Skip to content

Tag: Australian International School

Destroying The Joint

I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to “Destroying The Joint – Why Women Have to Change The World,” an incredible new collection of writing initiated as a response to radio broadcaster Alan Jones’ comments that Australian women leaders were ‘destroying the joint’. Editor Jane Caro describes the work in her introduction:

The women who have contributed their responses to this book represent a wide cross-section of backgrounds, ages, beliefs, experiences and biases. Feminism is a broad church…Some of their stories will make you laugh. Some will make you cry and some rage with fury. The following pages include polemic, satire and impassioned arguments. The one thing they all share is a desire to change the world and make things fairer: for women, for men, for children, for the disabled, the indigenous, the migrant, the poor, the gay, the straight, the despised and, not least, the planet. Some people call that destroying the joint.”

The publishers, University of Queensland Press, have very kindly given me permission to republish my essay here.

Beyond Jeering – An unapologetic love letter to teen girls.

Nine times out of ten when I am introduced as a guest on radio or television, the host makes a comment to the effect that I must be somewhat unhinged to have devoted my career to working with teen girls (insert knowing smirk at just how awful they can be) or looks at me with genuine bewilderment, almost unable to comprehend why anyone would enjoy working with a group that’s 50 shades of trouble. I can see them thinking: ‘Is she perhaps just naive about what girls are really like?’ At best, they may say I’m brave.

I don’t see myself as crazy or brave. What I do see are the unhelpful common perceptions of teen girls in our culture.

How are our daughters labelled when they hit adolescence? They have been reduced to a series of caricatures. There’s Little Miss Cynical, the eye-rolling teen dismissing everything with a ‘whatever’; Little Miss Surly, the angry, no-one-understands-me bitch; Little Miss Stupid, the kind of girl TV executives love to portray on reality TV shows, helping to really ingrain the ‘clueless’ stereotype in our psyches; Little Miss Slut, she of the short skirts, provocative pouts and insatiable sexting; Little Miss Diva, too spoiled to work, clean her room or contribute to society; and Little Miss Queen Bee, who spends all her time creating burn books or Gossip Girl-esque sites where she can play the compare-and-despair game of ranking and rating her peers.

The media and entertainment industries are hypercritical of girls and take an almost salacious pleasure in exposing girls-gone-bad type stories. Every week I appear on a panel on Channel 9’s Mornings show to talk about issues affecting girls and women. When they asked me to discuss a physical fight between two young women on the show The Shire, within weeks the clip of that discussion had attracted some 135 000 views – in comparison to the few hundred views most of my clips attract. It’s hard to imagine a story about a fight between two young men on a dramality show garnering that level of attention from the media or viewers.

Even those who should have teen girls’ best interests at heart, the people who write parenting books, often describe teen girls in terms that are less than kind or generous of spirit. Walk down the parenting aisle of any bookstore and you’ll find plenty of covers depicting adolescent girls as sluttish or surly. As one girl said to me after a seminar, ‘If I came home and found my mum reading a book that presented girls in the way some of these books do, I’d be so hurt. We don’t read books entitled Parents are Pains in the Arses, do we?’

I am not naive, either. I do not view girls through rose-coloured glasses. I began my career as a high school teacher and worked in schools for ten years, predominantly with students at risk, who always give it to you real and raw. Since I founded my own business in 2003, my company has worked with tens of thousands of girls from all kinds of backgrounds, and I have a teen daughter. Yes, I know girls can be challenging. But I wonder at times if they slip into this mode because they feel it is expected of them. There are times when my daughter can become almost a caricature of the difficult teen girl – a fully fledged Ja’mie from Chris Lilley’s satirical Summer Heights High – and, in fact, the best way to snap her out of it is to casually call her Ja’mie and say that her behaviour is ‘so random’.

Binge drinking, body image anxiety, friendship fallouts, self-harming, navigating the ever-changing online world: these issues are all impacting our girls, and we should care. But the answer lies in education – not moral panic, or policing and patronising. We must give girls the skills they need to make informed choices and encourage them to turn their critical gaze on their culture, not themselves and each other.

And truly, being a pain is not typical of only the teen-girl experience – look around you! Just as many adults are struggling with alcohol, poor self-esteem, toxic relationships and stress.

