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Month: December 2010

Why we do what we do, and how we shall make it even better.

It has long been my goal to help girl move beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers.

Girls are excelling in all kinds of ways – academically, socially and on the sporting field to name a few – but underneath that facade of success, our girls are in trouble. While they may appear to be coping with all that life throws at them, behind closed doors many are silently imploding. Teenage girls exist in a world of peer pressure and unrealistic self-expectations, a world subtly skewed by the insidious marketing hype of popular girl brands such as Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers. And it is poisoning them at a most vulnerable age.

The statistics show there is much to be alarmed by. A quarter of teenage girls surveyed in Australia say they would get plastic surgery if they could. Among 15-year-old girls, almost seven in ten are on a diet, and of these, 8 per cent are severely dieting. Peer pressure is a cause of pain for many, with six in ten girls saying they have been teased about their appearance.

Seven out of ten young women engage in binge drinking – consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion – and almost one in five do so on a weekly basis. An alarming 12 per cent of girls report drinking harmful levels of alcohol – more than five standard drinks on any one day – and twice the number of teenage girls use drugs, compared with boys.

Pressure at school is also an issue, with nearly two out of three girls questioned in an Australian survey saying they feel stressed about their studies.

As many as one in ten teenage girls self-harm. Male suicide rates remain considerably higher than female suicide rates, but there is evidence to suggest that women, particularly those under twenty-five, attempt suicide and commit self-harm at a higher rate than men. It is estimated that for each female suicide, there are 150 to 300 acts of self-harm performed by females.

It seems that unprotected sex is resulting in unwanted outcomes for some. Sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase among young people. It has been estimated that as many as 28 per cent of teenagers have chlamydia. In Australia, pregnancy termination, or abortion, is the second most common hospital procedure for females aged 12 to 24 years.

All of this troubles me, and my Enlighten team. Deeply. It is our life’s work to help girls navigate the more toxic elements of girl world. To critique. To question. To demand more for themselves and their sisters.

To date Enlighten Education has had much success in this area. We currently work with approximately 20,000 young women right across Australia and New Zealand every year. Our Testimonials indicate the work we are doing significantly changes culture and provides girls with the skills they need to make sense of their increasingly complex world.

Danni…what can I say! I have just read the comments on facebook…

What you achieved with our girls yesterday was remarkable. It is a message that we could not achieve in two years!! I really want to thank you.

Being a new (relatively young) Principal in a girls school, yesterday really gave me a good opportunity to reflect on my own wishes for our students. I love being a Teacher and a Principal and I really love Clonard and each of the students that I have been blessed with in caring for. Watching our students respond to you was an amazing experience.

Clonard is a truly special place. I am very proud of our girls. It was an absolute privilege to sit through all of your sessions finding myself captivated by every moment. What I really couldn’t get over at the end was the line of girls that just wanted to hug you and say thanks. Talk about special!!!

A number of the teachers there yesterday came up to me and said how much they had learnt. It’s true…you can teach a teacher!!!

I feel that your powerful message will stay with these students for their journey through Clonard. I know it will be something that I will refer back to when the going gets tough.

I feel privileged to have met you, listened to you and learnt from you. I do know now what Jemma and Mel (our two Yr 11 girls who attended the Insight Conference) were talking about!!!

Thank you and I hope that we can have you back in 2011.

Damian McKew, Principal, Clonard College, Geelong West, Victoria

Enlighten provided the most successful presentation relating to Pastoral Care in our school in 2010. Dannielle’s understanding of the issues that influence self esteem and behaviour in teenage girls is evident. Even more importantly, many of our girls have commented on the way that Dannielle’s message has begun to influence their everyday attitude towards body image and the objectification of women in the media. St Clare’s will certainly integrate ‘The Butterfly Effect’ into our Pastoral Care program in the future.

Patrick McGing, Assistant Principal, St Clare’s College, Waverley

Just wanted to pass on to your company what a wonderful afternoon our Year 7-9 girls have just experienced. Your presenter Nikki was just terrific and she had the girls eating out of her hands! The content was spot on and the girls certainly left on a real high. It was a pleasure reading the feedback sheets and we look forward to working with your company again.

