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Tag: Catherine Manning

Babies, not Barbies! Sand pits, not glitz!

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Danni Miller with Junior Activists at Sydney rally.

I am feeling pumped after this week’s national Pull the Pin protests against the glitzy, sexualised child beauty pageants as seen on “Toddlers & Tiaras”. This type of competition is heading to Australia if American company Universal Beauty goes ahead with its July pageant in Melbourne. Tuesday’s protests were our way of saying “This is not going to happen on our watch”, as I told Kerri-anne.

I was honoured to speak at the Sydney protest in front of Parliament House and was thrilled to see that so many people want to protect little girls from being primped, waxed and fake-tanned to look like women, then sent out to be judged against an incredibly narrow, limiting definition of beauty.

Pull the Pin, the movement created by Enlighten Education’s simply amazing Catherine Manning, would like to see child pageants banned. So would I. And so would the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ chair Phillip Brock. He says that placing girls in pageants could lead to anxiety and depression because:

Infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals. The mental health and development consequences of this are significant and impact on identity, self-esteem and body perception.

When will the government listen?

We know the pageant organisers won’t. They’re making too much money out of the toddler equivalent of the compare-and-despair game women know all too well. This is big business — two words that should never be seen in the same sentence as childhood.

Case in point: Eden Wood. The six-year-old US pageant contestant who is being used to publicise the Universal Royalty event is promoted as “the prettiest little girl in America”, but The Sydney Morning Herald dubbed her “Little Miss Pricey” when her agent said it could cost up to $20,000 for the paper to interview Eden. Annette Hill, the founder of Universal Royalty, wanted $5,000 to be interviewed.

These pageants are not about developing girls’ talent and confidence, as pageant fans say. These pageants are about currency: cold hard cash, and the message that girls’ currency is their looks.

Enlightens Cath Manning, speaks at the Melbourne rally (Photo by melbourneprotests.wordpress.com)
Enlighten's Cath Manning, speaks at the Melbourne rally

It breaks my heart to look at the pictures of Eden Wood on her Facebook fan page. In many of them, she has been heavily Photoshopped. In some, it isn’t just that she no longer looks like a child but that she doesn’t even look real any more.

US pageant contestant Eden Wood, 6
US pageant contestant Eden Wood, 6

Phillip Brock says the photos of Eden Wood:

can be interpreted as alluring and appealing to the sexual instincts of the observer, and if that observer is an adult then it’s voyeuristic.

Some supporters of child pageants expressed concern that children went to the rallies. Girls and young women have the right to express their opinions and make their voices heard. That some school-aged girls chose to come at lunchtime to show their support is a testament to just how passionate girls are about protecting their younger sisters from being forced to become too sexy too soon and to be judged on their looks. One Year 12 student attended the Sydney protest to conduct research for an assignment, as did a university student. Susan Moretti, whose 17-year-old daughter goes to a school Enlighten has worked with for years, sums up the deep protective feelings of many teen girls:

I just had to calm my daughter down . . . she’s so outraged over this! It’s been talked about at school and ALL the girls feel so badly for the little ones who are cajoled to enter the pageants. I think they may even start a rally of their own by the sounds of their sentiment!

Melbourne Pull the Pin rally
School girls (and Betty Grumble aka Sydney-based performance artist Emma Maye Gibson) at the Melbourne Pull the Pin rally (Photo by melbourneprotests.wordpress.com)

Thank you, everyone who showed their support at the rallies in capital cities around the country. In Sydney, we even had a great-grandmother stop by to thank us for saving her great-grandchildren. The two policemen on duty at parliament house were both dads and they were behind us 100 percent. It seems that we had a lot of Sydney dads on our side: as two men in suits walked by, one of the organisers, Jenn Lane, overheard them saying they would never want their young daughters to be in beauty pageants. A member of a Muslim women’s group in western Sydney came along and offered to involve her community in the movement in the future. The rallies helped to publicise the issue, with media all over the country covering it, including Channel 10 news.

