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Tag: Nikki Davis

Can we turn up the volume, but turn down the noise?

This week I wish to share spoken word poet Madiha Bhatti‘s thoughtful piece on women in the music industry, an extract from which also appears below. Isn’t it powerful?

Mu(Sick):

So I heard this song the other day
That objectified women in every way
That doesn’t narrow it down much
But it was pretty depraved
The feminists are probably still rolling in their graves
It reduced people to parts, objects to be acquired
Turned hearts and minds into mere things to be desired
And as parts of my body were assessed and sized
I thought, “What a way to be dehumanized,”
These artists seem to be playing a game
Of how many times they call us the wrong name
Cuz I’m not a dime, those come a dozen
No I’m really not interested in all your lovin
I’m not your shawty, hoe, or trick
Your baby, lady, girl or chick
I mean can someone explain to me
How this counts as music? When you
Chant, you pant about windows and walls
Talk about a woman like she’s a thing to be mauled
Oh she got a big booty so you call her Big Booty,
If she had a big brain would you call her at all?
But it seems like I’m the only one appalled
That music can make me feel so small

 

 

You may also be interested in sharing my posts:

Claim back the music – “A British study found that watching video clips featuring skinny, semi naked gyrating women ( in other words, watching 99% of all music clips) for just 10 minutes was enough to reduce teenage girls body satisfaction with their body shape by 10 per cent. Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship.”

No More Blurring The Lines – I’m Talking To You Mr Bruno Mars –  “…you know what? I don’t want to hand out anymore free passes. I am calling “Enough!” “

And one by Enlighten’s own Nikki Davis – An open letter to Beyoncé (from a bewildered fan) – “So my question is, as a woman with the power to educate girls and women on what it actually means to be a feminist and why it is so important in this world, ARE YOU WITH US OR NOT?”

“Pink is for girlie girls” – more things we should never say to girls.

Last week I shared three of the five things I, and the other noted Feminists I asked to contribute, believe we need to stop saying to girls now. You can read this post here: “That skirt is sending out the wrong message” and 5 other things we should never say to girls.  It’s now time to share the other messages that, even though they may be well intentioned, do in fact have the potential to harm.

4. “She is only interested in exploring her sexuality as she’s troubled.”

It can be confronting for us to accept that our children will grow up and become sexual beings. However, self-motivated sexual exploration and age-appropriate information about sexuality are vital to our daughters emerging as healthy, whole women. Given that for many girls puberty will start in their early teen years, we should start having conversations with them about sex and sexuality while they are young. We need to offer them alternative voices and role models of sexuality to those they are exposed to in the media and in pornography. This is especially important given that advertisers and broadcasters certainly will be targeting them with messages about sexuality long before their early teen years; to me it seems damaging for girls who are just developing their own sexuality to be influenced largely by porn-inspired examples of sexuality. I am concerned not just because there are too many hyper-sexualised messages bombarding our girls, but because the ideal being presented to them of female sexuality is so narrow. Just as we are told that only a leggy size-8 model can be truly beautiful, we are now being told that only a busty, wet and wild blonde (who is solely focused on male pleasure) can be truly sexy. Women’s (and men’s) sexuality is, in reality, so much more diverse and complicated.

But before we can begin having truly meaningful conversations around our girls’ sexuality, we need to also establish a positive and non-judgemental attitude because in my experience, a negative or stigmatising attitude towards girls’ sexual development may cause harm, particularly when it comes from parents, teachers or other trusted figures. 

Writer Emily Maguire offered an important caution against pathologizing female sexuality:

The idea that teen girls are asexual unless ‘activated’ by some external force. This is so common – this denial of the fact that teenage girls might be into sex (doing it, talking about it, imagining it, whatever) because they’re sexually developing human beings. It’s like, a boy who is distracted by lust, eager to gain sexual experience and proud of himself when he does so, is normal. A girl who acts this way is a dupe with low-self-esteem, a cautionary tale. Yes, there are external pressures on girls to look and behave in particular ways related to their sexuality, but more acknowledgement that not all sexually active/interested teenage girls have had their sexuality imposed on them by advertisers, pop culture or predatory men would be good. In fact, a lot of them, a lot of the time, are simply doing what feels good. (Or what they think might feel good, getting better at figuring out what that might be as they go along).

