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Learning to fail

“I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.”

Oprah Winfrey.

How many of us can honestly say we enjoy the ride even when it ends with a crash? Whilst it is not hard to fail, it can be very difficult to accept failure. Yet accepting mistakes, and developing emotional resilience, is essential if we are to survive life’s inevitable setbacks.

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Research shows that girls in particular strive for absolute perfection and chastise themselves for anything less than being the “Best.” They want the best school marks. Best body. Best clothes. Best friends. As Courtney Martin so eloquently states in her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, “There is nothing more disgusting to a perfect girl than the taste of failure.” 

The fear of failure can be almost paralysing for some girls. They may choose to opt out entirely, so scared of failing that they will not take risks; think girls who sit out PE lessons, girls who are terrified of answering questions in class. Other girls may look like they are participating and taking risks, but may in fact be silently imploding under the (often self imposed) pressures they feel. 

Why is failure such an issue? Girls are often desperately worried about what others might think of them if they fail.

It is powerful to remind girls that others rarely spend nearly as much time noticing our mistakes as what we do – although I have to admit the media’s recent obsession with celebrities transgressions (be they with diet, drugs or fashion faux pas) does not help us convince girls that no one else will notice their mistakes! Britney and co’s trips in and out of rehab and battles with weight and booze are keeping magazines in business, and make no mistake – it is just the girls that are under the microscope. Very few magazine stories focus on the errors men make. I don’t think I have ever read a magazine story that focuses on what male celebrities eat, or on their fashion boo boos.

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How do we convince girls that the current media obsession with highlighting failure is not something they should allow to feed their own anxieties?

My shiny new friend Ella James, media guru and “Goddess” of The Voice , sent me the following link to a most amusing piece that featured in the Sydney Morning Herald recently: it is a satirical look at the inane, unforgiving world of the woman’s magazine:  Stars Bigger and Bigger as Fat is the New Black. 

The first pudgy cab off the rank is Jennifer Aniston. Normally praised for her hot bod, Aniston is on the brink of obesity after packing on 50, I mean five, kilos. “Unlucky in love Jennifer is comfort eating after her latest split,” Famous reports. “Insiders believe that Jen is seeking comfort in her favourite foods after collapsed romances”, including her most recent fling with Orlando Bloom. Since splitting with Bloom, Miss Piggy has been “eating like crazy”, stuffing herself with “fried sardines” and “steak with shallots and horseradish flan”. Yum. Feel free to send over any leftovers, Jen.”

Hard to take Famous’ “outing” of Jen’s failed relationships too seriously when the reporting is exposed as so terribly shallow and pointless.

Worse case scenario – even if others do notice our mistakes and want to highlight them, will that really make us look silly or just reflect poorly on those who want to shame us?  

Apart from naming and poking fun at the ever so fickle Failure Watchdogs, what else can we do to support girls in learning that it is not only ok to fail, but an essential part of living and learning?

Be honest and lighthearted about mistakes you have made. Share them with girls, show them you survived the crash. I am quite open about mistakes I make with the girls I work with and I have to say, I think they find most of my “Danni bloopers” quite endearing! I also make a point of explaining what I have learnt from my mistakes and can usually find joy in them.

My business partner Fran and I have been known to laugh so hard over some mistakes we have made that we fear for our poor bladders. In fact, telling a group of girls that Fran and I laugh so hard we are scared we might wet ourselves was in itself a major mistake. I thought the girls I was working with that day would find this an amusing anecdote. Note to self – 14 year old girls are repulsed by tales of post baby incontinence.   

Finally, encourage girls to forgive and model forgiveness. If someone has made a mistake and is big enough to offer a genuine apology – accept it. 

