‘The ultimate guide to being yourself’ is about self-acceptance. It offers girls three lessons in how to be themselves: Fall in love with you; Quit Faking It and Get inspired, not obsessed. The first encourages girls to recognise and love themselves for their unique traits. This is well and good. But I don’t think we can ‘fall in love’ with ourselves. We can value our innate dignity and worth, and work to resist pressure to conform to an idealised norm, but ‘falling in love’ is a bit over the top. I don’t think we are meant to be ‘head over heels’ with ourselves – telling girls they should be setting up impossible expectations. I do like the advice to girls to start a gratitude journal and list five things they are grateful for every day, as expressing gratitude is a proven way to improve mental health. ‘Be your own therapist’ also advises girls to organise their thoughts, reflect, be more positive and relieve stress by keeping a journal. I don’t quite agree with the conclusion though: “There’s nothing more empowering than knowing that no matter what life throws at you, you can cope with it.” This puts too much pressure on an individual girl. As I move around the country speaking in schools, I hear shocking stories, including from girls who have suffered sexual abuse and other forms of violence, depression, anxiety, cutting – which has increased by 90 percent in 10 years in older adolescent girls and 60% in girls 12-14 – and eating disorders. Sometimes they won’t get through without significant professional intervention and other support. Read full article.
‘In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality’
By Ori Golan
It’s on billboards, in newspapers and magazines; it proliferates on television and social networks. Toys, songs, graffiti, advertisements, internet and iPhone applications all promote it in one way or another. The hyper-sexualisation of women. From subtle sexist innuendoes to base pornography, women are routinely degraded and used as commodities to generate commerce or score political gains. Former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was relentlessly targeted for misogynistic attacks. Whether it was her attire or body parts; or her personal life, it was all fair game. The list of epithets includes, among others: dog, bitch, witch, old cow, deliberately barren, and menopausal monster.
But it is not just women in key positions. Girls of every age and walk of life are routinely urged to trade on their looks. Advertising and film industries focus heavily on women’s sexual features rather than attributes such as intelligence or work capacity; they are often depicted as objects in positions of inferiority, subordination and low social power. Seldom are women depicted as protagonists who are feisty, intelligent and charismatic. A cursory glimpse at media outlets yields images of prepubescent beauty pageants, teenaged girls smothered in makeup, women in suggestive poses and models with perfect curves.
Psychologist Sarah McMahon from BodyMatters Australasia, a clinic which specialises in body image issues, warns against this highly prejudiced and dangerous objectification of women. “When we talk about the negative role the media has on young girls” Sarah says, “I think we automatically defer to the narrow beauty ideal that is perpetuated through the homogenised look of models and the overuse of photo-shop”.
Indeed, on a daily basis, our senses are assaulted by aggressive advertising campaigns presenting body-perfect models with unattainable dimensions to promote films, food, designer labels, underwear, diets and games.
Cosmetic surgery is a spin-off from this industry, in the pursuit of the ideal body. It is a colossal global market, raking in millions of dollars in profit. Across the globe, 15 million people turn to plastic surgery to enhance their looks – the vast majority of them women. According to the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (ACCS), cosmetic procedures in Australia, which include breast augmentation and liposuction, generate over $1 billion a year.
There is also another, darker and more sinister, aspect to this prolific gender exploitation: the propagation of DVDs and video games of a highly sexual nature depicting incest, rape and appalling sexual violence against women. Many of these are available for quick, unfettered purchase in shops and service stations.
More than ever before, young – often very young – people are bombarded with hyper-sexualised messages. Pornography is invading their lives at unprecedented rates.
So, what are the consequences and effects of such pervasive invasion of sexualised material?
Speaker, columnist and advocate, Melinda Tankard Reist, has no doubt that the consequences are direct, insidious and long-term. As the co-founder of Collective Shout which runs a tireless campaigner to end the sexualisation of girls, Melinda is well placed to speak on this matter. “We are seeing a sharp decline in women holding key roles, an increase in eating disorders and a rise in physical violence against women. Collective Shout takes upon itself to name and shame corporations, advertisers and marketers who objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services. Melinda has spearheaded numerous campaigns against a major corporations to remove highly offensive advertising or merchandise which exploits or degrades women.
