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Tag: Eating Disorders

The High School Formal advice every girl needs

Mid-November marks the beginning of the high school formals; a time that is less a celebration, and more a season of discontent.

Because along with all the spray tans, fancy frocks and stretch limos comes a swag of advice for girls that ranges from well intentioned but misguided, to outright dangerous.

The date

What’s the one question that sends many a single girl into a panic? “Who are you taking to the formal?”

It’s 2018. Surely we’ve moved beyond pressuring young women to find an attractive man-bag to hang off their arms.

When I supervised formals back in my teaching days, I always felt sorry for the poor lads who had been dragged out for these events, and were then all but ignored once they had performed their obligatory photo duties. I felt sorry too for the girls I knew would look back at pictures from the night and cringe when they saw who they went with just because they felt pressured to pair up.

Let’s encourage more solo operators. As sassy singles, our daughters will be able to enjoy the company of their schoolmates and celebrate all their in-jokes together one last time (which is, after all, what an end-of-school formal is supposed to be about).

Teenage girls shouldn’t have to take a date to their formal. Picture: supplied

The dress

In the lead-up to formal, a girl’s list of what she needs for the big night can become the teen equivalent of a bridezilla’s: the right designer dress (actually, two dresses, one for the formal, another for the after-party), jewellery, handbag and shoes, professional hair and make-up, tanning, waxing, and sufficiently glamorous transport to get them there. The total cost is generally well over a thousand dollars.

At one high school, a girl bragged to me that her mother had flown her to Paris to buy her formal dress. I was speechless when, in the next breath, she revealed that there was a down side: as it was a Parisian label, only diehard fashionistas would know the designer, so she would have to explain to the other girls how prestigious her dress was (surely the very definition of a first world problem).

But it’s not just the finances that take a hit. For many girls, the angst over what to wear not only drives them to scrutinise their bodies, but seems to provide an open invitation for others to critique them as well.

I recently heard of a school that had teachers run a seminar for their girls on which colours might best suit them, and on which styles would prove most flattering.

Yet much of the information presented actually focused on how the girls should cover their flaws.

Some teens are spending a fortune on dresses, grooming, professional makeup, accessories and transport for their formals. Picture: Supplied.

One teen girl who swims competitively was told her shoulders would need to be disguised (she hadn’t been aware her strong arms were considered unattractive until this was pointed out in front of her peers).

Another was told that despite being larger, she could still achieve an hourglass figure with the right garment choices.

We mustn’t spend six years telling our girls they should never be defined by their looks, only to encourage them to conform to narrow standards of beauty once they reach the finish line.

The diet

The lead up to formal season is peak dieting time for teen girls with many going to extreme measures to lose weight rapidly, including starving themselves, purging and using laxatives.

Jade, 19, says her battle with anorexia began after she made the decision to drop a dress size for her formal: “But on the night of the event, I’d lost so much weight that my dress just hung off me. I spent the night anxious, scared and hungry. And I stayed that way for years afterwards.”

Let’s not ruin this milestone in our girls lives by offering them anything other than words of affirmation — and the tools they need to critique marketing messages and beauty myths that don’t serve them.

It is a big night; yet only one of the many they’ll have in their diverse, sparkling lives.

 

This post was originally published in the Daily Telegraph 17/11/18 

Diet Crazy Mums

As a follow on from a number of posts I’ve featured on dieting and body image*, I thought I’d share this recent segment I did on channel 9’s Mornings Show; I am one of the program’s resident parenting experts and their body image spokesperson.

Whilst it would be easy to dismiss the new reality television series we discuss here, “Diet Cray Mums”, as merely extremist nonsense, in reality I think it illuminates many beliefs and behaviours that have become mainstream. An irrational fear of fat and the willingness to do anything to “save” one’s child from being larger. The belief that if we fit a narrow ideal of beauty we will be loved, happy and successful. An obsession with monitoring weight, rather than a focus on health…

Take a look and let me know what you think. Are many of us guilty of being “diet crazy” too?

If you continue watching my Youtube channel after the “Diet Crazy Mums” segment finishes, more vision of my Mornings Interviews will play. In fact, it is immediately followed by a related debate with fitness expert Amelia Burton on the suggestion we should be weighing primary school aged children in our schools.

* More posts on dieting and body image that have been featured on this blog include:

Unpacking the diet industry’s false promises

The toxic message in Facebook teen health and fitness sites 

Generation Cleanskin (a three part series that starts here)

Body image and self-esteem programs: What really works? 

The weight-loss industry has no place in our schools

Alliance Of Girls’ School Conference 2012 – Say No To Diets.