Most importantly, discuss and model forgiving yourself.

xxxxxx

Success – It’s all about eliminating the wrinkles and getting the right wardrobe – NOT!

cover-23.jpgI do not buy womens’ magazines. I gave up that self-destructive little habit some time ago. I got sick of the nasty after taste ( “I really am not coping as well as insert celebrity Mum am I”? “Wow, I had no idea I could / should loose 3 kilos by next week!” “Maybe I do need to update my wardrobe”…)

However, on a business trip last week I decided to dive back in for the flight and picked up a copy of “Vive”, a magazine promoted as being aimed at “Women Who Mean Business.” 

What sage advice for business women was included in the 128 pages?

  • 15 different types of wrinkle creams were advertised – yep, I counted – including the $930 La Prairie Pure Gold featuring “finely ground 24-carat gold” WHY gold ??? Just because we can?  
  • Seven of the fourteen business women profiled were either in the cosmetic / beauty industry or in fashion – including a  four page feature story on the stylist for channel 7 Kelly Smythe. She sounds a talented, hard working lady but the story seemed to be implying that the main reason channel 7 is rating well is that the stars now all dress “for success” and that Kelly is there to “keep a check” on how they all look. Surely there is more to success than just the right pants suit?  Another full page profiled an ex-supermodel, Carla Bruni, whose main claim to fame seemed to be that she “once dated Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton.” The magazine claimed there was more to her than just her love life – but if so, why mention it repeatedly? 
  • The fashion spread featured a model that must be no older than 15. She was obviously very young and physically almost pre-pubescent. Flat chested, all long, gangling limbs, shown wearing a 70’s inspired playsuit and enormous retro wedges in one shot – oh how “Career Gal”. And if the Editor knows her readers are older (and by the looks of all that anti-wrinkle advertising they are targeting over 35’s) what is this spread hoping to achieve other than making their readers feel inadequate?     
  • The recipe section ( you won’t see this in boy’s own BRW) featured silly, fiddly Hors d’oeuvres (what career women has time to whip up “Mulloway and caviar tartare”? “Iberico ham and quail egg tarts”??). I particularly resented the guilt loaded implication that crackers and cheese were now a definite no no and that even “risotto balls are considered passe.” Blimey – don’t come here for nibbles then.   

Oh look I could go on and on…and don’t even get me started on the tokenistic story buried up on page 114 on what Feminism means today entitled “The F-word” – mmmm, me suspects this may be a revealing little Freudian slip.

The F word that came to mind for me when reading this magazine was … frivolous.

So if it is not all about the clear skin, clothes, and the oh so modern meals – what does it take to be a successful businesswoman?

I do not profess to know all.Despite my deep love for children and years of experience teaching and designing special programs for adolescents, I will never be part of the “Mummy Mafia” who know it all about child rearing. And despite my business qualifications, years of working on improving business performance, and enlighten’s recent Award as AUSTRALIAN Small Business of the Year for Children ( Ohhh I have been dying to get this achievement out 🙂 more in a minute! )  I do not think we are perfect by any means. We just do the best we can on any given day.

However, I do think many of the ways in which we do business work well – not only as they are founded in best practice principles, but as they utilise our natural capabilities as women. I thought it appropriate to share one of these learnings here.

 HOW DO WE DO BUSINESS?

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We are transforming options for women.

“Women can and must help run the world…women, a natural resource should be mined for energy.”

Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project

In the majority of cases, women are still the primary caregivers. We appreciate the needs of working mothers; in fact, we are working mothers! Important considerations include working predominately during school hours, allowing time off in school holidays, and having flexible meeting times eg: after 8pm when the children are (hopefully!) in bed. We also choose to support other women in business and use working Mums who have started up their own “at home” enterprises wherever possible  – Steph’s Design for graphics, Jennifer Lugsdin for PR / Media, Judy O’Connell for blogging brilliance, Tanya Mc Grady for Taxation… 

Significantly, within enlighten we have also embraced what is unique and harnessed traditional female qualities; women are skilled in effective communication, empathy, and the ability to build relationships. Women are also passionate about the welfare of all children and feel a particular affinity with the plight of adolescent girls.

see-jane-lead-9780446581592.jpgIn the very interesting book “See Jane Lead”, by Dr Lois P Frankel, it is argued that many innate female qualities make women highly effective in the workplace:
“There is a new generation of employees who reject hierarchical leadership and respond to behaviors and characteristics that women have been traditionally socialized to exhibit. Employees, volunteers and children want to be muscled less and influenced more.”

