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Category: Magazines

A week of mixed emotions.

This week I have been:

Inspired by singer Vanessa Amorosi as quoted in the Sun- Herald November 2nd. We are told she fell out with record execs after she refused to mime or take her clothes off: “It was that time and era, it was the Britney Spears days – it was all about sex sells. Of course I resisted because I was 16. There’s nothing sexy about a 16-year-old…I’m very,very driven and I work hard. I don’t get pushed into corners.”

Sickened by the Amnesty international report that a 13 year old Somalian girl was stoned to death by 50 men in front of 1,000 spectators. Her crime? She was convicted of adultery after being raped by three men.  http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/rape-victim-13-stoned-to-death-in-stadium/2008/11/03/1225560735918.html 

Grateful for my work. This week in NSW alone we have worked with (and fallen in love with) over 450 girls and received the most beautiful, stunning feedback. The newspaper report below provides a useful insight into why teenage girls desperately need to hear strong, passionate, alternative voices: http://maitland.yourguide.com.au/news/local/news/general/program-gives-teens-an-image-boost/1353359.aspx

Angry at the media’s treatment of the 14 year old teen girls who wrote their mobile phone numbers on their backs when sunbathing at a Sydney beach. Were these girls putting themselves at risk? Absolutely. Was it a foolish thing to do? Yes. But does this silliness mean they are “slappers” ( as I heard Paul McDermot on Good News Week call them – after also making a joke about how sexy he finds 14 year old girls) ? NO! How about this judgement by Nikki Goldstein as reported in the Daily Telegraph: “Really what they’re saying is ‘Dial me up for sex’ . . . when they’re actually below the age of consent.” They are not saying this at all! These young girls may want attention ( and, more likely, a giggle amongst themselves) but is it right to assume they are asking for dial-a-sex?  Would commentators have been so scathing is it had been a group of boys publicly displaying their mobile numbers? I was furious too at the snide reference in the report to the girls being from the western suburbs. This detail has no relevance and was clearly just another excuse for the media to judge “westies”.

Interested in a recent report from the US that links sexual content on television to teen pregnancy and the implications this has for parents.

“We know that parents are busy, but sitting down and watching shows together with their teen, talking about the character portrayals, talking about what they just witnessed, and really using it as a teachable moment is really, I think, a good recommendation from this research” (Lead Researcher Anita Chandra.)

Annoyed at the blurb for a book entitled “The Big Book of Girl’s Stuff” that is promoted in my daughter’s school book club (Scholastic) this month. It reads: “The no 1 totally must have for all Aussie girls! Find out how to make a fake belly button piercing, what to do about a killer crush and more!” Mmmm…all the REALLY important stuff is given priority. 

How has your week been?  

 

Wall of Shame

The healthy Beer?

What was Jessica Simpson ( who is not only the spokesperson for this new brand of beer but also an investor in the brewery that manufacturers it) thinking when she got involved in a range that obviously targets young female drinkers in the most irresponsible way?

The singer, 28, says in the campaign: “I work out and take care of myself. But I also like a cold beer once in a while. That’s why I made the smart choice with a smart beer. Stampede Light, it’s beer plus.”

Yes, it is light beer infused with vitamins…I kid you not. The company’s web site declares it contains vitamin B and is “made from pure spring water…geared towards the health-conscious.”

Take Me On The Floor

Australian Rock group The Veronicas (twins Jess and Lisa Origliasso) are heavily marketed towards the tween demographic. They have a highly successful clothing range for girls aged 7-16 which is sold at Target stores and are regular cover girls for tween magazines. In recent interviews, the twins have acknowledged that fans as young as four go along to their concerts:  “For our last record (their debut, Exposed: The Secret Life of the Veronicas) we were surprised by the age demographic it appealed to – we had kids as young as four coming, but adults as well,” Lisa says.

What will their devoted tween fans make of their new single “Take Me On The Floor”? The film clip is simply soft-porn. Shots of the now almost obligatory girl on girl kissing, lots of gyrating and close ups of thighs being groped…the lyrics include an incredible amount of heavy breathing (do they suffer from asthma perhaps?) and the mantra “I wanna kiss a girl, I wanna kiss a girl, I wanna kiss a boy, I wanna … ” The dancers meanwhile writhe uncontrollably as they all “take each other” on the dance floor ( all this at 9am on Saturday morning TV, before I’ve even had my Coco Pops!)

 

When asked about the move towards highly sexual lyrics in their new album “Hook Me Up ” when the album was first released way back in October last year in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, Lisa offered this:   

I think in the music world today that (sex) is a very big part of all songs…You can’t really listen to one song on the radio that isn’t referring to relationships or that whole thing. Every song seems to be about that, it seems to be driven by that. I don’t think this is any different. It’s just a fun song. You know, you can interpret how you want to. But I think kids are a little bit more wise these days … I mean kids have boyfriends when they’re 12. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 15,” she adds, with a laugh. “

So Lisa wasn’t ready for her first kiss until she was 15, but children nowadays should be ready for anything much earlier? And sorry, but unless I am missing something this new song is not about a relationship at all, the opening line states: “I barely know you…”

My 9 year old daughter had a Veronicas t-shirt.

It’s been binned.

Ralph magazine makes me ralph

Ralph maagzine hit a record low (and that is saying something!) with their pictorial of ex-Big Brother “star” Brigitte this month. She is posed in scanty lingerie, proudly exposing her fake breats – on a bed surrounded by children’s cuddly toys, with a baby’s dummy in her hand! One can only assume readers are meant to be aroused by her child-like appeal. Disgusting. Devastating.

And, what sage advice does she offer to readers? When asked what she would do if she became PM she offered this: “I’d probably give everyone free boob jobs. I think guys would appreciate the girls getting them.”

Seems our work is far from done…          

 

Postsecret

I am a HUGE fan of Postsecret. I am not sure if you know about this community art project but an American man started leaving random notes asking strangers to send him a postcard sharing their secrets with him.