I recently noted that the program for this year’s Alliance of Girls’ Schools Conference, to be held in Melbourne 25th-27th May, was to include Ms Amy Smith, the current CEO of Jenny Craig. As I believe a woman who represents the diet industry has no place at such a prestigious event aimed at educators of young women, I sent an initial email of concern to Jan Butler, the Executive Officer of the Alliance.

On Tuesday I received a reply from Ms Catherine Misson, the Principal of Melbourne Girls Grammar, assuring me that Ms Smith is, amongst other things, “transforming the organisation (Jenny Craig) into a champion of women’s health.”

I am pleased to see the organisers of this conference have considerably extended Ms Smith’s bio in the conference program since receiving my initial email. She sounds like a truly remarkable, accomplished woman. However, I am still deeply uneasy about  her inclusion and felt compelled to explain why. I responded with the letter below. With the aim of eliciting support for my stance, and initiating vital discussion on girls and dieting, I then shared this correspondence via Twitter and Facebook. I was incredibly heartened by the positive response and particularly encouraged to see Kate Ellis, amongst other prominent educators, women’s advocates and health practitioners, circulate it too.

I have not received any response as of yet, other than a call from a Suzy Wilson who told me she was the PR representative for Jenny Craig. Ms Wilson asked me, “What is your problem?” and told me my letter was a “vicious attack” on Amy Smith. I think my letter clearly articulates what my issue is, and it is clearly not a personal attack on anyone.

If I receive any further correspondence, I will of course honour my offer to provide the Alliance with a platform here to argue their case.

*Letter begins*

Dear Catherine,

Thank you for your response to my concerns regarding the selection of Amy Smith as a speaker at the Alliance’s conference this year.

I have the utmost respect for the members of the Alliance Planning Committee and hold them in the highest regard. I am sure that all the members genuinely have girls’ education at heart and selected the conference speakers with care and diligence.

However, with due respect, I do feel that I need to stand by my convictions and state my position. Amy Smith may be a highly talented and accomplished woman, but I feel it sends the wrong message to educators of girls that the Alliance is giving a platform to a speaker whose current success is tied to the dieting industry. This industry contributes to some of the most serious issues affecting the health and wellbeing of girls: poor body image and eating disorders.

Constant dieting can cause “an obsession with weight and an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia”, according to research presented at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy conference in 2011. In the words of respected Australian eating disorder expert Lydia Jade Turner, the Managing Director of BodyMatters Australia, “Dieting is the biggest pathway into an eating disorder.” Research cited by the Butterfly Foundation notes that adolescent girls who diet at a severe level are “18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within 6 months” and “over 12 months they have a 1 in 5 chance of developing an eating disorder.”

The rates of eating disorders and poor body image in girls are alarming. Research published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that “disordered eating is emerging as a norm in Australian society with 90% of 12–17 year old girls and 68% of 12–17 year old boys having been on a diet of some type” (http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au). A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2009 found that between July 2002 and June 2005, 101 children aged from five to 13 years old were newly diagnosed with an eating disorder.

According to the 2011 Mission Australia Youth Survey, body image is one of the top three issues of personal concern for young people in Australia. Poor body image has been identified as such an important problem that it was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

Looking beyond the research, Enlighten Education works with 20,000 girls each year around Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. I speak to girls, and most importantly listen to them, about body image. On a daily basis, I meet girls who physically, psychologically and emotionally are paying a high price for dieting and for their body anxiety, which is all too often spurred on by advertisers and marketers from, amongst other industries, the dieting industry.

The sad fact is that diet companies continue to play on girls’ and women’s body anxiety to sell a product that doesn’t even work. Ninety percent of people who go on a diet will lose less than 10 per cent of their body weight and be back where they started, or heavier, in five years, according to research presented first at the Australian New Zealand Obesity Society in 2009 and again in 2010 at the International Obesity Summit. “In fact, weight tells us very little about a person’s health except at statistical extremes,” says Lydia Jade Turner. “Although it is commonly assumed that being ‘overweight’ is automatically unhealthy, in North America research shows that the overweight category (BMI = 25 to 29) is now outliving every other weight category.”

I am generally an enthusiastic supporter of the Alliance conference, and I feel that all of the other speakers the committee has selected are brilliant choices. I will attend the conference, as always, and Enlighten Education will have a stand, but it is with regret that I must tell you that Enlighten Education will not be sponsoring the conference this year, as we have in the past.

Enlighten Education was recognised in 2011 as Finalists for a Human Rights Award by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission for our work at furthering the wellbeing of girls. In light of that, and for all the schools and the girls that we work with, I feel that it is important that Enlighten Education acts according to our principles—and that means that we cannot sponsor an event where there is an association with the dieting industry.

