Skip to content

Category: Media

Sex, Lies and Photoshop

The clip below is a really interesting opinion piece posted by The New York Times on March 10th. (Click on the image or visit: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/03/09/opinion/1194838469575/sex-lies-and-photoshop.html.)

This has particular relevance for us in Australia. Here, too, the camera always lies.

Does it matter? Yes. For some years now groups like ours have been advocating for more realistic and diverse portrayals of young women in the media; the current definition of beauty is so very narrow! Research from Mission Australia shows that for young Australian women in particular, concerns over body image are urgent. Through my work, I have seen firsthand that self-doubt can impact on every dimension of a young girl’s life: when girls are on extreme diets (and many are), or self-medicating depression by binge drinking, or being bullied by peers because they do not fit some ideal, they cannot possibly reach their full academic or personal potential.

I work with hundreds of schools right across Australia and New Zealand, and I can tell you that there is a real need to give girls skills to deconstruct the many unhealthy media messages they are currently bombarded with. The fact that our company, Enlighten Education, is so busy (we have worked with over 25 schools this term alone) is indicative of this. Schools recognise that they are not just responsible for producing strong academic candidates – they are concerned with the whole girl. They want their students to be healthy and happy and know that they are somebodies, not just bodies.

It seems that the Federal Government is also now keen to act. Earlier this month, it commissioned a group of fashion industry leaders to address body dissatisfaction levels among Australia’s youth. The group will be chaired by a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Mia Freedman. Girlfriend editor Sarah Cornish, model Sarah Murdoch and a number of representatives from health, media and youth groups will also be involved.

They have been charged with developing a voluntary code of practice for portraying body image in the media. The clear labelling of digitally retouched or modified images, greater diversity of body shapes and sizes, and mandatory model age limits are among the issues under consideration by the group.

This move is a welcome one – and has come not before time. I just hope the working party developing these standards don’t use this opportunity merely as a PR exercise. We need real action, not just a talkfest. We also need consistency: magazines cannot say on the one hand “We care about teen girl self-esteem” while on the other they allow advertisements that sexualise and objectify young women. After all, Girlfriend magazine gave free Playboy T-shirts away to readers not that long ago!

While the talk continues, we will keep working.

And we will keep listening to our client schools who are getting more and more inventive in how they follow up on our work. Teachers from St Mary’s Star of the Sea College, Wollongong, will build on it in their pastoral care program throughout the year. The girls did a reflective task recently in which they set their personal goals for the year ahead and celebrated by writing them on butterflies they decorated – and sent to me 🙂

Girls at Rangi Ruru in New Zealand created their own Hall of Fame and Wall of Shame. (See my previous blog post to get this started at your school.) Guidance Counsellor Jane Dickie sent me some wonderful feedback:

We also had cakes in the shape of butterflies to remind us to celebrate the beauty within us all. Throughout the year we will continue to carry on the themes discussed during the Enlighten programme. Not only has this been helpful for Year 10 as a whole, it has also given us ideas for working with girls higher up in the school. The saying “No girl gets left behind” has been something we have discussed with Years 11 to 13. We have also highlighted to the girls as a whole the influence of the media, and being vigilant about the pressure and ideas they are trying to sell. You are a consumer and therefore have power by not buying magazines, etc., that portray women in a negative light.

Love to hear what is happening at your school to provide girls with an alternative to the more negative messages they are surrounded with.

PS If you are establishing your own Hall of Fame / Wall of Shame, here are some new entrants:

Shame on Smiggle. They have just released a voodoo-doll-inspired pencil case, complete with a spot to insert a photo of the person you hate and pins to stick in this effigy! Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids was quick to point out why this is grossly irresponsible: Kids Free 2B Kids protests against voodoo pencil case.

Shame, too, on Sydney radio station Triple M. They are running a new competition entitled Make Me a Porn Star: “Send us a photo of your best ‘porn star’ look, and you could win $5000 to pimp yourself up! We’ll also send you and a friend to Perth for Porn Week where you will get exclusive behind the scenes VIP access and star as an extra in an Adult Film!” Is a role in a porn film something we should be competing for on mainstream radio?

I hate this part right here

Have the PCD’s (The Pussycat Dolls) stooped to a new low?  I was watching the film clip to their song “I Hate This Part Right Here” when I was stunned by the scene depicting one of the girls draped in a very suggestive “come and get me” pose over a pinball machine. This appears in a film clip set in the desert (it’s all lone roads, cacti, wolves and deers up to this point) which made the shot all the more bewildering. It’s about 2min 30 in:


 
The first thing that came to my mind was that this was designed to be reminiscent of the infamous gang rape scene in the Jodie Foster film The Accused – a scene in which Foster’s character is gang raped on a pinball machine in a small-town bar. This scene was absolutely harrowing and had me, like so many other cinema goers, leaving the cinema sobbing.