Yes. YES! I believe much of my success is due to may ability to network and influence AND I also deeply resent being bullied – who doesn’t? In recent times I have had my own run ins with business bullies. Often bullies will claim that their behaviour is harmless, just part of “hard nosed business dealings.” I don’t buy into this approach.

This does not mean we have to succumb to the child like desire to be liked by everyone. Tough decision may need to be made, and although some women find it hard to be assertive, setting boundaries will ultimately earn you respect and may even get you promoted (“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” is another fascinating read by Dr Frankel). However, threats and power games destroy what might potentially be very positive, mutually beneficial relationships. 

Business is all about building meaningful relationships. With clients, with colleagues, with other service providers. Leadership development guru Sally Helgesen has gone so far as to declare women’s skills in building relationships and webs of inclusion as the “female advantage.” My business partner Francesca and I are both passionately in love with our business and when others see this, they fall in love with it too.    

I will be forever grateful to the men and women I admire who have also fallen in love with enlighten and supported us with our work. I thanked many in my previous entry after winning our State Award but want to also mention the wider network I have established that is so valued.

Clinical Professor David Bennett AO,  Head, NSW Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health, National President, Association for the Wellbeing of Children in Healthcare, Dr Michele Beal, Stress Management Specialist, Greg Byrnes, Program Director 2UE radio, Jenny Lewis, CEO, Australian Council for Educational Leaders, and of course last, but by no means least, Precedent Productions, The Commonwealth Bank and all the other major sponsors of the Australian Small Business Awards who have just made enlighten the Australian Small Business Champion, Children’s Services.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice them.  Love them.

The Invisible Woman – Coming soon to a cinema near you!

Various newspaper articles have reported that the Head of Warner studios, Jeff Robinov, recently declared that; “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead.” It is alleged that his studio believes that female stars cannot guarantee top box office returns. No surprise that Warner Bros is now denying this report. Best this type of talk is kept for behind studio doors. 

The edict was uncovered, however, by journalist Nikki Finke, who posted it on Deadline Hollywood, her website devoted to movies, as distinct from celebrity business, on October 5. Despite Warner Bros denial, she stands firm.

If women cannot guarantee “big bucks”, should we then become invisible? And if women are no longer given lead roles, what implications will this have for the way girls and women are depicted in film? Surely they will be dire!

There’s no question the amount of product for women has diminished. Every year it’s a little less. The major studios only want to do the sure thing. Of course, these are decisions being made by men, who have a certain language for some of their films. The movies aimed at teenage and even grown-up girls are called chick flicks. The majority of the rest, filled with explosions of cars, buildings and bodies, with enough bare female flesh to satisfy the lowest common denominator, are aimed at teenage boys, the ones who reliably go to the cinema on Friday nights. Those films are called dick flicks. Of all the major studios, only one, Sony, is run by a woman Amy Pascal.” ( Say Goodbye to Hollywood Baby, Oct 15, 2007).

One cannot help but wonder if the reason why films starring women leads are not bringing in top dollars is because many are just so damn inane!  It is rare to see strong female leads in film nowadays, unless it happens to be a period piece ( surely this is ironic given women are meant to be more liberated now than ever before – wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect we would have more diverse experiences and more interesting things to say and do NOW?).   

Hylda Queally, an agent at the William Morris Agency who represents Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Hilary Swank, among others, has made comment on the lack of meaty roles for women in film;  “If you don’t want to play the stereotypical wife, girlfriend, lover – a corpse, basically – it’s hard. You see a lot of actresses gravitating to period movies, which are better written and have fully fledged characters.”(As reported by Sharon Waxman, “Fade to Black – Women’s Role in the Movies”, International Tribune, 2001).