Watching the film Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, brings these points into sharp relief. This outstanding documentary puts the spotlight on mainstream US media where women are routinely demeaned, sexualised and limited to stereotyped roles. The facts speak for themselves: women are grossly under-representation in positions of influence in the US; is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures; it is now a country where women hold only 3% of high positions in mainstream media. Given such appalling statistics, it is hardly surprising that there is a dramatic drop in the numbers of aspiring young women. Marian Wright, President of Children’s Defense Fund, puts it succinctly when she says: You can’t be what you can’t see.
But there’s worse: a staggering 65% of American women and girls have eating disorders as a direct consequence of the relentless glorification of thin women in the media.
The problem is, of course, not restricted to the US.
Inês Almeida, Executive Director at the Brave Girls Alliance and Founder of TowardTheStars, is keenly aware of the cause-and-effect between the sexualisation of girls and the three most common mental health problems effecting girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. “Substantial research shows that mass media influences girls and young women’s beliefs about themselves”, she affirms.
According to Inês, in 2012 some 913,000 Australians were recorded with eating disorders, two thirds of them women. To compound the problem, the concerned age-group is becoming increasingly – and alarmingly – younger. “Both the Westmead Hospital in Sydney and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne have observed that eating disorder cases have increased substantially in the under-12 age group”, she says.
Inês is poised to combat this devastating trend. Last year she launched the TowardTheStars campaign; a movement that provides gifts and resources that inspire and enable girls to be strong, smart and daring. “In a world overwhelmed with messages that tell girls that their value comes from their external appearance”, she explains, “it is imperative to showcase girls who are courageous, strong, bold, determined, accomplished and athletic. We need to see more girls who are leaders, scientists, adventurers, politicians and, of course, superheroes!”
On October 11, the UN’s International Day of the Girl, the Brave Girls Alliance plans to take over Times Square. “With enough supporters, we’ll rent a billboard to flash brief girl-positive messages 40 times per hour, 20 hours per day, for 7 days”, says Inês.
Alex McClintock is a journalist, male and full-fledged feminist. “If you think the parliament is full of misogynists, then maybe you should take a look in your local pub or nightclub on a Friday night” he advises, alluding to the grossly sexual and misogynist bravado so common among men. “Men can be feminists too and the best way to do it is by being active in masculine spaces like locker rooms and pubs.”
He brings into the discussion an issue that has not been discussed or even alluded to: how to make sense of a world from a man’s perspective. With the propagation of pornography and its proliferation on the net, making it accessible to almost any internet user, how do we deal with it? How do we teach boys to treat women with respect? How do we instil civility and parity?
“If boys and girls are going to look at porn, then we should have porn education in schools to help them make sense of it”, he suggests. This is no doubt a statement worthy of discussion in its own right.
The many issues and sentiments which a ThinkActChange debate such as this can stir, are often close, personal and painful. A member of the audience shared her experience, shortly after the event.
“I’ve been living a life full of eating-disordered hell since I was 10 years old, and now 12 years laterm at the age of 22, I am only beginning to see the damage that society and media play on young girls and women like myself. It wasn’t just me who has been suffering from anorexia. My whole family and circle of friends have been suffering as well. I can happily say now that I am very much on the way to full recovery. I am also back at university and hope to one day work alongside Sarah McMahon and the wonderful women and men out there trying to prevent eating disorders in society and help those in need.”
It is a salutary reminder, and a truly moving testimony, of the very real influence and terrible impact which the sexualising of women in the media can exert on an individual’s wellbeing.
As always, when I review teen girls’ magazines I look for the girls who are taking up their rightful place in the world, engaging in social action and cultural transformation.
This issue we meet ‘2013 Girlfriend of the Year’ (I’m ignoring the eight pages on GF’s Rimmel Model Search). Hannah, 15, was chosen from six finalists for her activism against Coal Seam Gas Mining. “The methods used to extract it are all detrimental to the environment and the people surrounding the wells…There is little info available on the actual chemicals used in the mining process – all we know is there are proven links between CSG mining and illness in humans and animals, lack of land productivity, lowered air quality and contaminated soil and water,” the young activist says. Hannah, who has also been involved in Youth Parliament, says her motivation comes from raising awareness, encouragement from others and knowing she is making a difference.
