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Tag: confidence

Shrinking Violets, Inner Amazons

The other day a friend was telling me about being at a party where she heard an adult saying to a girl in her late teens, “Wow, look how tall you’re getting!” The girl immediately blushed and slumped her shoulders, as if trying to shrink from view. She looked down and mumbled, “I hope I stop growing soon.”

It’s easy to forget the intense self-consciousness that is so much a part of girlworld. But if we think back, even the most extroverted of us can remember those moments when we  felt as if a spotlight was shining just on us, and the whole world was staring and seeing (what we perceived as) our flaws.

Like the girl at that party, I thought that I needed to change myself. In my diary when I was 14, I lamented the fact that the plastic surgeon told me he couldn’t fix the burn scars I have on my neck and down one arm. I covered them up with long sleeves instead, no matter how hot it was. I believed those scars meant I would never be loved.

Melodramatic much? Sure, but that fear was painfully real at the time.

When a girl says she’s going to “die” because she has to give a 5-minute talk in class, it sounds like a total overreaction—but that may be how she truly feels. Self-consciousness and shyness come out in girls blushing, clamming up around new people to the point of seeming rude, underachieving or dropping out of activities they’re good at so that they don’t outshine their friends, apologising or even getting angry when they receive a compliment. Binge drinking and other risky behaviour can also be misguided ways of handling social stress. This is all pretty puzzling to adults—unless we remind ourselves what it was like to be a teenager, simultaneously wanting to stand out and fit in.

With all that we have learned and experienced, we can help the shrinking violets in our lives find their inner Amazon: their true strong, confident self who always speaks her truth . . . and stands up to her full height!

Know the power of your words. No one spoke up to give the teenage girl at the party some perspective. In fact, one woman nodded and said, “Oh yes, you want to be able to wear high heels.” The subtext: if you grow too tall, you’ll tower over any potential date and will be doomed to a sad, lonely, high-heel-less spinsterhood. (Not only were the girl’s fears reinforced, they were reinforced with utter nonsense!)

To her, and to all girls, I say: whether you’re short or tall or somewhere in between, you are beautiful and you will be loved. And it won’t make a speck of difference whether the bottom of your wardrobe is crammed with Birkenstocks or Manolo Blahnik stilettos. To grown-ups, I say: we all have to be careful with our words.

Eat an elephant. For some girls, social occasions can be especially hard. Michaela, one of Enlighten’s Facebook friends, stands in front of groups of strangers and talks every day for her job, but she was “cripplingly shy” when she was a girl. Her advice to girls is to start small:

You can eat an elephant if you take small enough bites, right? So think about one thing you’d like to work on that challenges you in social settings, and give yourself one small goal. For example, maybe think about saying hello to just one person you’ve not met before. If you manage it, that’s great! Just one hello. Then build from there. . . . The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Socialise. Try to create opportunities for your shrinking violet to get to know other girls in a nonthreatening, nonstressful environment. This will help her learn the skills she needs to break the ice and make friends. Organise one-on-one opportunities for her to hang out with another girl at your place. Girl guides and other fun community or church youth groups can also be a great way to gently introduce girls to social situations that may otherwise make them anxious.

Practise and prepare. For girls who become overly anxious about public occasions, being fully prepared can be a real confidence booster. Zerlinda, another Enlighten Facebook fan, says she got over her adolescent dread of public speaking by “doing lots of practice, being thorough, being informed, knowledgeable, prepared”. Michaela had a similar strategy for social events: she would visualise how she’d like the social event to go and the kind of things she’d like to say and do.

Choose a role model. Zerlinda looked towards people she admired for ways to become less shy:

I don’t compare myself to anyone, however, I have role models who I have learnt from or who have inspired me. I have adapted those qualities that impressed me, to suit my own style and requirements.

Parents are the most important role models of all, so look inwards, too. How do you respond when someone gives you a compliment? Do you sometimes struggle to find your voice to express your beliefs and feelings?

Find your inner Amazon. I recommend that girls spend some quiet time visualising their own inner Amazon, who is strong and powerful, and who they can summon up whenever their confidence gets wobbly. At the end of my book, The Butterfly Effect, I give a full visualisation exercise that girls in our workshops find really empowering. (It’s great for women, too.)

Celebrate difference. Our aim should be to support girls and help them develop the confidence to be themselves—not to force everyone to be outgoing. Some people are naturally quieter than others. If a girl is especially shy and quiet in class or is really struggling in the playground, then of course we need to help her develop the skills to contribute in class and in social groups—while always respecting individual differences. In fact, girls who are naturally more introverted can actually turn that tendency into a helpful strategy. Zerlinda says:

I learnt to accept myself as being an introvert and learnt to cope by ensuring I have my quiet/alone times to refresh, de-stress and find peace.  I made a conscious decision to accept myself as an individual; to accept my flaws; highlight my abilities. I made a conscious decision to like who I was/am . . . to love me for being me!

Do you have any other strategies you’d like to share to help girls overcome self-consciousness and shyness? I’d love to hear what works for you.

