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Tag: Kerri-Anne

Twattish prudes and Playboy bunnies: Just another day at the Diva Facebook page

Jewellery retailer Diva’s Facebook fan page continues to be a hotbed of (barely moderated) comments about their new Playboy line that I talked about last week. Unfortunately, what could have been a forum for debate quickly became a cyberbully’s paradise. A handful of fans of the retailer – and many more trolls who seemed to be on the page simply to insult people – filled the page with taunts.

I posted the following comment on the page and also emailed it to Diva’s head office:

Diva your FB page has becoming increasingly filled with personal attacks and obscene language (not to mention it appears to now be haunted by young men who wish to insult women). This is a direct result of you introducing a porn-inspired range. It now means this page is no longer suitable for young girls. How do you feel about this? And, as this is your public profile, do you intend to monitor this page and moderate comments? Finally, based on the comments here it seems very obvious that the vast majority of CONSUMERS (ie: not young boys or 1-2 young women who are very brand loyal) now say they have lost respect for YOUR brand and feel alienated by this marketing decision. How do you intend to win back consumer confidence? Looking forward to listening to your responses.

My comment got 50 ‘likes’ yet I am still waiting for a response from Diva. So are scores of other people who went on the Facebook page and politely and rationally explained their concerns about Diva marketing a porn-branded product to tweens and teens.

I received a lot of positive comments but also the now almost-obligatory obscene comments (which came from a young guy who admitted he just likes stirring up strangers on the net).

The company was painfully slow to do anything about the hurtful, bullying insults all over their Facebook page. I don’t want to repeat any of the actual posts here – I don’t want to give the trolls any more oxygen – but the blog Corporate Failings summed it all up like this:

Insults relating to concerned customer’s gender, intelligence, sexual orientation, race, disabilities & weight have spewed forth unrelentingly.

One ‘fan’ even went as far as taunting a concerned customer suggesting they’d do well to take their own life because of their appearance. Diva was no-where to be found . . .

Diva finally began removing most of the worst bullying and adding their own comment:

Hi we like hearing your views but we are not ok with personal attacks on each other, so we will be deleting any posts that are considered bullying. Feel free to post a cleaner version as we are happy for you to have your say. x

The thing is, there are still some very hurtful comments on the page – the usual stuff about weight, age, appearance, oh, and calling us “twattish prudes”. Meanwhile, we are all still waiting for an actual response by Diva to our concerns. After waiting four days, this is all we got, and some pictures of flowery brooches and headpieces:

Hey, sorry we haven’t been able to respond sooner, we didn’t expect to be so busy over the last few days. As you’ve probably seen by now we’ve had heaps of FB comments, tweets and news stuff and on top of that we had a long wet weekend here in Sydney.

So now we are catching up on all of the things that we are cramming in to 4 days! One things for sure, we love our fashion, it always comes with lots of emotions, always changes and moves so fast.

So we know you are all looking for the next trend. We are loving that it’s spring carnival and we’re totes excited about seeing all your fashion on the field this year.

Here are some great pieces perfect for the races!

I love Caitlin Roper’s response:

So just to clarify, Diva’s official response was: Look, pretty flowers!

It is deeply concerning to me that the internet, which holds so much promise as a way to connect and share ideas and beliefs, can so easily become a venue for hateful speech designed to intimidate and silence. And all too often, it is women who are on the receiving end, something I have written about before, in Sticks and Stones. Facebook itself has sat on its hands while people set up fan pages celebrating rape and other types of violence against women.

I went of Kerri-anne recently to talk about my own experiences as the subject of an online hate campaign on Facebook against me after I made a comment about girls kickboxing. A prominent member of the kickboxing community said he wanted to punch me in the face and encouraged thousands of Facebook users to join in on the abuse. I ended up personally ringing a number of these people and confronting them about it, which was very interesting because a number of them turned around and apologised profusely, not quite realising the extent of their actions. Some ended up issuing public apologies.

Even when bullying is happening in cyberworld, we can – and should – stand up to the bullies.

