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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" /] 

National Body Image / Eating Disorder Week

You may be aware that the week commencing 3rd September 2007 was National Body Image / Eating Disorder Awareness week. I thought I would attach the following article for your interest and to assist you in your vital work in this area – it is an article from the Professional School Counseling Journal, February 2007, and is entitled counseling-adolescent-girls-for-body-image-resilience.doc

It is an American journal article but highly relevant to the Australian school context. The model identifies five protective factors that contribute to girls’ abilities to resist sociocultural pressures regarding thinness. Specific prevention and counseling strategies that school counselors (and teachers) can use to promote positive body image in adolescent girls are provided.

I was particularly interested in this finding:

Rather than a pathology-driven model that emphasizes treatment for the concerns of girls in clinical samples, the most promising programs incorporate protective factors that build on girls’ strengths, promote resilience, and buffer them from the development of body dissatisfaction and subsequent disordered eating practices.”

The article goes on to provide a number of practical strategies and presents a large body of research to support its recommendations.

Well worth a cuppa and a read.

The poignent poem below is by Claire Clements. Claire first contacted me after seeing us featured on A Current Affair in May 2006. We were profiled along with Professor Susan Paxton, Australia’s preeminent expert on girls and eating disorders. It is my understanding that Claire has struggled to gain weight and regain her health after a long period of illness.

It is really quite powerful and I thank her for sharing:
CURVES By Claire Clements

I am being reborn

Learning to breathe again

And with this comes awakening

Of the body and the mind

I have never been a woman

Though, once, I believed I was

Looking through a window

To a field I thought more green

But the window now has curtains

Which I keep shut tight

And for a while I lived in shadow

Alone

Void, even, of my soul

But now I am emerging

Not like a butterfly, no

But like a caterpillar

Feasting on fresh new leaves

Preparing for what I, eventually, will be

But now, here I am

Expanding. Growing.

And how wonderful it feels

To run your hands over your body

And feel pure meat and flesh

Not bones

To be feeding off flavours

Not internal organs

To look and see molehills

Not indentations

To breathe without fearing

For the pressure on my heart

To shower and take pleasure

In lathering my stomach

To have eyes appreciate my curves

Looking at them with relief, pride, happiness

Not eyes full of sexual hunger

Not eyes of a man

But with eyes of a friend

A parent, a sibling, a niece

To sit with my cat

Without her falling off my lap

To feel that life may actually be achievable

And not live in a cloud of despair

To have curves

Finally

Like the
Queens and beauties

In paintings from before

Like Cassandra

Like a goddess

Like a bear

Like a caterpillar

Storing up the padding

To last me through my transformation

Until I am that butterfly

To use food for its intended

A celebration of life

Of Nature

To finally be a woman

That you can look upon

Without grimacing in disgust

For I am on my way to curves

And I have never felt more beautiful.

Women and Success – Daring to Shine

  • I want to share with you some very exciting news – enlighten education has just been short listed as a State Finalist in the Small Business Champions Awards, Children’s Services Category.

These Awards are hosted by the Commonw814218_silhouettes.jpgealth Bank and the Australian Government and are the largest and most prestigious national awards for small businesses. Judging is made based on an assessment of our performance in key areas including the services we provide, our commitment to our clients and the local community, the results we have achieved (business growth, external awards, recognition given by industry experts etc) and the ways in which we develop and motivate our staff. We are all exceptionally proud of this achievement and optimistic that we may take out the Award when the announcement is made late October. Fingers crossed.

I have also, much to my surprise and delight, been listed as a Finalist for Small Business Champion Entrepreneur.

The entire award process has got me thinking about some of the personal qualities one must have (or, conversely, the qualities that need to be developed) to achieve professional success. Recently, enlighten has been contracted by the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) through Vocational Education and Training to run a series of customised Career Gal programs for girls in Years 9 – 11 in ten Western Sydney schools. The DET Project Coordinator (Vicki Clark) agreed that in addition to our standard careers program for girls ( the program focuses on identifying the skills required for success in the modern workplace, examining issues relating to women and careers, resume writing, entrepreneurialism etc) we should deliver our core body image workshop. The rational behind this was that unless girls can move beyond their all pervading concern with body image and poor self esteem, they will not be able to reach their full personal or professional potential.