Nina Funnell, who co-wrote Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships, with me, also warned against shaming:

We still teach girls to equate promiscuity with low self-esteem and poor self-respect. Meanwhile boys are told that it’s only natural that they would want to sow their wild oats. The reality is that both boys and girls have sexual urges, libidos, pumping hormones and a desire for physical intimacy, pleasure, arousal and connection. So why do we shame girls, and teach them that they must have low self-esteem if they crave the exact same thing boys crave?

5.  “Pink is for girlie girls!”

Emily Maguire in her essay  “Letter to the Girls I misjudged” laments the fact that as a young girl she associated all things traditionally girly with weakness and took great pride in being seen as “one of the blokes.” This idea was extended by Clementine Ford in her post “Betraying Our Girlhood”;

Taking up arms against the demonisation of girlhood isn’t about reclaiming our right to love lipstick or dresses or have the occasional conversation about Ryan Gosling’s bottom – although those things are all perfectly fine. The fierce determination to distance ourselves from anything perceptibly “girlie” only furthers the stereotype that women who like “girlie” things are stupid and one-dimensional – and indeed that girlieness itself is stupid and one-dimensional. Some girls – like me – rejected boys’ toys entirely as children, loved pink and watched movies about high-school girls falling in love, yet they still grew up to be strident feminists. We’re all different.

As adult women, Nina Funnell and I have both admitted to each other (almost tentatively for fear of losing some feminist credibility) that as little girls we were bower-bird like in our pursuit for all that was shiny, pretty and pink. We adored our Barbies, were besotted by anything princess-like and suspect that were they around back then — we would have sold our little glittered-up souls for a Bratz. And yet like Clementine, we somehow managed to turn out just fine ( we explored this idea in a piece published by the Sydney Morning Herald: Barbie’s not an issue if girls can think for themselves). Raising healthy, well-adjusted girls has less to do with the toys they play with ( or the colours they chose to wear) and more to do with the values we instill in them. By teaching our children to think critically about cultural goods and by equipping them with skills to navigate complex cultural messages we will be empowering them for life. Education — not panic — enables girls to see clearly, think critically, and reinvent their worlds.

Girls too need to be told that there are many ways in which they can chose to be a girl and a woman. Enlighten Education Presenter, and Manager for WA, Nikki Davis agreed:

When I work with teen girls I tell them upfront that I have always been attracted to very traditionally “girlie” things – I demanded to choose my own (usually pink) clothes from age 3, dressed up as a Princess at every available opportunity and I still love high heels and make up. I then go on to tell them how important feminism is to me and how powerful I believe we all can be as women.  I love to see the relief on the faces of a number of girls in the room as they realize that they don’t have to trade in their nail polish or love of clothes to be strong and independent with opinions that matter. I think telling girls that they have to fit into any sort of “mould” is incredibly limiting and we risk perpetuating age-old ideas around women having labels like ‘sporty’,  ‘girlie’ or ‘tough’. There’s no reason why a woman can’t be all of those things if she chooses to be!

Once again, I’d love to hear from you. What messages do you think we deliver to young women that are harmful? 

 

An open letter to Beyoncé (from a bewildered fan)

This week’s blog is by Enlighten’s Senior Presenter, and Program Director for Western Australia, Nikki Davis. You may read more about Nikki at our “Meet The Team” page.

nikki

Dear Beyoncé

I have been a big fan of yours for about ten years now. In many ways I suppose I fit the demographic of a typical Beyoncé fan – female, old enough to remember Destiny’s Child but young enough to still be able to take style inspo from your outfits. I am also an ex-professional dancer who cannot resist a great pop song with an infectious beat and an outstanding female vocal, even if the only time I break a sweat to it these days is on the treadmill.

When you released the B’Day album full of kick-him-to-the-curb anthems – climaxing with ‘Irreplaceable’ (yes I am that girl who always does the “to the left” actions when I sing along) – just as I was going through a break up with a cheating lying boyfriend myself you got me, hook, line and sinker. I became a true “Bey” fan. I now loved the heart-wrenching big belt ballads just as much as dance floor fillers.

And really, there is so much to love about you! You are beautiful – like crazy beautiful. You embrace your curves and flaunt them in leotards on stage. LEOTARDS! Who else looks fierce in a leotard? You’ve inspired me to sometimes wear the short tight skirts that the fashion world has us women believing belong only on young girls with slender, almost boyish figures. In fact you have told us honestly how hard you worked to regain your famous figure after giving birth to your daughter through exercise (take note all super model mums who cite “breastfeeding and good genes” – we don’t believe you).