It started a phenomena and is ongoing. Selected cards have been turned into beautiful books and his web site posts some of the many hundreds of cards he receives from around the world each week.

I love this Youtube clip that features some really uplifting Postcards…many deal with beauty, friendship and the relationship between mothers and their daughters.

Enjoy.


 

“She’s just a cute Tween…but she grows up to be a curvy, cool Teen!”

Unlike most little girl’s dolls, which are designed to represent older teenagers or women, Mattel’s “My Scene, Growing Up Glam” doll openly set out to depict a tween, a girl aged 8-13 years. She is dressed in lace stockings, short skirt, diamante belt, midriff top and wears a full face of heavy make-up ( complete with false eye lashes). Her cute accessories? A teddy bear and school books:

Twist the screw on her back (oh how symbolic!) and her abdomen stretches. It’s gruesome to watch. She looks like she is being stretched by a medieval torture device.

Hey presto! Now she’s a “curvy, cool teen.” But wait, you say, all that has really changed is that her stomach has stretched to make her appear taller! 

How telling. It seems there is no physical difference between an 8 year old girl and an older teen in Mattel land.  Nor should the clothes they wear differ. The accessories do change though – she trades in her school books and teddy bear for a full make up kit (“Whoa, her make up changes too!”) and some glossy fashion magazines. Flats shoes are out – its all about the stilettos now. Out too with cute hair clips and in with designer sunnies.

 

Where do I begin in explaining why this type of doll is so toxic for our daughters? And why do I feel I must actually explain why this is not acceptable. Isn’t it self-evident?

In the wake of the Senate tabling the findings of its much anticipated inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment in parliament last week, more than ever I feel I need to justify my concerns.

The committee observed “…that children are certainly more visibly sexualised in terms of the media to which they are exposed. This basic assumption was not challenged by any evidence received, and is based on recognition of the increasing targeting of products to child-related markets and the greater exposure of children to information via the many available media forms, and particularly the Internet. However it would be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm.”

Why would it be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm? Because not enough long term research has been done yet on the impact of the sexualisation of children on their physical and mental health? Does anyone think for one moment that any research that is commissioned will come back showing that stealing childhood has actually been helpful? Healing? Why do we need to wait for more numbers to come in before we act – there has already been a large body of research that has alerted us to numerous potential dangers including an increase in eating disorders, self harm, risky sexual practices.   Why can’t we err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting children?

Clive Hamilton, former Director of the Australia Institute whose report ‘Corporate P-dophilia’ prompted the Senate Inquiry, summed up the recommenations thus: “The recommendations..amount to nothing more than a polite request that advertisers and broadcasters might perhaps, if it’s not too much trouble, consider listening to community concerns a little more.”

I have found the debate surrounding the Inquiry very interesting too. Those who dare question the path society is taking have been labelled prudish, out of touch, alarmist. Catherine Lumby, the Director of Journalism  and Media at UNSW, expressed concern that some commentators were viewing children as “uncovered meat”, she told the world she was “furious” that children were being made to feel ashamed about their bodies.  

I will join Catherine in her fury if anyone dares suggest children’s bodies are provocative and need to be covered up. I too will dismiss as alarmist anyone who wants nappy advertisements banned. But I haven’t met, nor heard, from any of these types. I haven’t seen people up in arms over singlets, or nappy ad’s or innocuous pictures of girls looking pensive. Such people may well exist at one end of the continuum, just as those that design t-shirts for toddlers emblazoned with “All my Daddy wanted was a blow job” do exist at the other end of the scale. 

Do I have a problem  with little girls wearing singlet tops? Absolutely not – unless they are emblazoned with slogans like “Porn  Star”, “Flirt” or “Tease.” A 10 year old girl I worked with in a school recently turned up at her school camp wearing a shirt that read, “Wrap your lips around this.” Can you see why I might be concerned about that Ms Lumby? And this is not by any means another extreme example. Raunchy messages aimed directly at young girls are mainstream.

I am concerned too not just because I think there are too many hyper-sexualised messages bombarding our girls, but becuase the messages presented are so narrow. It’s all big (fake) breasts, pouts, and male fantasy soft porn. It’s all Hugh Hefner bunnys and pole dancing. Women’s sexuality (and men’s) is in reality so much more diverse and complicated. Just as we are told that only a leggy blonde size 8 model can be truly beautiful, we are now being told only a busty, wet and wild blonde can be truly sexy.       

And Ms Lumby just for the record, I have never had a problem with teen girl magazines offering age appropriate advice on sexuality. Magazines are a valuable source of information as some parents do feel uncomfortable having these important conversations with their children. But I do think some of the advice and articles offer too much too soon – do tweens and teens really need detailed information on anal sex and to be told it is a “personal choice” ? Isn’t there a risk that a twelve year old will feel left out when she reads in the June issue of Dolly that over 21% of the readers profiled in their sealed section say they lost their virginity between the ages of 10-13?

And it’s not even just the advice and articles that concern me – it is the mixed messages buried within the pages that really trouble me. The mag’s occasionally do offer great articles on self esteem and body image, yet they allow advertisements for mobile downloads that include slogans like “Save a virgin, do me instead” and “Fancy a quickie?” I never wanted magazines to be banned. I just wanted common sense self-censorship, and age appropriate guidelines on the covers to alert parents and readers to the fact that the content might not be as innocuous as the oh-so-wholesome airbrushed covers might lead one to believe. It seems even this was asking too much. 

Do I sound like a sore looser? I feel like one. There was a lot to loose.

I am comforting myself by holding on to the belief that despite the senate’s softly, softly approach, the process itself has at least brought about a heightened awareness of the issues.

Instinctively, we all know that we do not need a government report, or a team of academics, or a myriad of research papers to tell us that enough is enough.