Someone who is doing just that is 14-year-old Sydney girl Julia Weber, who has released a book, ILY (I Love You) – One Teen Girl’s Guide to a Bully-Proof Adolescence. Julia has been subject to bullying, including cyberbullying by a group of boys at a school dormitory. What upset her most was that only a few boys were doing the actual cyberbullying but the rest, about three-quarters of the boys, just stood by and did nothing to stop the bullies. “It’s those people – the bystanders – who we have to change,” says Julia.

I couldn’t agree more.

For tips on combating bullies, and some helpful links, see Bullying: It’s time to focus on solutions.

Just Speak Up – Getting Real About Post Natal Depression

This week I spoke publicly on what had until now been a very personal experience for me: the post-natal depression I had after the birth of my first child, beautiful Teyah, who is now 12. I was on a Kerri-anne panel that included 60 Minutes’ Peter Overton, a true gentleman who was visibly emotional talking about his wife Jessica Rowe’s far more public battle with PND, and journalist Angela Mollard, who spoke frankly about her raw emotions after the birth of her second child.

Though this discussion doesn’t relate to the raising of girls, the topic is so important that I want to share it, with the aim of supporting grown-up girls, too. I really hope this will spark conversations that heal.

If you feel that you might have symptoms of PND, help is available. You don’t have to suffer alone. A GP can refer you to the right specialist and there are several effective treatments. Beyondblue’s PND website, justspeakup.com.au, is an excellent starting point for help and advice.

Jessica Rowe not only recommended justspeakup as a site to share with you, she has also given her blessing for me to run this moving and honest account she wrote for Vogue. For those who are struggling to understand what it feels like to have PND, and for those who have this illness and feel they are alone, Jessica vividly captures the thoughts and feelings that many women with PND share.

 

I had everything I could possibly wish for—my newborn baby, Allegra, and my decent, darling husband by my side. Minutes after I pushed my little girl into the world, I held her against my chest, peering into her little squashed face. Her eyes were still jammed shut but I couldn’t stop looking at her. I told her, “So, you’re finally here, my darling. I’ve been waiting such a long time to meet you. For so long you were just a thought, a wish upon a star, but finally you’ve joined us.” And with that she opened one of her eyes and fixed me with her first look at the world. Her clear, blue stare drinking in the love and relief that poured out of me. The greatest love affair of my life was just beginning.

That first week in hospital was a blur of unfathomable love, joy, sheer terror and excitement. I felt safe in my room at the end of the corridor. Allegra and I drew the curtains around us, safely tucked away from the world and the reality of what waited for us at home. As the days went by quickly in hospital I started to worry about going home. How would I cope? I didn’t know how to bath my baby. Changing a nappy was a nerve-racking affair. The midwives kept telling me I could lose the fairy-taps and be more confident in handling my precious bundle.

And my breast milk still hadn’t come through. When my little one was five days old, I was sobbing and laughing simultaneously as I lay in hospital with cabbage leaves stuffed in my ugly feeding bra. The nurses told me the cabbage leaves were the best way to stop my boobs from being so sore. I wasn’t making much sense at all as I obsessively wrote down everything in my notebook.

In those early weeks at home I thought I’d be living my long-held dream. Finally, at last, we were a family. Why on earth did my dream feel like it was free-falling into a nightmare? It took me quite some time to get out of my PJs once I got home with my little miracle. Getting out the front door was tough—I wondered if I would ever leave the house again. Assembling the pram, changing nappies and working out how to put Allegra in the baby capsule became my biggest achievements.

Despite the sleep deprivation, I couldn’t sleep. My waking hours were consumed by anxious thoughts. Why couldn’t I breastfeed? Was my baby putting on enough weight? Did using formula mean I was setting my daughter up for a life of obesity and lowering her IQ? I wondered how I could feel so wretched when I finally had my darling girl. After all, wasn’t I meant to be the superwoman who could deal with anything life threw at me?