On an individual level, as a parent whose daughter attends an Alliance school, I also wish to register my dismay at the choice of Amy Smith as a speaker.

Please know that I write this from genuine concern about the message that having a speaker associated with the dieting industry sends to the educators of girls. It is not a reflection on Amy Smith herself, and certainly not on the committee, whom I hold in great esteem.

As I initially expressed concern about the committee’s selection of Amy Smith in the public forums of Facebook and Twitter, I wholeheartedly extend to you the opportunity to respond in the same forums. If you would like me to publish your response on Facebook or Twitter, please do let me know.

Yours sincerely

Dannielle Miller
CEO, Enlighten Education
21/3/12

*Response received 22/3/12*

The Alliance responded and have made it clear that they are comfortable with their selection of Ms Smith. They have also made it clear they are not happy with my decision to raise these concerns publicly. As an educator, mother to two girls, author of two books aimed at improving body image anxiety, and as a  media commentator on girls’ issues I believe it would have been unprofessional of me not to have done this. I also stand by my response.

Size Apartheid. We’re Over It.

In the past week there has been much discussion over size. A diet book aimed at girls from 6 years old and up caused outrage by nutritionists and lead to me having a rather heated debate with Kerri-Anne on her television program regarding the current hysteria over the widely reported obesity crises (my argument? Basically that health may take many shapes and sizes and we need to stop obsessing over numbers, particularly when it comes to measuring and weighing our children). The National Eating Disorders Collaboration Conference (NEDC) was held in Sydney just yesterday too; its aim was to collaborate on best practice approaches towards treating and preventing eating disorders which are sadly on the increase and are now manifesting in children as young as 7. Simultaneously (in perhaps one of the worse examples of poor timing ever) Fairfax fashion writer Georgina Safe  caused an on-line furore over her opinion piece which slammed a plus-size fashion parade at the Fashion Festival of Sydney. 

Given the debates that are raging over how much space women should be allowed to quite literally take up, I thought it timely to offer a response to Ms Smart and turned to the fabulous Wendy Harmer for this. Wendy has just launched a new “online playground”, The Hoopla, aimed at women. I  was a guest over there earlier this month: you may like to read my post “Love thy daughter, Love thy self.” The following guest post is also featured at The Hoopla this week.  

 

Try as she may, there’s no way Fairfax fashion writer, Georgina Safe, can dress this one up. In her opinion, some of the plus-size models in the recent Myer “Big Is Beautiful” catwalk parade were fat and ugly.

How else can you interpret this: “While there were some pretty faces, others were wanting. Granted, some of them were regular citizens rather than professional clotheshorses, but this still defeats the purpose of inspiring consumers to buy the clothes.”

Hmmm. That’s as plain as the nose on your, or their faces. Safe even takes a swipe at one model who, on being selected for the show, said she’d be able to relax and eat a few cream puffs.

Oh, the outrage!

Safe goes on to say: “Plus-size shows and models should be judged by the same standards as any other fashion shows and models, as was observed by the director of plus-size agency Bella Model Management, Chelsea Bonner… ‘Plus-size models have to be just as aspirational, just as tall and just as heart-breakingly beautiful as any other model,’ Bonner says.”

But, hold on. Weren’t some of the models “regular citizens”? I imagine that was partly the point of the exercise, wasn’t it?

The parade took place as part of the Fashion Festival of Sydney and, as far as I can tell, was supposed to be an inspiration for big women who want to be fashionable.To make fashion more democratic and accessible for we ordinary schlubs.

But then there was the problem, according to some, that the plus-size models were not integrated into the main catwalk shows, but relegated to their own frumpy parade.

No problem for Safe, who clearly agrees with size apartheid, and writes: “But I disagree with Bonner on another point: while she applauded Fashion Festival Sydney for staging a plus-size show, she says true size equality would not occur until models beyond sample size were integrated into all runway shows. ‘Just chuck one or two in each show; don’t make an issue of it, just do it,’ she says.

“Frankly, why should we? Standard-size models, like Olympic athletes, are a genetically gifted species. Most consumers understand they will never look like them. The simple fact is that clothes look better on beautiful, slender young women. If the collection is lacklustre and the models are less than top-notch, what was the point of Tuesday’s show?

“The only truly stunning model on the runway was Lawley who, by the way, appears to have whittled down from a size 14-16 to a size 12.”

(Which means, given her height, she wasn’t a plus-sized model anymore by the standards of the majority Australian women, who, in most statistics I read, come in a comfy size 14-16.)

Safe misses the point, in my opinion, when she compares models with Olympic athletes.

