Skip to content

Category: Magazines

With Friends Like These . . .

The Huffington Post recently published a hilarious and oh-so-accurate send-up of women’s mags, “17 Things Every Women’s Magazine Will Tell You (That You Should Ignore)” by Alida Nugent of blog The Frenemy. Here is a taste:

slide_11289_148557_large

1. Jennifer Aniston is really hot but she is also very pathetic. We want to have her hairstyle and her arms, but only to carry on her legacy when she dies alone.

slide_11289_148584_large
8. This is a somber photograph of a girl followed by her story about how a terrible, awful thing happened to her. Here is another story about a congresswoman who made it in a man’s world! Here is a 28-year-old with a fashion business! Women don’t get paid as much, and third-world women have it harder, because these are our serious pages! (Followed by raunchy sex tales!)

Coincidentally, the following critique of women’s magazines appeared on the Post Secret website this week. (Post Secret an ongoing art project that invites people to submit postcards decorated with their inner thoughts.) I think it is spot on, too:

cosmo

Although it is almost like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought it would be a cathartic exercise to come up with my own examples of the things every women’s magazine will tell you (that you should ignore). Here are a few I came up with:

41YBGKOL2vL._SL500_SX288_

1. “Don’t theorise, accessorise!” (or variants thereof). Want to get noticed in the workplace? Dress for success. Why not try fishnets for that sassy / sexy edge that says: “I am the gal for the job!” The image above was SERIOUSLY included in a piece aimed at “women lawyers, bankers, MBAs, consultants, and otherwise overachieving chicks who work in conservative offices and need to look professional, but want to be fashionable.” Somehow, I don’t think I’d hire the barrister in the short shorts.

self-esteem

2. Here’s a great article on positive body image and self-esteem written by someone we know you will trust! This gives us huge credibility and we can now emblazon our cover with a slogan like: “Perfection is boring — join the body revolution!” We will also now go on all the daytime talk shows and nod earnestly about our commitment to improving body satisfaction for women! Hell, we are now so OBVIOUSLY onto solving this huge issue that we will join a government advisory group on body image! The rest of our mag? Oh — DUH! It will be business as usual — loads of airbrushed images, a bombardment of hard-sell advertising for moisturisers and waxing and diet products, and an invitation to engage in the compare and despair game, in which we all rank celebs based on their looks. Vive the revolution!

lindsay-lohan-harpers-bazaar

3. Lindsay Lohan is either “Bad-news Lindsay” and we all pity her and worry (read get thrilled by) her “out of control” antics, or she is “Good-news Lindsay”, who is making a comeback despite all the obstacles she faces (which, judging by this cover, may include being airbrushed to the extent that she is virtually unrecognisable, even to herself — no wonder she is confused; we sure are). Sometimes Ms Lohan seems to be reported as both evil and saintly on the same day . . . perhaps she really does have a twin, as depicted in The Parent Trap? Will the real Lindsay Lohan please stand up? Hint for those wanting an indication as to whether the mag intends to depict her as tragic or triumphant: Airbrushing = Lindsay is a fresh-faced success! (Yay, Team Lohan! We knew you could do it — and help us sell lip gloss at the same time! It’s a win-win!) No airbrushing + unflattering lighting = We shake our heads in shock and become very self-righteous (now turn the page and we will advise you on how to party like a pole dancer and assert your girlpower by flashing whilst not spilling your cocktail).

Our New Zealand Program Manager, Rachel Hanson (who has contributed some excellent blog posts lately, here and here if you’ve missed them), offered this:

image001

4. Forget world hunger, terrorism and climate change — it’s body hair you should really be worried about! Unless your genitals look prepubescent, you are so not going to get THE MAN. Waxing, shaving, lasering, threading — no pain, no gain!

It is vital to encourage young people to deconstruct media messages and talk back to the media, rather than to merely be passive consumers. Why not use this exercise to inspire the girls in your life and get them thinking about the messages women’s magazines in particular might be sending them that are really not helpful? We’d love to see their entries. Email them to us at: enquiries@enlighteneducation.com.

Look good by doing very little

lydia2The following is a guest blog post used with permission by the author Lydia Jade Turner. Lydia is a psychotherapist and the Managing Director of BodyMatters Australasia. BodyMatters Australasia is a specialist clinic that was established to not only treat disordered eating, but to diminish the complex factors that contribute to our global epidemic of eating problems.

Last week Youth and Sport Minister Kate Ellis revealed a new code of conduct for the fashion and advertising industries, backed by the Federal government, in what is claimed to be a world first attempt to regulate the industries contributing to increased rates of body shame and eating disorders.