These were all pretty standard thoughts for a new mum. But something was seriously wrong. Because what weren’t so standard were the scary, obsessive thoughts that started to sneak into my befuddled brain.

The small silver Tiffany’s clock that I used to time breastfeeds became a weapon in my mind. I wondered how easily the clock could crack my baby’s delicate skull. My eyes would be drawn to the sharp carving knife in our second draw in the kitchen. I wondered if such a knife could pierce my little daughter’s soft skin. I knew I would never hurt my baby but these bizarre thoughts, of turning everyday objects into hazards, kept going around in my mind.

I wrapped the knife up in newspaper and threw it away. I did this at night, so the neighbours wouldn’t see me. I hid the silver clock. It didn’t matter that these objects were out of sight, as they were very much still in my mind.

The outside world was none the wiser to how I was feeling. I was determined to keep up appearances. Fashion had always given me such pleasure and in some strange way I believed if I could walk out the front door looking together all was not lost. My uniform became a brightly coloured feeding bra, teamed with either a Zimmerman pink leopard-print frock or a fifties-style chocolate dress that was scattered with a mauve and pale pink diamond pattern. The look was complete with big black Escada sunglasses and gold or silver ballet flats. But as you know, appearances can be deceiving.

I was wearing one such outfit at the first meeting of the mothers group in my area. I arrived late, having struggled to pack the baby bag with the right number of nappies and dummies. Then it took another 20 minutes to work out how to clip the wretched baby capsule into the car. Suitably stressed out, I flapped into the group to be confronted by a group of women who seemed to all be blissfully feeding and snuggling their babies.

The new mum next to me said, “Isn’t this the best thing you’ve ever done?” Another mum told the group that it “just got better and better”.

It had taken so much to get me out my front door. I didn’t have the courage to confess that for me it didn’t feel like it was the best thing I’d ever done. I felt like I was making an enormous mess of things. And no, it wasn’t getting better and better. I was feeling so much worse, it was getting harder, not easier, and I feared the long nights ahead and those scary thoughts dominating the hours before dawn.

I felt like the odd one out. No-one else seemed to be drowning. I had never felt so isolated in my life. I vowed to myself never to go back to that meeting again. I’m sure on the surface I looked like I was coping; and looking back, there would have been some other mums in that group who, like me, were floating adrift, desperate to be thrown a lifeline.

. . .

What surprised me was the stigma I felt when I realised I had post-natal depression. It was ironic, as for many years I’ve campaigned for greater mental health awareness. The message I would tell people again and again, in media interviews, charity functions and education campaigns, was that having a mental illness was nothing to be ashamed of, that it was an illness like any other. But now, here I was feeling that shame.

. . .

After about six weeks of trying to ignore how I was feeling and attempting to hide my inner chaos by putting on my wardrobe armour, I realised I had to talk to my husband. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I felt that I was letting him down, too.

As my daughter slept, I sat next to Peter on the couch and told him I wasn’t coping. He kept asking me if I was going to harm myself or Allegra, and I told him of course not. But I knew that I needed someone to pull me out of the anxious, frightening world my head was slipping into. He held me and told me everything was going to be all right, and then, for the first time in a long time, I believed it.

We came up with a plan, that I would call my obstetrician the next day and take it from there. My doctor was wonderful. I rang her, explained a little over the phone about my black thoughts and she arranged for me to see her that afternoon. I remember pouring my heart out to her, sobbing as I explained how I had been feeling over those past few weeks. She organised for me to see a psychiatrist the following day.

I put on my diamond-patterned dress for the psychiatrist. She could quickly see through my appearance. I realised I didn’t have to pretend anymore and I just had to be honest. And when I sat there talking with her, describing my thoughts, I started to feel a sense of relief. She explained that the thoughts I was having were typical for someone with PND. No longer did I feel like a freak, some crazy woman. I already felt like I was on my way. The most difficult step for me had been asking for help. Now that I was getting the help I needed, I felt like this incredible weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I was keen to get started on anti-depressants. I was desperate to get the thoughts out of my head. My psychiatrist laughed at my eagerness. Usually she would have to convince her patients of the benefits of a little chemical help. I knew medication had helped my mum, and I was keen to kickstart my recovery. And make up for lost time with my family.