Our athletes are applauded for their strong, fit bodies. By contrast we know that young women in many runway shows are dangerously underweight and when young girls try to emulate them, they risk developing eating disorders.

We also know that so many “regular citizens” look at fashion shows and cannot see a thing to wear as modelled by size 6, teenage coathangers. With the fashion industry in the doldrums, it would seem sensible to appeal to the majority of larger-sized women, of which I am one (too many “cream puffs” I suppose). I took a lingering look at many of the clothes and found a few there I’d buy.

Really, what is the point of sending a snippy fashionista along to a show that’s trying, for once, to make bigger women feel good about themselves?

If the clothes weren’t exactly “inspiring” as Safe says, that’s one thing. Making rude comments about women’s prettiness or otherwise is another. And in this article, Safe reveals her own character as “wanting”, if you ask me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a breakfast of cream puffs.

Asquith Girls High: Looking at the Big Picture

At Enlighten, we know that girls flourish and shine after our workshops, because we’ve seen it with our own eyes (and felt it in their big warm hugs!). But our work does so much more than give girls a self-esteem and confidence boost on the day. We aim to be part of a wider and ongoing culture change for the girls we work with, at school and beyond.

We encourage schools to maximise the benefit of our work by using it as part of a big-picture approach, and this week I’d like to share with you what I think is one of the best examples of a school doing just that. Jane Ferris, the principal of Asquith Girls High School, a public school in Sydney, last year attended a national conference in Melbourne that I was a keynote speaker at, “Insights: A Fresh Look at Girls’ Education”. In an unusual and forward-thinking move, she had brought along three of the school’s staff, too. They were inspired and felt that Enlighten’s message was what they needed, as part of the school’s broader program of improving outcomes for girls. Jane said:

When you have 900 young women attending an all girls’ school, it is a great opportunity to focus on issues confronting young women today. Since girls now outperform boys in external exams such as the HSC, it is too easy to consider that all the battles have been won and we no longer need to worry about issues in girls’ education. However, something is still holding young women back in our society as they are under-represented in business, our legal system and politics – what a waste of so much talent! Also, sadly, women as a group have too many experiences of abuse and violence. Therefore as a school we need to support young women to have a positive outlook, believe in themselves and ‘have a go’ in all that they strive to achieve.

From the outset, Jane saw that the greatest value would come from involving the whole school, so she organised her own one-day staff training conference for the teachers. I spoke, along with a number of other experts in teen girls’ issues. Then I came back to present to the girls, and something I have never experienced before happened: Jane released the entire welfare team for the day so they could come and watch me in action with the girls. This turned out to be incredibly valuable, because it meant that once I left, the staff had a deep understanding of what the girls had learned and experienced. They could speak the same language with the girls as I had, thus giving ongoing life to the work we’d done that day. The staff were empowered to be part of the culture change.

Jane notes that since starting their work on girls’ issues, the school’s “staff are more aware and taking things on board . . . At the nucleus is a gender team of staff and executive that have led a girls’ education conference and follow-up in all faculties.” They use every opportunity in the curriculum to promote the theme, Jane notes:

As Danni says, the most common glass ceiling holding girls back is the mirror they look in. Therefore this has proved a very positive starting point for our students, to think about themselves more positively. We want to follow through on this and get them to realise the pressures they are under as consumers. Through English and Commerce we want them to learn to deconstruct advertising and identify how they are being targeted in ways that not only ensure they buy more, but at the price of feeling they are not good enough. Through the curriculum we also want to make sure they learn about positive female role models.

Judging by the girls’ passionate and positive feedback, they were powerfully moved by the workshops I led. I am truly touched that one of the girls, Bec Torrington, in Year 9, has even nominated me for a Pride of Australia award in the Inspiration category. But kudos to Jane for seeing that there is wider, ongoing work to be done:

Danni is a highly motivational speaker and clearly has had a positive impact on the way our students feel. However, there are no quick fixes or magic wands. As a school we have to continue to promote a message of positive outlooks and friendships amongst our students.
In planning one always need to look at the big-picture rather than isolated programs or initiatives. Our approach is one of developing the whole young woman with a breadth of learning opportunities and extra curricular activities – to empower her with the experiences and skills to succeed in the world outside of school.

"Enlightened" girls completing the 21 day challenge.
"Enlightened" girls completing the 21 day challenge.