The voluntary code, outlining a list of proposed changes that reward magazines, fashion labels, and modelling agencies who comply with its criteria with a ‘tick of approval’, has met with mixed response. Responses have ranged from the dismissal of the need for any regulation, to claims that the promotion of anything other than a thin ideal will inflate obesity rates. Others who acknowledged the need for industry regulation expressed scepticism that the code would work, given its voluntary nature.

Helen Razer wrote a scathing critique of the code arguing that eating disorders have been around for centuries and therefore it is misguided to blame mass media and regulate industry. Those who argue that media images are harmless, or in some cases, that resiliency programmes are all that is needed to combat body shame and eating disorders, do the field of public health a great disservice. Evidence extending over hundreds of international studies confirms that the promotion of a thin-ideal increases body shame, which itself increases risk of developing clinical eating disorders, unhealthy weight loss practices, self-harm, and depression.

The fact is that eating disorders have never been as prevalent as they are now. Arguing that they can’t be triggered by the bombardment of a thin-ideal because they have been reported to exist prior to media images is essentially like arguing that lung cancer can’t be triggered by smoking because it was around prior to the invention of cigarettes. Razer’s point that the Roman elite used to throw up after meals in a “practice we’d now call bulimia” is based on a myth that misinforms about the true function of the Roman ‘vomitorium’.

Contrary to popular belief, vomitoriums were not used by the Roman elite to get rid of their stomach contents. The vomitorium is an architectural structure within the Roman amphitheatre, designed to alleviate crowds by allowing the audience to “spew out” after the show.”

While there have been some historical reports of Romans deliberately vomiting, this was certainly not part of a regular binge-purge cycle and there is no evidence that it was accompanied by a sense of loss of control, cognitive distortions, body shame, or feelings of low self-worth, as seen in those suffering from bulimia.

Having had a previous patient justify her bulimia citing this very myth about ancient Roman practices, it is important to exercise caution when discussing eating disorders in this context. Eating disorder sufferers already experience great difficulty grasping the seriousness of their condition, and any argument that risks framing their illness as some sort of lifestyle choice or culture clash is potentially harmful.

Another reason used against regulation lies in the misguided belief that the promotion of anything other than thin-ideal will inflate obesity rates. What the weight loss industry has cleverly hidden is that the drive to be thin actually plays a role in contributing to long term weight gain. Engaging in a healthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily bring on thinness, although it will bring about health benefits. Dieting, on the other hand, may bring about thinness (initially), but is actually the biggest predictor of binge-eating due to our hardwired response to the sense of deprivation. Dieting is also a significant predictor of weight cycling and long term weight gain.

It’s important to recognise that losing weight and being thin do not necessarily equate to health. Currently the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria reports that eight percent of teenage girls smoke in an effort to control their weight. The fear of being anything but thin is so strong in France, that the anti-tobacco campaigns now address women’s refusal to quit smoking for fear of weight gain. A whole variety of disordered eating behaviours are used to achieve or maintain a slim body, but at what cost? It’s time we stopped swapping health for thinness. What has been lost amidst Obesity Hysteria is the idea of health, and the idea that bodies do not have to exist in a ‘thin versus fat’ dichotomy.

Industries involved in promoting body shame and disordered eating must be held accountable for their actions. In this light, it is good to see our government acknowledge body image as a serious problem. But steps to regulate industry are not a “world’s first.” If anything, Australia is lagging behind. Both France and Spain, for example, began taking steps to regulate their industries several years ago, with The Guardian reporting in January that Spain’s lower chamber approved the banning of advertisements for plastic surgery, slimming products, and some beauty ads being shown before 10pm.

Some argue that legislation is not necessary to regulate industries. I disagree. Every governing structure has its limitations. Within a capitalist structure, the goal is to maximise profit. Corporations are accountable to their shareholders. As retail expert Brian Walker said, “Unless there’s a direct benefit to their sales margin for implementing the code, then retailers aren’t going to take this up. If the only benefit perceived is societal, I think there will be a mixed response, with many choosing not to take it up.” Indeed The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Friday that Myer has already backed out, while other retailers like Portmans did not even bother to return calls.

Perhaps the real problem lies in the fact that a number of women who sit on the National Advisory Board have conflicting interests. Sarah Murdoch’s actions have proven nothing but hypocritical. How can anyone take her seriously as a body image advocate when her brand, BONDS, continues to make no effort to promote anything other than a thin ideal and sells padded bras to eight year old girls? She is also the executive producer and judge on reality show Australia’s Next Top Model, which last year labelled the winner of the show Tahnee Atkinson ‘plus size.’ Atkinson is a size 10. This year the show is reported to be limited to size 8 and smaller contestants. Ads for the show have already compared the contestants to greyhounds, as they are shown racing from stalls in a degrading manner as they chase the lure – in this case, a modelling contract.

