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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.    

Stories and Mermaid Songs

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

Have their tongues been cut out?”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s create our own Happy Ever After.

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

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

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Beauty is not about how skinny you are.

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Stylist to the stars Patricia Field (she of Sex in the City fame) has an oh so cool web site promoting must have items for budding fashionistas. One item, the Trash and Luxury Celebrity Diet shirt is described as: 

Another amazing celeb inspired tee. The celebrity diet, and our diet. Complete with a balanced cigarette, and some pills… any pills.”

Meanwhile the gossip mag’s tell us Hollywood’s latest must-do diet is the baby food diet. Stars reportedly swap real meals for baby food as it is lower in kilojoules, high in protein, and comes in small servings. Is the price for fortune and fame now Farax?

It is just not Hollywood stars, who bank on their looks quite literally, who are obsessed with the elusive body beautiful. Many of us have dieting down to an art form too; substituting real food for cigarettes, pills, and faddish concoctions. Purging through vomiting, laxatives, surgery.

Health experts warn we are simultaneously in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Our relationship with food, which surely should be so simple, seems to have become incredibly complex. Up to 39% of the population may be overweight, but eating disorders are widespread too and although they affect people of all ages and both sexes, they are more common in adolescent girls and young women. It is estimated that between 2-5% of all teenage girls fit the diagnostic criteria for anorexia and bulimia. However, the true estimate is probably much higher – many cases of bulimia in particular go undetected and some recent studies have shown the true estimate may be as high as one in five amongst the student population.

Tragically, all this dieting and suffering does not even work. Ninety five percent of people who go on weight loss diets (including commercial diets) regain all the weight they have lost plus more within two years. No wonder the weight loss industry is worth billions of dollars each year: once its slave, we are forever in its service.

In her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters American author Courtney Martin believes women now see our bodies as the enemy. She laments that fact that hating one’s body has become a rite of passage: “We can be well educated, creative, capable, experienced, and still not have the capacity to figure out how to free ourselves from guilt over every little thing we out in our mouths.”

How did this happen? Is this ok with everyone?

Back at home displaying the new normality of hating one’s body is ok as long as it rates. The Australian version of the ultimate diet show, The Biggest Loser, is cranking up for its 2008 launch with promo ads that show sad, lonely looking people – depicted in shades of grey – wanting what seems to me to be far more than just a healthy body. The ad that really struck me featured contestant Nicola; “I just want to be like every other girl.”

I have no doubt that Nicola will loose weight – dramatically. Yes, after much blood, sweat tears and a good dose of public humiliation she will get her reveal. But will she get the acceptance and love she so obviously craves? The irony is that Nicola is already like every other girl – she sees her body as the enemy.

The Biggest Loser’s theme song this year is Beck’s “Everyone’s Gotta Learn Sometimes.” The verse includes the lyrics “I need your lovin’ like the sunshine.” Isn’t that what we all really crave – love?

Some of us just get lost and think we may find love in food and then get even more bewildered when we listen to society tell us we will find it only through our hunger. The link between our emotions and our diet is nothing new yet it seems to be largely ignored by all the hype that surrounds each seductive promise of a new life through a new body.

Skinny is fine, but it doesn’t guarantee you happiness or love.

Four Year old Sophia believes that skinny won’t even guarantee you beauty:

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Forget carb counting and body fat index ratios. Maybe there are more important lessons we need to learn about ourselves first before we can ever be truly beautiful.

This blog post is based on a piece I wrote that was featured in the Opinion section of the Sydney Morning Herald today (29/1/08): The burden of treating girl's bodies as the enemy.  

The Journey – from Primary to High School

left-to-right-danni-and-enlighten-team-mebers-janeadelaide-and-sonia-victoria-reading-affirmations.JPG  “Sail away from the safe harbor. Dream. Discover. Explore.”

Mark Twain.

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The Enlighten team running The Journey at Ascham School.

The transition to high school for students can be exciting but also challenging as they must learn to traverse a new (and usually much bigger) landscape with different expectations and possibly with less individual nurturing than they received in their primary years. I thought it timely this week to offer some insights into how parents and schools can make this transition easier. I want to also say up front that Enlighten Education has a very powerful full day program aimed at making the transition as painless as possible – The Journey. The full Information Kit is provided here should you want to know more: the-journey-information-kit-email-version.pdf.

A number of schools now use The Journey as part of their own orientation program and report that as it is so structured, and focuses on developing key skills the girls really need and want ( eg: how to use timetables, how to make friends, managing stress, handling peer group conflict etc) it sets a positive tone for the year ahead.

Sarah Loch, Dean of middle school at Abbotsleigh, an Anglican day and boarding school in Sydney’s upper north shore has used our Journey program to compliment their existing transition strategies for the past three years. Sarah is well aware that for many girls there will be a period of adjustment:  “the majority of students take about two weeks to relax into the cycle of school and reclaim the confidence and self efficacy they felt in year six”.

What are some of the challenges the new high school girl must face? 

In most situations, primary students have one classroom and one teacher per year.  And yet at high school, there maybe up to eleven different subjects and eleven different teachers, all of whom will have different personalities and expectations. All of a sudden, students will need to be more independent, and an expert with timetabling and study routines.