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I suspect part of this trend towards patronising “chick flicks” and uninspiring films with female leads that do not fare well at the box office may be due to popular culture’s narrow definition of beauty and intolerance of the ageing process. If films choose to only explore the lives of traditionally beautiful women under 30, they will be less likely to have the scope to explore the more complex lives that other females, including those who are older and have had more rich life experiences to share, might offer.

Frustratingly, the trend towards resorting to radical plastic surgery in order to make older women look more acceptable in film is turning them all into bland, expressionless aliens. Nothing has distracted me more in a film than seeing Jane Fonda’s terrible face lift in the recent film I saw on DVD “Georgia Rule.” As if the sight of the once interesting Jane Fonda looking pained was not bad enough, star Lindsey Lohan looked dangerously thin and was an ugly, cliched version of a Troubled Teen (all sex and attitude). Lohan’s character actually says to a shy young cowboy she has just met, when he tells her he must go as he has to ride his horses, “You won’t have to brush or feed me after riding me.” In fairness to the film, it may have improved but that was 20 minutes in and enough for me. Who writes these lines?!

1217763.jpgIf this is the type of film Hollywood thinks women, and teen girls, will be drawn to – no wonder we are not buying tickets. I don’t blame the actresses but rather the idiots who decided a character who was after all a Grandmother had to be wrinkle free, and that a sad teen had to be, above all else, HOT, HOT, HOT and THIN, THIN, THIN.    

Howard Cohen, the President of independent film company Roadside Attractions, has publicly supported Robinov – to a point – “On a statistical level, he’s right. If you put an equal number of men and women in equivalent movies, the men would carry the day because they’ve been developed as action stars, thrillers, comics. No one develops a James Bond franchise with women. There’s no money put in women stars in other genres, so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that they can’t carry a big movie.” 

Although after watching the clip with Sean Connnery and Barbara Walters below – and brace yourself, it is a shocker -one must wonder whether all that testosterone / action is so wonderful. And if the world needs more Bonds like this one! “Dick flicks” may bring in the bucks but just what are they doing to our boys’ brains?!  

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May I suggest studios don’t give up on the girls, but rather start asking what interesting projects they can develop for their leading ladies that will appeal. 

Poor workmen always blame their tools.    

Champions!

As mentioned in a previous post, Enlighten Education were Finalists for the NSW / ACT  Small Business of the Year, Children’s Services.

The Awards, hosted by Precedent Productions and sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank and the Australian Government, celebrate the achievements of the 1.88 million small businesses in Australia. We were incredibly honoured to be a finalist in these prestigious, national awards and were just thrilled to have WON!

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In our speech Francesca and I acknowledged the many clients schools who have supported us, and the thousands of beautiful girls who have joined us in schools and held our hand on this Enlighten journey.  

enlighten is  championing the rights of young women and ensuring our girls are empowered to respond with intelligence to the changing world around them. “

I was just flabbergasted when it was finally announced that I was also the NSW / ACT Small Business Champion Entrepreneur of the Year! Oh my! Official Press Release

Winning such an incredible Award has made me stop and reflect on why I have been so driven by this work. I thought I would share some of my motivators with you here… 

The heart connection.

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

Growing up, my feelings of inadequacy due to this scarring were quite overwhelming; I was a bright, popular and ambitious young girl but my main preoccupation was with my scars and how best I could hide them from the world.

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

In my adult years as a teacher I explored ways in which I might come to terms with my burns, indeed in many ways teaching forced me to come to terms with them as I was now a role model – if I could not accept myself, how could I possibly ask my students to accept themselves?

I became aware of the importance of a dialogue around gender and identity, and of the urgent need to help girls come to terms with the mixed messages about beauty they were being bombarded with. Although the scars I had to accept were more obvious, so many girls carry scars of their own.

With enlighten I have created a platform from which I can question, encourage and spread love, light and laughter.

The head connection.