I think it is far too easy to lose sight of the fact that girls are not one-dimensional stereotypes. Girlworld is made up of a multitude of identities, personalities, talents, skills and ideas. It is this diversity and the vast complexity of girls that delights me and that I think our culture often refuses to acknowledge. Of course, girls might have their Little Miss moments of acting cynical or surly or spoilt, but they are so much more than that.

Bullying and bitchiness get a lot of press, but I am often astonished by the intensity of the affection teen girls have for each other. To see a group of teen girlfriends together is a beautiful thing. They hug each other and snuggle together, styling each other’s hair, with giggled whispers and knowing looks. I wonder sometimes if we envy them their unbridled enthusiasm for each other and the intimacy of their relationships with their BFFs.

And this warmth, generosity and caring doesn’t just stop at their circle of friends.

Teen girls are destroying the joint – but not through dysfunction, apathy and nastiness, as we are led to believe. Make no mistake, for every media report of a girl in crisis, there are stories aplenty in the real world of remarkable young women doing extraordinary things. Some sail off to explore the world, Jessica Watson style. But there are plenty more everyday girl heroes. I am full of optimism and pride in the way our girls are taking on, and making over, their world.

The teen girls at a school I worked at in early 2012 in Sydney were so inspired by Real Girl Power, our workshop on the history of the women’s movement, that, at lunchtime, a group of them waltzed up to a particularly sexist boy in their year group. Samantha, the group’s nominated spokeswoman, told him, ‘You always like to say, “Go make me a sandwich,” whenever we say something you don’t agree with in class. Guess what? There will be no sandwiches for you. And you don’t have to like what we say, but you do need to listen. If you try to dismiss us again, we are all going to start clapping loudly every time you speak. It’s going to really shine the spotlight on you, and we’re not sure you’re going to like that.’

There were no more orders for sandwiches, Samantha emailed to tell me. And we realised that collectively, we were strong. You could see the fear in all the boys’ eyes after that … LOL. I loved that this made her laugh – there is indeed a joy in claiming one’s power.

A teen girl in Western Australia, named Daffodil, shared with me her own story of activism: ‘This year, my school, St Brigid’s College, has given me the opportunity to complete a personal project and … I have been inspired to raise awareness of self-esteem issues in teenage girls in our society. I have also started to create a beauty campaign for the school community, which includes posters and affirmation cards promoting true beauty.’ Daffodil posted images in the school toilets and on classroom doors that reminded her classmates that they are more than just their bodies, they are somebodies.

A group of teen girls in Victoria decided they didn’t know much about feminism and why it mattered, so they chose to do a research assignment on it as part of an interest project at school. They interviewed me and a number of other women. Then they presented their work to their classmates and invited them to join the Young Feminist group they were starting at school. They had a 70% take-up.

I am inspired by the fifteen-year-old who had a baby, as a result of being raped, and turned up at the school carnival the next week to join in sporting events and cheer on her classmates. And by the fourteen-year-old who sends me poems she has written on what being beautiful really means and tells me how she will survive being bullied and emerge a shinier girl.

I am impressed by Tess Corkish, who at age eighteen was outraged when a popular retailer began selling products she thought were sexist. She transformed her outrage into something positive by starting an online petition. Amassing thousands of signatures and drawing media attention, the campaign resulted in the products being withdrawn from store shelves.

Then there’s Jemma Ryan, seventeen. After seeing me speak at a girls’ education conference in Melbourne in 2009, Jemma successfully lobbied to have me present at Clonard College, where she was school captain. Jemma and I have stayed in touch ever since. She flew to Sydney earlier this year to stay with me and my family to help me in my office before she commenced her uni studies in journalism. Anything you need I will do, no job too small! she emailed me beforehand. My goodness, it’s an opportunity, a privilege I am so, so, so lucky to have!! How is that for a go-get-’em, no-divas-here attitude?

Jemma also writes for her local paper; she has been doing that since she was fourteen. When I asked her how she had fitted in studying, her role as a student leader, her part-time job at Bakers Delight and writing for the paper, she explained, ‘Well, I just have to be time conscious, I guess. My current boyfriend and I, for example – well, we decided just to be friends until I completed Year 12. There was no time for distractions. When we first met, I was in my final year of high school and was really committed to my studies … some would say school was my first love. My first love and I had been together for thirteen years, and I wasn’t about to stop spending time with it for a boy! So when I did meet someone (a boy that is, not another school), I had to find a balance that worked for all three of us (yes, me, boy and studies). I know how it sounds, this girl was all about the parent pleasing, but that wasn’t it at all, it was about values and priorities. I only had a few months of hard study to go, and I knew anyone that really liked me for me would respect my school lovin’ ways!’