After about three weeks on the medication, I started to feel a little better. I was standing in my front garden and noticed the smell of jasmine in the air. I could feel a slight shift inside of me, a little breeze of optimism. What a lovely change in the wind. And that positive wind blew stronger over the following weeks, taking my dark thoughts away with it. And slowly, I began to feel more and more like me again.

I realised I wasn’t a failure. What I had was an illness. It didn’t mean I was a bad mother, or that I didn’t love my baby. I just needed some help to get over a difficult, dark patch in those early months of my little girl’s life. Now when I put my darling girl to bed and she closes her blue eyes, I don’t dread the night ahead. We both sleep heavily, dreaming of the joy that daybreak will bring.

Taking the Blues out of Puberty: Part 1

I didn’t get my first period until I was 15 years old. I was the last within my circle of friends, and by then, even my younger sister was a veteran (oh the indignity). You’ve never seen a teen girl more prepared for this milestone than I was. I had been carrying tampons in my school bag for so long I think they may well have past their use-by date! I had even had practice in breaking the news to parents as my best friend had been too embarrassed to tell her mother when she started her period and I had broken this news for her : “Mrs Manton, our Janelle has become a woman…” The main feeling I recall when I started menstruating was that of relief. Finally, I was in the “big girls” club! I was so elated I ran into my school assembly and screamed out “I have my period!” to my friends- not realising the teachers were already present and waiting to start. My Year Advisor was very gracious and began the assembly by congratulating me.

For many girls today though there is not this same sense of preparedness, nor do they think there is much to celebrate. A significant number too are going through puberty younger than ever before. I was asked by Kerri-anne recently to discuss why, and what the implications are.

This is such an important subject that I wanted to find out more and draw on the expertise of Enlighten Education’s own sexuality education expert, Rachel Hansen, who is my guest blogger this week.

Rachel Hansen headshotRachel Hansen is the progam manager for Enlighten Education in New Zealand and is an experienced educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Rachel is the founder of Good Talks, an organisation that offers sexuality education to schools and parents.

Most women have a very vivid memory of where they were when they got their first period, what they were doing and how they felt. I was 12 and very reluctant to grow up – life was good as a little girl! On the day my period started I was playing make-believe games with my little brother and sister in our garden and I noticed blood on my undies. I cried and cried and cried. I sat by the window for the rest of the day, watching my siblings play, having decided with great sadness that now I had my period I was too old to play those games. I felt a real sense of loss, and also despair that I was no longer in control of my body.

Research indicates that this moment is happening at increasingly younger ages than in previous generations. Over the past 20 years, the average onset of menstruation has dropped from 13 years to 12 years, seven months, and indications are it will continue to drop. As the average age has dropped by five months, it means that those girls at the lower end of the bell curve are also starting earlier. So nowadays it is increasingly common for girls to start menstruating as early as 8 and 9 years old. Researchers have found that 15 percent of American girls now begin puberty by age 7 (measured by the girls’ level of breast development). This is twice the rate seen in a 1997 study, and the findings are likely to be similar in New Zealand and Australia.

Why are girls reaching puberty earlier?
Some of the more widely supported theories about why this is happening are:
• As our standard of living has increased, so has nutrition. This means that there is less stress on girls’ bodies, allowing puberty to start earlier.
• Increased rates of obesity are thought to be a factor, as girls are now younger when they reach the level of body fat required to trigger puberty.
• There is a suspicion that increased levels of environmental chemicals that mimic the effects of hormones are causing girls to start puberty earlier.
• Interesting research from New Zealand indicates that girls exposed to stress at home (such as parental marital breakdown and domestic violence) were more likely to start menstruating before girls living in more settled home environments. One of these factors is that if a mother enters into a new relationship, the presence of a new man in the home triggers a hormonal response in girls that can lead to earlier puberty.

