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Club 21, “girl world” exposed: binge drinking, bullying, low self esteem and distorted body image.

AND the importance of moving beyond finger pointing.

Queensland school girls have formed an exclusive club, known as Club 21, which encourages members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. This number is then drawn on their hand for all to see.

The club not only operates at St Patrick’s Mackay, but has gone global via the internet and chat rooms.

This story has caused significant shock in the media. However it is unlikely this type of bullying – of each other and those who didn’t make it into the club – came as a shock to many teen girls. It was likely no surprise to their teachers either, who witness the various manifestations of the “Compare and Despair” game that teen girls are so good at playing, in playgrounds right across Australia. Recent studies show three out of five teen girls report being teased about their appearance at school. Girls in particular judge themselves and each other on how they look and on how popular they are bohabbo143v2.jpgth with other girls, and with boys.

When I was a teen girl at high school much of lunch time was spent rating our peers. It was our own little real life version of the magazines we grew up with that asked us, in virtually every issue, to decide whether particular clothes were in, or whether a celebrity was hot or not. We felt powerful playing these games – we may not have been able to control many elements of our lives, but we tried to control how we looked through diets, and we could definitely control each other through ridicule.

We may not have had a number reflecting these scores branded on our hands, but the scores were branded on our psyches.

The rules in girl rating games, both then and now, are not difficult to follow. Be considered hot by your peers and in particular by boys – and score points. Getting a highly desired boyfriend means an instant advance to the top of the club. I was lucky enough to have landed the school “spunk” at one stage and was elevated from classroom “brainiac” to the girl everyone wanted to know almost over night. He dumped me a year later for a girl considered even hotter – at just 14 she was already a model appearing in women’s magazines and parading in labels sold only to rich thirty-somethings. My dream run at the top of the charts was destroyed.

What makes this latest story of highly organised girl competiveness newsworthy is the use of technology to spread the ranks.

In my early years as a teacher in High Schools, I found it relatively easy to intercept notes critiquing other girls. Technology means these same messages can now can reach thousands of recipients in moments. Harmful messages found on toilet walls could be scrubbed off – it is much more difficult to delete messages once they have gone global.

The potential for misuse of the cyber world is alarming. But we cannot blame the internet alone. It is after all merely a tool, it is all too easy to blame the evils of technology rather than examining why our society has become more and more toxic for our young people.

Just why has girl self hatred gone mainstream and global?

Years of watching reality TV and being invited to rank contestants and evict / put below the yellow line / vote off those not entertaining enough or thin enough or sexy enough to keep us interested have no doubt played a role. And if Paris can get famous for being rich, thin and for sleeping around why can’t they? Elements of the media have been most hypocritical in their reporting of this incident. They have judged these girls harshly when these young women have really only responded to the fodder they have been fed by these same image obsessed magazines; magazines that perpetuate the misconception that success is dependent largely on appearances and sexual desirability.

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This incident is also a sad reflection of a society that makes our girls feel lonely. When they cannot find real connection at school, or at home, they look for it in cyber world and find all their deepest and darkest fears and fantasies fed on sites that promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice, sites celebrating images of “girls gone wild” trashed and flashing their breasts at parties.

The reality is many women play this same compare and despair game too. Studies have shown that while up to 65per cent of teenage girls think they are less beautiful than the average girl, 84 per cent of women over 40 think they are less beautiful than the average woman. A survey released by the Australian Women’s Weekly just this week found that only one in six women were happy with their weight, one in five had such a poor body image they avoided mirrors and 45 per cent would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it. Binge drinking appeared to be rife too, with a third of the women surveyed drinking too much and one in five women admitting she had been told she had a drinking problem.

As grown up women we no longer rank ourselves from 1-21 but many of us do get up in the morning and let the number that flashes up on our scales dictate our mood for the day.

Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful while we rush for botox. We tell them inner beauty counts whilst we invest in plastic surgery and devour magazines that tell us that it is really only about air brushed perfection after all.

We may saddened by Club 21, but why are we shocked? Girls cannot be what they cannot see. If even the grown up girls are comparing and despairing, is it any wonder that our daughters do not know what “I am me, I am ok” looks like?

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Let’s not blame the victims here. After all, these are young girls – pushing boundaries, exploring and making mistakes. We shouldn’t fall into the easy trap of simply making these girls out to be uber bitches. Rather, they are a sad reflection of the times. We need to dig a little deeper and address the toxic messages our girls are fed and ensure these are countered with positive body image programs and messages of strength and resilience.

