We are tricked into thinking that women on magazine covers and on TV naturally look like this in real life…we need to fight back!
By Miriam Nassif
Name is Miriam Nassif and I am 14 years-old so I completely understand what it like to be a teenage girl growing up in our modern day world and what it is like to deal with the things that are being thrown at us by the media.
I was lucky enough to have a childhood. I was allowed to play in the mud, sometimes eat mud, run around and be as messy as I liked. But many children around the world are being forced to dedicate themselves to a beauty pageant life. Small children are forced to dress like adults, wax their eyebrows (even though there are hardly any eyebrows to wax) and pose for hundreds of people so that their parents can win some money! And I thought it was bad enough to be a teenager dealing with this sort of pressure! A poor child is denied their childhood!
These days, who doesn’t walk into a Westfield shopping centre to see a topless girl in the most ridiculous poses to advertise perfume or a pair of jeans or something totally irrelevant to the advertisement? I know I have. We are constantly being given these images that imply that women have no purpose in life but to be “hot” and “sexy”. We are told that if we are not these things, we aren’t worth anything. The media and popular culture tells us that our whole being and value relies on how we look! This is totally and utterly wrong.
I am not here to say that we should all wear baggy clothes, have scruffy hair and that we must try our best to look as terrible and unattractive as we can. You can still look fine if you have bushy hair, a crazily curvy shape, zits (which we all have) and pale skin! I am simply saying that our worth is not based on how we look. Trust me, I know what it is like to want look nice and there is no crime in wanting to be so!
But where we go wrong is when we are defining nice and attractive. Because of major media influence, we have been tricked into thinking that beautiful is someone who is skinny (more like anorexic if you ask me), tanned skin, no zits, and big boobs. But let me tell you that a very few naturally fit this description, and many of the women you see who do fit this description in magazines or on TV have had a major touch up, got a fake tan, wear tonnes of makeup, have had a boob transplant or plastic surgery.
Did you know that if shop mannequins were real women, they would be too thin to menstruate and bear children? Did you know that in every 3 billion women that live on earth only 8 naturally look like supermodels? Did you know that if Barbie were a real women she would have to walk on all fours because of her unrealistic proportions?
We are tricked into thinking that women on magazine covers and on TV naturally look like this in real life!
We are all different and we are all beautiful in our own ways! Whether we are robust, skinny, pale, dark, covered in zits, have a big nose, huge ears or frizzy hair. We need to learn to live with the gorgeous body that is our own, not try and change it or be somebody else!
I can’t help but worry that the new Dolly model search will make girls wonder if they are OK as they are.
Girls feel so pressured to look perfect every single minute of every single day. Many girls feel like their life is not worth living if they don’t look good. Some teenage girls have even been overcome with depression or anxiety due to the stress and pressure to always look “sexy”. It is as if their whole life is based on how they look!
Your worth is not based on your looks! It is based on your personality! Our value is based on who we are as a person! Girls need to spend their time enjoying life, not trying to look good! Be yourself! Be YOU! Be the beautiful person that you were created to be! And enjoy life! If you are so busy being somebody else, who will be you?
And fight the culture that makes you feel bad. If more girls joined together to reject these negative messages, I think we would all feel better.
Miriam is a student and lives in the Blue Mountains, NSW
‘I was never as happy or as sure of myself after that. It was just too big of a let-down, because it wasn’t a rejection from a high school bully, it was a rejection from ‘the experts’, from people with professional opinion, and it was a closing of doors in my face from a glamorous and revered industry’
Thank you for bringing the Dolly Model Reboot to my attention. I am disgusted and appalled. I’m sure you are already aware of the massive damage it can do. The fact that they have brought it back bothers me so much I wanted to share my story with you.
I was 15 when my mum entered me into the Dolly Model Competition. She told me it was to help me with my self-esteem which, at the time, was shockingly low. She said I was so beautiful there was no way I wouldn’t win. A mother’s naivety.
At first I was horrified because I had no respect for fashion models. I told mum that if I won, no one would ever respect me. I wanted more than to be a pretty face. I wanted to be a writer.
But she said, “What better way to get you noticed than to have everyone see your beautiful face?”
And it occurred to me that I would like to win.