One of the many things that I love about enlighten is the fact that we celebrate diversity and recognise that women are many things; our workshops focus on the girls as consumers, friends, students, budding career women …

I too see myself as the sum of many parts. Whilst I definitely connect with this work on a profoundly personal level, if I am being entirely honest part of my motivation for creating enlighten also emerged from my compulsive desire to innovate and create – I am most stimulated when involved in designing and leading new projects and in seeking creative ways around problems. I also find the business sector enormously stimulating – hence my desire to undertake post-grad. study in business management.

I am also a person with firm beliefs and a strong sense of justice; I have always had a strong interest in gender issues and in empowering young people to reach their potential. For me, enlighten has provided a fabulous opportunity to combine my skills in innovating and promoting with my own personal passions.

Both the desire to be a successful manager and a change maker are equally as important to me. I have always approached my work with a commitment to quality and have been at times quite hard on myself (and perhaps Fran) in my pursuit for excellence. Yet what other way is there? I believe our young people deserve more than just good intentions. This underlying approach to my work also partly explains why enlighten was never established as a non-profit. I think it needs to be good enough to be highly valued in the market place; I did not want to rely on hand outs. I have seen too many programs that have been funded externally become complacent, inflexible and more focused on quantity than quality.

The hand connection.

Nothing drives my success quite like seeing the faces of the girls we work with (they literally transform – from looking tentative and perhaps even dejected to shining).

For me, there is no greater motivator than simply being with my girls – all my girls – the teenage ones we work with in schools, and my amazing staff.

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I would like to publicly acknowledge here all the friends, family and colleagues who have nourished and challenged me – intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.

Much love and respect (in no particular order!) to all the enlighten girls – my “Amazons”- Frantabulous ( enlighten’s co founder and my partner – how can one girl be so yummy? I could not have possibly selected anyone better to share this all with) , Sonia ( Program Director, Victoria) , Storm ( Program Director, Queensland), Jane (Program Manager, Adelaide) and the NSW “dream team” – Mel, Kellie, Lucinda, Monica, Nikki, Donelle and my scrumptious “Admin Angel” Christine.

Thanks to all our client schools and particularly to those women in leadership I have been blessed to developed a real friendship with – Ann, Amelia, Elizabeth, Stephanie, Sarah…

My former managers and colleagues in the Catholic Education Office, Diocese of Parramatta, who had faith in many of my ideas and allowed me to innovate – I shall always be equally as proud of what I achieved by founding the Lighthouse Project ( a youth mentoring program for at risk students, now coordinated by the brilliant Melinda Phillips) and “Project E”, a program developed to foster entrepreneuralism in young people and show them that enterprise is about adding value, not just making money. I was so blessed to have worked in an inspiring environment and with people of enormous integrity: many, many thanks to Leo Keegan, Cathy Smith, Magda Quinlan, Kerry Stirling, Mick Bezzina and Kevin Jones. Dreamers all. 

Gratitude too to my TAFE colleagues Rob Hart and Anne Ford, and to Barry Calvert, Jennie Rudder and Vicki Clark. What fun we had growing Lighthouse and seeing her shine! Hundreds of young people have literally been saved by this amazing program and the beautiful mentors who commit to acting as role models for young people who are particularly vunerable. I am so proud to see Vanessa and Melinda continuing and indeed expanding on this work. 

Love to my family and friends – you know who you are. 🙂

   

Beginnings…

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

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

There is no healing without help.

There is no power as potent as possibility.

There is no transformation without truth.

There is no change without vulnerability.

There is no wisdom greater than that found inside you.

There is no beauty without struggle or aberration.

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

There are only beginnings. “

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

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

  

Talking back to the Media

Did you happen to catch the debate on the sexualisation of children in the media (“Sex Sells – but at what cost to our kids?” ) on the ABC’s A Difference of Opinion,Thursday 27th September?  Enlighten’s Victorian Program Director, Sonia Lyne, was present.