I admire that you have also kept some of your private life private (we have never seen a single snap from your wedding with Jay-Z), you stand up for what you believe in (standing alongside murdered child Trayvon Martin’s mother and marching with the people in Manhattan for Civil Rights), you sing to sick children on stage (remember when you sang ‘Halo’ to little Chelsea James during your 2009 Sydney show to stadium full of crying fans – myself included?) and you speak out when it comes to equality (or lack thereof) between the sexes (more on this later).

And, boy can you sing! Your voice never ceases to amaze me. When you sang an accapella version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ during the Sydney performance of The Mrs Carter World Tour in tribute to Whitney Houston, I cried. Ok so I cry when it comes to you quite a bit – I told you I was a proper fan!

Ok gush over. You see Bey, I am having some trouble with some of your lyrics of late and well, I’m really struggling.

It began with your track ‘Girls Who Run the World’… great sounding song! But what do you mean when you say girls run the world? Um, cos we don’t. At all. Anywhere in the world. Here in Australia Bey, women make up more than half of the workforce but we still, on average earn 18% less than men. And anywhere from ¼ and up to ½ of all Australian women will experience some kind of physical or sexual violence by a man at some point in their lives. That’s kind of the opposite of running things yeah? And let’s not mention the countries in the world where women are not allowed to drive or go to school or are stoned to death for adultery.

But I know you know this stuff. You very recently wrote an essay for The Shriver Report’s Special Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink where you agree that we are kidding ourselves if we think we live in an equal society.

And this stuff matters to me Bey. I am a feminist. I also now not only work with young women in dance but also teen girls in schools. I work with a brilliant company called Enlighten Education, empowering young women and inspiring them to really find their true voices in this patriarchal world.

But you know what? Because I love you I have been able to move past these strange lyrics. In your documentary film you tell us that this song was intended as a love letter to women, celebrating their strength. OK, cool. Perhaps the lyrics were maybe more of a wishful thinking thing?

But Beyoncé, with your latest release I’m stuck.

I can overlook the insane amount of time you spend on the album telling us about your sex life with your husband. And it really is, like, a lot of time. Apparently your sex life is so good it involves kitchens, temporary memory loss and accidental damage to rare works of art. Sure, none of the couples I know who have been married for a while and have a small child seem to be going all night long but if that’s the way it is for you guys then super!

I can also cope with the fact that you call your lady parts “skittles” (just) and dedicate a whole track to society’s obsession with perfection whilst appearing in every single clip looking immaculate. But hey, I love the sentiment (that’s one of the core issues I work with teen girls on) and to be honest I do love seeing your outfits/make up/nail art and admiring your beauty.

I want to say “She has done it again and pushed the boundaries even further this time with a new brand of arty-edgy-pop. Yippee!” And then cry happily at your talent and general amazing-ness.

But I can’t.

And it’s not even because the song “Flawless” is so perplexing with it’s feminist themes including a brilliant sound bite from Nigerian Feminist Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mixed in with you repeatedly saying “Bow Down Bitches” – perhaps you were ironically using the word bitch there? Or telling men to bow down and calling them bitches? Surely Bey, you had a grand plan mixing those two elements together? I’m trying to trust you there, I really am.

However, when I listened closely to ‘Drunk In Love’ and looked at the lyrics (as it is such a catchy track and was fast becoming a favourite) I went cold.

Beyoncé, why would you include your husband rapping lines about Ike and Tina Turner in this song? You have long cited Tina as one of your heroes (and you performed in tribute to her many times including at the “Tina Turner Tribute” in 2005 – another YouTube clip in which I, of course, cried.)

But then in this super sexy number about how much you have sex with your husband, you somehow let him start making comparisons with Ike and Tina – a notoriously violent relationship and one which almost killed her. I had to consult Google and find out if anyone else was having a major, stomach churning issue with this. I found that my disappointment (scrap that – my horror)  was shared by others. Holly McNish in her opinion piece for The Mirror writes:

Jay Z – What are you saying?

“I am Ike Turner…Baby know I don’t play. Now eat the cake, Anna Mae. Said Eat the Cake, Anna Mae”. Beyoncé mouthing the words behind him, smiling.