And despite the divisions there is one point on which every one seems to agree – education is key. Girls and boys, now more than ever, need to be savvy media navigators. They need to be given the skills they need to make sense of the adult world that is becoming more and more part of their childhood world too. Teaching and helping girls navigate Girl World is the work that I love passionately, and it is the work that my team and I are gifted in doing well. 

Education works. 

This week my own real life “too cute tween” , an eleven year old girl I worked with at a school recently, was told by her dance teacher that she had to start wearing not just a full mask of make-up for her dance concerts, but false eye lashes too. When her mother, who has completed my course for parents, questioned why this was really necessary she was told by the dance teacher that the eye lashes would “increase her (daughter’s) confidence.” Mum and “Ms Enlightened Tween” are both saying no. Neither are comfortable with this and both feel that long batting eyelashes are just too much. As is so often the case, the dance teacher tried making Mum feel stupid – “But all the other parents think it is fine.” When Mum investigated this claim, she found that four out of the ten dance mothers were also actually really worried about the appropriateness of wearing false eye-lashes but they had been scared to speak out.

And whether you think the eyelashes were actually harmless or harmful is ultimately immaterial. What I love is the fact that this little girl will no longer allow herself to be stretched and pulled into becoming a “curvy, cool teen.”  

She’ll be a teen who will set boundaries, deconstruct all the mixed messages she will be presented with, and make choices she is truly comfortable with.  She will not allow her sexuality to be shaped by misogynist music, plastic Paris-wannabee dolls, or the contemporary media environment that would have her believe that everyone is up for anything, all the time, and that to be hot she will have to get more make up and less clothes. 

She’ll grow up on her own terms.   

That is my wish for her. That’s my wish for all girls. That is what I will continue working towards.

P.S In an effort to offer parents something positive they can latch on to a resource, I have asked Women’s Forum Australia to reproduce here an article from their excellent publication “Faking It.” The extract below in PDF format is entitled ” The sum of your body parts – reducing women to sex objects: how it happens and how it hurts us.” It is a great catalyst for conversation – and we must continue having powerful conversations. 

fakingit_sumbodyparts_lowres

Interested in finding out more? “Faking It” is also being launched in Sydney in July:   

Time:        8pm – 9.15pm

Date:        Friday, 18th July

Venue:     Darling Harbour Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Bayside  

This will be one of the World Youth Day events, a chance for the Get Real! message to go global. The event is open to all, even those who are not official WYD participants: go along and be empowered and inspired to GET REAL! I spoke at the launch held in Perth earlier this year and thought the night was just brilliant. So inspiring! For more information, or to let them know that you’re coming, contact

Erica on 0414-690-487, or email WFA at: nsw@womensforumaustralia.org 

Finally, the PDF below is the Facilitator’s guide for the Canadian Documentary on the sexualisation of children entitled “Sexy Inc.” Even if you have not seen the film, the booklet offers excellent discussion questions:

sexy-inc-facilitators-guide

STOP PRESS – there has been a change of venue for the “Get Real” event – it will now be held in the Parkside Ballroom, Sydney Convention Centre. Same start time. I have been asked to be the MC – hope to see you there!  

 

Enlighten Education on 60 Minutes

Thank you to everyone who has responded so favourably to the feature story 60 Minutes ran on our work and the important issue of the sexualisation of our children. For those who missed it here is their story brief:
 

 

Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Sandra Cleary

You have to wonder what on earth’s happening to our kids. Especially little girls.

They’re bombarded with sexy images. Raunchy video clips, billboards and store catalogues.

Then there are the trashy fashions, explicit undies, even Barbie dolls in skimpy costumes.

The message is you’ve got to be “hot” to be cool.

No one can deny that sex sells, but why sell it to young children?

That’s a question currently confronting the politicians in Canberra.

They’ve launched a Senate inquiry into the whole issue of the sexualisation of children.

Fair enough, but many experts simply say – let kids be kids.

The full story can be viewed on the 60 Minutes site:  www.sixtyminutes.com.au

I was also asked to participate in a live on-line interview after the program aired. This was challenging as I had to dictate my responses to the questions to a host who then typed them for me – hence I may sound inarticulate at points! The transcipt is below.

Chat: Dannielle Miller

Monday, June 23, 2008
60 Minutes presents a live interview with Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education about teen body image..

Interviewer: Dannielle thank you for talking to us tonight in our live online chat room.

Dannielle Miller: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Effie asks: Hi Dannielle. Have you been getting a lot of support with schools on your program?

I think you are doing wonderful work and want to wish you all the best in your success.

Dannielle Miller: Thank you for your kind words. Our programme has been very well received. We founded the business 3 years ago in NSW and started with just 3 schools and now have more than 60 we work with nationally. Last year we also won Australian Small Business of the year for Children. We are of course very proud of this but it would also be lovely not to be so needed. The reality is that our girls are in crisis. We are very pleased that so many educators now acknowledge they are responsible for the whole person. We believe that girls cannot achieve their personal and academic potential if they are pre-occupied with body image and self-esteem issues.

Anthea asks: Do you have any funding for your program, where are you taking it to at the moment?

Dannielle Miller: We deliberately set the business up to be non-commercial so do not receive funding support from any entity. Nor do we receive Govt support at this point in time, however disadvantaged schools in Western Sydney have had our programmes subsidised and we have been achieving outstanding results with girls in these schools. Our programmes range from $30 to $45 per girl and in the majority of cases schools would ask parents to pay this. It was important to us to maintain the integrity of the work rather than accept corporate sponsorship.

Outraged asks: Danielle, how much does the ‘male gaze’ impact on media, given that many photographers, cameramen and advertising execs are men?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. I have not looked closely in this area however it would seem quite likely that the male gaze would impact on the way women are presented. It is important to note that many editors of teen girl magazines that do not always present positive images and role models are women. Quite often women are subject to the very same pressures and also want to conform to societies expectations. There is pressure on us all to be hot, hot, hot.

awol78 asks: I think the real issue – beyond the paedophilic angle – is the long term affects that this is having on our young people themselves. Low self esteem, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery… And… let’s target the real culprits here – beyond your Jessica Simpson’s, your Paris Hilton’s… Where is this sexualized culture coming from? The whole size zero phenomenon..? It’s the advertisers at the top. Sex sells – and nothing will ever change that. So well done on these programs – we need more in schools… Is there anything for BOYS and YOUNG MEN..?