Kate Ellis, who commissioned the advisory board, recently posed in a tight-fitting leather dress with Gucci heels for Grazia magazine’s “body image special” in a bid to raise awareness about body image issues. Yet when asked whether or not the images of her were airbrushed, she refused to answer the question. Disclosing when images have been digitally enhanced is one of the board’s key recommendations. How can board members expect corporations to ‘fall in line’ when they themselves refuse to adhere to their own code?

It seems much has been invested in creating the appearance of doing something – but so long as we continue with this voluntary code, any changes made are unlikely to be sustained.

The Government’s New Body Image Policy

bodyimagecodeLate last year in this blog, I gave my assessment of the National Strategy on Body Image proposed by an advisory group that was appointed by the federal government. Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, has just released the government’s body image policy in response to the proposal. So, how has the policy shaped up?

I had praised the advisory group’s recommendations for a Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist, so I am happy to see that the government will be distributing posters based on the checklist to every primary and secondary school in the country.

Regarding the rest of the policy, I think the intentions are good and many of the principles are undeniably sensible. Stores stocking a broad range of clothing for all shapes and sizes? Of course I believe in this recommendation, and many similar recommendations. However, I also believe that girls and young women deserve stronger action than what this policy takes.

The government has introduced an industry code of conduct designed to encourage the media, fashion and advertising industries to promote more positive body image messages. I agree with most of the guidelines in the code, such as calling on companies to: promote positive body image messages; include images of a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities; not undermine positive body image editorial messages with negative advertising; use models who are of a healthy weight and appropriate age; and cater to diverse women. One aspect of the code I am suspect of is that it asks companies to not digitally alter images to an unrealistic or unattainable degree, and to tell consumers when they have altered images. Frankly, this recommendation seems inadequate. Doesn’t any Photoshopping send the message that women are not good enough the way they are? That aside, in large part, I think it will be a healthier world for our girls to grow up in if companies follow the code of conduct. But—and this is a big but—the code is only voluntary.

This seems profoundly naive to me. What media, fashion or advertising company is going to invest time and money in following a voluntary code—unless it’s good for their bottom line?

This brings me to my next reservation about the new policy . . .

A national body image friendly awards scheme is to be launched. Organisations, initiatives and products that receive awards will earn the right to display a body image friendly symbol. It’s like the body image equivalent of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval. But surely companies will only vie to win an award if it helps their bottom line. Are we seeing the start of the commodification of positive body image? That’s a possibility that truly makes me shudder.

Already we have seen companies such as Unilever using the body image issue to sell products, through their Dove “real” beauty campaigns. Given that Uniliver employs incredibly negative body image messages to sell some of its other brands, such as Lynx, Slim Fast and Ponds Skin whitening cream in Asia, I think it’s fair to conclude that at least in that company, profit is more important than positive body image. (There has also been some questioning of just how real the images in those Dove campaigns are. If you want to find out more, there are articles in New York magazine and Jezebel about a hypocritical casting call for “beautiful” and “flawless” women for their next real beauty campaign. Dove has since put out a statement that they didn’t approve the casting call—though I notice that they haven’t denied an association with the casting company that issued it.)

My main concern is that a body image friendly symbol could become just another marketing tool to drive profit—and one that may well be fairly meaningless to the consumer if it doesn’t reflect the whole reality of a company’s body image messages.

Last year, I noted that the proposed national strategy had nothing to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls. The government’s policy also fails to address these crucial issues, even though the pressure to be too sexy too soon is a major part of many girls’ body image dissatisfaction. Experts in child and adolescent development, parents and social commentators have identified the damaging rise in sexualisation and objectification as something we as a society need to act on now.  The Australian Psychological Society has issued guidelines and has lobbied extensively in Canberra. So, why the deafening silence in the government policy?

Melinda Tankard Reist has written a couple of thought-provoking blog posts on this gap in the policy. Among other things, she discussed the absurdity of the media touting the size 14 model Laura Wells as the ultimate in positive body image simply because she is not thin and is happy to pose almost nude, squeezing her breasts together for the camera. I agree wholeheartedly with what Melinda wrote in a follow-up post:

You can have a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities represented, but they can still be posed and styled in sexually objectifying ways. Objectification in a size 14 is still objectification.