For those of you who, unlike me, are not obsessed with Tina Turner and did not watch the film of her life story – What’s Love Got To Do With It – almost 100 times, this line is from that film…. Ike is jealous. He tells her to “eat the cake”… and when she refuses, he stands up, shoves it in her mouth and across her face. Her friend and backing vocalist tries to stop him. Ike threatens her, beats her and she runs away shouting to Tina Turner, “You are dead if you stay with him.”

It’s one of the most humiliating scenes in a film that charts the continuous rape and beating by a jealous and violent husband of his wife…”

Bey I don’t know what to say. What the? Remember how I mentioned those statistics about women and violence? There is nothing sexy about that. It’s criminal.

Holly McNish ends her piece on this with #Whatdoestinathink. I have a different question and it’s for you Bey, and it’s simply, WHY????

Actually no I lie – I have another question too…. I thought I could live without knowing this and still love your music but I’ve changed my mind… You write feminist essays but also shy away from the label of feminist – telling British Vogue in 2013 that the word “can be very extreme”. (Even though it’s correct definition – someone who believes in equal rights – is actually stated by Adichie in your song ‘Flawless’). You flirt with feminist themes in so much of your music and then confuse us by continuously using terms like “bitch” and collaborating with male artists like Kanye West who are notoriously misogynistic.

So my question is, as a woman with the power to educate girls and women on what it actually means to be a feminist and why it is so important in this world, ARE YOU WITH US OR NOT?

I’ll probably always sing along to “All the Single Ladies” (and I know many a feminist has much to say about this song too) but Bey, this new album is being deleted from my iTunes account.

Let me know if you have any answers for me and all the women out there who feel that casually referring to violence against women is not controversial or edgy but incredibly problematic and in fact, dangerous.

Yours truly

Nikki Davis – Feminist, Educator, pop music fan and serial crier.

The Power Of Image – The Truth About Modelling As Revealed By An “Angel”

Successful model Cameron Russell recently gave an incredibly powerful TED Talk on why looks aren’t everything, and on how in reality, she is merely the lucky recipient of a genetic lottery. This is a must-watch, if only to see the contrast between the images of Cameron taking during professional photo shoots, and what she actually looked like at this same period when performing more everyday tasks.

In a very similar vein, you may also wish to encourage your girls to read the three part series previously posted here on the realities of the modelling industry. Parts one and two were written by Enlighten’s own Nikki Davis, our incredibly talented Senior Presenter and our Program Director for Western Australia. Anyone who has had Nikki work with the girls at their school will know young women simply adore her, and find her stories incredibly powerful.

Modelling – Part 1: Body Image 

Modelling – Part 2: Career Reality Check 

Could I Be A Model? – Part 3

Nikki (right) with Australia’s Human Rights and Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, at the 2012 Australian Human Rights Awards (Enlighten was a Finalist).

We dare you to move

Ever noticed how much of the talk around the new year focuses on our appearance? There is an underlying premise that if we just put more effort and energy into losing weight or getting clearer skin / longer hair / a more stylish wardrobe this will be the year we will achieve success and gain happiness.

Ever noticed too how often when we begin the new school year we start by telling our students all the things they shouldn’t do? I sat at an introduction to technology meeting last week and noted that the first 30 minutes was spent telling the girls all the things they must not do with their laptops. I had to wonder how inspired the girls (and their families) may have felt about the new laptop program after hearing a sermon on all the restrictions and the consequences of mistakes that may be made. Tellingly, despite the fact that the girls all walked out with a new computer, I did not see many smiles.

Body police. Dire warnings.

Let’s dare to do things differently. Let’s begin the year by raising girls up. Let’s (re)connect them – to their bodies, to their learning, and to other girls and women.

My 12 year old daughter, Teyah, made this film celebrating Enlighten Education’s work with girls for me in the school holidays. I love the sense of possibility, joy and connection it embodies:

With the dual goals of both inspiring and connecting girls to a wider network of strong women (girls can’t be what they can’t see)  I asked some female leaders to share their advice for the new year with your girls:


Please take risks. If you really want to do something and you’re secretly worried that people will laugh at you, this is a good reason to do it. If that means telling someone that they’re being an arse, or that you like a TV show everyone else hates, or you want to play electric guitar (which you should totally do p.s.) or learn French or wear leggings as pants, DO IT…You might not realise it yet, but the coolest people in the world are the ones who don’t care what other people think.

Karen Pickering. Karen is the host of Cherchez la Femme, co-founder of The Dawn Conspiracy, and one of the organisers of SlutWalk Melbourne.