It has become a big issue for males now too!

Dannielle Miller: Your are absolutely right in suggesting that we need to be concerned about so much more than just the way in which paedophiles may or may not view these images. In fact that is not a focus of our work at all, rather we focus very much on how girls view themselves as a result of being exposed to our toxic culture.

Yes, girls are suffering from eating disorders. Yes, self harm is on the increase. Yes, girls are binge drinking. Any concerned parent or educator would have to start questioning the messages they are bombarded with. Our programme is strength based which means that we affirm the knowledge the girls already have and more than that we provide them with the tools they need to unpack our adult society.

There are many excellent resources out there because we are by no means a voice in the wilderness. I would highly recommend accessing my blog where I post weekly reports and resources. Kids free to be kids, who were also profiled in the 60 Minutes story, do some wonderful work in this area as well. Women’s Forum Australia also have a publication entitled “Faking It” which does a tremendous job of combining the research on the sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies with a highly readable approach.

We need to actively seek a variety of tools and programmes that can be powerful voices of difference. As for your query as to what is out there for young men, I would have to say that I’m not aware of a similar programme that operates in schools targeting these issues. However, I would agree that boys also do need to presented with programs that enhance media literacy and emotional literacy.

IceKat asks: I’m curious as to what age you run your courses for? How young is too young?

Dannielle Miller: Our programmes are designed to be delivered in high school with girls aged 12 to 18. However this year I have had a number of primary schools ask me to work with their 11 to 12 yr old girls in Year 6. These schools are saying to me, self-esteem and body image issues are creeping into their playgrounds too. I applaud principals who want to be proactive.

The school executive at the primary school I was filmed working with on 60 Minutes, said to me quite clearly that they did not want to wait until their little girls were in trouble. They did not want me coming in to fix a problem, rather they wanted me to come in and help prevent a problem.

I think it is important to instil in all children from a young age a strong sense of self and give them age appropriate information on their emerging sexuality. The key word there, is age appropriate. My little girl who is 10, knows all about air brushing, photo shopping, and is encouraged to question images of girls and women that are not positive. I do not however even expose her to many of the highly sexualised songs, film clips etc because I am in no hurry to steal her childhood.

9girl asks: Are you breeding little feminists though?

Dannielle Miller: I hope so !!!! Perhaps this question implies there is something wrong with that?

To me feminism has always been very much about respecting and honouring women, and recognising that they deserve equality. It is easy for us to become complacent about women’s issues as in many ways we have made so much progress, yet surely when we look at the Pussycat Dolls and the magazine filled with wrinkle creams, images of Paris Hilton and Co. and diets, we can all see there is still work to do.

ShellyK13 asks: What can we as parents and myself as a teacher do to combat the barrage of sexual images and innuendo that our kids deal with every day?

Dannielle Miller: Again, I would encourage you to hook into some of the excellent resources that are out there. On my blog http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org I have gathered some amazing resources and also have a professional library. In a practical sense the following ideas may also prove helpful:

1. Talk to your daughter honestly and non judgementally about sex and her own sexuality.

2. Be a positive role-model.

I am actually writing a book for mothers at the moment.

3. Tell your daughter you love her for who she is not how she looks.

4. Offer positive alternatives by that I mean magazines, books and websites that offer positive images of women and sexuality.

5. Speak up! I love that Julie Gale song from Kids Free to be Kids, write to companies that sexualise children and tell them to back off !

Companies will only make hype-sexualised toys and merchandise if we continue to buy these things.

kenny78 asks: Shouldn’t the parents of any child have the right to view these pictures prior to them hitting the print. Surely a parent would have enough sense to be able to tell whether something is going to look too provocative?

Dannielle Miller: Parents do have the right to view images of their children before they go to print. You would hope therefore that they would make the right choices. I must also stress, that some children are very vulnerable and do not have adults around them that make good choices. As a society we need to protect children by setting our own standards as well.

savethegirls asks: When do we stop blaming society and media and start taking responsibility for how we, as parents raise our kids? Sure, it’s hard when they are constantly being bombarded with these messages, but as caregivers we are the ones the buy into it all as well, by buying the clothes, magazines and not controlling their access to harmful media.

Dannielle Miller: I would agree with you, that as parents we need to set boundaries absolutely. However, as I mentioned above, not all parents are necessarily good at doing this for a number of reasons, which means that as a society we also need to set our own community boundaries and standards. I think also that as parents, even if we are incredibly well intentioned there is so much that is simply beyond our control.

We know that with teen girls, the peer group is incredibly powerful, this is why we work in schools with a full year group of girls so that all the girls hear the same messages, and decide themselves which boundaries they set and support each other and develop a sense of sisterhood. Yes it is important that parents don’t fall into the trap of trying to be “too cool” or their child’s best friend. Our children need us to step up but they also need to have some reprise from the more toxic elements of popular culture that really are engulfing us all.

ramsay asks: There is validity in educating children in awareness of paedophiles and dangers, but do you think your education techniques go too far and encourage children to single out others who are not ashamed of their bodies and ware bikinis etc (Children in mid to late teens) I do.

Dannielle Miller: You are mistaken. Perhaps the way the story was edited has let you to think we talk to children about paedophiles or the dangers of wearing swimming costumes or posing proactively. We do none of this. I want to be very clear here, we would never make children feel ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. Rather our programmes are very celebratory.

jessica.ann asks: Have you re-visited any of the girls that you have spoken too later in their teens to see the effects of the ‘programme’?