When in Victoria recently for the annual Alliance of Independent Girls School Conference, I was fortunate enough to hear American Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project and President of the Ms.Foundation , speak on why women can and must help rule the world. I think she best sums up the importance of offering a body image component to our Careers Course when she states, “ Have we closed the gap in politics and in business? No – there is a host of barriers – cultural and emotional, societal and historical that keep women from getting traction. We must deal with these perceptions…one of our major problems is that we don’t think we have a problem.” Deborah Rhode, expert on gender equality at Stanford University sums it us thus: “Many traits traditionally valued of women (humility, passivity) also perpetuate women’s inequality.”

Until we can get the girls to see that they can do, be and desire for more – and that in fact it is ok for them to not only develop their skill sets, but actively promote their achievements, they will not engage with the changing nature of work.

I ran the first of this series of events at a Penrith High School last week with their Yr 9 girls. The results were fantastic and their comments reinforce the importance of a holistic approach towards career development –

career_gal.jpgI thought it would be boring and just about careers but we did self esteem stuff too and that made it really fun and made me feel positive about the whole day and my future. Larissa

I really appreciate everything you said. Thanks for today as I learned I CAN be what I really want to be and that I am a beautiful girl. Mel

  • I thought it would just be a person talking about careers and nothing else which would be boring but Danni caught my attention and it was all interesting. I learned the media changes things, to feel good in my own body, that girls have a lot of insecurities but really we can do it! Writing a resume that shows we have skills and are confident is really important. Today was FUN! Anon
  • All of it was truthful and amazing. I learned everything from how to treat people with respect to achieving the right strategies to get the job I want. Reegan
  • Ok – today was life changing! AMAZING! I learned I am beautiful, unique, and I can put my skills together and write a resume and get good career advice. THANK YOU DANNI.Chelsea
  • The lady Danni was amazing and had a massive impact on my whole career, you’ve got to work for what you want. I will. Jacoda
  • Aim high, respect life and each other, be positive. All the facts today were true and meaningful. Kaylah
  • It was really effective. I learned how to write a good resume, the skills workplaces are looking for, to have confidence in myself (as I do have skills!) and to think positive. Melissa

Whilst we are all aware that a positive self esteem is a desired employability skill, perhaps we need to more actively support girls in developing this before we try to get them interested in articulating their other skills in a resume or in a mock interview situation. Indeed, this capacity to recognise and articulate our talents and achievements is a skill all women in the workplace need to develop.

Whilst studying towards my MBA we examined gender differences in the workplace and how they can impact on recognition of performance:

There is certainly evidence that gender differences in self-assessment generalise to the work situation; Lindeman et al (1995) found that female staff in a sales and marketing company were less likely to overestimate their performance – which was measured objectively – than were males… In the context of feedback processes, Wohlers and London’s (1989) study of self-awareness in managers showed that female managers tended to rate themselves lower than their male counterparts and lower than their own bosses rated them… Higher levels of feedback might reduce the false confidence of some male managers and increase the self-efficacy of some of their female counterparts. If this turns out to be the case, then 360 degree feedback will have proved to be a very significant process in the evolution of organisations, the development of their effectiveness and the enhancement of equality. ” (“The implication of research on gender differences in self – assessment and 360 degree appraisal.,”Human Resource Management Journal., London, 1999., Clive Fletcher.)

team-2007.JPGThis external recognition of our work does therefore, mean so very much on so many levels; it models for the girls we work with that we are not only proud of what we do, but prepared to put our hand up and say we do it well! As Marianne Williamson (a wonderful writer on spirituality and women’s worth) so eloquently states:

“There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you…and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence liberates others.”

May you all continue to shine – and seek opportunities that allow others to see you are large. XXXX

Mixed Messages

During one of my discussions with Board members from the Australian Women’s Forum they highlighted the hypocrisy inherent in many of the programs that say they are designed to promote healthy body image. Apart from magazines that pretend  to be “a girl’s best friend” whilst feeding their insecurities and advocating consumerism,  other cosmetic companies are now using the “we care about girls / want to promote a positive body image” as a marketing ploy. 

Dove has launched their REAL Beauty campaign and hope to promote a teacher training seminar through schools.  Whilst some of the materials they have put together  may well be useful ( have you seen the You Tube clip that shows the truth about airbrushing? Evolution? well worth a look)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/iYhCn0jf46U" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

There are obviously some real conflicts of interest when Dove’s core business is selling beauty creams and cellulite potions! What really infuriates me though are the mixed messages. Dove is owned by Unilever – Unilever are also responsible for Impulse (no REAL beauty messages there – the slogan is “Feel irresistible”) and LYNX. You may have seen the LYNX ad’s – where pretty girls are reduced to uncontrollable sexual gyrations at the mere smell of Lynx on really plain / inappropriate men ( one girl resorts to stripping the much older father of her boyfriend!).  Not good enough. These ad’s are completely inappropriate and only reinforce the sexualisation and objectification of women. 