Marian Bechtel, 18, invented a land mind detector. Described as an ‘anti-war hero’ in the article ‘Like a boss,’ about inspiring girl CEOs and inventors, Marian came up with the idea of using sound waves to detect land mines at only 14. She spent three years researching and working with scientists to develop a prototype. As a result Marian was a finalist in the 2012 Intel Science Talent Search in the US. “I think technology can definitely help us get toward word peace,” says Marian. Madison Robinson, 15, created her own thong (‘fishflops.com) business, which has taken off. “I think you can be creative and achieve your dreams at any age,” says Madison. “If you have an idea you love and can see the possibilities, go for it.” Ava Anderson, 18, created the world’s first non-toxic beauty products as CEO and director of Product Development of Ava Anderson, Tavi Gevinson, 17, started her style blog at 11 which grew into an online magazine Rookie Mag, one of the top websites for teens in the world. Eesha Khare, 18, invented a battery that charges in 30 seconds.
There are more high achievers in the ‘Life as told by you’ section. Brittany developed a breast cancer app after her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her app enabled doctors to enter values on a scale of one to 10 for each sign of breast cancer a patient has. She has spent over 1000 hours working on it and run 7.6 million tests. The app is now 99 per cent accurate for diagnosing the disease. She hopes to become a doctor one day. Kelsey, 17, has raised more than $40,000 for the charity ‘Hands Across the Water’, which helps children in Thailand. Started by her father, she has volunteered in one of the charity’s orphanages during her summer holidays. “I saw how tough things are for them and learned not to take life for granted as so many of us do, myself included. I also watched how the children look after each other. It made me think, why can’t we all be kinder to each other?” The money Kelsey has raised so far can save 27 girls from trafficking. Kelsey says she feels she must do something to help at-risk children. “I can be the voice for girls my age and younger from all over the world who are being forced to do terrible things against their will….To be able to provide new hope and possibilities for these girls is the reason I’m doing this. I know that changing their lives will also change the lives of their families, friends and broader communities, as well as the generations to come after them”. She urges other teens to take the focus off themselves and unleash their energy in positive ways to help others. Read more
As is often the case, I find the most helpful offering for girls in teen girl magazines can be found in the shared experiences of the girls themselves.
A passion of mine is opening up safe spaces for girls to talk about issues which are often surrounded by shame, meaning girls don’t get the help they need. One of these issues is self-harm, which has increased 90 percent in older adolescents and 60 percent in younger adolescents, in a mere ten years. So I was pleased to see Dolly again giving space to this issue (I commended the magazine for exploring cutting in its June issue also).
Danielle, who began harming in 2010, tells her story in ‘Reality Reads’. “I was home alone and all the negative thoughts were taking over my mind: that I wasn’t good enough, that I was too ugly. I thought I deserved pain so I inflicted it on myself,” she says. It was seeing an interview with Demi Lovato, who had just come out of rehab for depression and self-harm, that helped Danielle turn things around. “…after I heard Demi, I thought I could get through this,” she says. With the help of medical treatment, she has been free of self-harm for two years. She tweets via @ForeverWithJoeJ about recovery and fundraises for BeyondBlue and Headspace “because they helped me a lot”. She recommends an online session at headpace.org.au where young people can talk to a professional through a chat screen. Read more here
Sometimes I wonder if one girl’s mag gets wind of what another is up to and copies it. In this case it’s a good thing, with Dolly also running a feature on binge drinking. I commended Girlfriend for a strong piece on “liquid poison” also this month. What is less understandable is why it Dolly has assigned the piece to the ‘Sealed Section’. I see no rationale for this. (Girlfriend did the same thing awhile back with a special feature on mental illness which I questioned here ). Let’s face it, the sealed section is pretty useless anyway (a simple tear reveals the contents). But what is being implied here? Why doesn’t the piece belong in the body of the magazine with the rest of the ‘open content’?
The piece opens with the story of ‘Jen’, 16, who lost control after consuming vodka at a party and regretted her behaviour. Research shows 40% of girls 14-19 drink at levels which put them at risk of alcohol-related harm, those aged 15-24 account for 52% all alcohol related serious injuries and one in two 15-17 will regret something they did when drunk. “Binge drinking’s not only bad for your health, but it can seriously impact your wellbeing and relationships”, says Dolly. More than two standard drinks is enough to start physical damage to organs. Professor Gordian Fulde, Director of the Emergency Department, Sydney Hospital, says: “Usually the teenage girl who comes in will be vomiting and dehydrated so we’ll have to hook them up to a drip for fluid transfusions…Sometimes we’ll have unconscious patients who’ve fallen when intoxicated. We’ll cut their clothes off to do full body checks so we don’t miss a life-threatening injury…It’s often very distressing once they’ve sobered up and can’t remember what happened.” Long term effects are listed: alcohol dependence, physical health problems, mental health problems and unsafe situations e.g unprotected or unwanted sex. Girls are given tips for resisting peer pressure – say you’ve already had one, don’t feel pressured to give in – “true friends respect your decisions – swap the alcohol for your drink of choice, find other ways to beat party nerves. Support is offered through Reach Out.com.au and Alcohol & Drug Information Service (1800422599).
