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Tag: Girlfriend magazine

What’s So Bad About Being A Girl?

The following post was written by Emily Maguire for this month’s Girlfriend Magazine. Regular readers will know I am a huge fan of Emily’s work, and particularly of her fabulous guide for young women, “Your Skirt’s Too Short : sex, power choice.”  I was deeply honoured when Emily agreed to launch my own guide for teen girls, “The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo – A girl’s guide to claiming her power.” You may read the passionate, articulate and thought-provoking speech Emily gave at this launch here: Celebrating The Awesomeness Of Teen Girls

I was delighted to have been interviewed for the following article as I think many parents will find helpful in supporting their daughters to move beyond limiting stereotypes – including those that would have us betray our girlhood.

Previous posts which explore similar themes may also interest: Barbie’s not an issue if girls can think for themselves ( co-written with Nina Funnell and originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald), and It’s time to reclaim the power of pink, a guest post by Clementine Ford which was originally published in Daily Life.

Emily Maguire and I at the launch of "The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo."
Emily Maguire and I at the launch of “The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo.”

Earlier this year, after winning her Best Actress Oscar, Jennifer Lawrence gave a press conference in which she answered some seriously dumb questions with kick-arse humour. Her performance was widely praised, but it was the response from Aussie pop culture site Pedestrian TV that was really striking. The entire press conference, they wrote, was ‘an exercise in being a dude’.

Now, they weren’t insulting JLaw or implying she looked anything less than feminine; they were paying her a compliment by declaring that she had moved beyond being a mere girl and into the realm of dude-ishness.

It’s the kind of compliment that the teenaged me would have killed for. All I wanted was to be ‘one of the boys’, because I thought that meant being cooler, smarter and all around better than other girls.

Katie, 19, can relate. A few years ago it was a point of pride that she hung out with dudes, wore sneakers and hated pink. She remembers noticing that boys used ‘girl’ as an insult and hassled each other by saying ‘oh, look that’s your favourite colour’ whenever they saw something pink. ‘Of course at fifteen you want to be liked by boys and don’t want to be seen as lesser than them,’ Katie says. So for her, rejecting girliness was a case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’.

For me, the habit of equating maleness with awesomeness started very young. In the books I loved, the female characters were duller than dull. They stood in towers watching their own hair grow or spent their days cleaning up after dwarves or step-sisters. When I daydreamed about living the stories I read, I was always a boy, because a boy was always the hero.

Many little girls today are getting the same message. According to the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media only 29.2 percent of characters in kids films and TV shows are female. And to make it worse, many of those characters play no role in the story except, as Davis puts it, ‘as eye candy’.

It’s not only kids’ shows, though. Joanne Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, was told by her publisher to follow the path of many other female writers and publish her books under her initials so that readers wouldn’t be put off by the apparently awful fact that a woman had written them. Meanwhile, in our national capital, government minister Kate Ellis (who is young, pretty and always nicely dressed) has faced catcalls of ‘here comes the weather girl’ when speaking in parliament.

Even female pop icons get in on the girl-trashing game. When Katy Perry wants to insult an unreliable, moody guy she accuses him of acting ‘like a girl’, and Taylor Swift differentiates herself from her rival by comparing her own tomboy style (T-shirts and sneakers) to the other girl’s penchant for short skirts and high heels.

Of course some girls do feel more comfortable in jeans than dresses, and plenty of us enjoy hanging out with our dude pals, and that’s fine. This isn’t about girly vs tom-boy style, but about the fact that many people seem to think being overtly feminine means being dull or dumb. You can’t help being female, this line of thought goes, but if you want to be taken seriously you should try very hard to not be too girly about it.

It’ a problem 15 year-old Hannah is used to confronting. ‘I love pink. I love sparkles. I love fluffy pens and hair-clips and sticking butterflies on everything.’

What Hannah doesn’t love, is the assumption that she’s stupid because of her ultra-girlish appearance. ‘One of my teachers calls me ‘Princess’, which might sound nice, but he says it in a really sarcastic way. It’s frustrating because I’m actually good at that subject, but he treats me like an idiot anyway.’

Disturbingly, Hannah’s experience of being belittled by an adult is not unusual. Indeed, Dannielle Miller, author of The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: a girl’s guide to claiming her power reckons that putting down girliness is more of a problem with adults than amongst girls themselves. After all, it’s adults – not girls –  making movies where girls are only there to be pretty, writing girl-insulting songs, denigrating female MPs and treating pink-loving students as if they’re stupid.

Miller thinks most girls understand that ‘the glitter and frills are a thin veneer; underneath that they can still be feisty and fierce.’ But even if you understand that, it can be hard to express yourself in a way that you know may cause others to look down on you. Miller’s advice is for girls to ignore the haters and stay strong. ‘Playing around with identity is fine. Don’t let anyone judge you on it.’