P.S The beautiful posters featured here are part of a series I commissioned and are available at our Enlighten shop. I think every young woman should have images like these adorning their bedroom walls!

Model Obsession — Part 2: Career reality check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are words for us all to live by.

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


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

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

Supporting girls with self esteem and positive body image – what works best?

A number of innovative schools and gifted, intuitive psychologists have crossed my path of late – all seeking out ways in which they can best assist the girls they care for to develop a positive body image and respond intelligently to our toxic “girl hating” culture.  

Firstly, I have thoroughly enjoyed Professor Martha Straus’ seminal work “Adolescent Girls In Crisis – Intervention and Hope” ( 2007, published by Norton). Here is a small taste: my abridged version of her stunning “Ten Tips For Working With Girls”:


1. Make and keep promises.

2. Admit your mistakes and apologize.

3. Hold hope – be a holder of hope for the future.

4. Trust the process – beware that our desire to be transformative in some way does not come across as criticism or disrespect (don’t be just another adult who knows best).

5. Identify choices, ask for choices, take joy in choices – frame in choices eg: is this what you want?

6. When they’re at a loss for words, guess and guess again – many teen girls remain concrete in their reasoning and have a limited vocabulary for expressing their feelings so we must frame for them eg; I feel really angry about this – do you?

7. Base expectations on developmental age, not chronological age – they may have adult sized problems and only child like strategies to fall back on, they may be overwhelmed by expectations they consistently can’t meet.

8. Build Teams. Find connections for them – other adults they can turn to, peers etc

9. Empathy, empathy, empathy.

10. Don’t underestimate your role in their life – adolescent girls want to be seen, heard and felt.

I particularly LOVE this quote:

“On my best days, I help adolescent girls find their ‘selves’ in the midst of a cacophony of other competing voices – parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, celebrities, and the loud insistence of popular culture. I know that clear speaking in therapy serves as a model for speaking truth everywhere. Seeing, hearing and feeling my best voice also strengthens me, and the connection between myself and the girls I work with.”

Oh yes! This is exactly how I feel after working with girls in our workshops.

In March Sonia Lyne (Enlighten Education’s Program Director, Victoria) and I travelled to Perth to work with all the girls (Year 7 -12) from St Brigid’s Lesmurdie. The school were keen to establish a whole school approach and incorporated an event for parents, as well as a link with the wider community via the launch of Women’s Forum Australia’s BRILLIANT publication Faking It. (EVERY school should have at least one copy of this groundbreaking yet highly accessible research as a teacher resource!).

PDF copy of the full week’s program – “Celebrate, Challenge and Change at St Brigid’s”: ee_stbrigid_a4broch_hr.pdf

The results were fabulous – so many girls were informed, inspired, understood and (re)connected. One of my personal highlights was the Movie Night. I was touched that almost a hundered girls arrived (in their PJ’s) to watch a film with Sonia and I, eat popcorn, and generally be silly.  A simple night. All about celebration.

Their school Principal, Ms Amelia Toffoli, was there amongst it all…how brilliant! In fact, many of the teachers were very actively involved. All embraced wearing our  hot pink “Princess Power” bands ( aimed to reinforce the messages each of our workshop explores). Even the Head of Senior School, Mr Jim Miller, wore a hot pink band too. Teenagers yearn to connect emotionally and feel like they belong not only to a family, or to a friendship group, but to a wider school community. 

I arrived back home absolutely exhilarated. 

Equally as exciting was the invitation to work with the Years 5 and 6 girls at St John Vianney’s Woolongong.


Enlighten has never worked with such young girls before, however, their school executive insisted that they wanted to be proactive and support their girls before the real crises of adolescences overwhelmed them. I found the girls  so incredibly enthusiastic and simply delicious! The local press did an excellent article on the event which really highlights why special initiatives are so valuable – open this if for no reason than wanting to see these gorgeous girls’ smiling faces! May I say it again – THEY ARE YUMMY!

Illawarra Mercury – 1/4/08 : iq-story-on-body-image.pdf

I cannot let the opportunity pass to share the feedback Fran Simpson, the school’s Religious Education Coordinator, provided us with:

“Dannielle performs magic! She is a fairy godmother to all those sleeping beauties sitting in classrooms and in playgrounds. She takes the girls on an inner journey of self discovery in a very short time…it is one very magical day filled with sparkle and glitter. Dannielle’s gentle and loving touch coupled with her insights and expertise allowed each girl to soar to new heights. I love what Enlighten Education did for the girls. It’s amazing. The Enlighten program fits all girls needs perfectly. Enlighten Education is the most valuable educational workshop I have EVER used.”


I love this work! I love being a Fairy Godmother!

Finally, kudos to the Victorian Government who are offering secondary schools positive body image grants of up to $5,000 to support them in undertaking and promoting activities with young people.   

The Grant guidelines not only provide an insight into what the funders are looking for in terms of accountability and sustainability, but to the types of initiatives that generally work best within the school context:


Applications for this close on April 18th. 

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