And what does Jemma plan to do with all her smarts and determination? Join the revolution, of course, and work on empowering the next generation of young girls. She says, ‘I can’t think of anything that would be more fulfilling!’

Me either, Jem.

The choices made by girls like these aren’t often shared in popular culture – but they do deserve our recognition.

We must try not to let the slammed doors, angry silences or sarcastic asides of adolescence blind us to girls’ essential lovableness. And we must also not be distracted by the toxic culture our girls are immersed in and that they do sometimes struggle with, for there is a risk that it can blind us to an even more important reality: not only the lovableness, but also the strength and resilience, of girls.

All 400+ girls Enlighten worked with recently at the Australian International School in Singapore wore shirts declaring themselves “Resilient.” I love this!

Destroying The Joint will be available in all good bookshops from 24th April, R.R.P. $29.95.

Real Girls

I am always incredibly honoured when I receive correspondence from women who want to meet with me to discuss more about my work, and their vision for girls.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to meet everyone who requests a catch-up; not if I actually want to get on with driving my own vision for girls and supporting my own amazing Enlighten Team. But, every now and then, an email screams out at me as being written by someone truly special.

Samantha Power originally emailed me as she has just finished teaching Drama at the Australian International School In Singapore, a school Enlighten had a particularly powerful experience working in last year (this event will always remain one of the highlights of what has been a very blessed career; I am thrilled we will be returning in 2013):

…As a young, fresh teacher I am extremely passionate about what it is you’re doing with Enlighten Education…I have received many emails from some of my ex students telling me what an amazing and powerful experience your workshop was. Thank You from the bottom of my heart for empowering them and giving them the confidence they need to believe in themselves in a more positive and affirming way.

Since hearing from them I have read your book The Butterfly Effect and in doing so have also been propelled to make a difference. My love for teaching came about from a love of teenagers and a strong need to ‘help’ them. Help not in the sense of saving them but, like you, in allowing them to look at their lives in a different way and to realise that they are so much more than what they themselves may even realise. I aim to use my platform as a teacher to try and make them realise their potential, encourage them to be compassionate and caring towards others and to always strive for their dreams…

Samantha went on to explain she had moved to Texas but would be back in Australia in a few months time to visit her family. If she paid for an airfare to Sydney to meet me, could I find the time to meet with her she asked?

Sam and I at Enlighten HQ.

How could I say no to this level of enthusiasm for our girls? Suffice to say that after we met, I was so taken with Samantha that I offered her the role as our Program Manager for the USA and, after staying with me and travelling all over Australia as part of her Enlighten training, she has been establishing our programs there ever since (trust me, if you ever meet Sam, you’ll want to adopt her too. I only hope she never uses her powers for evil, or we are all in trouble).

But, bringing our brand of girl-power to the USA is not all that she has been up to. Completely unprompted by me, Sam decided to set up her own Facebook Page and blog aimed at teen girls – Real Girls. These sites are inspiring, empowering and much-needed on-line platforms for real girls to share their personal stories and learn from each other.

So, this week, I am handing over to 16 year old “Real Girl” contributor Zoe. Zoe is a 16 year old girl living in Melbourne, Australia. Here she candidly and bravely talks about her body issues and her goals for the future.

You may read more “Real Girl” stories at Sam’s site . Do check it out and share it with the girls in your life.

Trigger warning: Please do not read on if you are prone to be triggered around eating and health or body-related themes.

 

I’m a 16 year-old girl from Melbourne who has been lucky enough to live overseas and see various parts of the world. My life, however, over the last couple of years has been filled with ups and downs. I am thankful in a way though as it has made me a much stronger person and taught me to appreciate and make the most of every opportunity. I’m a naturally energetic, hyperactive person who is a strong believer in the law of attraction – what you put out into the universe is what you get back! Therefore, I try to put out as much positive energy as I can. I don’t do things by halves, its 200% or nothing.

Zoe, 16.