News flash! With the upgrades to Edublog, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did with Prue McSween on this topic. Enjoy!

  Click to listen – Dannielle Miller and Prue McSween on cyber bullying and Club 21, Radio 2UE. mp3

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.

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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.

Sport – the real winners and losers

Back in 2006 we had the Senate Enquiry into female participation in sport. The enquiry concluded, amongst other things, that female sportswear might be a deterrent to participation.

The Daily Telegraph offered the following interviews with key participants:

ACT senator Kate Lundy, deputy chairwoman of the Senate committee that produced the report, said sports should do a survey of their women participants to see whether their uniform policy was suitable. ‘The main problem people expressed here was a risk of teenage girls being turned off sport because of the types of clothing they’re required to wear,’ she said. ‘It is a body image issue on one side, but by having a bit more flexibility with respect to uniforms, you can help support young women in improving their body image. If a girl is more comfortable playing in shorts and that will keep her in the sport, let’s go with that.’ Australian netball team co-captain Liz Ellis told The Daily Telegraph while fitted body-suits were good to play in because they kept players cool, young girls should play in whatever made them comfortable. ‘It would be great to see sports clubs look at their dress codes, for teenage girls, but especially for young women of the Muslim faith,’ she said. ‘Anything to promote young women to stay in sport would be positive.”

Have sportswear manufacturers cleaned up their act and focused on producing sportswear that is flattering, comfortable and practical? Are we encouraging our girls to get out there and get involved? Is this really just old news?

Recent sportswear campaigns and events both on and off the field clearly show this race has not yet been won.  

The following ads are for the Skins range of sportswear for women – can you believe these slogans?

“Men will love you, women will hate you. Lucky you’re not a lesbian. Skins delivers immediate results for the woman who wants to look and feel like a complete bitch.”    

Then there’s:

“Get a body to die for. And watch women queue up to help with your funeral arrangements. Skins are perfect for the woman who loves the feel of claws sticking into her back.”  

Or how about:

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 Note the line: “Get the body every other woman would love. To spit on.”

My Program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown, originally pointed these ads out to me. As Storm laments, the emphasis on obtaining the PERFECT body is ugly enough, but pitting woman against woman? Grotesque. 

Need more? What about the Brooks Sports wear ad that promoted the company’s support of breast cancer (a great cause) but did so in an ad featuring two female runners with their breasts bouncing and the caption – “Nice pair!”   

The clothes may not be revealing, but the advertising campaigns certainly are – play sport just to look hot, hot, hot. These ads feed the very real risk of exercising excessively as a means of controlling weight.  Research clearly shows excessive exercise and eating disorders go hand in hand. These ads also alienate women who may not be comfortable with ruthless competition, nor with being viewed as just a pair of tits in sneakers.

And what about the treatment of the trailblazing Rebecca Wilson on The Footy Show last week? Rebecca is the first female panel member to join the traditionally blokey show. A good move from channel 9 to add her expertise – particularly when football generally is trying to reclaim its female fan base after a series of disgraceful incidents involving players indiscretions over the last few years.

So how was she welcomed to the team?  

Sam Newman used a staple gun to attach a cutout picture of Wilson’s face to the forehead of a mannequin. The life-sized doll was dressed in nothing more than a sheer, skimpy, aqua bra and underwear set. Samantha Lane from fairfax media recounts: “Inspired by a letter published in this newspaper’s Green Guide section that discussed what Wilson wears on Footy Classified, Newman made clumsy attempts to dress the mannequin but mostly he manhandled it. He flicked the top of the knickers, he put his hands squarely between the doll’s legs and he thrust it into the face of Craig Hutchison, who sits alongside Wilson on Monday nights. It was violent and vulgar.”

And this in a climate where a DVD was recently produced and launched with great fan fare for AFL players to help them develop their respect for women! Melinda Tankard Reist spoke for many women when she expressed her dismay over the need for such tuition:

So, it has come to this. We have so failed in the very basics of civilised human interaction that the Australian Football League has been forced to hire a swag of actors and a film crew to make an interactive DVD to help players understand that perhaps it’s not a good idea to pretend to be your best mate so you can have sex with his girlfriend. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Let’s spell it out together, boys!” The AFL wants to help the lads recognise that taking advantage of a woman who’s had too much to drink, doesn’t rank as the noblest decision they could ever made. “C-O-N-S-E-N-T: Shout it out for me, boys!”What’s next: teaching men not to bash women over the head with a club and drag them into a cave by their hair?”