The consequences can be profound
Traditionally, puberty has marked the transition from childhood to adolescence or adulthood. Many girls absorb the message that beginning menstruation means that they are a woman. Just as I did, some girls who get their periods early can experience a sense of grief and loss, as they don’t feel ready to leave childhood.

For many girls, puberty marks the moment that they start to define their self-worth by the way they see themselves in the mirror. And all too often the girls don’t like what they see. Such a response is understandable: at the same time as girls are experiencing an increase in body fat and a widening of their hips, they are bombarded with messages from the media that suggest the perfect beautiful body resembles a prepubescent male or has proportions that can only be achieved through disordered eating or extreme Photoshopping.

I was so embarrassed by my body when I was younger that I couldn’t tell my mum I’d started my period, when I was 13. I lost it for 2 years thereafter as my weight plummeted, so I didn’t really have to deal with it and when it came back I was so angry. It meant a) that I had to deal with this THING happening to my body and b) I wasn’t a ‘good enough’ anorexic. My mum tried to talk to me about it, but I’d just slam doors and refuse to talk about it, or hide under my bed.

I found the changes in my body very distressing. I remember when I started growing breasts, initially at 12–13 and then again when I’d gained weight at 16–17 and I’d make deals with God that if I didn’t eat/was nice to my brothers/did all my homework/didn’t shout at my parents/etc., etc., that these things would go away. They didn’t. Now I’m kind of glad of that. – Ella

It is particularly concerning that evidence suggests that girls who reach puberty earlier have a more negative body image than girls who reach puberty when older.

Some girls eagerly anticipate their first period because they believe it will propel them into a world of sexual desirability and adult experiences. For girls at both ends of the spectrum, we need to be quite clear that getting your period does not equate to womanhood. Becoming a woman is far more than our bodies changing. We need to be careful about the symbolism we use surrounding menstruation and the expectations we place on girls.

Experiencing puberty at a younger age means that girls’ childhoods are being compressed and often their minds are not ready to deal with the changes that their body is going through. Many struggle to understand and cope with hormone-influenced emotions and sexual impulses, and are not ready to deal with sexual interest from males. Physical maturity often doesn’t reflect girls’ cognitive and emotional development.

In their study of the evolution of puberty, New Zealand researchers Gluckman and Hanson concluded that for the first time in human history we are maturing physically much earlier than we are maturing psychologically and socially. Meanwhile, our education system and our expectations as parents are grounded in the 19th century, when there was a closer match between physical and psychosocial maturity. “There will have to be adjustment to educational and other societal structures to accommodate this new biological reality,” they write.

poster - you are loved
The effect of this “new biological reality” is compounded by our consumer culture’s relentless march to shorten childhood. Prior to the late 1990s, marketers had not discovered the concept of tween, a phenomenon that now has girls wearing makeup and high-heels and their parents taking them to beauty salons or to get waxed. And the target market gets younger and younger, as we’ve seen with child beauty pageants. Earlier physical maturity, coupled with a highly sexualised society where girls are bombarded with the notion that sexual desirability is of utmost importance is a toxic combination – which is why it’s more important than ever to keep talking with our kids and showing them we love them for who they are, not for what they look like.

This is part one of a three-part series. In next week’s post, Rachel will look at what parents and schools can do to best support girls through puberty.

Eating Disorders and Primary School Children

Last week the Herald Sun reported that children as young as seven are being hospitalised with eating disorders. Equally as alarming, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead’s eating disorders clinic, which specialises in working with people aged seven to 17, has experienced a 270 per cent increase in admissions since 2000.

The crew at Kerri-anne asked me to come on and discuss this worrying trend with viewers yesterday. I asked for Melinda Hutchings — an eating disorders survivor, ambassador for The Butterfly Foundation and author of the incredible Why Can’t I Look The Way I Want?: Overcoming Eating Issues to accompany me to offer her personal insights.