I was bullied badly at school, long before I entered the competition. I had freckles and a flat chest and I was terribly shy, I wasn’t tall but I was very thin. You see, I barely ate. And I did think I had a pretty face. I’m part Native American, so I have very white skin with Indian eyes. I felt like it made me stand out.
I began to fantasise about winning the competition and not telling anybody, so they would all discover it when they saw the magazines and be sorry that they bullied me.
Of course, I didn’t win. I didn’t even make semi -finals, or get featured on the collage of entrants in the magazine. And I was crushed because I didn’t know why. The girl that won was pretty, but I just couldn’t see how I was different, or what made her, or all the other girls ‘better’ than me.
And I think the thing that is so painful is that they aren’t really better. They are all beautiful for different reasons, and for whatever reason they didn’t like the look of me.
But none of the entrants ever got to find out what was ‘wrong with us’. That’s what hurt the most. Not knowing why. All we got was the silent rejection of never having been called and knowing that for some reason we could never be told, we weren’t model pretty.
And because that was the whole point of the magazine’s message, that ‘successful’ was ‘pretty’ and ‘model’ was ‘most desired’, I started thinking that I would never really be successful because I wasn’t good enough, and that no matter how hard I worked, no one would ever pick me because I wasn’t pretty enough. The cold and silent rejection stung, and reinforced the message that I was not good enough, and that my bullies were right to pick on me.
It made me feel so worthless.
So 11 years later, after two sexually abusive ex-boyfriends, an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder that I’m still trying to control, and three suicide attempts, I have finally learned the value of myself and my life, and have clawed back some semblance of self-respect.
And I don’t blame the Dolly Model Competition for all of these things, but I do recognise it as a catalyst, and I know I was never as happy or as sure of myself after that. It was just too big of a let-down, because it wasn’t a rejection from a high school bully, it was a rejection from ‘the experts’, from people with professional opinion, and it was a closing of doors in my face from a glamorous and revered industry.
Teenage girls just are not equipped to deal with the conflicting messages, and they are not equipped to deal with damaging competition and rejection.
If I knew what I know now, I would never have accepted the competition in the first place. If people had been less fixated on my looks and more on my talents and interests, I might not have accepted a boyfriend that hurt me, I might not have tried to starve myself, I might not have tried to die.
Girls are worth more than how they look, and I cannot accept that, with teens feeling the way they do, magazines like Dolly are willing to exploit them.
The Dolly Model Competition is bad news. They have enough girls clamouring for stardom in the industry, without bringing the rest of us into it.
This month at Melbourne Westfield Fountain Gate, Elodie Russell beat 500 other teens to be named Victorian state finalist in the new Dolly Model Search.
The Geelong student and 500 other girls competed in the model search resurrected after 10 years.
Elodie is 14. But girls as young as 13 can enter. The winner will receive a modelling contract, fashion shoot and cover shoot for Dolly, and be a “Dolly ambassador.”
The would-be models, many just in high school, are told they can be the next Miranda Kerr. The month’s Dolly has the Victoria Secret model in a red dress with words and arrow: ‘This could be you!’
Kerr is touted as an “inspiration” for young girls. (I’m not sure it’s just girls who find online images of Kerr semi-naked inspiring).
I asked editor Tiffany Dunk why the original search was shut down. She said: “I understand it was over concerns about negative body imaging”.
Things are even worse now. In an age of rampant body hatred and eating disorders, the timing seems off. In a video of the scouting session in Sydney, girls are asked why Kerr is an inspiration. “She’s got a great body!” is one of a number of similar responses.
Which shows us, no matter how many times words like “role model” and “inspiration” are thrown around, it’s still all about bodies. Even now girls will be comparing themselves to Elodie and thinking they are just not good enough.
Body image and eating disorder specialists I spoke to are concerned about the ability of a 13- year-old to navigate the world of modelling. Why is Dolly including such young girls when globally there is a move away from younger models?
In 2005 there was a storm over having a 12-year-old as the face of Gold Coast Fashion Week. Three years later Australian Fashion Week organisers bowed to pressure and dropped a 14- year-year-old Polish girl as the face of the event.
Australia’s Body Image Code of Conduct recommends only using those over 16 to model adult clothes or work or model in fashion shows targeting an adult audience.
The idea that 13 or 14 is too young to model is often met with “But Miranda Kerr started at that age and she’s doing great!”