Associate Professor Karen Brooks, of Southern Cross University, in her column in The Courier-Mail, like me agreed in principle with the aims of the policy but had reservations. She believes, as do I, that it is unfortunate that the advisory group did not seek opinions from a greater number of outside bodies and individuals with expertise in these issues. Karen also notes that the government’s allocation of funding has opened the way for beauty industry involvement in the teaching of positive body image in schools. I think such involvement is a whole world of wrong, akin to a fast food chain going into schools to promote healthy eating. That’s why Enlighten Education will always remain proudly independent, never accepting sponsorships or partnerships with corporations of any kind, especially beauty and fashion companies.

I also share Karen’s view that it is key for any in-school body image initiatives to be targeted at large groups of girls, over a sustained period. This is something that Enlighten believes in very strongly, because evidence shows that large-group interventions—say, with an entire grade—are far more effective than small-group ones of only a dozen or so girls. It is critical to spread the message to as large a number of girls at once as possible. That way, a girl’s whole peer group is speaking the same language, so the message isn’t undermined.

Over the next few months, the criteria for earning the government’s body image friendly symbol will be fine-tuned. I join with Karen Brooks in urging the advisory group to use this time to consult more widely with experts and with young people. I applaud the government for its good intentions and for acknowledging that negative body image among young people is a real issue that we all need to be concerned about. However, given the policy’s limitations, I again urge parents, teachers and community leaders to keep up the good work of combatting negative body image messages. In the end, it is our responsibility to be body image role models for girls and to send positive body image messages in what we say and what we do.

Sustaining our work

I am often asked by schools for suggested follow-up activities they can do to sustain the girls’ interest and enthusiasm for the work Enlighten Education ignites when we run our programs. I thought it timely to share some best-practice approaches.

Positive representations of women
Positive representations of women

Mater Dei Catholic College in Wagga Wagga recently ran a full-day Butterfly Effect program for their Year 9 students. The program also served as a “train the trainer” session for selected Year 11 students who would be acting as mentors for their younger sisters in the months to come. One of the first activities the girls all engaged in after our session was the completion of art projects that deconstructed media images of women; they were asked to find representations of women that they found helpful and positive, and to identify those that they felt perpetuated negative self-image in women.

Questions the girls were asked to consider as part of this process included:

1. What part of the body does the image centre on and why?

2. Is this an accurate representation of how real women look? Why or why not?

3. In what ways do these images impact on young women and girls?

4. What is the possible effect of these images on young men?

Kellyville High School adopted a similar peer-support concept for their Year 8 students with their “Sellerbrating Sisterhood” initiative. A full day was set aside three weeks after our program; this timing coincides with the completion of the 21-day positive self-talk challenge Enlighten leaves girls with. The girls were then introduced to their Year 11 “Big Sisters”, who all completed our course in 2009. Together, the students debriefed and participated in a series of extension activities, which included the formulation of a group action plan to avoid “toxic talk”, the identification of support networks girls can access both within the school and wider community, the creation of a “girls only” space within the school, and the setting up of an internal mail system where the Year 8 “enlightened” students could correspond with their Big Sisters.

In previous blog posts I have shared ideas that would also make excellent follow-ups:

Do you have any activities you’d like to share?

To the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General Censorship Ministers.

I am proud to have put my signature to a statement signed by more than 30 of Australia’s leading child experts which calls for an unprecedented ban on the sale of adult magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse and other ”soft porn” material from newsagents, milk bars, convenience stores, supermarkets and petrol stations.

We are also asking Australia’s censorship ministers to review the rules by which so-called lad mags – such as People, Zoo and Ralph – are reviewed, arguing that they are becoming increasingly explicit and contributing to the sexualisation of children.

The signaturies are:

Julie Gale, director Kids Free 2B Kids

The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC, former Chief Justice of the Family Court and Founding Patron, Children’s Rights International

Tim Costello, CEO World Vision

Noni Hazlehurst, AM, actor, child advocate

Clive Hamilton, AM, Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics

Dr Joe Tucci, CEO Australian Childhood Foundation

Steve Biddulph, psychologist, author and Australian Father of the Year in 2000

Professor Louise Newman, director, Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry & Psychology

Dr Karen Brooks, associate professor in media studies, School of Arts and Social Sciences Southern Cross University

Barbara Biggins, OAM Hon CEO Australian Council on Children and the Media

Melinda Tankard Reist, editor Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, social commentator

Dr John Tobin, Melbourne Law School

Elizabeth Handsley BA LLB LLM, Professor of Law, Flinders University

Kaisu Vartto, CEO Sexual Health information networking & education SA Inc (SHine SA)

Dr Cordelia Fine, Centre for Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics University of Melbourn

Bill Jackson, CEO, Children’s Rights International

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, author, Child & Adolescent Psychologist and social commentator

Professor Susan J Paxton, Head of School. School of Psychological Science La Trobe University

Dr Beryl Langer, Sociology & Anthropology School of Social Sciences LaTrobe University

Dannielle Miller, CEO Enlighten Education and author, The Butterfly Effect

Professor Dorothy Scott, director, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia

Dr Phil West, Ph.D Initiator and Co-founder: The Alannah & Madeline Foundation Founder & President Renew the Spirit Foundation

Mr Tony Pitman, CEO OzChild

Dr Emma Rush, co-author Corporate Paedophilia.