In light of Jane’s point about school staff working together to maintain a positive culture for girls, I’ve put together some discussion starters that schools might like to consider at their next staff meetings or staff development programs. These are based on previous blog posts, which can act as an impetus for discussion. Staff could split into groups, each considering one of these discussion starters, then report back to the whole staff:

Keeping Feminism Relevant
Rather than just fretting about and lamenting the plight of teen girls, at Enlighten we offer a viable alternative: feminism! This week a commentator in the UK made this excellent point, which I feel sums us up: “Feminists can make cause with traditionalists in wanting to limit some of the more extreme effects of an exploitative culture . . . But let’s be clear. We can only help [girls] if we have a good alternative to offer: the role models, the interesting jobs and the alternative ways of enjoying life that make a padded bra and a bit of rude dancing on the telly not shocking – just rather dull.” Yes!

About feminism:
International Women’s Day: Keeping Feminism Relevant
Putting Girls’ Issues Back on the Radar

Discussion starter:
– How are you connecting the young women at your school to the women’s movement?

Raising Girls Who Have the Courage to Be Imperfect

About embracing imperfection:
The Courage to Be Imperfect

Discussion starters:
– What signs are there that girls are numbing the feeling that they aren’t good enough?
– What steps can we start taking today to make the girls in our lives feel confident that they are loved and worthy?

Beyond Mean Girls

About bullying:
Bullying: It’s Time to Focus on Solutions

Discussion starters:
– In what ways does your school celebrate differences?
– What resources does your school currently access to assist in creating a safe environment for all students?
– How could these initiatives be enhanced?

Cyber Gals

About girls and information and communications technologies:
Real-World Tech Influencers

Discussion starters:
– How are the young women at your school encouraged to do creative, inspiring things using technology?
– Who are the female tech-influencers within your school who your girls can use as role models?

Girls and Eating

About girls and eating disorders:
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Eating Disorders and Primary School Children

Discussion starters:
– How can your school encourage girls to make healthy choices without shaming them?
– How might the relationship girls have with food affect their academic performance?

Should we be asking young women to “get your tits out for the girls”?

This week I’m bringing you another great guest post by Enlighten Education’s program manager for New Zealand, Rachel Hansen. For some time now I’ve been growing tired of what Rachel calls the “prettifying” and “sexifying” of breast cancer in fundraising and awareness campaigns, and this week I was as outraged as Rachel by a campaign in NZ that is encouraging girls and young women to post pictures of their breasts on the internet. Rachel’s blog post clearly struck a chord with a lot of people, because she received 1,000 hits in 24 hours! It has been picked up by numerous bloggers and by MSN news.

There was widespread discussion about the “I like . . .” Facebook craze last month. While I felt that this campaign sexualised breast cancer in a weird kinda way, NZGirl’s latest campaign has left me (nearly) speechless. Viewers are invited to “get your tits out for the girls . . . and don’t forget to check out the other lovely pairs, beautiful boobs and pretty titties already uploaded.”

For every 50 pairs of “titties” uploaded by viewers, NZGirl will donate $1000 to breast cancer awareness. This campaign began yesterday [30 November] and already there is a gallery of over 49 pairs of breasts to peruse, rank and comment on.

Hmm, a gallery of “titties” ranked according to popularity and the ability for me to leave comments about them. How exactly is this different to a crude pornography site?

NZGirl is exploiting women and girls in order to drive traffic to their website. It is making light of a horrific disease in order to gain popularity. It is belittling the experience of breast cancer sufferers, many of whom are left scarred or have had to have their breasts removed. But in marketing terms, this campaign has been a resounding success — over 25,000 people visited the site this morning, crashing it.

Boganette has written a great post on why NZGirl’s campaign is oh-so-wrong:

Celebrate breasts, of course. But don’t do it in the name of breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t about breasts. It’s not something you should have a laugh about on Twitter. It’s not something you should joke about on Facebook. It shouldn’t be a reason for posting photos of your breasts or flashing them or “getting them out” . . . Breast cancer is a horrible, miserable, horrifying disease — that’s it. It’s cancer — it’s not motivation for you to be happy with your body.

I hate the prettifying of breast cancer. The sexifying of breast cancer. Breast cancer is not sexy images of pert wee breasts. If you want to see the realities of breast cancer, check out The Scar Project. It’s raw and it’s real. There is nothing funny about it.

According to Stuff:

NZgirl editor and general manager Tee Twyford said the campaign wasn’t about driving traffic to their site, but about raising awareness. “The reason for it was twofold. There was a desire to have readers feel really good about their breasts and we wanted to align it with a breast cancer cause to get greater awareness and funding,” Twyford said.

