherine Stark, Diane Illingworth-Wilcox, Jane Higgins, Kelly Valder, Nikki Dingle, Nikki Davis, Monica Lamata, Kellie Mackereth, Christine Elias and Fiona Ciappara.

A special edition of The Weekend Australian Magazine this weekend (June 20-21) will feature all ten of the winners. At the award ceremony I got a sneak preview, and I can honestly say it is a truly inspiring read; it features interviews with the judging panel and the winners, on the nature of leadership.

Audio from an interview I did on radio 2UE discussing the win can be listened to here: danielle-miller

Embracing her inner mathematician

I was really interested in the findings of a study conducted by Janet Hyde, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of psychology, and Janet Mertz, a UW-Madison professor of oncology, on girls and mathematics. They analysed studies from around the world on mathematics performance along with gender inequality as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. Their conclusion? Girls do understand mathematics, but we don’t want them to.

Their research showed that the widely held belief that most women aren’t hard-wired for careers in science and technology is erroneous. Rather, the researchers provide several possible cultural factors keeping females from excelling in maths, including classroom dynamics in which teachers pay more attention to boys, while failing to nurture even mathematically gifted girls. In addition, they found stereotypes may drive guidance counsellors and others to discourage girls from taking engineering courses. The lack of female role models in maths-intensive careers was also identified as a possible reason why girls may steer clear of these paths.

I confess that I once said to my daughter when she was struggling with maths, “You’re just like your mummy. We both love reading and writing but find maths and science tough.” Way to go, Danni. What kind of message was I sending Teyah? The same message Mattel’s Barbie gave girls when she spoke her first words in 1992: “Math class is tough!” How limiting. Throughout history there have been accomplished women across all fields of learning. We need to take every opportunity to remind our daughters of the many women who have achieved academically.

The following websites may be worth encouraging your budding maths star to explore:

Girlstart – American site created to empower girls to excel in mathematics, science and technology. They have an interesting blog and a related website where girls can complete maths-based puzzles, etc.

Nerd Girls – American site celebrating smart-girl individuality. Their beliefs: “Brains are beautiful. Geek is Chic. Smart is sexy. Not either/or.”

An extensive list of general maths sites is also offered at the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services site: http://www.millnthps.sa.edu.au/websites/mathematics/general_maths.htm

Even the most simple empowering messages we give girls can have a lasting effect on them. Fifteen years ago, Rachel, who is now a grown woman, was in a class I taught at high school. She recently emailed me to share the following: “I still remember the first thing I noticed when I walked into your classroom in Year 10: a sticker on the top of the board that said ‘Girls can be engineers too.’ Yours was one of the few classrooms where I believed that I could achieve something.”

I’d love to hear how you have been encouraging girls to move beyond all sorts of limiting stereotypes.

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