Dr Rick Kausman, medical doctor and author

Lauren Kelly , co-ordinator Northern Sydney Area Sexual Assault Service Royal North Shore Hospital

Dr Judith Slocombe, Chief Executive Officer The Alannah and Madeline Foundation

Rita Princi, Child, Adolescent & Family Psychologist

Professor Chris Goddard, Director Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia, Monash University

Hetty Johnston, founder and executive director of Bravehearts Inc

Carla Meurs, co-ordinator, Solving the Jigsaw

Angelique Foran, psychologist – child, adolescent and family psychology

Miranda Chow, project manager, Lasallian Foundation

Ramesh Manocha, GP and founder of Generation next

Susan McLean, former police officer & cyber safety expert including child pornography and online sexual solicitation

Women’s Forum Australia

Women’s Action Alliance

Ironically, the submission by Julie Gale to the government censorship working party was delayed because of public servants’ concerns about transmitting the graphic images! Both Julie and Melinda Tankard Reist have been very vocal on this issue for some time now. I do hope theirs, and indeed all our voices, will finally be heard.

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)

Mags’ flawed obsession with body perfect

MTR-193x300Guest blog post by Melinda Tankard Reist, a Canberra based author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls.

SHOCK horror: nude supermodel has dimple on thigh. In a move labelled daring and revolutionary, this month’s edition of Marie Claire features nude photos of Australian model Jennifer Hawkins airbrush-free. The shoot reveals “brave” Jen with all her flaws.

And what exactly are these impediments? A tiny crease in Hawkins’s waist, a slightly dimpled thigh and
“uneven skin tones”.

hawkins-146x150

Quelle horreur. As if this isn’t enough, Hawkins notes an additional flaw: her hips. She has them. Miss Universe 2004 is really the Elephant Woman.

According to Marie Claire editor Jackie Frank, the Hawkins images were inspired by a survey of 5500 readers that found only 12 per cent of women were happy with their bodies. That’s right, nude pics of a woman considered one of the world’s rarest beauties are supposed to cheer the rest of us up. The pictures will be auctioned this month, with proceeds going to eating disorders support group the Butterfly Foundation.

That Hawkins has been enlisted in the cause of girls who hate their bodies and are, in many ways, victims of the dominant ideal of female beauty kind of messes with my head. How can these pictures possibly help women feel good about themselves?

Labelling hips, a little dimpling on the thigh, a small waist crease (which looks like what happens when any woman sits down) and supposedly uneven skin tone as flaws is already problematic. Who decided these were flaws and not part of being a woman? And if these are flaws, then how are other women supposed to feel feel?

And what about all the other flaws Hawkins, 26, will accrue if she has kids and when she ages?

The problem is the emphasis on physical attributes over any other qualities a woman might possess. And a freak-of-nature body that gets 24-hour-a-day attention and the best of care to earn its owner an income. Most women will never have a body like this.

Why would an editor and an organisation concerned about body image choose a Miss Universe title holder as the pin-up for the love-yourself-just-as-you-are campaign? The images attract comparisons and judgment, and provide more opportunity for objectification. They have already prompted a rash of emails from self-appointed male judges who said Hawkins was pear shaped, that her bum was unappealing, that her breasts were too small, that she should have kept her clothes on.

More worryingly, the images have prompted women to compare themselves with Hawkins. “She wants to make [women] feel more comfortable about how they look, gee thanks, I now feel worse! I’m a size 10 and I still have more rolls than her!” wrote one.

Another email included a bulimia reference: “If anything is going to have me running to the toilet with my finger down my throat it’s a picture of Jennifer Hawkins naked.”

And who exactly is going to bid for the photos, you wonder.

Perhaps the Melbourne man who posted this comment on the Herald Sun website : “*Pant pant pant* OF COURSE Jen should’ve stripped, what a silly question to ask!”. Or Kit Walker of Geelong, who asked: “Where and how many of these magazines can I get!!!”Or perhaps the charming Darren of South Morang, who referred to his imminent Hawkins-inspired sexual arousal: “It’s likely to have a very positive effect on my body, that’s for sure.”