Dannielle Miller: Yes we have. Evaluation is very important to us, we ask the girls for their feedback at the end of each event and it’s always outstanding. We also ask the schools 6 to 8 weeks later to provide us with more detailed feedback. Many schools have us work with the girls each year so we definitely get the chance to speak to them and hear how they are progressing. If you are interested in reading some of this feedback and looking at some of the statistics do visit our website http://enlighteneducation.com . Girls also write me lovely letters and send me emails. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we are making a difference.

AustAccom asks: The only way the media will change is by having the laws changed re censorship and sexualisation of children and normalising these images in society do you agree ?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. Self-regulation obviously hasn’t worked. I am hoping that the Senate Enquiry will encourage some changes. Society has reached tipping point, I think the moral majority will send a very clear message to Canberra that we have all had enough.

Corrinne asks: You spoke a lot about the media as a major influence on teens, I was just interested in what other factors you believe have a significant impact on young girls/’tweens’?

e.g. peers, family interaction levels

Dannielle Miller: There are a number of things that impact on teen girls and our programme is very diverse. 60 Minutes focused on our discussion of the media and dolls as these elements were the most appropriate given the excellent story they put together. We also help girls deal with their friendships, we talk to girls about setting boundaries in relationships, about managing stress, handling academic workload … really, we recognise that young women are multi-facetted.

Pixel asks: Hi Danielle, what is your advice for a 12 yr old who wants to be 15 tomorrow ?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. It’s sad isn’t it that young girls are in such a hurry to grow up. Although I would tell her to enjoy her childhood she probably wouldn’t listen. I know however that by creating a unique experience like what we do in our programmes we can encourage our young people to slow down.

We have a generation of young women dealing with adult problems whilst they only have childlike strategy to fall back on. I guess if it was my little girl I would do all I could to encourage her to revel in her childhood. Sorry I probably haven’t been overly helpful because really that’s the 6 Million Dollar question isn’t it.

sbelly18 asks: There are too many worries for kids, they are not allowed to just be “kids” anymore. No playing with dolls or climbing trees. It’s not acceptable for young ones, and they will be teased and tormented for it now. Do you agree?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. There are a number of reasons why childhood is disappearing. I also think that as much as I love technology it too, can be a grinch that steals innocence. Our children are often spending more time online than they are exploring face to face real relationships. I’m not being a luddite here, just realistic.

Teen girls tell me that they are “wired” pretty much 24/7, many even sleep with their mobile phone by their bed. Where is the downtime? The dreaming time? I also think that many parents over-schedule their children. Do our kids really need so many activities? So many formally organised play dates? Do they all have to be genius’s?

There is great value in the simple act of play. I know that as a little girl I spent a lot of time organising all the children in my neighbourhood, running clubs, and generally being a bossy little miss! In hindsight it was all great practise for running my own company.

Angela asks: Hi Danielle I have a 10 year old daughter that says she is sick and can’t eat dinner, Dr’s won’t do anything, I don’t know where to get help?

Dannielle Miller: I have to say up front that I’m an educator not a doctor. I would suggest if you are concerned (and you should be), you seek out a doctor who is more understanding. Sadly girls as young as 8 are being hospitalised for eating disorders. I’m not suggesting necessarily your daughter has an eating disorder but it is wise for us all to be vigilant. There are other organisations that specialise in this area like the Butterfly Foundation who may be worth tapping into. Links to them and to other expert mental health practitioners are available on my blog.

Shellreyn asks: Danielle, do you have any advice on how I should educate my young son with regard to appropriate behaviour towards these young girls, when he’s being bombarded by media images of sexualised pre teens?

Dannielle Miller: I hear you ! I have a 6 yr old little boy who loves to chant “boom chicka wawa” which is the jingle from the lynx aftershave commercial. This series of commercials is just vile ! I get so furious that our boys are being encouraged to view girls as eye candy. I have found that I need to be quite clear with my son about what my expectations are.

I also take the time out to talk to him about why saying things that may seem harmless really can be quite hurtful. I think as mums we also need to role-model for our boys what strong confident look like. Again, we should not buy into hyper-sexualised goods and services. I try and find alternative women that he can really admire for example, he now looks up to Princess Leia from Starwars, Wonder Woman and loves to be my little scout seeking out songs, dolls and adds that he thinks “aren’t nice to girls”.

AngelEyes asks: Can I ask by keeping our daughters away from all of the songs, mags etc do you think they may be in danger of rebelling and becoming more like the Paris’s of the world?

Dannielle Miller: We simply can’t keep our girls away from all this. I would never suggest locking girls in the tower. What we can do is give them the critical thinking skills that can help them unpack and make sense of all the messages that are presented to them. Research clearly shows that education and information will not encourage rebellion. I am not a prudish person and our programme certainly does not aim to shelter girls, rather it equips them to be savvy media navigators.

Interviewer: Unfortunately we are out of time, there were so many questions that could not be answered. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Dannielle Miller: I would like to thank all those who asked questions, debate and questioning is essential. I hope that the community interest and concern for this important issue is maintained. Love, light and laughter to you all … Danni

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

Many thanks to the beautiful “enlightened” girls from St John Vianney’s Primary who were filmed with me. I love you all! 🙂 You are my little Amazons…

 

 

“Girl power?” Whatever.

I hate the way the term “girl power” is used to package messages for girls that are anything but empowering! Here are some of my personal “grrrrrs.” All belong straight on the Wall of Shame.

1. www.girl.com.au A web site that claims to be “Empowering Girls Worldwide.” This site is just a huge sell out. Could they push any more product if they tried? The products they do push range from the new made-for-kids film Kung Fu Panda to Bratz body spray -so surely they are pitching this site at very young girls? But wait – there’s also Brazilian waxing, a post on “man-sharing” and a feature on “being a witch in the bedroom.” Basically, ANY product or service remotely connected to girls from ages 6-60 seems ok here. Hint for the web hosters – throwing one or two articles in on bullying does not make your site “empowering.” 