So, according to Tee Twyford, women need to share photos of their breasts with the world in order to feel good about themselves. We all need to seek external validation to make sure that our breasts are up to scratch, that they’re OK. Dear Tee, please explain how being in the lower half of the rankings is going to help 50% of those women feel good about their breasts? Because Tee, in a rankings system, there is always a loser. And are the “winners” in the top half of the rankings supposed to feel great about themselves because a whole bunch of strangers have critiqued their breasts and given them a thumbs-up?

Tee Twyford, I am not going to send your website a photo of my breasts. They are beautiful and I love them. But I don’t need NZGirl to rank them and I don’t need strangers to give me their comments about them. Because those strangers don’t know that my breasts and I have been through lots together. Those strangers don’t know or care that my breasts fed my baby and that I love them in all their uneven, stretch-marky, increasingly-less-pert glory. Or that it took me quite some time to learn to love them.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, many of the breast photos that have been uploaded seem to be of teenagers. Through Enlighten Education I work with teen girls throughout New Zealand. I often have tears of sadness when talking with them about the immense pressures they face with regards to their bodies. New Zealand’s rates of eating disorders and depression amongst teenagers are skyrocketing. Just yesterday I spent a morning with 150 gorgeous year 10 girls who all told me that they felt that they were not beautiful enough, not skinny enough and not perfect enough. It is campaigns such as this one that add to the overwhelming pressure and sense for girls that they are just not enough. As soon as I have posted this I am going to email Tee Twyford to invite her to sit in on one of these sessions. Perhaps then she would realise the effects that such media campaigns have on our girls.

Once photos are uploaded onto the internet, the owners cease to have any control over how they are used. To assume that these photos will not be used for pornographic purposes is naive. We teach girls to never upload sexual photos of themselves — why is a (previously) respected organisation encouraging them to do exactly this?

Women, why are we doing this to each other? Are men rushing to upload photos of their penises to raise money for “cancer awareness”?

NZGirl, if your motivation really is to raise money for breast cancer research I can think of a million more positive ways to do this. Even simpler: if you really want to donate to a good cause, just get out your credit card and donate. Simple.

Updates: Since I wrote this blog post on Wednesday, many of the photos of breasts are now on porn sites such as xtube and others that you can see listed here. If NZgirl had a tick box on the website that said “If you upload this photo then we will donate $5 to ‘breast cancer awareness’ and your photo will probably appear on an unlimited number of porn sites, forever” how many women would have gone ahead and uploaded photos?

NZgirl has claimed that they are rotating the “favourites”. However, I have checked the site a number of times in the past 24 hours and the same breasts have been rated number one all day today: a perky youthful pair that are the result of a breast enlargement operation. The age of the person in the photo is indicated by her final comment: “As my Mum put it, ‘they were meant to be yours.’”

There is no way for the site to screen out girls under 18 from posting images of their breasts. NZGirl states in its terms and conditions: “If you are under 18 and you decide to post or send personal information to us or to other areas on the Internet, make sure you ask your parents if it’s okay.” Regardless of parental consent, sexual photos of children are never legal. Is NZGirl potentially breaking New Zealand law in terms of child pornography?

And a final word from Dannielle Miller: Awesome blog post, Rachel. I was so fired up about this ludicrous “campaign” that I went on Radio National New Zealand to say my piece on Afternoons with Jim Mora.  Things got rather interesting when a spokeswoman from NZGirl called in to offer her defence of the site’s actions. The arguments she offered were, unsurprisingly, pretty weak, but the heated debate certainly made for great radio: NZ radio This MP3 Audio file has been uploaded with Radio National NZ’s permission.

rachel hansenRachel Hansen is an experienced health and wellbeing educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Her research has focused on youth development, youth offending and women’s health.

Like mother, like daughter.

A recent UK survey found teenage girls are more than twice as likely to engage in dieting if their mother has a disjointed relationship with food. This came as no surprise to me for one of the premises explored in my book, The Butterfly Effect, is that whilst in many ways it would be seductive to think the hard work of feminism has been done (we have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor General…)  we have not yet managed to make much more than a crack in our own bathroom mirrors, our self-imposed glass ceilings. I am left wondering how we can expect the next generation of women – our girls – to step up and change the world when we too are preoccupied with wanting to change ourselves, and obsessed with achieving air-brushed perfection. Business woman I have met have said things to me like: “Why is it that I can run a highly successful company and complete an MBA, yet I still can’t manage to not feel guilty every time I eat a Tim-Tam?”. Mothers say things to me like: ” Why is it that my daughter doesn’t realise how gorgeous she is? I mean if I looked as beautiful and thin as she does I would be happy!”

Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful, while we rush for Botox. We tell them inner beauty counts, while we devour magazines that tell us beauty is really only about air-brushed perfection after all. If even the grown-ups are struggling, is it any wonder that our daughters are? Girls cannot be what they cannot see.