Seems Sam Newman might need to spend the night in front of a good DVD… 

I’ll end on a positive.

I have praised adidas before for its fantastic portrayal of women in sport in the advertisements for their women’s range. I LOVE their latest one featuring celebrity trainer Michelle Bridges. The caption reads:

“Play a sport where the rewards are respect, self belief and inner strength. Play by your own rules.
Play gym. Impossible is nothing.”

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Michelle was made famous through her involvement with Tv’s The Biggest Loser. I have questioned this show’s emphasis on dramatic weight loss at all costs, and the promise of a new, perfect life as a direct result of the new perfect body, in a recent Opinion Piece I wrote that was published in the Herald. HOWEVER, this campaign gets it just right – the rewards for participating in sports must include self respect, self belief and inner strength. Surely the bonus is the improved fitness and toned body?

I met Michelle Bridges briefly this week and was struck by her genuine passion for what she does and her commitment to assisting her clients to feel good, not just look good. She also told me that as a young teen girl sport was her physical and emotional outlet. It kept her sane and strong. I want more of these role models for our girls! Bring it on adidas! 

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. 

Claim back the music!

What is the soundtrack to your life? What music surrounded you in your most formative teen years? What song was playing when you first kissed, when you danced at your school formal, or when you broke loose and did a hairbrush solo in your bedroom?

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As a child of the eighties Madonna rocked my world and shocked my parents by revealing she felt like a virgin being touched for the very first time. Chrissy Amphlett sung of desperation and lust. These were wild women who fully embraced their sexuality, but they were nobodies “bitch” or “‘ho.” Madonna may have been a “material girl” but she didn’t need a pimp. These girls all ran their own show. The men around them looked on with respect or desire – perhaps even with fear, but rarely with contempt.

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed societies boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now- thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centers, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

A 2008 report entitled “Ambivalent Sexism and Misogynistic Rap Music: Does Exposure to Eminem Increase Sexism?”, published recently in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concluded that it is unlikely that hearing lyrics in a song creates sexist attitudes that do not previously exist. Based on their findings, the head researcher Assistant Professor Cobb went on to state,” There is not much evidence in our study to support an argument in favour of censorship.” But haven’t these researchers missed the point? Sexist attitudes may not have increased amongst their male and female subjects, but how did the female subjects feel about themselves and their bodies after being exposed to one of the songs they actually used in the study, Eminem’s song “Kill You”. The lyrics include:

“(AH!) Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore
’til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!
(AH!) These mother #!!! are thinking I’m playing
Thinking I’m saying the shit cause I’m thinking it just to be saying it
(AH!) Put your hands down bitch, I ain’t gonna shoot you
I’m gonna pull YOU to this bullet, and put it through you
(AH!) Shut up slut, you’re causing too much chaos
Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK Ma?”

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A British study found that watching video clips featuring skinny, semi naked gyrating women ( in other words, watching 99% of all music clips) for just 10 minutes was enough to reduce teenage girls body satisfaction with their body shape by 10 per cent. Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship.

Even the strongest of us admit to feeling less than they were after a dose of the Pussycat Dolls and Eminem – there is undeniably a nasty after taste. Yet look around, these sounds and their associated film clips are the very fodder we now give our children as the soundtrack to their youth. The Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha?” includes the lyrics “I know you want it…I know you should be on with me…don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me, don’t cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?”. This anthem to the sisterhood featured on Hits for kids Volume 3 this Christmas, alongside songs by Hi 5 and Guy Sebastian. Alvin the Chipmunk sings “Don’t cha” in his made for the pre-school set holiday film release. Markets are filled with junior Eminem tracksuits and gangster accessories for the budding pimp. Am I the only one who cringes when I see small girls shaking it to “My Humps”?

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Rhinna is currently at number 1 on our music charts with her song “Don’t Stop The Music” – I agree. I love music. I’m not after censorship, just commonsense. And awareness. Would it be asking too much if there could be a day set aside to celebrate positive portrayal of women on music and film clips? A day where we didn’t have to keep our hand on the radio dial as we drive the kids to school for fear that they were going to have to listen to lyrics about yet another “Nasty Gal”?