2.  “Girlpower” magazine – aimed at 7-12 year old girls. What is so empowering about the poster of Ashlee Simpson they have included for little girls to put on their bedroom walls? She is wearing no top – not even a bra, and is pulling her pants down to show more of her crotch.

Why include a “Hotness Scale” that encourages small girls to have a crush on Nick Lacey ( who is 35 years old – older than many of their fathers!) and the new star of Gossip Girl, 23 year old Chace Crawford – this show is M rated and therefore not one any of them should be watching yet! The character Chace plays is portrayed as having a drug problem and needs to be sent to rehab. Mmm…I am thinking that Jessica Simpson’s ex and a “bad boy” pot head are not ideal for my 9 year old!  

Why too did the Editor choose to include this particular image of cute little Smurfette in their feature article on her?

                               

I find the image really predatory and sent the email below off to the Editor of Girlpower magazine last week:  

Dear Amy,

I am a teacher and parent. I also run workshops for young girls in schools on self esteem and body image. Amongst other things, we encourage girls to critique the media and deconstruct images that are presented to them.

I am confused by your choice of images for the feature story on Smurfette in this month’s issue of Girlpower (page 60). 

Smurfette has been captured. She is being leered at by the older male character and his cat – both clearly look as though they want to hurt her. Yet Smurfette looks at the older man lovingly – she looks like she is enjoying being preyed upon. Out of the all the images of Smurfette you could have used I find this choice really puzzling and am hoping you can explain what it is meant to be / represent? It may be a part of a storyline but the story (and the outcome of this bizarre encounter) are not explained at all in the article and all readers have is this one picture to try to make sense of. I have asked my two children (6 and 9) to explain what they think it means – both have said it is REALLY scary “because the old man is evil and he is going to kill her” and that Smurfette “must love to be hurt.”

Not a very empowering message for children is it? Certainly this is not an image that could in any way be said to contribute to “girl power”.

I will appreciate your feedback.

Dannielle Miller

I haven’t heard back yet.

3. “Girl power” rock chicks. 

Why has raunch culture become confused with empowerment? A recent music review I read described girl power bands as being those that “are all about hitting women with a dose of female empowerment, but without any danger of alienating the boyfriend — potential or otherwise.” The reviewer, Bob Dobson, then went on to offer this very telling observation, When watching the average girl band video she will see strong, assertive women comfortable in their sexuality, kicking a no-good boyfriend’s ass to the curb. He sees hot chicks dancing.” So not so empowering after all.

There have been amazing female singers and girl bands that have been all about power and strength –  but the groups most often listed as being about “Girl Power” today are really all about getting their gear off and pouting. Pussycat Dolls? Empowered? I don’t see it. Dobson explains it thus: 

On an intellectual level, their gimmick has been reinventing burlesque dance and transposing this concept to modern pop by employing a post-modernist remix culture ethic to the reinterpretation of the musical art form. Essentially they’re a really pretty KLF, or the Vengaboys with production values.”

What the? Not sure I follow. Don’t follow his argument on why the Pussycat Dolls are a group that showcase “Alpha Divas” either- 

If anything, the alpha diva of the Pussycat Dolls is any one of their many celebrity guests. Paris Hilton, Scarlett Johansen, Cameron Diaz, Britney Spears … the list goes on. Pretty much anyone vaguely female, famous, attractive and living in Hollywood has made an appearance with the group.”

So all we need to be “empowered and alpha” is to be female, attractive and star struck? Brilliant. NOW I can see why “Total Girl” magazine would have included the Pussycat Dolls on their made-for-tweens CD compilation:

Comes with free lip glosses too – for added empowerment.   
 

Teacher Resources – ready to go!

Don’t you just love good quality, free lesson plans and teacher resources? This web site one is one of my more recent discoveries:

btn_homemagazine_over.jpgMy Pop Studio www.mypopstudio.com

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Their blurb:

“My Pop Studio is a creative play experience that strengthens critical thinking skills about television, music, magazines and online media directed at girls. Users select from four behind-the-scenes opportunities to learn more about mass media:

In the Magazine Studio, users compose a magazine layout featuring themselves as celebrities. They write an advice column, explore the power of digital retouching, and reflect on the role of body image in today’s culture.
In the TV Studio, users edit a TV show where the story keeps changing but the images remain the same. They examine their TV viewing choices, comment on teen celebrities, and compare their daily screen time with others.
In the Music Studio, users create a pop star and compose her image and song. They explore the power of music in selling a product and search for truth in media gossip. The comment on the values messages in popular music.
In the Digital Studio, users test their multi-tasking abilities. They share their experiences with the challenges of digital life online. They consider the “what if’s” of social networking sites and reflect on the power of media and technology in their social relationships.”

I have played around on this site and think it will have enormous appeal as it is really educational, interactive, and fun! There are also excellent accompaning lessons and activities for teachers and parents too (all free and downloadable as PDF’s).  

 I particularly like this one on photo fakery  photo%20fakery.pdf

“After playing Photo Fakery, students look at the web site of a professional photo re-toucher and read and discuss a persuasive essay about the impact of digitally manipulated images on personal identity and cultural values. This activity strengthens reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing skills. After reviewing the vocabulary as a pre-reading activity, students read independently and complete the questions. Afterwards, they discuss the questions provided on the worksheet.”

It would be marvellous to adapt this exercise for seniors by getting them to read through the highly controversial and illuminating article that appeared in The New Yorker this week on premier photo retoucher Pascal Dangin – “Pixel Perfect.” This article is jaw dropping.

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Pascal is the photo retoucher the magazines call in “when they want someone who looks less than great to look great, someone who looks great to look amazing, or someone who looks amazing already-whether by dint of DNA or M·A·C-to look, as is the mode, superhuman.” We are told that in the March issue of Vogue alone “Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore.” Not surprisingly, his work is not credited in the magazines that pay him to “translate” their images. How disturbing is this observation by writer Lauren Collins: “Dangin showed me how he had restructured the chest-higher, tighter-of an actress who, to his eye, seemed to have had a clumsy breast enhancement. Like a double negative, virtual plastic surgery cancelled out real plastic surgery, resulting in a believable look.”  