The Australian Women’s Weekly Online recently asked me to offer readers advice on how they could help their daughters develop a positive body image. This is urgent and important work given that yet again Mission Australia’s annual Youth Survey shows that for this generation of young people, body image remains the number one concern.

My advice to mothers can be read in full here. The number one message I wanted women to receive? Be a good role model. What we have to do for our daughters is to show them that we love ourselves. This is important business. It’s not just about healing us; it’s about healing our daughters.

When it comes to body image angst and being seduced by the diet industry’s seductive promise of a better life through a new-and-improved body, it seems that in many significant ways we are far more like our daughters than we are different. How desperately sad. But this recognition of sameness is also full of possibility. If we accept that the issues we need to work on affect all girls and women, then we have the opportunity to sort this mess out alongside our daughters. We no longer need to maintain the ‘Mother knows best’ facade and try to ‘fix’ everything for them. Or worse still, rage at their unhealthy behaviours, which really only parallel our own – how teen girls hate hypocrisy! We can join our daughters and work together on something greater; we can together find new connections and deeper mutual understandings.

I discussed this very issue on Mornings With Kerri-Anne today. I’d love to hear how you are showing the young women in your life that loving ourselves is not the ultimate crime (remember those schoolyards taunts? “She so loves herself!”, “She thinks she is all that!”) and that women do not need to take up less and less space.

Girls in Trouble in a Post-Feminist World

Parents, teachers and all of us at Enlighten Education know in our hearts that girls and young women are in trouble and need our support. And the evidence is mounting to prove that we are right to be concerned.

A 19-year-long Scottish study published recently in the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology showed that teenage girls are now the most depressed section of the population. The study, by Helen Sweeting, showed that girls were reporting mental disorders at a rate of 44%. More than a third felt “constantly under strain”. More than a quarter “felt they could not overcome their difficulties”. Between 1987 and 2006, the number of girls who “thought of themselves as worthless” trebled to 16%. Those who were so distressed they might need to be hospitalised rose threefold, to 18%.

And recent UK government research into 42,073 children between the ages of 10 and 15 concluded that:

The choices being made by teenage girls regarding diet, lifestyle and other health-related issues were so consistently damaging that they had become ‘a standalone group of the population’ requiring immediate intervention.

Amelia Hill, of London newspaper The Observer, reported on the research in her superb article After feminism: what are girls supposed to do? which I urge everyone to read.

Helen Sweeting, the author of the Scottish research, found it significant that her disturbing results came at a time of major upheavals in society — in Hill’s words, “the period in which girls began to outperform boys academically, and the obsession with celebrity culture and the pressure on younger and younger girls to become sexualised”.

Girls’ problems are caused by a combination of very modern problems, including the breakdown of the family, and the pressures of rampant consumerism and of educational expectations – the need, in short, to have things, look good and succeed all at the same time. Add to that the spread across society of increasingly cynical, individualistic values and beliefs, and you have a pretty toxic mix. — Helen Sweeting

For explanations, Hill turned to a number of experts, including Natasha Walter, author of the new book Living Dolls, The Return of Sexism:

Feminism’s own language of empowerment has been turned against it. The language of empowerment has been harnessed to confuse sexual liberation with sexual objectification. — Natasha Walter

I agree with Hill that girls are “growing up in an atmosphere of unapologetic crudity”. Stripping, she noted, “is widely cited as a method of empowerment”.

Girls feel pressured now in a way they never have been before to be thin, hyper-sexy, smart, glamorous, rich. And these expectations have created a “narcissism epidemic”. Respected American psychologist Jean Twenge studied almost 60 years’ worth of data on 37,000 American teenagers and found a staggering rise in the number of teens who score high on the narcissism personality index. And it is females who suffer the most from the depression and anxiety linked to narcissism, Hill noted.

The narcissist has huge expectations of themselves and their lives. Typically, they make predictions about what they can achieve that are unrealistic, for example in terms of academic grades and employment. They seek fame and status, and the achievement of the latter leads to materialism – money enables the brand labels and lavish lifestyle that are status symbols. — Jean Twenge

Other UK findings uncovered by Hill that make it impossible to deny that girls are in trouble include:

  • Hospital admissions for anorexia nervosa among teen girls have risen 80% in the last decade.
  • In the past year alone there has been a 50% rise in violent crime committed by young women.
  • One in three girls, and one in two boys, believe there are times when it is okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex.

It is clear that the pressure girls feel to be more and to have more has grown to the point that they are struggling to cope. They need our support and understanding right now. 

Thank you to Sarah Casey for bringing Amelia Hill’s article to my attention.