A “big sister” is ideal. Loch says that mentoring is a method they use at Abbotsleigh to help guide the new students “the year seven students have a big sister in year nine, a peer support leader in year eleven and the boarders have a big sister in year twelve”.

And whilst the older girls can help with working out where amenities are and where they are expected to be after the lunch bell rings, their mere presence can also help with the real issue, the one that all new students worry about; friends.  Will I make friends? Will I fit in? Will everyone already be in groups?  A sense of belonging is identified as one of the greatest needs of young people in the middle years and the importance of friends cannot be underestimated. Girls tend to form cliques more than boys and involvement in a wide range of activities both within and outside school is the ideal way to encourage a range of friendships in different settings.  For many students though, this may be quite a traumatic experience and parents can really help by reminding them about basic communication techniques, such as introducing yourself and trying to remember names, be a good listener, be upbeat and positive and be sensitive to others in the class.  As much as other students may be masking their feelings, chances are they will be anxious as well.

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Emotions are running at an all-time high in those first few weeks that even the smallest incident may result in floods of tears. Parents can try and minimize those incidents by having their child as prepared as possible – have they bought all the items on the stationary list? Does she have a PE uniform? What days does she need to take it? Have you taken a walk around the school a few times so she remembers where toilet blocks are, where the library is etcetera?  Parents should help as much as possible with all the detail initially until she’s strong enough to take over – don’t worry, most teen girls are happy to tell mum and dad when to butt out! 

Being the new kids on the block, and the smallest, may result in some girls being bullied.  Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Recently, bullying has been reported in online chat rooms, and through email and mobile phones.

Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as with their school performance. Need advice on coping with bullying? Try the following specialist web sites: Bullying No Way , Bullying in schools and what to do about it or Teach Safe Schools.

The frame of mind girls start the year in will impact on how they relate to the other students and new teachers, even on how they perform academically. Ideally, parents and schools will take time out before formal classes resume to pep them up. Girls should be reminded of their strengths and what they’ve achieved to date.  But most importantly year seven is a new beginning so encourage your girls to take a pledge to start the school year on a really positive note.

A key area many girls are anxious about is meeting new buddies.  As obvious as these pointers may sound, it’s worth reiterating them to your child:

  • Introduce yourself and remember names.

  • Figure out who you want to be friends with and why.

  • Get involved with after school activities (these will not only help you learn new skills but are a great way to meet like-minded girls. Try sports teams, debating, drama …so much fun).

  • Work on good conversation skills so you get better at listening and talking.

  • Be positive and upbeat (we might think it makes us look cool when we walk around saying how “lame” things are – it usually just makes us look whiney!).

  • Be sensitive to other people (would it kill you to say “Hi” to the new girl? She may be AMAZING!).

  • Take compliments politely and give them sincerely.

  • Be willing to risk rejection- it is possible that someone you approach may not be willing to make a new friend.

 Love and light to all the young girls starting High School this year, and to the parents and teachers supporting them.

 XXXX

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

For some time now I have been lamenting the fact that feminism seems to have become the dirty F word – particularly with young women.  Why do so many women who talk to me begin their discussion with “I am not a feminist but…”

Is it fear of being perceived as a man hater? Hairy? A wearer of sensible shoes?  

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Essentially, feminism is the belief that women deserve equality and an acknowledgement that for many women, this is simply still not the case. Not too radical surely?

Certainly, like all movements aimed at creating change, feminism has had its share of outspoken radicals. I connect with many feminists (Naomi Wolf in particular) but not with all. However, I am not threatened or alienated by the other voices of the sisterhood for it is this diversity that allows us to question, reflect and shape our own understandings. For example, although I find Jessica Valenti, US blogger and feminist author, frustrating at times (she uses lots of swearing for one – I think she would be more pursuasive without the hard core language) and I do not share all her values, I really like the passion she brings to interpreting feminism for this generation of young women.   

I had contemplated describing my own ever evolving feminist understandings in this post in an attempt to demystify the movement and encourage others to “come out” and join me in proudly waving the sisterhood flag.

That is, until Sonia Lyne, Program Director for Enlighten Education Victoria, sent me a YouTube link to a clip recently posted by a young Australian man, Brett.

This, my friends, is ALSO what a young feminist looks like. 

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I love that he is questioning, challenging and shaping his thoughts. I am so inspired by young feminists, male and female, who are refusing to rest on their laurels. The hard work is not all done. If it was, our daughters would not be cutting, starving, comparing and despairing. Women would not be massively under represented in the boardroom and in politics. We would see more women of all shapes and sizes, and those over 40, in the media. Working women would all have access to affordable, good quality childcare. Women overseas, and indeed here at home, would not be subjected to circumcision and other barbaric practices…  

My feminist movement welcomes all who support the radical notion that women are people too.

Welcome to the hairy and the clean shaven: those that like Birkenstocks. and those that are in love with their stilettos.

Guys definately included. And enlightened guys like Brett- absolutely embraced.  

There is nothing to be ashamed of; wear your “F badge” with pride in 2008.   

        

The Grinches Who Steal Innocence…

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

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

Herald Sun : Children’s Site Promotes Brazilian Waxing

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

SMH: The Grinches Who Steal Innocence

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

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

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