Tracey Spicer

Never let anyone judge you on the way you look. Your heart and mind are all that count.

Tracey Spicer. Tracey is a news presenter and journalist.


Every time someone tries to silence you, just get louder. Never let anyone bully you into believing that your voice doesn’t count.

Clementine Ford. Clementine is a freelance writer, broadcaster and troublemaker based in Melbourne.




Jane Caro

Don’t take yourself or anything else too seriously. You are allowed to have fun.

Jane Caro. Jane is a media commentator, writer and senior lecturer in advertising with the School of Communication Arts at UWS.


Your intuition is usually right.

Nikki Davis. Nikki is one of Enlighten’s stellar presenters.


Each moment in life will pass whether it is good or bad so move forward without fear.

Diane Illingworth Wilcox. Di is Enlighten’s  Program Manager, Western Australia.


Be a good listener. Always try to see things from other perspectives and don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

Catherine Manning. Cath is an amazing Enlighten Presenter and the founder of Pull The Pin, a protest group working to ban child beauty pageants.


Never be afraid of who you are.

 Monica Dux. Monica is a writer, social commentator and co-author of The Great Feminist Denial.



Julie Parker
Julie Parker

There is inside of you a unique spirit of courage, wisdom and beauty. There is no one just like you. That’s your incredible truth.

Julie Parker. Julie is a coach and clinical counselor who specializes in supporting positive body image. Visit her blog: http://www.beautifulyoubyjulie.com/


Don’t be afraid to express an interest in social justice issues or other movements that interest you (like the environment!). If someone tells you that you are "overthinking" an issue, chances are they are "underthinking" it. If they tell you that you are "over analysing it" chances are they aren’t analysing it at all. Remember, it’s OK to have an opinion. All interesting women do.

Nina Funnell. Nina is a social commentator and freelance opinion writer. She works as an anti–sexual assault and domestic violence campaigner and is also currently completing her first book on "sexting", teen girls and moral panics.


Perhaps at your next staff briefing, or Parents Association meeting, you might like to think about how you can dare to raise your girls up, and about what advice you think they really need to shine in 2012.
We’d love you to share your thoughts here too.

Model Obsession — Part 2: Career reality check

Last week Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis shared stories from her time as a young model dealing with the body-image pressures of the fashion world. This week, to help inform the many girls who want to be models, and their families, Nikki gives us an insider’s look at the positives, the negatives and some of the practicalities of life as a model.

Girls who love clothes and makeup will enjoy many aspects of modelling, such as wearing new fashions before their friends do, having expert makeup artists working on them using top-of-the-range products, getting invited to launch parties, and receiving free products and goodie bags. When girls think about the positives of being a model they immediately think of these perks, plus all the attention. But there are also long-term and substantial benefits a girl can get from modelling if she handles it well.

Modelling is a chance to meet and learn from a wide range of different people. I have worked with artists in their own right such as fashion designers Alannah Hill and Akira Isagowa, choreographers Jason Coleman (from “So You Think You Can Dance”) and John “Cha Cha” O’Connell (who worked on “Moulin Rouge”), and many brilliantly talented photographers and hair and makeup artists. Some of these contacts have led me toward other opportunities such as acting, writing for dance publications and mentoring young performers. Modelling also brings some girls the opportunity to travel overseas, and that can be great learning experience.

A model has to develop good interpersonal skills. She needs to be able to walk into a room full of strangers, put her card or portfolio down, confidently say “Hi” and present herself. A lot of clients only want to work with girls who are nice, bubbly and easy to be with on a long shoot. My agent says to me: “Sometimes, Nikki, I think you get booked because they know they can stand to spend 12 hours with you!”

Being a model has helped me gain confidence and become the presenter I am today with Enlighten — and I am more passionate about this job than anything else I have ever done before. Modelling has been part of my journey, for it has taught me exceptional presentation skills. I might go to a casting for something like a yogurt commercial and not have any actual props to hold. They just turn the camera on, and I’ve got to pretend to get out of my car, open the boot, get the dog out, walk the dog, then eat a pretend yogurt. And I’m just making an absolute fool of myself! Then I walk out and think, “Okay, if I can do that, then I can stand up in front of 90 girls at an Enlighten workshop and put myself out there!”
Fourth from left - modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at 29! Noqw that i am 30, I am usually ionly considered for shoots as a mother  M
The fashion industry is obsessed with youth: me, second from right, modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at just 29!