Seeking positive alternatives for girls  

Enlighten Education is proud to be working with schools and communities who are seeking answers for girls. I have recently returned from working with a number of schools in Christchurch, NZ, and spoke about this positive initiative on New Zealand’s Breakfast program:

To watch this interview, click on this image. You will be directed to the URL.
To watch this interview, click on the link above. You will be directed to the URL.

Wilderness College Adelaide is to be applauded for launching their “Raising Amazing Girls” program:

As part of the growing momentum around Australia to address the problems caused by unrealistic media and marketing images of women and the pressure for girls to grow up early, an extensive program will be launched today by Wilderness School to equip girls, and their parents, with the tools to help them navigate the ‘tweenie’ years.

This will include a series of practical seminars, open to all parents, as well as an intensive program working directly with the students at the school on issues such as the sexualisation of girls, digital citizenship and cyber-bullying. I am thrilled to be leading this for Wilderness and will be presenting to all the girls in the school, and to their parent community, later this month.

In Sydney, I will be offering parents practical strategies on raising happy, confident teen girls at a workshop on 16 March at Castle Hill Library. Tickets can be purchased online.  

I’d love to hear how you are providing the girls you care for with the urgent help they need. Let’s share our ideas and turn things around for girls in Australia and New Zealand . . . and set an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Skinny Kids

The following YouTube clip was brought to my attention by the divine Noelle Graham (a long term Enlighten supporter and a passionate advocate for young women suffering from eating disorders).

Unfortunately, I did not find it shocking for it reflects what I see in schools right across the country. I did, however, find it deeply sad. It left me more passionate than ever about offering both girls and women a different view of self – a more healing, whole view that recognises we are all far more than just our bodies. We are somebodies. We are large, we contain multitudes.

Love to hear your thoughts.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Fat Talk!

Does my bum look big in this?

I HATE MY THIGHS.

You look great–did you lose weight?

Fat talk. Many of us do it every day as we play the “compare and despair” game, trying to live up to an impossible stick-thin ideal of what we should look like and what it means to be feminine. But words have power. Even a casual remark about our own or another’s appearance can hold us back, reinforce our worst body image fears and stop us from being all we can be.

We should be celebrating our bodies and all our other amazing qualities and achievements!

So on Fat Talk Free Week, 19-23 October, please join me in trying to end the madness. Fat Talk Free Week grew out of a successful eating disorders program for young women on university campuses in the United States. It has snowballed into an international week to raise public awareness of how fat talk damages women and girls.

To get revved up, take a look at the video that was released last year for Fat Talk Free Week.

 

Some of the info shocked me, such as this statistic from the United States:

67% of women aged 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities such as giving their opinion, going to school or visiting the doctor because they feel bad about the way they look.

And the situation here is equally as alarming. A quarter of teenage girls surveyed in Australia say they would get plastic surgery if they could. Among 15-year-old girls, almost seven in ten are on a diet, and of these, 8 per cent are severely dieting. Six in ten girls say they have been teased about their appearance.

Let’s start freeing ourselves from all these negative and unrealistic body image beliefs–for our girls’ and our own futures. The Fat Talk Free Week website has great practical ideas for raising awareness in schools, such as:

  • making and displaying positive body image banners
  • writing down negative body image beliefs, screwing them up and cermonially throwing them out
  • writing down positive body image beliefs and displaying them in the school
  • making lists of friends’ best qualities, with one important exception: their physical appearance
  • groups making a pact to put a coin in a jar every time a girl fat talks during the week, then donating the money to an eating disorders organisation
  • discussion starters on defining fat talk and why it’s bad.

And I also love these great ideas that any woman or girl can try anywhere–at school, at work or at home:

The Top 5 Things You Can Do Now to Promote Positive Body Image

  1. Choose one friend or family member and discuss one thing you like about yourselves.
  2. Keep a journal of all the good things your body allows you to do (e.g., sleep well and wake up rested, play tennis, etc.).
  3. Pick one friend to make a pact with to avoid negative body talk. When you catch your friend talking negatively about their body, remind them of the pact.
  4. Make a pledge to end complaints about your body, such as “I’m so flat-chested” or “I hate my legs.” When you catch yourself doing this, make a correction by saying something positive about that body part, such as, “I’m so glad my legs got me through soccer practice today.”
  5. The next time someone gives you a compliment, rather than objecting (“No, I’m so fat”), practise taking a deep breath and saying “Thank you.”

Now is your chance to get prepared to try out some of these ideas on October 19-23. I’ll be sharing my experiences of ridding my life of fat talk, and I’d love to hear yours, too. Watch this space.

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