As is always the case with live breakfast television, there wasn’t enough time to offer all the insights we would like, so I have asked Melinda to be my guest blogger this week.

image001 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. About two-thirds were affected by anorexia nervosa; the rest were experiencing “food avoidant emotional disorder”, a condition unique to children, which involves extreme weight loss driven by high anxiety levels, rather than wanting to be thin.

And according to a 2003 study of 135 South Australian children conducted by Professor Marika Tiggemann, of the School of Psychology, Flinders University, two-thirds of girls in year 1 believed that being thin would make them more popular. Even more believed weight gain would attract teasing.

Children spend much of their early lives at school, an environment that can be competitive, with hierarchies often based on physical appearances. A negative fixation on weight and size potentially lends itself to self-destructive thoughts and behaviours, which can be triggered by situations, comments or events that bring up feelings of anxiety and worthlessness. These include family arguments related to eating (e.g. “You’re not leaving the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate”), feelings of being misunderstood, rejection by peers (e.g. “Go away, we don’t want to play with you”) or feeling like a misfit.

Negative emotions can lead to unhealthy thought processes and feelings of insecurity around body image. If left undetected, these feelings can lead to the onset of an eating disorder.

In my book Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want?: Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a chapter dedicated to the early warning signs. These signs are often subtle and can be passed off as “normal” behaviour – unless you know what to look for. Common warning signs include avoiding eating in front of others, making excuses to avoid family meal times, obsession with food preparation and a change in attitude towards food, e.g. becoming vegan or cutting out entire food groups under the guise of wanting to be “healthy”. In addition, ritualistic behaviour when eating, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, insisting that meals are eaten at a particular time each day or obsessive use of the same crockery and cutlery is cause for concern.

There are also warning signs before the warning signs. If a child is constantly complaining of headaches and tiredness, or appears to have trouble coping at school, this could indicate there is something deeper going on. Emotional issues, including feelings of inadequacy, often manifest as physical ailments, so stay aware of any symptoms that persist or behaviour that indicates difficulty coping, such as falling behind in class.

Becoming vigilant about the early warning signs means there is a very real chance of catching the behaviour before it spirals from an eating issue into an eating disorder.

Here are five tips for parents and carers:

1. Eat with your child as often as you can so that you become familiar with their eating habits.

2. Watch for changes in those habits, especially anything that appears unusually strict and lasts for several weeks.

3. Listen to the language your child uses around food. If they start talking about diets or calorie contents, or complain that they are fat (when they’re not) this is a red flag.

4. Watch for a change in disposition. If your child displays hostility around meal times, they could be experiencing internal conflict towards food.

5. If your child eats large amounts of food constantly but doesn’t realise how much they are eating and/or aren’t enjoying it, especially during times of stress, this could indicate obsessive eating.

In the event your child begins to display an aversion towards food and changes in their eating patterns, seek medical advice as soon as possible so that they get the right treatment without delay. Early intervention is critical in reframing the mindset before it becomes entrenched.
Melinda Hutchings

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.

Material Girls

Lourdes' new fashion label "Material Girl" which is aimed at teens.
Lourdes' new fashion label "Material Girl" which is aimed at teens.

The current generation of children has been found to be the most brand-aware in history. Why should we be concerned about this? Because along with heightened consumerism, adolescents are taking on some very adult-size burdens. Australian teens are working and earning more than ever before and a significant number are suffering stress from owing money to credit card companies, mobile phone carriers, and friends and family. They are even beginning to show signs of something you may be familiar with as an adult: ‘choice fatigue’. That’s when you become overwhelmed by the vast array of consumer products you seemingly must make a selection from. More and more kids wish that the whole consumer merry-go-round would just slow down for a second. Researchers have even found that when a child is more materialistic, she tends to be more depressed and anxious and have lower self-esteem.