Two more important contributions this issue. ‘Relationships that hurt’ helps girls recognise dangerous and harmful relationships with boys who are jealous and controlling. Studies show teen girls are at greatest risk of entering abusive relationships – more than any women in other age groups. Many don’t recognise possessive behaviour as a red flag. “Jealousy is not the sign of love that girls often think it is,” says Carmen Garrett a social worker at Headspace. “When it leads to a boy trying to control your life- who you speak to, where you go – that’s serious.”
Megan at first thought the constant surveillance of her boyfriend was “proof he loved me”. She became withdrawn, her social life suffered, she lost her friends, and quit sport because her boyfriend hated her playing with boys on the team. Ella’s boyfriend, who she had kept secret for a year, started pressuring her for sex. “I wasn’t ready. But he kept threatening to tell my parents we’d done all this sexual stuff, even if we hadn’t,” she says. She gave in to the pressure out of fear and because she didn’t want to lose him. Melissa was pressured by her boyfriend to lose weight, telling her she was “too fat” and he would find someone else. “All I could think about was losing weight to make him like me again,” she says. Read more
Complete disregard for the wellbeing and safety of young girls
Last night Foxtel gave this response to our criticism of it facilitating a sexualising contest of adult beauty standards to promote Australia’s Next Top Model.
“There’s no doubt that the socially engaged fans of Australia’s Next Top Model have embraced Australia’s Next Top Selfie. The “selfie” is a global social media phenomenon that is fun and light-hearted – just like this promotion.”
This may well be the most pathetic, socially irresponsible response I have ever seen from a corporate in my many years of activism. Foxtel has shown compete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of girls. The company doesn’t give a damn that images of underage girls are likely being snagged and captured right now and forwarded to porn sites.
The response is devoid of any sense of responsibility for facilitating and enabling this.
Foxtel seems happy to exploit the bodies of underage girls to promote its modelling competition.
Here’s the story in Mumbrella today
Foxtel faces social media backlash with Australia’s #NextTopPredator hashtag
A Fox8 social media promotion for Australia’s Next Top Model urging people to take ‘selfies’ and post them on Instagram is facing a social media backlash by a group of feminist activists launching the hashtag Australia’s #NextTopPredator to counter the competition.
The activists, who include social commentator Melinda Tankard Reist, claim girls, as young as nine, are posting images of themselves in sexual poses and are instead urging people to enter the competition with positive messages.
“Research by the Internet Watch Foundation tells us that 88 per cent of self made images posted by girls online are captured sent to porn websites,” claimed Tankard Reist. They are snatched and captured and sent to what are known as parasite pornsites,” she said. “These girls have no idea that their images could be going there and here is Australia’s Next Top Model is soliciting this.”
Under the rules of the competition any Australian resident can enter the competition. Those under the age of 18 must have parental permission. To date there have been more than 50,000 entries in the competition.
As part of the competition there is also a moderated live feed of the images from the competition which is being posted to the ANTM home page.
Foxtel faces social media backlash with Australias #NextTopPredator hashtag Top model 468x492However, a search of the competition hashtag #antmselfie on Twitter and Instagram shows that among the entries from adults are images of girls who have entered the competition as as young as eight or nine dressed in swim suits and other revealing clothing.
“They’re got some rules about who can enter the competition but they’re not stopping young girls from just sending entries in and they not deleting them,” said Tankard Reist.
“The images are all over Instagram and so we decided to engage in some culture jamming in creating our own hashtag and sending out positive messages to girls.
Entries on the rival #nexttoppredator hashtag
A spokesman for Fox8 said: “There’s no doubt that the socially engaged fans of Australia’s Next Top Model have embraced Australia’s Next Top Selfie. The “selfie” is a global social media phenomenon that is fun and light-hearted – just like this promotion,” said the Fox8 spokesman.
Tankard Reist said: “The response is devoid of any sense of responsibility for facilitating and enabling this.”
Tankard Reist has shown images to Mumbrella entered for the competition featuring girls clearly only in their early teens which are not appropriate for re-publication here.