The whole PC beauty shift is for so many just a hilarious bit of theatre. But there is nothing amusing in mocking or encouraging the anxieties that cause untold misery and suffering to so many women. And the hypocrisy is everywhere, rising up to hit you in your flawed face. In the same newspaper promoting Jen “flaws and all” in a banner headline on its front page were three full pages of “Best bikini bodies: How 10 celebs got the perfect figure”. And who is featured there? Hawkins for “best overall body”.

“Our former Miss Universe easily has one of the most envied bikini bodies in the world,” it says, and Hawkins provides advice on how to “get a bikini body quickly”. (Other celebs are given accolades for “best bottom”, “best post-baby body”, “best tummy”, “best thighs”, “best boobs and abs”, and so on.)

Women are expected to believe that enlightened advances are being made in this quite monotonous and unimaginative regime.

This has been identified elsewhere, in regard to the tobacco and alcohol industries, as air cover: giving the appearance of social responsibility while really not doing much at all.

Marie Claire and Hawkins and her flaws, which aren’t really, will do nothing to lessen body dissatisfaction. Because it’s not really about celebrating a diversity of women’s bodies, as advertisers in the magazines spruiking body improvement products well know.

If Frank and fellow editors are serious about the body image problems their magazines have helped to create, will we see less airbrushing, less attention to the “thin, hot, sexy” cult and more real women, rather than insulting and meaningless token gestures?

See Melinda’s article as published in The Australian.

A National Strategy on Body Image

The issue of negative body image has officially crossed over into the mainstream public debate. We now have a proposed National Strategy on Body Image, put together by an advisory group appointed by the federal government.

Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, put together the group, which was chaired by Mia Freedman, former editor of Cosmopolitan, and  featured big names in the fashion industry and  media such as TV presenter and model Sarah Murdoch, children’s health and psychology experts including Professor David Forbes of the University of Western Australia, and leaders of youth organisations such as the YWCA. They considered submissions from the public–mostly young people, teachers, youth workers, social workers and psychologists–then came up with recommendations for government action to deal with the widespread problem of poor body image.

What excites me, and my colleagues at Enlighten, is that the Strategy gives public recognition to the important role school programs can and should play in helping girls develop positive body image.  The Strategy calls for increased funding for “reputable and expert organisations to deliver seminars and discussions on body image within schools” and for workshops that increase girls’ media literacy so that they can stand up to negative media messages.

Many schools access independent organisations to deliver one-off body image workshops or to facilitate body image discussions among students. A number of these types of interventions have been demonstrated as effectively reducing the body dissatisfaction of students. The Advisory Group encourages government to increase the opportunities schools have to access these activities.

Proposed National Strategy on Body Image

As a first step, I call on the federal government to immediately introduce the Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist in the Strategy (on page 42). It has some great practical ideas that I would love to see implemented in schools across Australia. The best of the recommendations:

  • Bring positive body image messages into the curriculum. It is easy to see how body image can be incorporated into health and physical education lesson plans, but teachers need not stop there. In English, students could be asked to write a critical thinking essay on how the media affects our idea of what a woman should look like. A media studies class might focus on the way that programs such as Photoshop are used by magazines to create an unattainable ideal of beauty.
  • Consult with students to develop a sports uniform everyone feels comfortable wearing. Being involved in sport has been shown to boost girls’ self-esteem and body image–yet it has also been shown that figure-hugging uniforms are one of the greatest barriers to girls participating in sport.
  • Provide Mental Health First Aid training for teachers that can help them identify body image and eating disorders in students and then know what steps to take next.
  • Give training for teachers in how to use body-friendly language with students–that is, no “fat talk”, either about themselves or their students.
  • Include positive body image in the school’s policy, even writing positive body image and the celebration of diversity into the school’s mission statement.
  • Do away with weighing and measuring students. It seems kind of crazy that in this day and age that has to even be spelt out, but it is still done in PE and even some maths classes. And for many students, the humiliation they experience leaves lasting scars.

Beyond the school system, there are some other good (and long overdue) suggestions in the Strategy that I hope the government implements. A standard system of clothing sizes to avoid the distress many feel when they find they can’t fit into a certain size. Stores stocked with a broad range of sizes, reflecting the diversity of our body types. Mannequins that look more like the many different women we see every day in the street.

But as with most such working papers put together by committee, within parameters set by a federal government, the Strategy of course has its limitations. For instance, it can simply suggest that funding should be increased in schools to ensure all girls receive the media literacy and self-esteem workshops they need; it can’t provide an assurance that this will actually happen.