Am I reading too much into this? And if I am, what else are we to make of a pinball machine in the desert decorated by a panting Pussycat Doll?   

Glorifying violence against women is sadly not new. Dolce and Gabbana alluded to gang rape in their 2007 advertising campaign:

And what about the episode of America’s Next Top Super Model that featured the wannabe models posing for shots that depicted them as victims of violent crime?


 
The judges comments were breath-takingly offensive and included: “Gorgeous!”, “Fantastic!”, “Amazing!”, “Absolutely beautiful!”, “You don’t look dead enough” and, “Death becomes you, young lady!”

Loved blogger Venice of Brasil’s post on why we should all be vigilant against any attempt to eroticise violence against women:

It also seems like just one more crime the beauty industry commits against women. This is not a place where women are celebrated. They are scrutinized, demeaned, told they are too old, not thin enough, not pretty enough, etc. just to sell more products. Top Model sells at least one new product an episode through its format. I am sure that this is just another publicity stunt for the show in which media people and feminists get upset, and the majority of the desensitized public sits back thinking, “what’s the big deal?”

I guess that is the question. What is the big deal?
The big deal is that it makes violence against women appear beautiful and acceptable
The big deal is that if a picture is worth 1,000 words, what did we just learn?
The big deal is that it is another media depiction of violence that makes the real thing seem “normal”.
The big deal is that violence against women is real, and this is fashion mocking the reality of so many.
The big deal is that right now thousands of women die everyday around the world from preventable violence while shows like Top Model tell the models that they don’t look “dead enough”.
The big deal is that how many women have died in Iraq? Where are their pictures? Where is “blown up by cluster bombs” crime scene photo? Or is that not pretty enough?

Moving forward

I want to begin the year by sharing a video that I posted on YouTube earlier this month, it is an edited version of some interviews I did with Iris Productions:


 
I have been thinking about how we can all make things better for girls and have come up with a few suggestions I’d like to see you all build upon:

1. READ. Get informed. A few of the books that inspired me in 2008 and that continue to challenge and feed my thinking include:  “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” by Courtney Martin, “Adolescent Girls In Crisis”, by Martha Straus, “Faking It” by Women’s Forum Australia, ” Female Chauvinist Pigs, Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” by Ariel Levy, and “Well and Good” by Richard Eckersley.   

2. WRITE. The book that has really shaped me though has been my own. My manuscript is due into my publishers, Random House, in two weeks – what a journey writing this has been! Seth Godin (a business writer and entrepreneur) summed up the power of the writing process beautifully in the Herald a few weeks ago –

The book that will most change your life is the book you write. Write it as a blog, write it as a book you publish or write it as a private diary… The act of writing things down, of justifying your actions, of being cogent and clear and forthright – that’s how you change. It keeps you from lying to yourself all day long.”

3. SPEAK OUT – If you see advertisements that you think send out all the wrong messages, send a message of your own…enough! This year at Enlighten, as part of a new workshop we are launching entitled “Real Girl Power,” we will be encouraging teenage girls to talk back to the media by identifying ad’s they think portray women and girls in unhealthy ways.

 

Our campaign was inspired by the work of American group Mind on the Media and we are initiating it here with their blessing. If you’d like to get involved, and get the teen girls in your life involved too, download the PDF below. These stickers have been designed to be printed out on Avery labels (8 per page – product number DL08) although they can simply by printed on paper and pasted.

girl-caught_pdf_sticker – PDF for downloading and printing at home.

Once girls have “caught out” an advertisement, they can plaster a sticker on it and send it in to us. We will compile these to share on our blog – and will also share the contact details of the companies responsible so we can all contact them to say enough!

These types of grass roots camapaigns are not only very effective in brining about real change, but also encourage girls to feel powerful.

4. CONNECT – Actively seek positive female role models for teen girls. There are some excellent structured mentoring programs, like SISTERtosister, but all girls can be encouraged to seek out older girls and women who can help them achieve. Teen cosmetic company Bellaboobabe is promoting role modelling on its new look site (which also features some very good Get Real messages).     

Over to you – what will you be doing in 2009 to move things forward for girls?

 

Sisterhood – performance poem by Kate Wilson

The poem featured in this YouTube clip is written and performed by Kate Wilson.

Have your girls produced poems, songs or art that explores women’s issues? If so, I’d love to see these.

P.S As promised – big shout out to the hundreds of shiny teen girls I have worked with this past fortnight. I have been to Canberra, New Zealand, Wagga Wagga, Strathfield and Perth! A few of my fave snaps below.

LOVE, LIGHT AND LAUGHTER to all my Sisters!

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?  

 

Starving for attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

Because this look is killing us – literally.