Five years ago if you had suggested we needed Earth Hour, an hour where we all turned off the lights to remind ourselves to be mindful of power consumption and our impact on the planet, you would have been thought a radical environmental extremist. Yet as things literally heated up, the lights all went out. How much hotter do things need to get on our airwaves and on our TV sets? I suspect society will also agree we have now indeed reached tipping point and will embrace a day that seeks to claim back the music.

Smart radio stations will jump on board. Overseas, special days devoted to the positive portrayal of women in music have pushed radio stations ratings through the roof. In Boston “Radio Log”, a station set up to promote positive portrayals of black women and inspire open phone conversations around relationships, has received nothing but good press. Radio stations should show leadership and live up to their responsibilities of meeting societies ethical and moral standards.

And as companies madly chase the female dollar, surely keeping women happy and showing them, and their daughters, respect can only be a smart and strategic marketing move?

Money doesn’t just talk – it sings too.

P.S I have asked my colleagues at Women’s Forum Australia and Kids Free 2B Kids to join me in calling for a national day that reclaims the music for women. I am hoping we might hear from a few more like minded people who want to celebrate women through song, not denegrate them – would also love the media to get behind us. Any takers?

P.S.S How infuriating is this song from the “Bom Chicka Wah Wah’s”?  Unilever promote HIGHLY degrading portrayals of women with their brand Lynx (a brand that targets teen boys) whilst attempting to take their other key brand Dove in to our schools to sponsor self esteem programs for teenagers! “Body Think” may be a fabulous program and serves a real need – bravo the Butterfly Foundation for managing this – BUT when Unilver ( Dove and Lynx) also pushes these “girls gone wild” destructive messages at our young people I say NOT GOOD ENOUGH!  Until Unilver cleans up its act and starts to show it genuinely cares about young women – and does not just choose to act responsibly when it suits them for the sake of promoting a particular brand – I’m boycotting all their products.   

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And if that wasn’t bad enough – how about the lack of respect shown towards female teachers in this ad? Her student’s scent reduces her to singing porn music. 

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Want to get really angry? Check out the “web site they tried to ban” – The Lynx Effect. Compare it to the web site promoting Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty – SAME PARENT COMPANY. Grrrrrr…. 

LOVE this Youtube clip by Rye Clifton that exposes the inherent contradiction in Unilver’s marketing onslaught (in the USA Lynx is called Axe):

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LOVE that it caused a stir too…we need to be critical of all the dangerous and mixed messages that our young people are being exposed to.

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The comments here are MUST READS…

Future Me

Subject: Anxiety

Dear FutureMe,

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

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

Subject: In the future

Dear FutureMe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you waiting for…

Create an email to send to the future you!

FutureMe.org

When talk is cheap – and nasty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids Free 2B Kids

The letter below was forwarded to me by Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2B Kids and a very passionate, active defender of childhood.  I was so impressed I asked her permission to share it with you. Keep in mind, Girlfriend is a magazine thats core readership is girls aged between 13 and 14 years.   

To: The Editor of Girlfriend Magazine

21/2/08

Hello Sarah,

I am the Director of an organisation called Kids Free 2B Kids which is concerned about the sexualisation of kids, via the media, advertising, marketing and fashion industries. http://www.kf2bk.com. One of our concerns is the images children are exposed to, and the influence of corporations and the media, in shaping the way children think about themselves and others as they are developing. Girlfriend magazine is to be commended for its ‘Self-Respect Campaign’ and others, such as the recently introduced ‘I delete bullies’ campaign. There are, however, a number of conflicts with the Girlfriend Self-Respect campaign, which Kf2Bk would like to comment on. The Wallpaper & text messaging advertisements for mobile phones, which feature in Girlfriend magazine, appear to be in complete contradiction to the Self-Respect campaign, and the staff pledge to the readers.

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These advertisements perpetuate the idea that young girls need to be ‘hot’ ‘sexy’ and ‘sexually available’ to be cool and popular. It is extraordinary that the appropriateness of these advertisements, for a girl’s magazine, has not been considered. Examples include:

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Girlfriend recently advertised a T-shirt with the slogan “MAKE ME HOT MR SEX POT.” Another article featured the words: “Be the girl boys adore, with make-up for your boudoir”.