The limitations of the Strategy become clearer when it deals with other avenues for promoting positive body image. The right principle is there: to encourage clothing designers, magazines and TV, the diet industry, advertisers and marketers to finally shoulder responsibility for the shame, disgust and body anxiety they routinely encourage young women to experience. But the Strategy recommends first trying the softly, softly approach: asking companies to follow a voluntary code of conduct and rewarding them for good behaviour by listing them in a roll of honour and awarding them the right to display a logo. Think of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval, but in this case for creating positive body image rather than lowering cholesterol. Only once this approach had failed to produce results would penalties be considered.

I would be overjoyed if companies voluntarily started treating girls and women with more respect. And I think some would, so long as it was good for their bottom line. Think, for instance, of Dove, which uses the body image issue to sell a truckload of soap–while their parent company’s other key brands include Lynx (Boom Chicka Waa Waa, anyone?), Slim Fast and Ponds Skin Whitening cream marketed in Asian countries. A lot of fashion designers would  simply pull one of those frosty catwalk model faces in response to a suggestion they promote positive body image. I mean, can you really see Gucci saying “Hey, they’re right, we should stop promoting this unhealthy stick-thin image and adopt that voluntary code of conduct”?

I do wish that the proposed national strategy had more to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and especially of girls. While body size and shape and the lack of diversity in the media are prime sources of despair, the pressure to be sexy–and only within a narrow ideal of sexiness–is increasingly causing serious problems.

Research shows that over time women can come to see themselves as objects and subject their bodies to constant surveillance, feeling disgusted and ashamed about themselves. So even if the code helps industry to get serious about presenting more realistically sized women, the expectation to be ‘‘hot’’ and ‘‘sexy’’ will remain. And industry will have the right product and the latest look we need to achieve this false ideal.

Misty de Vries, COO, Women’s Forum Australia, in The Age

The way I look at it, the National Strategy on Body Image is a great place to start. But its recommendations are only worth something if the politicians, the fashion and beauty product industries, and the media and advertisers follow through on them. It is thanks to all of us voicing our opinions that the government commissioned a Strategy in the first place. Now we have to keep up the pressure!

Raising Teenage Girls

The article below originally appeared in Notebook Magazine, November 2009. It has has been reproduced here with their permission. Visit Notebook magazine – www.notebookmagazine.com

A PDF version of this feature article is also available to download / share here: dani

In the minds of many parents, a daughter’s teenage years loom like a trial by fire. Cracking the code to adolescent girlhood might seem unachievable, but as Donna Reeves discovers, it all starts with facing up to who you are.

No-one has ever said raising children is easy. While there is a general understanding the early years are tough – sleepless nights, tears, the dreariness of endless laundry – there is a certain terror that fills the hearts of many parents when they come to the realisation their beautiful baby daughters will one day develop into those slightly alien and scary creatures: teenage girls.

All legs and arms and attitude, there is something about teenage girls that induces fear into the most confident of parents. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Behind the prickly, and pimply, surface of adolescent girls lies a genuine psychological and emotional need to remain connected to their parents as they face the challenges of becoming young women. Being afraid of stepping on teenage toes, or believing that adolescence is akin to the lost years, isn’t doing your kids any favours. Instead of setting yourself up to fail, parents, particularly mothers, can grow with their daughters because when it comes down to it, both are facing similar issues.

“There has been this idea that teenage girls are somehow unruly and bitches and divas and difficult; that it’s this awful tumultuous time and the best we can do is bunker down and try and get through it,” says Dannielle Miller, a former high school teacher who has worked with thousands of teenage girls in both Australia and New Zealand. “This is such a ridiculous notion because it sets up this defeatist attitude towards connecting with your daughter and it also sets up conflict because you start to see the conflict as inevitable. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“The greatest gift a mum can give to her daughter is to grow with her and to be honest about that journey of growth. If we pretend we all just emerge as this completely whole woman, we’re doing them a disservice by not helping them understand that making mistakes is just part of that journey.”

Dannielle’s book The Butterfly Effect – A Positive New Approach to Raising Happy, Confident Teen Girls (Random House, $34.95) has just been published. It is well researched and documents with clarity and gritty honesty the issues facing today’s teenage girls, such as drinking, body issues, friendship and sex.

2009-08-29-1336-44_edited

“Sometimes I think other parenting books make the world in which teenage girls live seem so foreign to our world that as an adult, you feel a little bit out of your element in knowing how to step in and help,” Dannielle says. “Yet, the issues really are the same. They might be drinking Breezers while we’re drinking chardies, and they might be watching ‘Gossip Girl’ while we’re watching ‘Desperate Housewives’, but the messages and the reasons why we’re engaging in those things are very similar. If you can start to see the similarities, rather than just the differences, I think it’s a great opportunity to connect with your daughter rather than disconnect from her.”