It’s advice Katie has taken to heart. Nowadays, she happily gets ‘dolled up’ in a way she never would have when she was younger. ‘I do get concerned that people might label me as “vain” or “dumb”, but I know that’s not the truth, so I just do what I want.’

So go ahead: wear a sparkly unicorn onesie and eat pink cupcakes while giving your girlfriends makeovers. Or don’t, because that’s fine, too. But the next time someone compliments you by saying you’re just like a guy, compliment him right back by telling him he’s so awesome, you’re going to make him an honorary girl.

The Big Chill

My words of advice were offered to teen girls in the September issue of Girlfriend Magazine. I have had such a strong response from teens telling me this article helped them navigate a friendship that had turned toxic that I thought it worth republishing here (with Girlfriend’s permission). Feel free to pass this on to the young women in your life who may be feeling the big chill…

Image by The Notebook Doodles. Her beautiful art work is featured in our FREE mobile phone wallpapers which may be downloaded at our shop: www.enlighteneducation.com/shop

HOW TO DEAL WITH FRIENDS WHO FREEZE YOU OUT

Just yesterday you were happily splitting bestie charms and planning holiday fun, but today the reception’s so icy that you need thermals to approach. The worst thing is, you have no idea why. The friendship freeze-out is pretty common, and if it happens to you there’s not a lot you can do to prevent it. But you can learn how to get through it. We show you how.

IT’S GETTIN’ COLD IN HERE

The first thing to know is you’re not alone. “Teenage girls tend to isolate and ostracise their friends more than boys do,” says Dannielle Miller, CEO of Enlighten Education (enlighteneducation.com.au). And sadly, there’s usually no reasoning behind it. You probably haven’t done anything wrong, and there’s nothing you could have done to avoid it. Yes, it’s hurtful, but you can get through it. We know you can.

DEALING WITH THE FROST

Now is the time to tap into your inner strength. “Having a strong sense of self is extremely important,” says Dannielle. “It’ll help you be more resilient if others aren’t validating you the way you’d like to be validated.” Knowing yourself, and being happy with the person you are, will help you gain perspective on the sitch, and you won’t need to be defined by the people who are around you.

CAST A WIDER FRIEND NET

Creating a friendship network beyond school is super-important as it means you have someone to fall back on. Whether that be through sport, drama, or other friends you’ve met at parties, if your friendship group is broader, you won’t rely so heavily on the ones at school.

IN THE NOW

For the short term, rather than mope about the situation, use the extra time to your advantage. Do your homework, research that essay, or have lunch with a different group. It’ll feel empowering to not rely on one gang to have a good time. The other immediate action you can take is to chat directly to the group leader. “Have a one-on-one conversation, which is less threatening,” says Dannielle. Focus on how you feel and always use “I” words instead of “You do this”. It’s also important to try and end on a positive note, so Dannielle suggests something like, “I feel at the moment you girls don’t want me to sit with you. I’m hurt but I respect that’s your choice and hopefully we’ll catch up later”. Taking the high ground will have them thinking they’ve messed up.

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

We know that when this happens to you it feels as though your life will never be the same again, but eventually it will. “In my experience, this stuff usually blows over in a couple of days,” says Dannielle. However, if it does go on for longer, it could become serious bullying, and this is when you need to tell someone – because that is never OK. And remember, if this is how your “friends” treat you, perhaps you should think about what you really want in a friend – coz this sure ain’t it.

Article written by Sarah Tarca, Girlfriend, September 2011.

Step in the right direction or PR exercise?

I was recently invited onto Channel 7’s The Morning Show to discuss an “Extreme Makeover” story in Girlfriend magazine’s June 2009 issue. Using before and after shots of a teen girl, they show readers just how much work goes into producing the perfect images on magazine covers: the hours of hair and makeup, clever lighting and photography, and fashion styling – not to mention all the digital manipulation necessary to make beautiful girls impossibly flawless, with no blemishes or cellulite, and with perfectly white teeth and eyes. According to the magazine’s editor, Sarah Cornish, Girlfriend’s aim was to dispel the myth that readers too should – or could – look like the beauty icons they see in the media. Click on the screen image below to watch the interview I did alongside Sarah Cornish, or use the following URL: http://au.tv.yahoo.com/the-morning-show/video/-/watch/13306869/


I applaud the magazine’s sentiment, and the June 2009 issue of Girlfriend magazine does include some good articles. There is a “Love Your Body” section and a sealed “Good Advice” section that presents the advice of psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, author of books on parenting teen girls, and Dr Sally Cockburn, aka radio’s Dr Feelgood, an expert on women’s health. But this valuable and positive information is offset by a range of advertisements and advertorials that offer conflicting, toxic messages. How about this full-page advertisement on the inside back cover?


The model looks like she has stepped straight from a shoot for the men’s magazine Ralph: stilettos, skimpy bikini, large breasts. She is faceless. It is all about her body. The ad is for hair-removal products “specially for active and youthful skin”.