We need to keep up the pressure and keep spreading the word. One way in which you can be heard is by signing the online petition here:. As I so often say, the standard we walk past is the standard we set. Let’s not be complacent.

I always think laughter is one of the best ways to get a point across, so I’m passing on this gem that a friend forwarded to me:
prenatal pageants

And if you haven’t seen Tom Hanks’s send-up of Toddlers & Tiaras yet, you just have to watch it. Even a pageant parent would have to be made of stone if they can keep a straight face watching the “Miss Ultimate Sexy Baby” contest. Who knew Tom Hanks could sashay like that?

Toddlers & Tiaras? Pull the Pin Now!

The type of child beauty pageant made infamous by the reality TV show Toddlers & Tiaras is coming to Australia. We’ve all been outraged by what we’ve seen of these totally inappropriate, hypersexualized competitions.

Enlighten’s own Catherine Manning, one of our stellar Melbourne presenters, is putting her outrage to good use. She’s started Pull the Pin, a group that’s organising public rallies around the country to send a message to politicians and pageant organisers: we don’t want child beauty pageants in Australia.

This week I’m handing over to Catherine so she can talk about Pull the Pin and how you can get involved. Catherine, you have a heart of gold—but more than that, you are a woman of action!

I also had a great in-depth discussion about why child beauty pageants are so damaging to girls’ self-esteem and body image on Adelaide radio, which you can listen to here.


When the news hit that an American child beauty pageant company, Universal Royalty, is holding a pageant in Melbourne in July, I was amongst the many thousands of people who felt sickened—not just by the images of little girls being blatantly adultified and sexualised in these pageants but also by the fact that such a beauty competition for children would even have a market here in Australia.

It’s one thing for little girls to play dress-ups, donning frocks and heels, putting on some lippy and parading around the lounge room—but when adults come along and turn it into a fierce competition for money and prizes, complete with professional make-up artists, hairdressers and photographers, that’s just creepy and every kind of wrong.

I feel compelled to take action, so I have started the Pull the Pin campaign, which is coordinating public rallies on Tuesday, 3 May, at 12:00 p.m. on the steps of Parliament House in capital cities around the country. The aim is to make our voices heard in a way that is sensitive to pageant participants but sends a clear message to politicians and the community that we don’t want child beauty pageants in Australia. The reason I have chosen that day is that parliament will be in session in Melbourne, so it’s a great opportunity to send a message to the politicians in the city where the pageant is planned to take place.

I will be arranging for some engaging speakers in each state to articulate our concerns, and some peaceful protest “action” on the steps of parliament, such as bubble blowing, skipping, face painting, hopscotch—ordinary things that children really like to do and should be doing.

I have been encouraged by the many people who have contacted me expressing an interest in participating in the rally action, and am now looking to you to help me organise the rally in your state or territory.

If you would like to get involved and help coordinate things on the day, please email me at info@sayno4kids.com. It would be great to have a diversity of people involved to show that this issue is one a wide range of Australians feel very strongly about. I want to thank my friends at Australians Against Child Beauty Pageants and Collective Shout for their support on this issue.

Some discussions in the media and online about the pageant and rally have suggested a “catfight” between those parents who are for pageants and those who are against. I certainly don’t condone anyone personally attacking pageant parents. But I also don’t think it’s acceptable for parents to have girls as young as 3 years old coiffed, waxed and primped, then paraded in a competition against other little girls. As Dr Karen Brooks writes in The Courier-Mail, “For years, experts have stated how damaging it can be to introduce children at such an early age to this kind of subjective and superficial evaluation.” Responsibility does need to be taken by parents, and also by governments that allow these competitions to be run. Ideally, I’d like to see a worldwide ban on child beauty pageants.