I thought the program had interesting moments although the issue did tend to get confused. The real issue set for debate was whether pre-pubescent children are being inappropriately portrayed in a sexual way by the media and having sexy, adult type products directly marketed to them. Associate Professor Catherine Lumby constantly interjected and instead seemed to want to discuss the need for teen girls and women to have the freedom to express their own sexuality – which of course no one on the panel was disputing!

Furthermore, what did Ms Lumby hope to gain by repeatedly referring to historical evidence of the exploitation of children?  Her argument seemed to be that historically, “kiddie porn” has always existed, so what is all the fuss about now? As Melinda Tankard Reist from Women’s Forum Australia pointed out, we now know better – aren’t we meant to be more enlightened? YES!  

One suspects that Ms Lumby’s historical references were simply an attempt to flex her academic muscle – there was much toing and froing over whose research had the most credibility. Mmmm. I would have loved to have been there and offered a practitioners perspective… the various experts made much of statistics and their recent contact with small handfuls of girls in focus groups. We work closely with over 200 girls each week and I can confirm that although they are incredibly media savvy, they are still vulnerable and susceptible to media messages (if they weren’t why would marketers produce such advertisements?!) and they are not happy!   

One positive that came out of the program was the consensus on both sides that education is really important and that all young people need to be critical viewers of popular culture. Although I do not think the media is solely responsible for the sexualisation of children and the objectification of women generally, I do think it plays a key role.

I love the idea of encouraging girls to talk back to the media and share images of women that are positive and affirming (perhaps by creating their own “Hall of Fame”) and by naming and shaming some of the exploitative, inappropriate messages that they will no longer tolerate  – “The Wall of Shame.” This idea is further developed in the video entitled “Girls, Sexuality and the Media” in my VidPod, here girls also become “culture producers not just culture consumers.” Fabulous.

Got me thinking about my own “Hall of Fame” and “Wall of Shame”…. these need not be ad’s that exploit and sexualise young children, rather ad’s that generally objectify women and make us feel less than we are.

I had to restrict myself to just a couple in each category as I have work to do and could easily get carried away here and go for days 🙂 Help me out –  feel free to comment and add yours!

The Hall of Fame

picture1.jpgAdidas

As mentioned in a previous post, love the slogan for their new women’s range (“Sport is not an obligation. It`s a game. So play. And have fun. It`s up to you. Throw away expectations. And surprise yourself along the way. Impossible is Nothing.”) also loved their ad. featuring Jodie Henry looking strong and confident – also pleased at the the lack of gratuitous flesh we are so used to seeing in most sport ad’s!   

The Body Shop

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An oldie but a goodie featuring Ruby the anti-Barbie. It still makes me smile. I thought it appropriate to include too given Anita Rodderick, Body Shop founder, has recently died. Love the slogan ” There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do.”   

     

The Wall of Shame

Unilever and the Lynx ad’s

Talk about on the nose…beautiful young women who gyrate uncontrollably and strip at the mere sniff of this cheap, nasty aftershave!

And to add injury to insult, the men featured are so damn inappropriate – in one ad. the “sex magnet” is a medical practitioner ( a Dentist – is there any more vulnerable position to be in than with a mouth full of instruments?) whilst another features a girl cavorting wildly in front of her boyfriends elderly father! All so Freudian and horrible.

Lynx’s target market for this campaign is 14-15 year old boys. Gee, thanks for fostering respect for girls in our young men Unilever! As mentioned in a previous post, Unilever also own Dove and whilst promoting this rubbish for boys, they are pushing their Real Beauty campaign on young women…GRRRRRR. I’ll say it again – MIXED MESSAGES.

Dolce and Gabbana  

The recent Women’s Forum Australia Newsletter alerted me to this vile ad. for fashion label / perfume giant Dolce Gabbana.