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

It’s much more fun.

It’s beautiful.

Guiding the way…

This week I want to share extracts from “Teenage Mental health: girls shout out!”, the third research report recently released by GirlGuiding UK:

Teenage mental health: Girls shout out! is an investigation into girls’ experiences of both hard-to manage and challenging feelings and recognised mental health problems. The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualisation, commercialisation and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behaviour at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.”

Some of the statistics are frightening and yet they are consistent with the many other studies that have also examined the impact our toxic culture is having on young women:

• Half the girls questioned know someone who has suffered from depression (51 per cent).
• Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed (42 per cent).
• A third have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder (32 per cent).
• Almost two in five have a friend who has experienced panic attacks (38 per cent).
• A quarter know someone who has taken illegal drugs (27 per cent).
• Two-fifths have experience of someone drinking too much alcohol (40 per cent).

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed wouldn’t it? But girls don’t need our dismay – they need us to get active.    

What types of things can be done to support girls’ emotional well being? The report also offers some practical suggestions:

1. Give girls things to do: from adventure playgrounds to kung fu or street dancing.
2. Create safe places where girls can have freedom without parents worrying.
3. Boost confidence by giving girls opportunities to succeed outside school.
4. Encourage girls to try something new.
5. Make girls feel normal and accepted – whatever problems they might have.
6. Don’t overwhelm them with advice – give them space.
7. Help them understand that they can’t always help the way they feel.
8. Initiate a young mayor scheme – giving girls a say in important decisions.
9. Make information about where to turn for help easily available.
10. Use the Girlguiding UK website to offer advice and support.

I would add to this the following ideas:

1. Empathise – don’t dismiss her fears and anxities, nor think of her as a mere “drama queen.” Being a teen girl is challenging at times, and I believe this generation of girls have it even harder than we did. A great exercise that may help you reconnect with what it feels like to be a teenager was offered in one of my previous posts: Letter To My Teen Self. Do take the time to read the letters other Butterfly Effect readers contributed – they are so insightful. Add a letter of your own!
2. Help girls develop a language to describe how they are feeling; develop their emotional literacy.
3. Encourage girls to seek out a “Fairy Godmother” – a mentor who can help her navigate these tumultueous years. Enlighten’s Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne, discussed this with great honesty and warmth in her previous guest post True Colours.
4. Get informed. Read books from
My Library, read some of the articles on my Article of Interest page, watch some of the films in my Video Pod, visit some of the other web sites I recommend.
5. Encourage girls to critique the media messages that surround them. This blog has offered a variety of great practical activities that get girls active eg: my post on Talking Back to the Media. 

The entire GirlGuiding report is so well worth reading that I am providing the PDF here for you and a “virtual treat” for you to have whilst taking 5 minutes to really think about how you can respond intelligently and compassionately to the pressing needs of the girls you care for…

Guiding UK Report on Teenage Mental Health

 

Teaching Resources ready to go – part 2!

I stumbled upon another great American site in my cyber – world travels this week that I think is worth sharing:

www.loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org

This organisation runs a number of really interesting initiatives. One is the “Love Your Body” campaign which is launched each year with a poster competition:

The grand prize winning poster will be used as part of a national campaign to challenge the media’s use of violent, drug-addicted, starved, surgically-enhanced images of women and to fight against industries that profit from women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.”

 Some of the past winners have produced fabulous works of art; LOVE this year’s winner, What’s the measure of a woman?

I have saved a number of past winners (including one submitted by an Australian!) to my picture gallery but do check these out for yourself at their site. Better yet – you can forward those you like to girls and women you want to inspire as they are available to send as free E-cards!

Another fabulous resource the foundation offers is a downloadable PowerPoint presentation on the portrayal of women in advertising. This comes complete with separate facilitator notes. I have saved the presentation for you here as a PDF so you can take a quick look through; if you think it may be useful simply download the PPoint yourself from their site.

sexstereotypesbeauty

My Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne, discovered the following PDF listing resources for students, teachers and parents that will support work on eating disorders and body image at the Tasmanian Eating Disorder Web Site : Resource list

And I also quite like the “Completely Gorgeous”site. There are some useful things here as well – including teaching notes. Found the GORGEOUS film had some really bright moments: http://www.completelygorgeous.com/vid.html.

I know Dove support The Body Think program in schools but I am so furious with Unilever’s hypocrisy that I just can’t go there. Unilever own Dove – great messages for women there. But they also own Lynx ( vile misogyny!), Slim Fast ( vile hypocrisy!), and run shameful ad’s promoting skin whitening in other countries. Check this one out for their Pond’s brand in India. SHAME!!!

Love to hear about any resources you have used to inform and enlighten!

 

NZ: Our girls…”Barbie Bitches”?