Modelling can also be an inroad to related careers such as acting, television presenting, or working as an agent, booker, makeup artist or photographer. The key is for a model to always be planning for the future, even at the height of her career. The fashion industry is obsessed with youth, so models as they head towards 30 start to get panicky if they haven’t trained for any other role and perhaps left school at 15 or 16. As a girl, my primary focus was always to finish school and go to university.  

A lot has been said about the photoshopping trend in magazines and advertising. I once got a total shock when I saw a magazine picture and didn’t even recognise myself. When Sarah Murdoch appeared on the cover of Women’s Weekly free of airbrushing, she said, “I think when I’m retouched in photographs it’s worse, because when people see me in real life they go, ‘Oh God! Isn’t she old!'” But the fact is: once a model is past a certain age, clients don’t bother to hire and then retouch her unless she has a big name. Indeed, only the big names such as Sarah Murdoch ever have much chance of getting the high-paying, glamorous jobs. 

For the vast majority, modelling won’t pay the rent on its own. The hard reality in Australia is that only the top 5% of models are doing the amazing jobs — the fashion magazine editorials, the sides of buses, Australian Fashion Week. The rest are doing the type of jobs that I have mostly done — the mall and department store catwalk shows, catalogues, That’s Life magazine. The pay for those jobs is not all that high, and there is rarely enough work available for girls to model full-time. All the more reason why they need to acquire additional skills.

The financial pressure is heightened by the fact that as a model you are expected to be ready for castings on short notice, and that means spending big dollars (and hours) on being manicured, pedicured, fake tanned, fashionably dressed, and having good hair and teeth — all the time. 
 
Another thing girls should be aware of is that modelling can change the way people see you. Others sometimes make an immediate assumption that I’m not particularly bright, and that is incredibly frustrating. Guys might assume that all models are party girls and I must be out all night at bars. Women automatically think that life must be easy for me and I have never worried about my body or appearance (if only!). Or they transport me right back to the schoolyard by picking my flaws — “I can’t believe she models with a bum that size” and so on. When you’re on a catwalk or in a magazine, you are putting yourself out there to be judged, and that judgment won’t always be favourable.

Similarly, models need to get used to being rejected at castings. There will be times when you are not what the client needs — maybe they needed a petite blonde and you’re a tall brunette — and models need to learn not to take it personally.

Ironically, all these negatives I’ve raised do have the potential to be positive, if they help a girl develop resilience. If she can learn to deal with the inevitable self-esteem jolts of modelling, she can draw on that inner strength for the rest of her life, in any situation.

The key to becoming resilient rather than being crushed is to do what we talk about with girls through Enlighten: remember the real reasons why you’re special. Perhaps you fit into society’s idea of what is good-looking, and you can model, make some money and have some experiences — that’s fine. But remember why your friends like to spend time with you. Stay focused on all the other achievements and activities you’ve got going on in your life.

They are words for us all to live by.

I know that it can be a real source of anxiety for parents when their daughter announces that she wants to try to break into modelling, so next week Dannielle Miller will conclude this three-part series of blog posts by looking at ethics in the industry, hypersexual images of girls in advertising and how to talk with your daughter about her desire to model. 

 

With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".
With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".

Nikki Davis, BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Model Obsession — Part 1: Body image

Huge numbers of girls dream of becoming a model. It really is almost an obsession. But a girl’s choice to pursue that dream can bring a mixture of pride, uncertainty and downright anxiety to her parents. I wanted to know more about why modelling is so very appealing to teen girls, and how the reality compares to the dream. So for insight, I turned to Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis, who spent a number of years dancing and modelling professionally after completing her BA Communications degree, and continues to do some modelling work. She writes my guest blog this week, looking at what makes modelling attractive to so many girls, and the self-esteem and body image issues that arise in the modelling world. At Enlighten we strive to help girls and their parents make informed decisions about the future, so in following weeks Nikki will talk about the positive aspects of being a model, along with the practicalities and the challenges. 

When girls I’m presenting to for Enlighten find out I have done modelling, there is this sense of awe. “What kind of modelling have you done?” “Are you on any television commercials?” “What magazines have you been in?” “What clothes, what designers?” They want to know everything!

Professional shots Nikki uses to promote herself with prospective clients.
Professional shots I use to promote myself to prospective clients.