Last year, on behalf of Kids Free 2B Kids, I rang the Girlfriend publisher to formally complain about the Playboy free giveaway T-Shirt .

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The Playboy text includes: “Playboy is a collection of clothing and swimwear for the trend savvy fashionable girl. Cute and innocent, cool and tough, all at the same time. Playboy is one brand you should include in your wardrobe”. Playboy is a leading brand of the pornography industry, and has more recently been insidiously creeping into mainstream. Kids Free 2B Kids believes that young girls should never be encouraged to support the pornography industry. Girlfriend recently had an article titled the ‘LAD MAG LOWDOWN – Welcome to a world where fast cars, sports and bikini babes rule!’ This article featured the soft porn magazines FHM and ZOO.

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The sexualised images of women adorning the covers of soft porn magazines helps to cement the current notion that women (and young girls) need to flaunt themselves and be sexy, to be acceptable to males – and to be empowered as females. Girlfriend informs the reader that this is ‘what makes them (guys) tick’… and ‘that a pole dancing pole is, like, a really good present to give a girl. In fact, it’s “The #1 item on every girl’s wish list. She gets fit…you get to watch. Dream on! We’re not all Carmen Electra, boys.”

Even the premise of a joke (in terms of quoting from the men’s magazines) in this situation fails to consider the impacts and harm to girls regarding early sexualisation. The Girlfriend Self-Respect Campaign pledges the following:

“To show you we’re serious about self-respect, and committed to helping you get it, the Staff will –
Help you make smart, informed choices about your mental and physical health…
Encourage you to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle…
Help you feel good about your changing bodies…
Make you media-aware by dishing on the devices we use to make the mag so glossy and perfect looking…”

If perfection is indeed boring, then Kf2bK wonders why Girlfriend magazine continues to print perfectly photoshopped images of models, celebrities…and staff. Girlfriend staff pledge to: “remind you with our reality checks, that we’ve used Photoshop to retouch pictures of models and celebs (um, and us).”

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Girls do not reportedly feel any better about themselves, nor more confident, if they are merely told that an image has been photoshopped. The recent Media Code of Conduct Working Group on Body Image report states: “Anecdotal evidence shows that the majority of stakeholders, or parties identified by them, do not feel socially responsible for the negative impact body images are having upon young people.” Kids free 2B kids is concerned that young girls magazines are not regulated. Self regulation in the industry does not appear to be positively contributing to the health and well being of our youth.

Current research shows that our young people are experiencing increased body image problems, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, self harm, sexually transmitted infections, and are becoming sexually active at younger ages.* .
*The Australia Institutes – Corporate Paedophilia. 2006
The Australia Institutes – Letting Children Be Children. 2006
The American Psychological Association’s task-force on the sexualisation of young girls. 2007
The Australian Psychological Society’s guidelines for parents on the sexualisation of children.2007
ACMA enquiry into the sexualisation of children. Current.

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This page in Girlfriend, which features chupa chup lollipops and Minnie Mouse, seems in direct contrast with the previous images.

Over the past year, child development experts have been speaking out publicly about the problems and impacts of the early sexualistion of children. Inappropriate action by industry and the corporate world contributes to these issues, and helps to maintain the status quo. We would appreciate your feedback

Regards,Julie Gale
0412 922 253
julie@kf2bk.com
http://www.kf2bk.com/

As of the 1st March, Julie is yet to receive a reply. I shall post Girlfriend’s reply if one is sent. 

I would love to see your thoughts here. Agree or disagree – doesn’t matter as long as we are talking and exploring the boundaries we wish to set. Conversations will enrich all our understandings; silence and apathy are the only real dangers. My thoughts – shame Girlfriend, Dolly and all the magazines that confuse our girls with their mixed messages, and their inappropriate soft porn product push. 

An older article published in the Age, “What is your daughter reading?” remains one of my favourites on this theme. Writer Christopher Bantick shares the outrage:

“The problem with teenage girl magazines is that they give highly suspect information, they create misconceptions about sexuality, they reinforce stereotypes about male and female behaviour and they show craven irresponsibility in their disregard for the emotional maturity of their readers. Do you know what your daughters are reading?”

Thank goodness for women like Julie who are out there trying to make a difference. I have met a number of amazing, passionate women working to improve outcomes for women and girls in the last few years and am always humbled by their energy and fire. Warriors all.