Dangin is the man behind the Dove Real Beauty / Real Hypocrisy controversy I mentioned last week – in this article he claims he did the retouching on their ad’s too: “Do you know how much retouching was on that? But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

Used any excellent resources in your classroom? Love to hear about them!   

Club 21, “girl world” exposed: binge drinking, bullying, low self esteem and distorted body image.

AND the importance of moving beyond finger pointing.

Queensland school girls have formed an exclusive club, known as Club 21, which encourages members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. This number is then drawn on their hand for all to see.

The club not only operates at St Patrick’s Mackay, but has gone global via the internet and chat rooms.

This story has caused significant shock in the media. However it is unlikely this type of bullying – of each other and those who didn’t make it into the club – came as a shock to many teen girls. It was likely no surprise to their teachers either, who witness the various manifestations of the “Compare and Despair” game that teen girls are so good at playing, in playgrounds right across Australia. Recent studies show three out of five teen girls report being teased about their appearance at school. Girls in particular judge themselves and each other on how they look and on how popular they are bohabbo143v2.jpgth with other girls, and with boys.

When I was a teen girl at high school much of lunch time was spent rating our peers. It was our own little real life version of the magazines we grew up with that asked us, in virtually every issue, to decide whether particular clothes were in, or whether a celebrity was hot or not. We felt powerful playing these games – we may not have been able to control many elements of our lives, but we tried to control how we looked through diets, and we could definitely control each other through ridicule.

We may not have had a number reflecting these scores branded on our hands, but the scores were branded on our psyches.

The rules in girl rating games, both then and now, are not difficult to follow. Be considered hot by your peers and in particular by boys – and score points. Getting a highly desired boyfriend means an instant advance to the top of the club. I was lucky enough to have landed the school “spunk” at one stage and was elevated from classroom “brainiac” to the girl everyone wanted to know almost over night. He dumped me a year later for a girl considered even hotter – at just 14 she was already a model appearing in women’s magazines and parading in labels sold only to rich thirty-somethings. My dream run at the top of the charts was destroyed.

What makes this latest story of highly organised girl competiveness newsworthy is the use of technology to spread the ranks.

In my early years as a teacher in High Schools, I found it relatively easy to intercept notes critiquing other girls. Technology means these same messages can now can reach thousands of recipients in moments. Harmful messages found on toilet walls could be scrubbed off – it is much more difficult to delete messages once they have gone global.

The potential for misuse of the cyber world is alarming. But we cannot blame the internet alone. It is after all merely a tool, it is all too easy to blame the evils of technology rather than examining why our society has become more and more toxic for our young people.

Just why has girl self hatred gone mainstream and global?

Years of watching reality TV and being invited to rank contestants and evict / put below the yellow line / vote off those not entertaining enough or thin enough or sexy enough to keep us interested have no doubt played a role. And if Paris can get famous for being rich, thin and for sleeping around why can’t they? Elements of the media have been most hypocritical in their reporting of this incident. They have judged these girls harshly when these young women have really only responded to the fodder they have been fed by these same image obsessed magazines; magazines that perpetuate the misconception that success is dependent largely on appearances and sexual desirability.

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This incident is also a sad reflection of a society that makes our girls feel lonely. When they cannot find real connection at school, or at home, they look for it in cyber world and find all their deepest and darkest fears and fantasies fed on sites that promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice, sites celebrating images of “girls gone wild” trashed and flashing their breasts at parties.

The reality is many women play this same compare and despair game too. Studies have shown that while up to 65per cent of teenage girls think they are less beautiful than the average girl, 84 per cent of women over 40 think they are less beautiful than the average woman. A survey released by the Australian Women’s Weekly just this week found that only one in six women were happy with their weight, one in five had such a poor body image they avoided mirrors and 45 per cent would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it. Binge drinking appeared to be rife too, with a third of the women surveyed drinking too much and one in five women admitting she had been told she had a drinking problem.

As grown up women we no longer rank ourselves from 1-21 but many of us do get up in the morning and let the number that flashes up on our scales dictate our mood for the day.

Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful while we rush for botox. We tell them inner beauty counts whilst we invest in plastic surgery and devour magazines that tell us that it is really only about air brushed perfection after all.

We may saddened by Club 21, but why are we shocked? Girls cannot be what they cannot see. If even the grown up girls are comparing and despairing, is it any wonder that our daughters do not know what “I am me, I am ok” looks like?

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Let’s not blame the victims here. After all, these are young girls – pushing boundaries, exploring and making mistakes. We shouldn’t fall into the easy trap of simply making these girls out to be uber bitches. Rather, they are a sad reflection of the times. We need to dig a little deeper and address the toxic messages our girls are fed and ensure these are countered with positive body image programs and messages of strength and resilience.

News flash! With the upgrades to Edublog, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did with Prue McSween on this topic. Enjoy!

  Click to listen – Dannielle Miller and Prue McSween on cyber bullying and Club 21, Radio 2UE. mp3

Imagine. Daydream…then follow through. See possibility, be bold, blossom.

This week I am inviting you to upload the PDF’s below and learn a little more about me and my heart’s work – Enlighten Education.

Who are we? What to do we do? Why does it matter?

I am very proud of both these articles. The first, “Creating Shiny Girls: moving beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers” was featured in the latest issue of the always excellent official journal of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders.

miller.pdf

The second, “Close to the Heart” was a case study included in the 2008 annual issue of Ms Entrepreneur Magazine. I feel honored to be included in this high profile publication alongside some very creative and savvy women. Other women profiled in the lanuch issue include Carla Zampatti, Sarina Russo and this year’s Telstra Australian Businesswoman of the Year Leanne Preston.      

ms-entrepreneur-2008-magazine-scanned.pdf 

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Enjoy.