When I was 14, I started at a new dance school that also had a modelling agency, and I began getting my first serious offers of work. The fact that people were approaching me to do modelling was very exciting to me. If someone said to Mum, “Can we do photos of your daughter?” my little ears pricked up. The thing that frustrated me about my mum as a child — but that I’m thankful for now — is that she didn’t really allow me to do any professional work until I was about 16. That was when I did a Channel 7 ad, and I was absolutely blown away by the glamour of it all.

The main reason that I was drawn to modelling, and why I think girls are now, was the simple pleasure of having confirmation that I was special. It validates that you have the “right” look. You think breaking into modelling will cancel out any of your self-esteem issues and doubts because it means that you are what society thinks is beautiful and special.

But of course the reality is far more complicated than that.

Me to Vin Diesel's right - complete with fake tatoo!
Me to Vin Diesel's right (complete with fake tattoo)

In some ways modelling does make you feel special, and in some ways the glamour does come through. I remember once I was in the newspaper after being hired to walk the red carpet with Vin Diesel. I’d had a totally glamorous makeover, and I thought I looked pretty amazing — I loved it! The next day, I had all these people I went to school with — funnily enough some of whom had teased me at school — texting and emailing me. And that kind of thing is fun.

Then sometimes it all comes crashing down.

You’ve been feeling pretty special sitting in the hair and makeup chair for 3 hours before a shoot or a catwalk show, and you go over to the rack of clothes . . . and you don’t fit the pair of jeans they’ve given you. All of a sudden you land with a thud back on Earth. So at each job, you would walk in feeling nervous. It was a panicky feeling; your heart would beat quickly. If you didn’t fit something, you’d have to put your hand up in the crowded fitting room and say, “I don’t fit this, and a dresser needs to go and get me the next size up,” and someone would shout across, “Aw, Nikki doesn’t fit the size 10; you have to get her a 12.” On one occasion, I had a photographer who was used to working with very thin high-fashion models say out loud, “I can’t position her in a way that doesn’t make her legs look fat!”

When these things were happening to me, I was around 19 to 21, and like most women that age, my body was changing a lot. I tried a low-carb diet and lost a bit of weight, and the other models and the dressers started praising me, saying, “Oh! Oh, you’ve lost weight. Oh, you need a smaller size in this!” Many unhealthy relationships with food and exercise have been started this way. I was given so much positive feedback that I became quite obsessed with not putting the weight back on — which is of course exactly what I did, because I became so concerned with weighing my food and denying myself that when no one was looking I’d eat four blocks of chocolate.

It was also around this time that fashion swung from the Cindy Crawford look to Kate Moss, and clients wanted the quite skinny girls. It blew my mind that my figure was out of fashion. I thought if I lost weight and I was smaller, everything would be good because I’d be making more money and I’d have a better career. The pressure that your income relies on how much food you put in your mouth is really overwhelming.

At that stage of my life I had just finished uni and wasn’t focusing on much else than modelling and dancing, and that was a big part of the problem. I think that’s when modelling gets a bit dangerous: when it’s all you’ve got going on. All you’re thinking about is your body all the time, and your looks all the time, with nothing else to distract you.

My advice to young models is to always have something else going on in your life as well. To be studying, to be learning another language, to be writing or producing art, to be training as an actor or TV presenter — something else that’s not pure modelling. It is important not to get so hung up on looks that you lose perspective. I have met models who won’t go out with their friends because they have to stay home and put four coats of fake tan on. You can get so caught up in looks that you forget to live.

Finally, I relaxed into the idea: “This is who I am. Book me or don’t book me. Don’t book me and then torture me when I get there because I don’t fit something.” It’s so hard for young girls, because they don’t have that maturity. I didn’t have that attitude until I was 27. I’d had time by then to develop the other parts of me. I’d been writing for a dance magazine, and I’d been working in production and events, so I knew I had a lot more to offer than just my looks. That self-confidence takes time to develop, which is why if you skip uni and go straight into modelling when you’re 17 and you do put on weight or your look goes out of fashion, it can seriously affect you.

I am grateful that my parents always made me feel as though my appearance and success at modelling weren’t the most important achievements in my life. How well I did at school and how I treated other people were more valued. I don’t want to give the impression that modelling is only full of negatives for girls, because there is good stuff to be had from modelling — but it is crucial that we put a girl’s looks into perspective, stressing that the kind of validation modelling brings is not the be-all and end-all, and prettiness is not the most important value a girl has to offer.