Keeping it real

Yes Keira, your lips are totally real.

Last month, I watched Pride and Prejudice on DVD. I can’t tell you much about it because I was madly distracted by Keira Knightley’s top lip. Huge. Like someone had cut a Floaty in half and glued it to her face. I couldn’t remember noticing that Floaty lip before so I checked with Dr Google and discovered that even though she’d been photographed leaving a plastic surgeon’s office a couple of years ago and despite the fact Stevie Wonder could have spotted the lip inflation and deflation during her career, 23 year old Ms Knightly swears she’s au natural: “I haven’t had my lips done,” she told a reporter. “Can I just say that I haven’t?” Sure Keira, you can say it. But what you say doesn’t reconcile with what we see.

Celebrities are liars.  That’s my bold statement for 08. OK, maybe some celebrities don’t lie. But most do, particularly the ladies. And it’s messing with my head, dammit.

They say “I think botox is creepy, I’d never put a needle in my face.”
They say, “Oh, I hate exercise. I stay fit by breathing deeply.”
They say, “Of course they’re real!”
They say, “Yes I did have a procedure on my nose but only to correct a deviated septum.”
They say, “I’ve never tried drugs, I’m too much of a control freak.”
They say, “The split is totally amicable and we’re still best friends.”
They say, “I’m very low maintenance. A bit of lip gloss and I’m out the door.”
They say “I’m 34”.
They say, “I don’t believe in nannies. I do everything myself.”
They say, “I never really wanted to be famous.” They say, “I was only giving the transsexual prostitute a lift home because it was raining and I’m a Good Samaritan.”
They say “I’m so blessed to have fallen pregnant naturally with twins at 49.”

And why is this a problem for me? Because when I read about celebrities I compare myself. Yes, I know this is pointless and stupid. But hey, I’m a girl and girls compare. It’s our job…”

Mia Freedman wrote a fabulous piece on celebrity liars earlier this month. I have adapted the extract above; it is really worth a look.

And oh yes Mia – I hear you! And yes – although we are smart women, all the lies do feed us as we play the Compare and Despair game. 

Our hunger for all things false seems insatiable- we devour images that are almost all photo shopped and airbrushed. Worse still, we listen entranced to the air brushed words that spill out oh-so-seductively from celebrities mouths.

I thought I would share some very rare recent examples of celebs FINALLY telling it like it really is.

So refreshing. So liberating. So REAL!

“I’ve heard so many actresses say something to the effect that it’s difficult to be beautiful in this business. I am not a violent person but I literally want to strangle them because it’s the most ridiculous thing anyone can say. It’s difficult being overweight in this business, it’s difficult being a minority, it’s difficult having some kind of physical challenge or handicap, but the easiest thing to be is beautiful.”

Actress Eva Mendes, as reported in the Sun Herald, Feb 17th.

“(when I get excited) sometimes a little bit of wee comes out!”   

Ex-model and new mum Chloe Maxwell on channel 7’s It Takes Two.

“I’ve sat by in silence for a long time now about the way women’s bodies are constantly scrutinized. To set the record straight, I’m not upset for me, but for all the girls out there that are struggling with their body image. A size 2 is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being a size 0 doesn’t make you beautiful. What I should be doing is celebrating some of the best days of my life and my engagement to the man of my dreams, instead of having to deal with photographers taking invasive pictures from bad angles. To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini – put it on and stay strong.”                               

Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, defending herself after pictures of her in a bikini were published with demeaning headlines such as “We know what you ate this summer, Love – everything!”

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“That’s my natural hair colour…You know, if you don’t consider the character beautiful, that is really me. That poster shows my natural hair colour, and it is me with very little make-up and no prosthetics. That is me.”

Charlize Theron talking to a journalist about the unflattering (by the usual Hollywood standards) images of her used to promote her new film The Valley of Elah.

“The belly is certainly not what it was. The boobs are certainly not what they were. You do think, ‘Oh, God!’ but at the same time, I was playing a mother, and it’s so important to me to have those things look as real as possible. More than ever now, I believe it’s so important to look as real and true to life as possible, because nobody’s perfect. I seem to be on a mission, but I don’t want the next generation, your daughters and mine, growing up thinking that you have to be thin to look beautiful in certain clothes. It’s terrifying right now. It’s out of control. It’s beyond out of control. For a long time being seen as a role model seemed like a huge responsibility, but if I am that to some young women, then that’s great. I’m tremendously flattered to be looked up to in that way, and I feel an enormous responsibility to stay normal and true to myself and not conform and all those things. You know? To be healthy. And normal. And to like to eat cake.”