For me, hindsight is an interesting thing. I don’t live with regrets but if I could, I would prevent my 12-year-old self from feeling the need to starve herself to get to a weight that was way below the healthy weight range. For anyone out there who has had or currently has an eating disorder and faces the challenge of being in the “Zone” then you will know what I am talking about – Experiencing that voice inside your head that takes over any reason, obsessing over calories, weight, how many bones are showing, how many calories to burn and how to eat the least amount at the next meal.

Four years of yoyo dieting, excessive exercising and mentally stressful events caught up with me this year and although I had maintained a relatively healthy weight for the last two years my outlook towards my body has been constantly up and down. I would only feel confident or like my body when I was exercising a lot. If I wasn’t I would feel the need to not eat. I also would over analyze every part of my body, and focus on everything I hated about it and where I wanted to be thinner, constantly comparing myself to other girls around me.

My exercise regime had been given a massive boost towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year due to cross country season. I began exercising for 11+ hours week and pushing myself more than I needed to. I found I began to tie my confidence and self-esteem with how much I exercised – the more I did the better I felt about myself. I justified this in my mind and thought it wasn’t the same as my eating disorder – I was happy, getting good marks at school, at a healthy weight and my family life was stable. I used all these excuses to make what I was doing ok – even though I still had the voice in my head telling me I needed to do the extra exercise class, run an extra hour, burn another 100 calories.

I knew that my body could only handle so much but still I ignored the warning signs of over training and pushed through. In May this year however, the “crash of exhaustion” finally came. I experienced a whole month of heart palpitations, constant elevated heart rate, unable to think clearly, insomnia, Increased PMS symptoms, periods of exhaustion and days where I was unable to get out of bed.

Blood tests showed that I had sub clinical hypothyroidism*. One of the most noticeable symptoms associated with hypothyroidism is unexplained weight gain. I was suddenly faced with weight gain of 7 kilograms in one week.

I was told by my doctors to come back in six weeks to get another blood test to see if my levels returned to normal. I felt extremely trapped and hated not being able to do anything to help myself. I had done some research and had found there was a lot of information linking hypothyroidism and Adrenal Fatigue*, which I discovered is surprisingly common and even more risky than chronic fatigue.

I had gained weight and had lost most of the fitness I gained over the last few months. I felt very lost as I associated my whole personality and lifestyle around exercising. I suddenly had two choices: I could continue the way I was going or I could learn from this experience. In a sense there and then I had to confront my eating disorder face on and promised myself I would work at being the healthiest version of myself.

This required a lot of self-control, and there were slip-ups. There were days where I would just go back to my normal routine but I was at the point where if I stressed my body out too much, I would find myself bedridden the next day. This really taught me that there is a consequence for everything you do. In those months I came to realise that my weight was just a number – nothing more! It didn’t change who I was as a person. I still had amazing friends and family, and a supportive school, and they all were there to help and make sure I didn’t too much.

What have I learnt from all of this? I have learnt how important it is to have a balanced lifestyle. Our body’s sole purpose in life is to function. It cannot withstand large amounts of stress, bad eating habits and being surrounded by negative environments. We need to respect our body and treat it in a way that allows us to live to our full potential

It’s taken me six months to get back to normal energy levels and only in the last two weeks have I finally felt back to my normal self. I’ve learnt to appreciate every single opportunity that is thrown at me and realise now how lucky I am: I go to an amazing school with unlimited opportunities, have a great group of friends both in school and out, have a positive family life and an inspiring mentor and coach.

My goal from now on is not let excessive exercising control my life and to see food as fuel, and something my body needs. My goal for the future is to help as many people as possible to live a balanced lifestyle by exercising in a functional way and eating in a way that makes them feel good and excited about life. I have recently completed my Certificate III in Fitness and aspire to have a career in the fitness industry as an Exercise Physiologist/Personal Trainer.

I hope to use my personal story to help others make better choices for themselves and to know that their body and their outer appearance does not define them as a person. It is more important that you are healthy and that you can live in a way that allows you to be the best version of yourself you can be!

Hypothyroidism*: Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones. Source: MayoClinic.com

Adrenal Fatigue*: Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms known as a syndrome and occurs when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. It is most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, but can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. 

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Please prove that you are not a robot.

Skip to toolbar