The good stuff to be had from modelling? Increased confidence, interpersonal skills, resilience — these are a few of the qualities it can help girls develop. Next week, I’ll get into those positives, along with some hard practical realities of making a living out of modelling. Until then, we would love to hear about your experiences with girls and modelling.

Nikki Davis,  BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Starving for attention

Guest post by Enlighten Education NSW’s newest team member, Nikki Davis:  

Looks like thin is no longer in. Skeletal is the new body ideal judging by the physiques of the female celebrities who are hot property right now.

I have to confess that I, and a number of my friends, were more than a little excited about the premiere of the new 2008 version of 90210. We were all huge fans of the original 1990’s series. The first ever episode aired when I was 13 years old and I was immediately hooked – complete with a huge crush on Dylan and a keen eye that followed the fashion choices of my new role models.

So I must admit that the thought of catching up with Kelly and Brenda again had me refusing to take calls from 8:30pm on the first night it aired.

And yes, it was fabulous to see Kelly and Brenda again (who were reunited at the Peach Pit nonetheless!).

However, I was very distressed by the new female cast who now play the children and little sisters of the originals. They are so thin. I am talking painfully thin. The lead girl “Annie” (played by Shanae Grimes) and her friend “Silver” (played by Jessica Stroup ) are excruciatingly skinny. As one of my mates so eloquently put it in her text message to me during the show the other night, “Watching this is making me hungry”. The characters must be hungry too as the only consumables we saw in Episode 1 were alcoholic beverages, coffee and salads (Annie had salad for lunch in the cafeteria, I guess you can’t look as tiny as she does by eating carb’s/protein/fat/non-vegetable matter). Why can’t teens on TV eat real food anymore? Even The OC had the girls eating burgers, fries, milkshakes and Thai takeaway….

One of the tiny stars of new series of “90210” – Shanae Grimes

Turns out my friends and I were not the only ones who noticed how thin these new stars are; a couple of articles have popped up on Entertainment websites claiming that “sources” inside Hollywood are reporting talks on set and at the network about the girls’ weight. One article even claimed that the male stars of the program are planning to stage an intervention with the girls as they never eat and the guys think it is unhealthy. Well if this is true, then go guys I say!

Below are pics of the old and new cast… the new photo doesn’t really show just how thin the young girls are in the series (perhaps they airbrushed them to be less thin for the pics?) but oh how the concept of a “hot body” has changed over time.

 


I grew up in the Supermodel era where Cindy Crawford reigned supreme. Cindy was a genetic freak (she was so strikingly beautiful) but her shoulder blades wouldn’t have taken an eye out – she had some flesh on those bones. In the late 90’s Kate Moss rose to fame and the fashion industry deemed the “coat-hanger” was the new body ideal. In turn, this lead Hollywood down the very thin, and the carb-less, garden path.

Researcher Botta, in the 1999 study on television images and adolescent girls’ body image disturbance, made the observation that “our culture’s obsession with the thin ideals is now played out in the media via models and actresses who may have eating disorders themselves, who may have personal trainers to help them maintain a thin body, and whose bodies, as portrayed through airbrushing and camera-angle techniques, may not even be their own.” What would Botta have made of 90210 – 2008 style?

Surely it’s not just me being alarmist, and surely the new “Beverly Hills waifs” provide just one example of how much worse have things become.

We are now seeing children as young as 8 hospitalized with eating disorders. Dieting, detoxing, purging…all have become normalized. I have been engrossed in the work of Courtney E Martin; her book “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” really sums it up as she points out just how “normal” it has become to equate thinness, food deprivation and excessive exercise with success. Martin also looks at just how much time women spend thinking and obsessing about dieting and their bodies – is this what we want for our young women? To rate “thinness’ over wit, intelligence, talent, warmth? To waste their energy thinking about how they look in skinny leg jeans? No way!

I am hoping the backlash over the body shapes presented on the new 90210 continues to grow. We need to be speaking about this! We need to open our eyes and minds to a broader concept of gorgeous.

Because this look is killing us – literally.

Finally, on a lighter note, if you do still pine for your fix of 90210 (there are rumours of Dylan making an appearance so I can’t tune out yet!) or one of the array of other crappy American shows of this genre – do as my friend does in her share house with the four young women she lives with. Make Monday nights “90210 and cookies” night. Indulge in all the fun, fashion and cute boys without the starvation.

It’s much more fun.

It’s beautiful.

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