Book Review by Naomi Crafti (Education Officer/EDV)www.eatingdisorders.org.au
Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls
Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist
Spinifex Press: Australia 2009
Getting Real is frightening, confrontational and above all, a call to arms. Edited by an author with special interest in women’s issues and a founding member of Women’s Forum Australia, this book brings together the research and opinions of parenting experts, mental health professionals, feminists, ethicists, media commentators and academics, many of whom are parents themselves.
Getting Real examines the sexualisation and objectification of girls and women. In particular it focuses on the increase in this phenomenon over the past 20-30 years, post second wave feminism of the 1970’s, and deceptively sometimes claimed as a response to it. In her Introduction, Tankard Reist graphically outlines the extent of the problem, illustrating the issues with quotes from around the world that ‘take your breath away’.
For example, she describes how girls as young as 14 are looking to pornography for guidance. ‘I just copied what i had seen from porn, he enjoyed it.’ (p.21). And how even magazines promoted as suitable for teenage girls (for example Dolly) provide detailed information about sex acts, with no discussion of either the psychological or physical consequences.
Several essays in this volume examine the impact of sexualisation and objectification on the mental and physical health of young women, an issue of particular relevance to those working in the field of eating disorders. ‘As well as a growth in eating issues we see an alarming rise in self-harm. One in ten teen girls is now ‘cutting’(p.58). And the problems of increased cosmetic surgery, low self-esteem, and increases in child pornography, rape and sexual assault are all linked to the cultural demeaning and sexualisation of young women.
Does Getting Real provide a light at the end of the tunnel. Are there any immediately identifiable solutions to the issues described? Fortunately there are. The final three chapters of the book examine three different perspectives on overcoming the problem of childhood sexualisation.
Firstly Steve Biddulph, a psychologist and parenting expert, discusses the important role that parents, particularly fathers, have in shaping the development of their children and how this influence needs to be supported by public and governmental action. Tania Andrusiak takes a more individualistic perspective and describes the ‘courage’ required by individuals to fight against the status quo.
And finally, in a fitting conclusion to this collection of essays, Julie Gale, actor and activist, describes the formation of Kids Free 2B Kids (KF2BK) in February 2007. This organisation has become involved in major campaigns against the sexualisation of children in the media and is a beacon of light in the cesspool of child exploitation. I commend everyone interested in this issue to investigate KF2BK and support them if possible.
Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls is a must read for anyone that cares about the future for our children, particularly those who have the power to make a difference…all adults. In particular I recommend that this book be read by parents, educators, health professionals, policy makers and those that work in the media. I am optimistic that by revealing and informing the general public about these atrocities, we can return childhood to a place of innocence, safety and joy.