Kids Free 2B Kids

The letter below was forwarded to me by Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2B Kids and a very passionate, active defender of childhood.  I was so impressed I asked her permission to share it with you. Keep in mind, Girlfriend is a magazine thats core readership is girls aged between 13 and 14 years.   

To: The Editor of Girlfriend Magazine

21/2/08

Hello Sarah,

I am the Director of an organisation called Kids Free 2B Kids which is concerned about the sexualisation of kids, via the media, advertising, marketing and fashion industries. http://www.kf2bk.com. One of our concerns is the images children are exposed to, and the influence of corporations and the media, in shaping the way children think about themselves and others as they are developing. Girlfriend magazine is to be commended for its ‘Self-Respect Campaign’ and others, such as the recently introduced ‘I delete bullies’ campaign. There are, however, a number of conflicts with the Girlfriend Self-Respect campaign, which Kf2Bk would like to comment on. The Wallpaper & text messaging advertisements for mobile phones, which feature in Girlfriend magazine, appear to be in complete contradiction to the Self-Respect campaign, and the staff pledge to the readers.

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These advertisements perpetuate the idea that young girls need to be ‘hot’ ‘sexy’ and ‘sexually available’ to be cool and popular. It is extraordinary that the appropriateness of these advertisements, for a girl’s magazine, has not been considered. Examples include:

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Girlfriend recently advertised a T-shirt with the slogan “MAKE ME HOT MR SEX POT.” Another article featured the words: “Be the girl boys adore, with make-up for your boudoir”.

Last year, on behalf of Kids Free 2B Kids, I rang the Girlfriend publisher to formally complain about the Playboy free giveaway T-Shirt .

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The Playboy text includes: “Playboy is a collection of clothing and swimwear for the trend savvy fashionable girl. Cute and innocent, cool and tough, all at the same time. Playboy is one brand you should include in your wardrobe”. Playboy is a leading brand of the pornography industry, and has more recently been insidiously creeping into mainstream. Kids Free 2B Kids believes that young girls should never be encouraged to support the pornography industry. Girlfriend recently had an article titled the ‘LAD MAG LOWDOWN – Welcome to a world where fast cars, sports and bikini babes rule!’ This article featured the soft porn magazines FHM and ZOO.

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The sexualised images of women adorning the covers of soft porn magazines helps to cement the current notion that women (and young girls) need to flaunt themselves and be sexy, to be acceptable to males – and to be empowered as females. Girlfriend informs the reader that this is ‘what makes them (guys) tick’… and ‘that a pole dancing pole is, like, a really good present to give a girl. In fact, it’s “The #1 item on every girl’s wish list. She gets fit…you get to watch. Dream on! We’re not all Carmen Electra, boys.”

Even the premise of a joke (in terms of quoting from the men’s magazines) in this situation fails to consider the impacts and harm to girls regarding early sexualisation. The Girlfriend Self-Respect Campaign pledges the following:

“To show you we’re serious about self-respect, and committed to helping you get it, the Staff will –
Help you make smart, informed choices about your mental and physical health…
Encourage you to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle…
Help you feel good about your changing bodies…
Make you media-aware by dishing on the devices we use to make the mag so glossy and perfect looking…”

If perfection is indeed boring, then Kf2bK wonders why Girlfriend magazine continues to print perfectly photoshopped images of models, celebrities…and staff. Girlfriend staff pledge to: “remind you with our reality checks, that we’ve used Photoshop to retouch pictures of models and celebs (um, and us).”

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Girls do not reportedly feel any better about themselves, nor more confident, if they are merely told that an image has been photoshopped. The recent Media Code of Conduct Working Group on Body Image report states: “Anecdotal evidence shows that the majority of stakeholders, or parties identified by them, do not feel socially responsible for the negative impact body images are having upon young people.” Kids free 2B kids is concerned that young girls magazines are not regulated. Self regulation in the industry does not appear to be positively contributing to the health and well being of our youth.

Current research shows that our young people are experiencing increased body image problems, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, self harm, sexually transmitted infections, and are becoming sexually active at younger ages.* .
*The Australia Institutes – Corporate Paedophilia. 2006
The Australia Institutes – Letting Children Be Children. 2006
The American Psychological Association’s task-force on the sexualisation of young girls. 2007
The Australian Psychological Society’s guidelines for parents on the sexualisation of children.2007
ACMA enquiry into the sexualisation of children. Current.

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This page in Girlfriend, which features chupa chup lollipops and Minnie Mouse, seems in direct contrast with the previous images.

Over the past year, child development experts have been speaking out publicly about the problems and impacts of the early sexualistion of children. Inappropriate action by industry and the corporate world contributes to these issues, and helps to maintain the status quo. We would appreciate your feedback

Regards,Julie Gale
0412 922 253
julie@kf2bk.com
http://www.kf2bk.com/

As of the 1st March, Julie is yet to receive a reply. I shall post Girlfriend’s reply if one is sent. 

I would love to see your thoughts here. Agree or disagree – doesn’t matter as long as we are talking and exploring the boundaries we wish to set. Conversations will enrich all our understandings; silence and apathy are the only real dangers. My thoughts – shame Girlfriend, Dolly and all the magazines that confuse our girls with their mixed messages, and their inappropriate soft porn product push. 

An older article published in the Age, “What is your daughter reading?” remains one of my favourites on this theme. Writer Christopher Bantick shares the outrage:

“The problem with teenage girl magazines is that they give highly suspect information, they create misconceptions about sexuality, they reinforce stereotypes about male and female behaviour and they show craven irresponsibility in their disregard for the emotional maturity of their readers. Do you know what your daughters are reading?”

Thank goodness for women like Julie who are out there trying to make a difference. I have met a number of amazing, passionate women working to improve outcomes for women and girls in the last few years and am always humbled by their energy and fire. Warriors all.

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