The Butterfly Effect offers practical advice to parents – in particular mothers – on how to stay connected, or rebuild relationships with their daughters during adolescence. Unlike some other parenting books, where the emphasis is on the child, this book forces parents to examine their own lives and behaviours. It’s an approach Dannielle says she has been using successfully for many years.

“Parents honestly think they’re going to come along to one of my seminars and I am going to sort out their daughter for them, as if she’s the one who needs fixing,” Dannielle says. “Then, within about five minutes of me speaking, I’ll see these little tears rolling down their faces as they realise they need to have a look at what they’re doing in their life. Maybe they’re always on a diet, or lamenting the ageing process, or caught up in a destructive relationship and drinking themselves into a stupor every night. Their daughters see this and that’s the truth of it. Many mothers find it quite confronting, and it is.”

Dannielle says what initially struck her when talking to mothers about their daughters was that they were both facing similar issues. “I was quite surprised that in many ways, despite all the rhetoric about there being this huge generation gap, so many issues that impact on our daughters’ lives really impact on us as women too, and we are really more alike than we are different.

“I noticed in the mothers’ faces that I was really speaking to them as well: they were caught up in the same vortex when it came to things like body image, beauty and drinking. Even when I would talk about things such as managing healthy friendships, the mothers would say, ‘It sounds like you’re describing my friendships with my girlfriends now.’”

One of Dannielle’s key messages in her book and seminars is that mothers have to set a good example and be a positive role model for their daughters. “Girls can’t be what they can’t see,” she says. “If we’re serious about saying to our daughters, ‘I want you to be really sure of yourself, to be really strong, to know how to set boundaries with people, to make healthy choices around alcohol,’ then we have to make those choices and decisions ourselves.”

If there’s one area in recent years that teenage girls have been drastically misunderstood, and perhaps as a result, let down, it’s in the assumption they are more mature than adolescent boys and therefore more independent. Dannielle says that while it is true teen girls do have more maturity than adolescent boys of the same age, they are still emotionally needy.

“The latest research is showing that adolescent girls have the emotional needs for affection and for love as they had when they were seven,” she says. “The first time I heard this, my daughter was seven and I thought about the number of times she might be touched, cuddled, told she’s beautiful. Sadly, by the time girls hit adolescence, and because they’re gangly and look a little bit grown up, we almost leave them to fend for themselves. That’s why they hunt in packs and why their peer groups are so important to them. It’s often the only place where they get that love and affection. It explains why you will always see teenage girls touching each others’ hair, tickling each other, laying all over each other. It’s because they yearn to be touched and to be loved.”

IMG_0098

At my official Book Launch with mentor and valued colleague Clinical Professor David Bennett AO FRACP FSAM

Wanting to be loved doesn’t necessarily mean wanting to be best friends. It’s important to set realistic expectations around your relationships. As Dannielle says, you have to understand that for teen girls, pulling away and coming back and then pulling away again is a really important part of them growing into individuals and becoming independent. This seesawing behaviour can’t be taken personally, or else every mother would spend a lot of her teenage daughters’ years feeling offended or hurt.

“In an effort to connect with your daughter, I don’t think it works for mums to say ‘Alright, we’re going to have these big outings every month,’” says Dannielle. “You can’t force it. Sometimes, the best moments can be when you gently brush past each other in the house, or when you write your daughter a note for her lunch box which she doesn’t even bother acknowledging.

“We need to realise these moments we have with them, even if we think they’re not important, can be hugely important. Often we make the mistake of thinking it has to be a big gesture. It is very true that teenage girls don’t want to hang with Mum all the time, but they do really want a connection.”

One of the simplest pieces of advice Dannielle gives in her book – and interestingly, one of the most powerful – is for mothers to let themselves fall in love with their daughters again. Sure, motherhood isn’t easy, but neither is growing up. Think back to how you were as a teenager and the grief you caused your mother.

“As mothers, if we can get back to the core values of ‘I do love this girl’ and realise our daughters have remarkable qualities and focus on those, rather than try to control them, then that can be a good way of finding mutual ground,” says Dannielle.

“If you can get the parenting bits right and focus on being a good role model, there’s nothing more fun than having a teenage girl around. It is their flaws and their little idiosyncrasies, and the fact they are so brutally honest that makes them incredibly endearing. They’re like big labrador puppies – they’re delightful.”

__________________________________________________________________________________________

I will be presenting a public seminar for parents on raising girls at Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College – November 11th 2009: this is being hosted by the organisation Young Love. All enquiries should be made directly to them.

Flyer with details may be downloaded here.

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Please prove that you are not a robot.

Skip to toolbar