We should be concerned, too, because teenagers now account for such a big chunk of the consumer market that they are ferociously targeted by marketing and advertising campaigns. While our daughters are still learning, growing into adults and forming their own identity, they are especially vulnerable and impressionable consumers, and marketers know that. You can’t help but feel a chill when you read the words of one marketing professional who said at a big marketing-and-advertising shindig in New York: ‘Kids are the most powerful sector of the market, and we should take advantage of them.’ Can you think of any circumstance where it’s okay for the words ‘kids’ and ‘take advantage of’ to be linked? Me neither.

Often teen girls are told both by the marketers and her peers that if they wear a particular label, they will be noticed and accepted. Teens feel a strong need to carve out their own identity. They want to be and look like individuals, with their own style and image. Yet at the same time, no teenage girl wants to be on the outer or to be perceived as uncool or clueless about what’s in. They want to be part of a group; they have a genuine and valid need to fit in with friends and peers. You may remember treading a fine line yourself in your high school years. If you were too slavish a follower of the latest fashions you looked like a try-hard; on the other hand, if you were wearing the wrong shoes you risked being relegated to the outer reaches of the girl-world galaxy.
womensclothing_440x198

The people who sell products to our kids are only too aware of this eternal teenage paradox. Owning the right brands and products – and putting them together in her own style – is one way that a teen girl can walk that razor’s edge between being in and being out. Brand ownership enables girls to associate with a group: the other kids who gravitate towards those brands. The labels and products a girl displays can be like a social code, offering up signs of what kind of girl she is and who her tribe is. For instance, a Ralph Lauren top, Tiffany charm bracelet and Burberry bag sends out one signal. Vans sneakers, Roxy cargo pants and a Billabong T-shirt – a whole other signal. The importance of the social aspect of clothing can be seen when girls go shopping: they like to shop in packs. When a girl holds an item up to her friends and asks ‘What do you think?’ she’s second-guessing her own taste and testing whether it fits in with her tribe’s.

In our marketing-saturated culture, product ownership has joined the list of factors girls use to rank each other socially: to a girl’s beauty and popularity we can now add the rating of how fashionable and prestigious the stuff she owns is. American author Alissa Quart investigated the world of teen marketing for her eye-opening book Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers. What she noticed during her research was that the girls who owned the most name- brand products tended to be those who struggled to fit in according to the standard criteria girls judge one another by: they had an awkwardness about them or weren’t conventionally attractive.

‘While many teenagers are branded,’ she writes, ‘the ones most obsessed with brand names feel they have a lack that only superbranding will cover over and insure against social ruin.’

Kerri-Anne has recently asked me to help parents deconstruct the fashionista hype and to discuss a new label that has been launched by Madonna’s daughter Lourdes – aptly named Material Girl. I thought both interviews worth including here as they do offer practical advice on how you can support your daughter to look beyond the brand; particularly if it is a brand that wants to encourage her to look too sexy, too soon!

This post is partly based on “Shopping for Labels…or Love?”, in my book The Butterfly Effect (Random House Australia). My book may be purchased by clicking on the Paypal link on the right hand side of this web page.

Getting serious about outcomes for girls

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Picture featured in Daily Telegraph, 21/5/10

This week I have been asked by the media to offer parents and educators suggestions of ways forward in combating two important issues: the sexualisation of young girls, and the increase in sexual harassment in our schools.

I thought it worth sharing two of the interviews I have given.

As you may be aware, the parents and teachers of a US dance troupe have recently come under fire for letting the 7- and 8-year-old girls in the group perform overtly sexual dance routines. On the Kerri-Anne show, I was asked to help make sense of this and put it in a broader context. Watch the vision below and let me know what you think: too sexy, too soon?

 

Also this week, in the Daily Telegraph, I called on schools to respond thoughtfully and comprehensively to episodes of  sexual harassment. Ultimately, schools must  be proactive and create a culture where all students feel safe to learn and are not subjected to inappropriate and unwanted taunts or sexual advances. Despite my grave concerns, I know through my work that there are also many schools who are doing a brilliant job with this; I’d love to hear about strategies and programs you are familiar with that work.

Let’s move forward and demand more for our children.

After all, the standard we walk past is the standard we set.

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