Some of the adult cosmetic practices inflicted on little girls competing in these pageants, such as waxing and spray tanning, should also be illegal for children, in my view. We used to be able to rely on common sense—who’d have ever thought we’d have to protect young girls from their parents actively sexualising them for prize money? (Anyone who doubts that these girls are being sexualised didn’t see the episode of Toddlers & Tiaras in which “a mother screeches ‘Flirt! You’re not flirting!’ as her six-year-old daughter practices her routine,” as Nina Funnell describes over on Melinda Tankard-Reist’s site.)

I’m tired of hearing pageant parents and organisers compare beauty competitions to sport. If a child engages in a sporting activity, when they lose they know they can go home to practice and hone their skills for next time—but when they compete in a beauty competition and lose, they can only feel unworthy and unable to do anything about it.

Girls are already constantly bombarded with narrow beauty ideals in our culture, from Disney princesses and Barbies and Bratz dolls, to music video clips telling them they should look and behave like grown women. We should be combatting the message society sends our girls that they’re “not enough”—not foisting beauty competition culture upon them.

Pull the Pin is motivated by our care for children and their rights. My hope is that the little girls who compete in pageants will be pleased to see that someone else is saying “no” on their behalf. Anyone who’s watched Toddlers & Tiaras knows that often the little girls’ pleas of “stop” fall on deaf ears in pageant land. The rallies and our peaceful protests may just give them the courage to say “See Mummy, those people are having fun with their little girls just doing normal, healthy things. I want to do that too.”

We want to send a really strong message that Australians don’t want this type of exploitative beauty competition here. And we want to encourage  parents considering entering their children to think twice and act in the best interests of the children, not their own or the pageant organisers’ pockets.

Catherine Manning is an Enlighten Education presenter in Victoria. She is also the director of the children’s rights advocacy group Say No 4 Kids, which campaigns to end children’s exposure to highly sexualised material in the media and public domain.

Things that make me go MMMM . . .

Girls cannot be what they cannot see — please don’t become a victim of the fashion wars.

The Sunday Telegraph‘s “Sunday” magazine ran with a back-to-school theme recently, headlined “Style up your school-run chic.” The fashion spread inside was a 1950s-inspired shoot featuring “neat prints, demure hemlines and retro-inspired accessories”. Scan I truly hope the headline was an error and this shoot had nothing to do with showing mums how to dress for the school run. The thought of having to arrive at my children’s school by 8.30 a.m. with coiffed hair, heels, pearls (also prominent in the spread) and pink lippy flawlessly in place would be enough to make me home school my kids. (And trust me, after spending the last six weeks at home with them, that is a not a threat I would make lightly.)

I note, too, that at this time of year the celebrity-watching sites have taken to critiquing the stars doing the kiddie drop-off with the type of enthusiasm usually only displayed by my son for his Nintendo. Toxic celebrity body-police site “The Skinny Celebrity” elicited 65 highly animated (read “frenzied” . . . what is it about these sites that make them so compulsive?) comments on Elle Macpherson’s chosen outfit for the school run. Frankly Elle’s look here is very similar to mine — running tights, sneakers, unbrushed hair, a big jumper or t-shirt. Okay, okay, I may not look quite as sleek when I pop this all together but it seems more realistic than the twin-sets. Agree?

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Don’t get me wrong, if I am attending a school assembly I will cheerfully run a comb through my mane and attend looking neat and tidy. But if I am just doing kiss-and-drop? Well, I have been known to do this in my Wonder Woman PJs should we be in a rush.

I recall a conversation with a friend I had once that left me speechless. She was lamenting the fact that she was getting increasingly anxious about getting dressed to take her children to their private school as she never felt she could quite pull off the designer look the other mothers seemed to do so effortlessly. “Even when I do kiss-and-drop, I know I am expected to look good from the neck up. I feel pressure to get my hair just right and to have the latest designer sunnies.” Oh. My. Goodness. What hope do our girls have to keep the ranking-based-on-looks game in check if even the big girls are engaging in it?