Kristen Waldron, Hamilton College, Hamilton, Victoria

The girls thoroughly enjoyed the day, and I believe they took a lot away with them. The topics covered on the day were very relevant to the girls and where they are in their lives. Dannielle knew her material and knew how to reach out to the girls in a way that made them want to listen and change and take on board the messages she presented to them. The information night presented to parents was informative and the parents came away enlightened and with positive strategies on how to deal with their teenage girls. Parents were very grateful for the opportunity to listen to Dannielle.

We will definitely invite Enlighten Education to work with our students again and hope we will have the opportunity for Dannielle to present to our parents again in the future.

Kathy Harris, Year 8 Coordinator, Mt Lilydale Mercy College, Lilydale, Victoria

Poster 6 - "You are loved."
Poster 6 - "You are loved."

In 2011 we will be expanding our services to ensure we ensure we offer more support to parents and educators who wish to raise amazing girls. To this end, we have developed a range of affordable resources we hope every girl will be able to access. You may view these, and order, at  the new Shop page of this blog.

I shall be taking a few weeks off over Christmas to enjoy my new home and celebrate Christmas. I’d like, therefore, to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all our blog subscribers, client schools, and the many thousands of young women we have been privileged enough to meet over the course of 2010. We now have over 4,750 young women as “Fans” on Facebook and we love hearing from them all. They truly grace us with the most heart-warming support for our work. Who said the revolution was over? We’re just warming up!

I wish all my readers much Love, Light and Laughter.

And new beginnings in 2011…

Because we’re worth more.

* Trigger Warning -displays and critiques images that may disturb.

Today marks the last day of the annual international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, explains why we all need to act to prevent violence against women:

Many women in Australia experience violence as an everyday reality and the statistics are shocking. The most recent national data shows that one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, nearly one in five women has experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 and almost every week, one woman is killed by her current or former partner.

One of the first steps an abuser takes in self-justifying their violence against another is to dehumanise them. And all around us—in advertising, on the net, in music videos and TV shows and movies—we are bombarded with images of women who are dehumanised, degraded, reduced to their body parts, or Photoshopped to a machinelike ideal of “perfection”. When degrading images of women become commonplace, what chance is there of building respect? Without respect, can we ever curb violence and abuse?

On the final day of the campaign, I’m calling on marketers and advertisers to think about the way they portray women. Because only by changing cultural attitudes can we change the culture of violence.


I did a workshop with the gorgeous young women at Quakers Hill High School in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. One of their teachers, Jenny Linklater, is an avid reader of this blog and a supporter of Enlighten’s work. She teaches visual arts and wanted to show me an article in the October issue of ProPhoto, a magazine for professional photographers, that had alarmed her. It was a profile on the 2010 Australian Professional Photographer Of The Year, Peter Coulson. Many of the images of women he was applauded for were shocking to say the least, like these “cheeky” (BTW—is it just me or are you also sick of anything offensive against women being dismissed as merely “cheeky”?) Raven shoe advertisements he produced that apparently thrilled and highly amused the client.


In the accompanying article we are told Mr Coulson has an “absolute love of fashion”, which he likes to mix with the macabre: “He has a weird sense of humour.”

I don’t get the joke. And whilst he may love fashion, there is certainly no love for women depicted here.

These images dehumanise women . . . in order to sell shoes.

Are we really worth so little?

Speak up. In your homes, classrooms and online.


Peter Coulson has been asked to present at major industry events as a “mentor” to show other advertising photographers how they too can create “strong” images like this for their clients. Email the editor of ProPhoto, Paul Burrows: and let him know that images like this aren’t “cheeky”, they’re damaging. Let Coulson’s client, Raven Clothing & Accessories, know that consumers are tired of being sold products with degrading images of women. You might also want to express your opinions to the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), which honoured Coulson with the award and organised an industry event he spoke at.

The standard we walk past is the standard we set. This week in particular, let’s set higher standards.

Footnote to last week’s post on NZGirl’s “Lovely pair” campaign: Rachel was given the opportunity to debate the founder Jenene Freer on Close Up Tv . During this heated discussion, Jenene made the case that it was a genuine attempt to raise awareness of breast cancer and to raise money for research. On Tuesday of this week the foundation has put it on record that it neither supports nor endorses the NZ Girl campaign in any way. NZGirl have now added the following to their Facebook page: “The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation have requested we clarify any reader confusion and state that the ‘lovely pair’ campaign is in no way supported or endorsed by The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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