But how many girls fell by the wayside, how many were damaged due to the harmful consequences of internalizing the message that their value as a person is in how others view and judge their bodies?
The revamped comp has a special spin. “Become a Model Citizen”. Dolly wants “more than a pretty face”, it wants a “great role model for Dolly readers.” It wants girls to “Have fun, don’t let looks rule your life!” (at the same time Chadwick’s judge lists ‘looks” first in what he’s seeking).
Dolly has enlisted the help of The Butterfly Foundation. They’ve prepared “an awesome body image tip sheet” and will also conduct a workshop with finalists. Dolly also says it will have strict rules on how its winner can be used.
But while I support Butterfly’s goals, I’m not sure telling yourself to be beautiful on the inside and the rest is enough to deal with a message dominant in the modelling and fashion industries that you have to be hot to matter.
Thrusting any girl into an industry where they are taught that what matters most is that they fit some cookie-cutter mould of what women should look like, is troubling.
Jess Hart, Dolly’s 1998 model search winner, posed with Jen Hawkins on a 2010 Grazia cover last year headed: “Jen & Jess: how to get their $5M bodies!”
Hart told Grazia she gets “super strict about her diet” prior to a photoshoot.
It is difficult to see how a Dolly Model search winner will deviate from the standard beauty ideal.
It would be one thing to pluck a girl out of a crowd and offer her a contract. But Dolly (with the apparent support of Butterfly) is enabling competition between teen girls on the basis (primarily) of physical appearance.
Dunk says readers want a “relatable teen role model.” “We have endless research that girls respond best to seeing “someone like me” in the media,” she told me.
But couldn’t Dolly give readers a great role model outside a competitive appearance-focussed event in which girls are compared and judged and learn life is just one big beauty pageant?
What about a role model who is an awesome athlete, or musician, or campaigner against violence against women? A teen anti-bullying ‘hero’ writing advice columns – ‘someone like me’ doing amazing things in the world.
It seems to me girls who are truly role models for other girls would be the least likely to enter, because their goals in life are beyond physical appearance. So the true role models may never be discovered.
Rather than introduce them to an industry which glorifies the cult of celebrity and fashion – and contributes to body image despair – why not foster more meaningful values and aspirations in girls? Now that would be inspiring.
Dolly continues to promote appearance over substance
Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry (Spinifex Press, edited by Dr Abigail Bray and me) is now appearing on bookstore shelves in the UK and North America. Host and producer of The F Word radio show and the executive editor of feminisms.org, Meghan Murphy interviewed me recently. It was good to talk to Meghan because I’d re-run her work a few times on my blog but we hadn’t spoken before. (If you want to get a taste of her writing, check out this thoughtful and detailed analysis of Slutwalk ).
You can listen to Meghan’s interview with me here.
I’m very pleased to be speaking here today on this historic occasion.
It has been customary for the west to bemoan and critique the appalling forms of violence practiced against girls and women in the rest of the world – FGM, rape as a tactic of war, forced marriage.
In this focus what has been overlooked have been the vicious body practices that girls and women have come to take on themselves in the west in the mistaken belief that they are doing good for themselves.
Self-starvation and the often bulimic response–compulsive eating and vomiting.
The surgical transformation of breasts, legs, stomachs, cheek bones to conform to the latest beauty ideal
The use of diet and pharmaceutical products to suppress appetite
The botoxing of 5 year olds
The west congratulates itself on its distance from Eastern practices of foot binding which constrained and limited women. It fails to see the links between toe operations carried out now to enable women to fit into the latest 4 inch high heels.
The west smugly criticises FGM while sanctioning labiaplasty and the remaking of the genital lips which has become a growth area for cosmetic surgeons. Read more>
I’m delighted to announce that our very own ‘Naughty Nicole’ has taken out the prize for most popular entry. She wins a camera! Here’s a post from Collective Shout’s website about Nicole’s victory over sexist promotions.
Update: ASB says no to Mossimo peep show
Not only did Nicole turn Mossimo’s campaign upside down in a radical act of subversion, now the Advertising Standards Board has upheld complaints against Mossimo’s peepshow ad campaign. Open this link for extracts of complaints against Mossimo’s peep show promo, Mossimo’s response (Collective Shout gets a mention – thanks for that!) and the ASB’s decision.
Here’s a column I wrote for the Sunday Herald Sun published last Sunday. Looks like this could be the first of a regular gig.