Please — don’t buy into this game. Wear what seems appropriate and makes you comfortable. Don’t comment on other mums and what they are wearing. Trust me — no one wins the compare and despair game.

Sign of the times?

I took my 11-year-old daughter, Teyah, into Jay-Jays to buy a new t-shirt. I was all ready to be outraged at inappropriate slogans as I have seen some shocking slogans in stores that target tweens and teens in the past (think Jay-Jay’s 2008 misguided “Little Losers”, which included “Miss Wasted” and “Miss Bitch”). I have to say, I was  pleasantly surprised at how empowering some of their latest styles are!

IMG_1052Their new “So-so Happy” range directs a percentage of profits to the awesome Reach Out, an organisation aimed at supporting young people with a range of mental health and wellbeing issues. “So-So Happy” slogans include “Free 2B Me” (Teyah grabbed this one) and cool fundraising “Reach” wrist bands also sit at the counter at a very reasonable $2 (yep, we will have these, too, thanks).  Jay-Jay’s other ranges include a singlet with the slogan “Are you afraid to LOVE? No one is going to love you if you don’t love yourself.” This message may be a tad threatening for my liking (no one is going to love you?) but hey, I can see the intention is good.

The most interesting part of this shopping experience was when I spoke to the manager at the Castle Hill store, Jodie Souter, and asked her if the shift towards slogans with more positive messages was a deliberate one or if I had perhaps just shopped on a good day. “We used to market a lot more sexy type slogan tops but frankly they didn’t sell very well,” she told me. “This new approach is flying out the door. We have noted a big jump in sales with the more empowering gear.”

I didn’t examine all the products in the store and am by no means endorsing this retailer, though I can’t help but think this may be a sign that consumers have reached tipping point and we are no longer buying into labels that sell out on our kids.

Heads up other teen brands!

Hating this Valentine’s campaign

My Victorian Enlighten Education team member Catherine Manning is the powerhouse behind Say No 4 Kids (not to be confused with “say no TO kids”, a slip of the tongue I once made that had all of us Enlighten mummies in fits of laughter). This nonprofit grassroots movement  is encouraging everyone to sign a petition to have pornographic material removed from the view and access of children and young teenagers. As Cath says, “If cigarettes can go back behind the counter, why not porn?” Not happy to just stop there, Catherine recently began lobbying her local chemist chain store, which has decided to promote the sale of perfumes for Valentine’s Day by using the language and imagery of pornography. Catherine explains the issue best in her email to me: “I was really shocked that this was deemed appropriate. The young female sales assistant working at the store said she felt extremely embarrassed and upset, and had complained to head office to no avail. She said all they needed was a red light hanging from the ceiling.” Cath called it harassment, and she’s right.

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Call 03 9462 9111 to register your complaint. Tell My Chemist that “hardcore” doesn’t sell perfume, and boycott their stores until they withdraw this offensive campaign.

The standard we walk by is the standard we set. Perhaps the marketing crew at My Chemist needs to have a chat to the team at Jay-Jays?

A new body does not equal a new life

I was incredibly saddened to hear that 23-year-old former German Big Brother contestant/porn star Carolin Berger died after her sixth breast enlargement surgery. Sky News explained: “She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicone injected into each breast. But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma.” What a waste. It made me want to revisit an earlier post of mine, The Reality of Cosmetic Surgery. In this post I shared my own battle to accept my body — scars and all (for my readers who may not know, I received third-degree burns on my right shoulder and arm from an incident in my childhood). My concluding words in that post ring as true as ever:

The power of words to heal is something we should all take to heart and remember in our relationships with the girls in our lives. Cosmetic and plastic surgery may appear to promise happiness and success, like we see on reality TV, but it can really only alter our bodies. It’s the words we use to talk about ourselves and one another that have the power to truly heal our souls, and to change lives.

I’d love to know what has got you thinking and going “MMMM . . .” this week.

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