After we finished filming the segment at the Channel 7 studios, I raised my concerns with editor Sarah Cornish, and she agreed that the ad was not consistent with the values the magazine claims to espouse. She also assured me this particular ad would not get run again.

Sarah, and indeed all magazine editors, are in highly influential positions and have the power to communicate helpful messages to teen girls about body image. The need to do so has never been more urgent. Girlfriend magazine itself acknowledges in another article, “Drastic Plastic,” that 26% of their readers admit they have contemplated cosmetic surgery as a solution to their angst about their bodies.

I appreciate that editors may not be able to completely revolutionise their magazines overnight, and I suspect that in our tough economic climate they may even become less selective about the advertising they accept – but if they are serious about their commitment to young women, they simply must be more vigilant. During our brief meeting, Sarah struck me as genuine and open to an ongoing dialogue about how she can improve the messages she presents to girls. Watch this space.

Sex, Lies and Photoshop

The clip below is a really interesting opinion piece posted by The New York Times on March 10th. (Click on the image or visit: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/03/09/opinion/1194838469575/sex-lies-and-photoshop.html.)

This has particular relevance for us in Australia. Here, too, the camera always lies.

Does it matter? Yes. For some years now groups like ours have been advocating for more realistic and diverse portrayals of young women in the media; the current definition of beauty is so very narrow! Research from Mission Australia shows that for young Australian women in particular, concerns over body image are urgent. Through my work, I have seen firsthand that self-doubt can impact on every dimension of a young girl’s life: when girls are on extreme diets (and many are), or self-medicating depression by binge drinking, or being bullied by peers because they do not fit some ideal, they cannot possibly reach their full academic or personal potential.

I work with hundreds of schools right across Australia and New Zealand, and I can tell you that there is a real need to give girls skills to deconstruct the many unhealthy media messages they are currently bombarded with. The fact that our company, Enlighten Education, is so busy (we have worked with over 25 schools this term alone) is indicative of this. Schools recognise that they are not just responsible for producing strong academic candidates – they are concerned with the whole girl. They want their students to be healthy and happy and know that they are somebodies, not just bodies.

It seems that the Federal Government is also now keen to act. Earlier this month, it commissioned a group of fashion industry leaders to address body dissatisfaction levels among Australia’s youth. The group will be chaired by a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Mia Freedman. Girlfriend editor Sarah Cornish, model Sarah Murdoch and a number of representatives from health, media and youth groups will also be involved.

They have been charged with developing a voluntary code of practice for portraying body image in the media. The clear labelling of digitally retouched or modified images, greater diversity of body shapes and sizes, and mandatory model age limits are among the issues under consideration by the group.

This move is a welcome one – and has come not before time. I just hope the working party developing these standards don’t use this opportunity merely as a PR exercise. We need real action, not just a talkfest. We also need consistency: magazines cannot say on the one hand “We care about teen girl self-esteem” while on the other they allow advertisements that sexualise and objectify young women. After all, Girlfriend magazine gave free Playboy T-shirts away to readers not that long ago!

While the talk continues, we will keep working.

And we will keep listening to our client schools who are getting more and more inventive in how they follow up on our work. Teachers from St Mary’s Star of the Sea College, Wollongong, will build on it in their pastoral care program throughout the year. The girls did a reflective task recently in which they set their personal goals for the year ahead and celebrated by writing them on butterflies they decorated – and sent to me 🙂

Girls at Rangi Ruru in New Zealand created their own Hall of Fame and Wall of Shame. (See my previous blog post to get this started at your school.) Guidance Counsellor Jane Dickie sent me some wonderful feedback:

We also had cakes in the shape of butterflies to remind us to celebrate the beauty within us all. Throughout the year we will continue to carry on the themes discussed during the Enlighten programme. Not only has this been helpful for Year 10 as a whole, it has also given us ideas for working with girls higher up in the school. The saying “No girl gets left behind” has been something we have discussed with Years 11 to 13. We have also highlighted to the girls as a whole the influence of the media, and being vigilant about the pressure and ideas they are trying to sell. You are a consumer and therefore have power by not buying magazines, etc., that portray women in a negative light.

Love to hear what is happening at your school to provide girls with an alternative to the more negative messages they are surrounded with.

PS If you are establishing your own Hall of Fame / Wall of Shame, here are some new entrants:

Shame on Smiggle. They have just released a voodoo-doll-inspired pencil case, complete with a spot to insert a photo of the person you hate and pins to stick in this effigy! Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids was quick to point out why this is grossly irresponsible: Kids Free 2B Kids protests against voodoo pencil case.

Shame, too, on Sydney radio station Triple M. They are running a new competition entitled Make Me a Porn Star: “Send us a photo of your best ‘porn star’ look, and you could win $5000 to pimp yourself up! We’ll also send you and a friend to Perth for Porn Week where you will get exclusive behind the scenes VIP access and star as an extra in an Adult Film!” Is a role in a porn film something we should be competing for on mainstream radio?

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