At the end of the week marking International Women’s Day (March 8), a trending YouTube phenomenon lets us know that we haven’t come a long way at all.
Girls as young as 11 are posting clips on YouTube asking the world to judge them by answering one simple question: “Am I ugly or pretty?”
There are now hundreds of Ugly/Pretty videos in this 21st century remake of ‘Mirror mirror on the wall’.
Vulnerable teens and tweens are inviting scrutiny and judgement from a cyber world renowned for cruelty, bullying, and virtual pack attacks. It’s an unlimited offer to vultures and sadists and people who are just plain mean: Here I am, rip my heart and soul out.
While exposing themselves to a torrent of virtual damnation, the girls appear nonchalant, shrugging, with quizzical half smiles, like it really doesn’t matter that much, when you know it means everything.
This past week we should have celebrated women’s achievements. But, sadly, these girls aren’t asking: “Am I smart?”, “Am I good daughter, sister, friend?”, “Can I make a difference in the world?”, “Can I be all that I can be?”
Because in so much that is girl world today, the question that counts the most is: “am I hot or not”?
From the earliest ages girls are learning that looks are what counts, that it is style over substance, that it is their bodies that determine success or failure.
These poignant postings, viewed by millions, have girls like Kendal saying: “A lot of people tell me I’m ugly. I think I’m ugly and fat”. The 15-year-old attracts four million views and 107,000 anonymous responses. One of them this: “Y do you live, and kids in africa die?” And another: “You need a hug… around your neck…with a rope…”.
A black girl asks: “If you think I’m pretty, still comment… just comment… I don’t care if I’m ugly or not.” How do you think she felt when she saw this: “ALL BLACK PEOPLE LOOK THE SAME…SORRY IT’S TRUE”, and “ur black of cource ur ugly”?
In the online environment, comments are magnified. A girl’s fragile sense of self can be smashed instantly, and what esteem she may have had is left in shreds. As Melbourne adolescent psychologist and Chair of the National Centre Against Bullying’s Cybersafety Committee Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says:
“It is about the deep seated need of many adolescents for reassurance that they are normal, but on a mass scale – the impact of the stream of negativity that they receive in response will not be the same for all – some teens are more psychological robust. But for a minority of vulnerable ones this could be a trigger (especially if they already have a major depressive illness) to self harm, suicidal thoughts and even completed suicide.
Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to be more vigilant, and step up to the digital plate. With free internet monitoring software available “to allow your young immature offspring online without such monitoring is in my view inexcusable.” he says.
And a message to YouTube – if you have to be 13 to upload videos why are you allowing 11-year-old girls to ask the world if they are ugly?
Where will the people at YouTube be when a girl suffers depression, anxiety, or worse, because the world of anonymous trolls with zero understanding of civilized human interaction chorus back: yes you are, you really are ugly and deserve to die.
But this is not just about what’s happening on YouTube. This is about us, and the world we create in which young girls grow into women.
International Women’s Day celebrates the struggles of women to be accepted as strong, independent and autonomous and for who they are, and what they can be, not according to how they look in the eyes of others.
We have made the world from which Kendal and Faye ask to be judged. Let’s think about how we can re-make the world into one in which they flourish.
This is what I had to say about the issue on Sunrise
MTR on Channel 7′s Morning Show today with adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and dance studio teacher Nikki Webster, commenting on an episode of US reality TV show ‘Dance Moms’ in which little girls are taught sexually provocative dance routines.
Girlfriend magazine seems to have forgotten what its ‘Self Respect REALITY CHECK’ was intended for. A recap – it was designed to be an upfront disclosure about the use of digital enhancement, airbrushing or other alterations to an image. But it seems to have become a farce.
On the cover below an image of Lily Collins “The fairest of them all” (apparently), the teen reader is informed “Lily’s brows are so awesome that a Twitter account has been made in honour of them. Impressive, much?!” A second dumb use of the ‘Reality check’ appears on p. 89 – because of rain they had to change locations three times (!). But we have no idea whether models images were altered. Why bother having the symbol at all if it is meaningless?
For a magazine which claims to want to help girls accept themselves and avoid comparison, to vote emerging young actress “Miss Collins’ as “the prettiest of them all” seems oddly out of place. Read more>
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“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
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“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
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“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
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‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.