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Thank goodness this ad.was banned in Europe as it clearly glorifies violence against women. It is not a new “angle” for D & G though; a number of their campaigns have featured violent images of both women and men in pseudo-rape scenes. I have tried to ease my conscious for years as theirs also happens to be my favourite perfume but this was the last straw! I have thrown all my D&G perfumes out. 🙂 Ahhhhh…purse power.

Natan Jewellers

The ad. below is an older one (2003?) for American Jewellers Natan ( a large prestigious jewellers who have a reputation for producing ad’s that are incredibly demeaning!). I thought this one was so woeful that I googled it to check its authenticity. Sadly, it was the real deal. Thank goodness I don’t have a rock from Natan or that would be binned too!

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Over to you !

An uncommon dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Youth and sex sell baby,” designer Charlie Brown.

This week’s Sunday Life (an insert with the Sun Herald) was a dedicated fashion issue. I was particularly keen to read the “Rewind, 1999” article on designer Charlie Brown’s decision to use plus size model Sophie Dahl (a size 14) for her 1999 fashion show – had it been motivated by a desire to offer women real alternatives? How much has changed now in the industry – would such a move still be considered shocking?

The answers were simply sad.

Ms Brown’s only motivation was to get exposure for her brand, “I knew she would interest the public and the press….(it) brought me lots of attention.” Was she concerned that the media had been so rude to Dahl; one journalist had the hide to ask her “…what was it like to be a freak in the fashion industry?” Only in as far as it may have impacted on her own show -“I wasn’t very happy either because they asked (Sophie) this five minutes before the show started.” 

What did the gorgeous Dahl make of this event? Ms Brown tells us Sophie spent the trip ” …fighting her own shit about her weight…she pushed a lot of lettuce leaves around.”  

Why I am shocked at the insensitivity and overt and unabashed exploitation of a young and obviously vulnerable woman? This same designer produced a range of t-shirts last season that boasted “Trophy Wife” and made the much criticised decision when she hooked up with partner Danny to set up another home across the road so her own 11 year old daughter could live there with a Nanny and not with them. Perhaps there may be more to this parental decision than meets the eye, and I hate getting into the judgement game with other women as no-one wins it, but surely that seems insensitive too? Yet despite knowing this background, I still find the complete lack of empathy and respect shocking.

And so to Charlie Brown’s proclamation that “Youth and sex sell baby.” Can’t argue with that – and Sophie certainly caught on to the latter when she made the infamous advertisement below for Opium perfume. Strike a pose indeed…

Sophi and Opium…strike a pose!

Recent events at a Gold Coast Fashion week highlight that our obsession with youth is also getting dangerously out of hand. The Queensland fashion festival has been accused of child exploitation after choosing a 12-year-old girl as the face of the event.

The selection of Year 8 student Maddison Gabriel, as ambassador of the first Gold Coast Fashion Week has sparked condemnation from within and outside the modelling industry. Maddison’s mother and organisers of the Gold Coast show have defended the move, she said Maddison, who turns 13 this weekend, had wanted to model for years but had been forced to wait until she was considered old enough.

“I’m very proud and excited for her,” she said. “Some 12-year-olds are very young but I think Maddison is a woman in her own right. The judges themselves didn’t know how old she was. They just saw her as a model against other women.”

Models this young should be protected, she may well be mature but this particular “playground” is notoriously nasty and would challenge even the most worldly of girls. It certainly damaged 22 year old Sophie Dahl who, not long after her trip to Australia’s Fashion week, dramatically lost a lot of weight and sparked concerns for her health. However, I also think there are broader implications that are equally as alarming.

The reality is that Maddison will not be the only one at risk here. The fashion parade is an adults event, the audience are adult women and the clothes are aimed at women not small girls. Every women watching the fashion show will inevitably start to compare themselves to Maddison ( “Gee…my thighs don’t look that great actually…maybe I can’t get away with this look… oh I guess if I dieted hard enough I could shave a few centimetres before summer…”). WHY would a prepubescent girl be selected to model clothing designed to sell to women?