A Year 8 girl in a workshop I ran recently in Canberra pointed the Lynx ad’s out as causing her real anxiety…as we were running the new “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty” workshop at the time she drew a very clever parallel –
“It is like the old Ugly Duckling / Beauty and the Beast story – girls are meant to see the inner hotness in all guys and just fall at them. Where are the plain girls that can be transformed though? Plus why are girls always acting like strippers on TV nowadays? It is embarrassing to watch.”

If you’re looking for another very clever clip (that is not ultimately designed by Unilever to rake up sales and get their brands into our classrooms) show your girls the short film produced by Kiri Davis entitled A Girl Like Me.  

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/17fEy0q6yqc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

It looks at the promotion of skin whitening by the beauty industry and the profound effect this is having on girls from different cultures – who start to see their dark skin as the enemy. It is really moving…

Faking It!

I wanted to share with you, amongst other things, an interesting new resource. You may recall me posting a Sun Herald article by Miranda Divine ( Paradise glossed: magazines driving girl poisoning culture)  that labeled many magazines aimed at teen girls as “Girl Poisoners” – sexualizing them and reinforcing their negative body image.  

Australian Women’s Forum, a group of professional women and academics, have just launched a magazine style alternative entitled “Faking It”; this reflects the body of academic research on  magazines, mass media and the sexual objectification of women.

enlighten was at their Melbourne launch and we are particularly impressed with its combination of academic rigor and appealing visuals; it will certainly appeal to older teenage girls and provide a powerful stimulus for conversation ( please note, I would suggest it would be most appropriate for girls from 16 onwards as much of the content does focus on issues relating to sexuality and some articles are, whilst incredibly important, confronting e.g. “Girls : Too Sexy Too Soon” on the premature sexualisation of girls and the links between this and serious 506792_doll_.jpgmental health problems).

Recent talks I have held with parent groups highlights the fact that this magazine will also feel a real need for parents to have access to information that is presented in a way in which allows an insight into their daughter’s increasingly complex world (flyer: wake-up-sleeping-beauty-program-for-parents.pdf – in case you think this new enlighten initiative may also prove beneficial.)  

I have discussed how parents and schools may access this magazine with AWF Board Member Karen Robinson and she has indicated that individual copies (@ $15 plus postage) may be ordered directly from their web site.  However, multiple copies of 20 or more can be ordered for $10 per copy with postage waved. It may be worth putting a note out to parents to see if there is interest and allowing them to get these through the school.  As an ex-English KLA Coordinator, I think it would also prove highly useful as a resource in the Senior English and / or PDHPE classroom. 

With permission, I have attached a sample article from the latest issue for you Hate Your Body – We Show You How– I am sure you will find it informative and valuable in its own right. I shall be meeting with AWF when I am in Perth next month working with 450 girls from St Brigid’s College WA; I am keen to offer the team a school perspective and would welcome any comments or suggestions you may have as I will forward these to the ladies on your behalf.   

 idealism.jpg

On another note, some general items of interest:  we have recently been nominated as Small Business of the Year, Children’s Services! Finalists are announced in October so fingers crossed for us. Another exciting October event in our calendar:  I have also been asked to give a presentation on gender and supporting teenage girls with body image issues at the Australian Council of Education Leaders (ACEL) annual conference in October – over 1,200 Principals and teachers will be in attendance and perhaps I may even see some of you there. Please say hello! Finally, we have added a new link to our web site – “enlighten and the community.” We thought it was important to publicly promote our corporate values; we believe that by building respect and inspiring love, business can move the world.

Do check it out and note the NSW launch of our mentoring program for young girls who are entrepreneurial will be happening soon.  It is my aim to personally mentor one girl each year and support her in using her creative energy to add value to the wider community… many of you may know I have a strong background in both founding and managing mentoring programs and in developing curriculum aimed at enhancing enterprise skills so I will relish utilizing all these skills again!

So much happening – loving it all. I hope you are all feeling just as inspired by your work…

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