Readers wanting something of substance from Dolly’s June issue would do best to skip the first half and go straight to the second. Articles on self-harm, hate pages and unhealthy attitudes toward food redeem the insubstantial nature of the pages that go before.
‘Would you “like” a hate page?’ explores the phenomenon of online hate pages. A hate page is explained as any page set up on social media to incite hatred, violence or racism towards a group or individuals. Susan McLean of Cyber Safety Solutions explains there are more hate pages around now. “Many people who participate in hate pages wouldn’t behave this way in the real world. There’s a lack of accountability online, so people think they can get away with it,” McLean says. A pack mentality can also be at work, where the more ‘likes’ a page gets the more others join in. Readers are reminded that under state cyber bullying laws, people posting comments or threats on hate pages can be charged. Psychologist Meredith Fuller explains that ‘liking’ the page is the cyber equivalent of looking on while someone gets bullied. Readers are encouraged to report hate pages. A related piece is ‘How I fight bullying’, with three girls telling their stories of addressing bullying in groups including The Hope Project, Angels Goal and Student Harassment Investigation Team (S.H.I.T).
The feature on self-harm is very welcome. Exploring the distressing phenomenon of ‘cutting’, Dolly tells the story of Emily, 15, who started cutting when she was 12. “I do it in secret and hide it as best I can. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that the only relief I can get is to hurt myself,” she says. An estimated 10 percent of teen girls self-harm. It should not be put in the category of attention-seeking (most girls try to hide the habit) – it is a response to intense emotional pain. Those who engage in the behaviour get a temporary sense of relief, with emotional pain transferred to physical pain. Jasmine, 16, shares her journey of recovery, replacing the act of cutting with positive activities until the urge to cut has passed and talking to trusted people about it. Jasmine has a blog called Perks of Recovery. Read more
An unexpected response, perhaps, from an (allegedly) grown woman. But a story in the latest issue did me in.
‘Real Life Stories’ – which I have always appreciated for giving space to the raw realities of so many girls lives – opens with a first person account of Carrieanne who took on the care of her younger brothers and sisters when her mother died suddenly at only 42, for reasons unknown. Carrieanne was 18. A moving photo shows her with her three younger siblings, one only a baby. Carrieanne has applied for legal guardianship and is continuing to study while caring for the children with the help of two older siblings and neighbours. Speaking of her mum she says “I think she would be so proud of what I’m doing now.” I think she would be too Carrieanne. (Now where are the tissues?).
In other ‘Real Stories’, Mariah, 16, is working to end poverty with World Vision. She began by getting an after school job so she could sponsor a child. By 13 she was fundraising for World Vision’s Haiti earthquake appeal and is now collating a book Reaching Out: Messages of Hope, a collaboration between 30 authors, illustrators and advocates from around the world to be published by HarperCollins, with profits going to UNIFEC for which she is now a youth ambassador. “Teens might not realise it, but we have so much power. We can be the generation that changes history. We don’t need to fix world poverty tomorrow, but we can help one child at a time.” Well said Mariah! Read more
The Ashmore State School Model Search for children as young as two will be held at a Family Fun Fair next month. Prizes include modelling courses worth hundreds of dollars.
In the latest school newsletter, deputy principal Amanda Fry assured parents the contest was not a beauty pageant. “There is no category for beauty,” she wrote. “There are trophies for best dressed, best catwalk and most photogenic.”
Greg Dickman, Education Queensland’s South East regional director, said the department had no issue with the model search. “This is a fundraiser model competition, not a beauty competition,” he said.
Whether the school calls it a “model search”, a “beauty competition”, a “pageant” or any other name is irrelevant. Whether or not participants are allowed to wear makeup or evening gowns is irrelevant. What is relevant, is pitting children against each other in order to be judged on their appearance.
“Direct participation and competition for a beauty prize where infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals can have significant mental health and developmental consequences that impact detrimentally on identity, self esteem, and body perception.”
It is not only the participants who are being put at risk by such an event. Those who witness it, and the girls who don’t enter, are also absorbing toxic messages about their appearance and self worth. The fact that the school and teachers that they trust are participating in sending these messages makes it all the more harmful.
This model search is an absolute abrogation of the responsibility of the school to the children in their care. You might like to contact Education Qld and the Minister for Education to ask them why Education Queensland is allowing this school to put the well-being of students at risk.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“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.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“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
‘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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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.