I am really enjoying sharing some guest posts written by various members of my amazing Enlighten team with you all! A warm “Butterfly Effect” welcome to New Zealand’s Program Manager Kelly Valder…

 

Guest post by Kelly Valder – newzealand@enlighteneducation.com

“Barbie Bitches” – what a term huh? For many it brings to mind platinum blonde hair extensions and lots of cleavage combined with skimpy pink clothing and an attitude that dictates that pretty and thin is everything and those who don’t shape up are clearly “losers”. And of course this term is used in the US (where Paris Hilton and co. are idolised) and sometimes in Australia ( Big Brother’s Bridgette leads the pack there at present) but not really in NZ…

Well, believe it or not, this term – and others like it – is now being thrown around here. Who would have thought? How did we get to this? In order to look for answers we firstly need to look at what’s happening around the globe.

A simple internet search under ‘teenage girls’ through international newspapers and educational journals exposes a variety of issues that are all alarming. In the U.S.A. it is reported that more than one in four teenage girls has at one time carried at least one sexually transmitted disease. A recent study of 25,000 European teenagers found that girls were three times more likely to commit acts of self harm than boys. Earlier this year in Australia, we learnt about Club 21, a group of teen school girls who encouraged their members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. And this is just a snapshot of some of the issues… scary!

So what’s happening here in Aotearoa?

• A New Zealand study found that 80% of females were within normal weight limits, but only 18% of them thought their weight was normal; 1
• 1 in 4 NZ teenage girls may suffer from the symptoms of an eating disorder; 1
• Dieting is a $100 million industry in NZ; 1
• The prevalence of emotional health problems, including depression, eating issues and suicidal behaviours, are alarmingly high amongst female students. The rates of these problems in NZ youth are up to twice those found in a recent national mental health survey of young people in Australia; 2

Not surprisingly, it seems then that our Kiwi girls are becoming just as obsessed with their looks as other teens around the globe.

What links may be emerging between the pressures girls are feeling to be beautiful and thin, and their behaviour?

Girls are no longer just silently imploding – they are also acting out. In March, two scantily clad teenage girls were found unconscious on an Auckland pavement, supposedly from an overdose of booze, party pills and ‘P’ (methamphetamine or crystal meth). Earlier this year a Napier family had their house targeted by aggressive and violent teenage girls. Education Ministry figures show a 41 per cent increase in girls being stood down, suspended or kicked out of school for assaults between 2002 and 2006. The way violence is dished out is changing too. Experts point to a new gang-like mentality among schoolgirls where a popular “queen bee” uses friends to bully or hurt to cement her position of power. The term “Barbie Bitches” became a frightening new part of our vernacular.

A few weeks ago the Good Morning programme featured a story on “Barbie Bitches” in our NZ schools. School principals reported that reality television has played a major role in creating these gangs of “Barbie Bitches” who are bullying either physically or through the cyber world. A quick look at television programs such as “Living Lohan” and “Americas Next Top Model” point to the fact that our educators may be right; these type of shows encourage girls to be ultra competitive and to play unfair in order to win. Don’t like someone? Just vote them out! Behave badly? Doesn’t matter as long as you look gorgeous doing it!

I can’t help but think that our NZ girls are crying out for positive role models and we need to step up and take action to provide them with some real alternatives right now!

Is it all doom and gloom? No. Not if we get on board and make our young women a priority. Our schools and the MoE are addressing  these issues with a low tolerance approach plus other more general initiatives including the ‘Team-Up’ site with information for parents and caregivers, new anti-bullying resources for schools released this month and ‘Ka Hikitia‘ an initiative aiming at improving educational outcomes for Maori students.

Thankfully, Enlighten Education, whose award winning programs I am proud to bring to NZ, is not the only organisation to realise that our girls are in crisis. There are fabulous resources, such as headspace.org.nz, that have been established to support our young people, their families and schools. However, Enlighten’s focus is unique as its programs have been specifically designed to cater to the particular needs, and the learning styles, of teen girls.

The Enlighten Education workshops are about celebrating all the things girls love about themselves, challenging them to rethink negative and destructive behaviours, and changing the way they respond to their environment and each other. It gives them the tools they need to “unpack” the images and messages they are bombarded with by the media as well as looking at strong, intelligent female role models who can inspire them to be all they can be. The CEO and co-founder of Enlighten Education, Dannielle Miller, summed up our wish for all girls beautifully in her recent post:  

“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-wannabe 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.”

Barbie Bitches? No thanks!

1 Scary Statistics from around the world, article from www.nzhealth.net.nz taken from the BBC, Time, NewsWeek and research from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
2 A health profile of New Zealand youth who attend secondary school, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.
3 The health of New Zealand youth, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.

 

 

“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!  

 

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Skip to toolbar