Society is becoming obsessed with youth – and this is not just hurting women as they desperately try to turn back the clock, but our children, who are being put forward as the desirable ideal. Rush and La Nauze’s 2006 Report “Corporate Paedophilia, the Sexualisation of Children in Australia” gives a disturbing account of how showing images of young girls dressed as sexual adults feeds men who prey on young girls – it “feeds them”.

Maddison should do herself (and every other women and girl) a favour and strut and pout around home for a while first. Surely there is time later in her career for modelling women’s clothing…

“It’s not just about how you play (the game)…

but about how hot you look when you win!”Sportz Bratz

I kid you not – this is the motto for the Sportz Bratz.

Research clearly shows one of the best things girls can do to promote a healthy body image is become involved in sports. enlighten actively encourages girls to get physical but also deconstructs some of the stereotypes of women in sport that are unhelpful and explores the sexualisation of female sport stars. Some information from the Government’s Australian Sports Commission web site reiterates why this holistic approach is so important:

Stereotypes influence the types of sports in which women are likely to participate. Not only are sports labelled masculine or feminine, those female athletes who participate in sports are also subject to being labelled and stereotyped as either masculine (possibly lesbian) or feminine (conforming to the ideal). Sport can be a liberating experience for women, in that it offers them a chance to be in control of their own bodies. However, when women start to develop attributes that are perceived to be masculine, for example, muscle bulk and competitiveness, they are often subject to a type of harassment that comes of stepping outside the conventional range of the idealised female body type…

Diet and exercise are used by women to alter their body in order to conform to ideal female images. These practices control women and can lead to eating disorders. There is concern regarding the relationship between eating disorders and elite female athletes, especially in sports with an emphasis on aesthetics and body presentation. Research has clearly linked negative body image with the prevalence of eating disorders, and the susceptibility of those women with negative body image to develop poor eating behaviours. The relationship is consistent, almost every person suffering from an eating disorder suffers from a severely distorted body image.

Research in the United States has found that women who participate in sports and physical activity have a more positive body image than those who don’t. Participation in sports elicits approval from peers, family and friends, and helps women feel that their bodies are capable and competent. These positive feelings produce a positive body image. Although body image is profoundly shaped by social, political, racial, age and gender factors, these experiences are not static and are vulnerable to other more modern influences. We have the power to resist and change these stereotypes.

By refusing the stereotype, women will have access to a greater diversity of experiences that shape body image and self-concept.”

You may also find the report entitled Fit to Lead, produced by Womensport West, interesting reading.  

Findings indicate that: ” …a significant number of teenage girls perceive the sporting arena to be male-dominated. Their experience and comprehension of this domination varies, but whatever its manifestation, the interaction is frequently regarded as negative.”

What I most enjoyed reading was the possible solutions girls proposed. These include encouraging female students to design and choose their own sports clothing ( I can relate – my 8 year old daughter Teyah HATES her baggy PE shorts with a passion and has cried over these!) and providing non-traditional sports for girls.  

Teyah has embraced Taekwondo and I delight in the fact that her teacher, Di Carn, is not only fabulous at the sport  (she is a Commonwealth Gold medalist) but a wonderful teacher and female role model – patient, professional, powerful. A real life “kick butt” Princess Fiona!

What else works?   

I also believe that sport models the connection between out thoughts and our results. If we think we will achieve, we are far more likely to. All sports stars are aware of the power of positive thinking and getting in the zone. We use the analogy of the sports star psyching herself up before an event to explain to the girls how important their self talk is. Our words can heal or harm.

I applaud Adidas’s new Womens Philosophy and advertising campaign:

Sport is not an obligation

It`s a game

So play

And have fun

It`s up to you

Throw away expectations

And surprise yourself along the way.

Impossible is Nothing.”

It is up to us. We are in control. Powerful stuff.

P.S – Some interesting comments here, particularly on sportswear! Do read and offer your thoughts…

P.S.S Found excellent YouTube clip on the media’s representation of female athletes – an American one but worth a look:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/luadmO7Cugc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] 

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