Kate Winslet discussing her feelings about filming a nude scene in her film Little Children.

May the truth set us free. We have all fallen victim to the beauty myth. We all wee, bloat, flop, bulge and just do the best we can on any given day.

And we all deserve to eat cake …those of us who can still move our lips around a piece anyway.

True Colours Shining Through

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Guest blog post by Sonia Lyne, Enlighten Education Program Director, Victoria.

I grew up as a teen in the 80’s. It was an era with A LOT of great female role models. When I was a little girl, I looked up to female musicians who expressed their individuality, but rarely got into any real trouble. My all time favourite was Cyndi Lauper; her fashion was outrageous and her songs amplified fun and girl power.

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Today the Top 10 female singers for many young girls include the likes of Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls and Christina Aguilera. Yes, they are singing about girls who just want to have fun – but it is fun of a very different kind. The new idea of having fun involves looking glam, sexy, and living a life without consequences. Now it is all about girls going wild: “Gonna get a little bit dirty…”, ‘Dont cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me..”, “I’m Miss bad media karma, another day another drama…”

What infuriates me is that these artists have been able to achieve role model status simply by cultivating and conveying an image based solely on their overt sexuality rather than earning it through talent, hard work and integrity.

Don’t our girls deserve higher caliber female role models?

For me a role model should not just be a person or character who is in a position to influence us. There should also be an expectation that this person will show us an alternative way to live and challenge us to be our personal best.

As adults WE ALL serve as powerful role models for our children. They watch our every move, they imitate, they “try on” our behaviours and see which best fit.

I have chosen to put myself forward as a role model for young girls through my work with Enlighten. Do I feel qualified? I have put myself through university twice. I have travelled extensively. I married a great man, I mother amazing twin boys. I take care of the environment, I own my own business, I stand up for myself and I try not to focus just on my appearance. I am not the sum of my achievements though. Perhaps more important than any of these are my positive intentions. I want to be a great role model for my children and all the girls I work with.

Am I perfect? No, but I am ok with that. I am a work in progress. I have a strong background in the arts – everything from dance to design and am married to a very talented sculptor. I know that all truly beautiful works of art take time to develop. They are inspired by other works and enriched by the artist’s own experiences, dreams and challenges. I think girls love seeing my authentic quest to be the best person I can be – I too am inspied by them and feel they add brushstrokes which enhance my own personal development.  

Our children don’t have the luxury of seeing as many powerful role models presented to them in the media as we did growing up. It is more important than ever that we step up and put ourselves forward. We cannot wait until we are “complete” for who is to say when that might be? There is beauty in our rawness too.

I find the Beautiful Women Project, an American initiative, inspiring in its passion to show the beauty and wisdom inherent in all women.

Beautiful Women focuses  on the life experiences of thirty-five woman of all ages, and what truly makes them beautiful in their present moment.  They are the mothers, daughters, wives and neighbors you see every day – at school, at work, in the grocery store, in a doctor’s office waiting room, or walking through a mall.  Through their stories women can realize that they are not alone in their insecurity and quest for self-acceptance.  These women redefine the word “beauty” by showing us that what makes us beautiful is how we choose to face both the trivial and the monumental moments in our lives.”

Enlighten is planning to work closely with the Project’s founder Nancy Bruno to bring this initative to Australia in 2008.

We want to encourage all women to realise we can become the role models and the celebrities in our daughter’s lives. Because we are “all that” and then some!

Move over Paris and all her “bad gal” party cronies – here come women with real, true colours.

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P.S. This week myself and Jane Higgins (Enlighten’s South Australia Program Director) worked with 200 beautiful girls from Mater Christi College. You can click on the links below to read their evaluations of the event. We had such a wonderful day … it was honestly a privilege to have been a part of the energy. Their comments make me tingle with joy; they help shape me and fuel my desire to be the best role model I can be.

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P.S.S Speaking of role models, what a wonderful role model Victorian team member Brooke Parsons is! Brooke inspires me, and many others, not only through her work with Enlighten but in her role as the co-founder of the Young Victorian Stroke Support Group. She was featured in the Herald Sun on Feb 18th.    

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