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Tag: Womens Forum Australia

A National Strategy on Body Image

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

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

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

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

Proposed National Strategy on Body Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violence against women is no game.

The media release below was forwarded to me by Women’s Forum Australia. The issues raised within it are so concerning that I have decided to reproduce it here in its entirety (with their permission). I would urge my readers to consider how they can lobby against the production and distribution of these types of games.

Media Release

Government must act immediately to end access to downloadable gang rape game.

Women’s Forum Australia calls on the Government to act immediately to prevent access to a Japanese PC game which has as its plot the stalking and gang rape of a mother and her two daughters.

The Government communications regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), must be immediately directed to identify all websites making this game available as a download and add them to the blacklist so they can be subjected to ISP filtering.

In the game, Rapelay, players direct a character to sexually assault a mother and her two young daughters at an underground train station, before going on to rape other female characters. One of the daughters is depicted as aged about 10. She sleeps with a teddy bear.

Although blacklisted on online shopping sites eBay and Amazon.com two weeks ago, the sexually explicit Japanese animation is available on a number of websites offering the full version of the software to download.

Developed by Japanese production house Illusion, the object of the game is to turn the women into sex slaves – without getting them pregnant.

Should one of the female characters become pregnant, she must be forced to have an abortion.
One site describes RapeLay as “a new type [of] molesting game with more beautiful 3D images… players can get the new excitement like never before.” RapeLay can be played in multi-player mode – used mainly for the gang-rape sequences.

Any game which endorses and possibly incites the criminal act of rape should not be allowed to be advertised anywhere.

The complacency about p*rn animation depicting crimes such as rape and pedophilia has to end.

Melinda Tankard Reist, Women’s Forum Australia.

The standard you walk past is the standard you set

You may recall me sharing my outrage with you over sports commentator Caroline Wilson’s treatment on the Footy Show. The charming Sam Newman decided to dress up a mannequin in skimpy lingerie, staple her picture to its head and thrust it’s crutch into the face of his fellow co-presenters. By all accounts – this was deeply offensive.  

Even more offensive – Sam responded to the ensuing outrage by saying that women who complained were “liars and hypocrites”.

The fallout has been really interesting to observe. And it is not just women who are complaining. In a move that media commentators say is virtually unprecedented, the ANZ bank has directed its advertising away from the show. The Age newspaper has also redirected advertising from the show to other Nine programs after Newman attacked the newspaper and its journalists. Women’s Forum Australia is considering requesting more companies boycott the program. Director Melinda Tankard Reist (a regular Butterfly Effect contributor) has made WFA’s stand crystal clear:  “The program has caused a great deal of hurt to a lot of women and if The Footy Show can’t respond in a proper manner, then maybe they will respond when they start losing money.”

I was particularly taken with writer Catherine Deveny’s assessment of the incident in the Herald on the 21st May. I have attached the link to the full article but really it is just so powerful that I feel compelled to quote from it extensively here:  

I’ve seen Wilson take the lads on. She’s quick and outspoken. So what took her so long to write about her treatment in Mannequingate?…

I’ve often been confronted by jarring or offensive behaviour and chewed it over silently for a while before realising that I’ve been put off my own instinct by an invisible electric fence in my head.

I hold my tongue while grilling myself — “Am I overreacting? Am I being uptight? What will they think of me if I say something?” — before concluding “No, you’re right. That’s wrong. Speak up.”

By the time I’ve got past the invisible electric fences, it’s often too late.

When the blokes encourage you to play the dignified silence card, that’s code for “pipe down, girly, or we’ll demonise you”. Then you won’t be able to do the job you so obviously love and you’ll end up the loser. There’s always an implication that they’re doing us a favour, letting us play with the boys.

Look what the media does to Cherie Blair, Germaine Greer and Hillary Clinton. Any opportunity newspapers have they run the worst possible photograph of them. One that makes them look mean, ugly and hysterical. Punishment for speaking up and refusing to stay within the fences…

If a bloke had been the victim of such premeditated humiliation, the advice would have been “sue the pants off the bastard, Stevo. You don’t have to take that. Stand up to him. What do you mean ‘dignified silence’? Where are your balls? You can’t let him treat you like that. Shirtfront the bastard. And call a lawyer.”

Ignoring iniquity and injustice doesn’t work. The mere presence of pigs in suits reinforces and vindicates other pigs and lowers the expectation of all male behaviour. Letting it go normalises the whole thing and establishes some kind of precedent along the lines of “these things happen. And they blow over. Boys will be boys.” No. Pigs will be pigs. And it needs to stop.

It’s not good enough to be sorry about this kind of debauched behaviour after the fact. We have to stop it happening, and not just in the media. In workplaces, schools, social situations and under our own roofs.

And within our own invisible electric fences.”

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How very true! Yes – this type of blatant misogyny must stop. And yes – we do have to step up and break through our own electric fences. Our girls needs to see what  strong, confident, assertive woman look like. They need to see how we set boundaries, and how we demand to be treated both within the home and by society itself. If we won’t show them, who will?  

 

News flash! With the upgrades made to Edublog over the weekend, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did last month with Prue McSween on girls and bullying. Enjoy!

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

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