In 147 pages of beauty and fashion shopping, advice and advertising , along with tips on catching your “crush” this summer, there are, fortunately, a few articles that will actually help girls.
As you know, I always search for the personal stories which convey the reality of girls’ lives as well as inspiring resilience and hope. Not all girls are as carefree as the slim, sun-kissed, smooth bum-cheeked, glowing girls in the full page Rip Curl ads (as noted in the past, the re-touch free zone and claims to want to represent a diversity of bodies in young girl mag pages, has never incorporated advertising).
I commend Dolly’s editors for the piece ‘Life as a young carer’. Most of us have no idea of the reality of so many young people who care for physically and mentally ill parents or siblings. There are 347,700 young carers in Australia – about two teen carers in every classroom. 56% of young primary carers are not employed or at school. Jazelle, 18, has been primary carer for her mum since she was 10. Her mother broke her back in a motorbike accident as a teen however needed more help when she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease five years ago. She is in and out of hospital and because she requires so much care, Jazelle does distance education. A timeline of an average day for Jazelle shows the extent of her caring role. Carers have the lowest level of wellbeing of any Australian group, with over half reporting some level of depression and need more support. Support can be found through your local Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre on 1800 242 636 or youngcarers.net.au for services in your local area. Dolly has initiated Young Carers Week (November 25 – December 1) – not much time for readers to act given this is the December issue, however hopefully the week will be more developed for next year. Readers are encouraged to reach out to any young carers at school, offer help and to send messages through Dolly to young carers. I really hope they do. Read more here.
Girlfriend and Dolly can be commended this year for taking strong stands on alcohol and drugs. This issue of GF is no exception, with ‘The High Life’ exploring the harms of smoking marijuana. When celebs boast about it – such as Miley Cyrus posting a photo of herself smoking pot with the caption “High as f—“ and Rihanna posting a marijuana plant she received for Valentine’s Day, this celeb endorsement gives the drug a big tick. GF points out however that the drug is “more harmful than most people realise.” “Short-term marijuana usage increases your risk of heart attack by five times in the first hour of smoking it and the risk of impaired judgment can lead to impulsive decision making, injury, or even death,” says Jan Copeland, director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. It also doubles your risk of having a car accident. Girls who have smoked the drug describe a lack of motivation to deal with what was stressing them out, which contributes to feeling more stressed later. Fifty percent of long-term users develop a dependency. Users are more likely to suffer from anxiety attacks, psychosis and schizophrenia as well as lower IQ’s.
‘Is someone else directing your life?’ encourages girls to take control of their destiny, rather than be driven by others. “…if you find yourself increasingly frustrated with your life and/or where you’re headed, or feeling jealous of someone else’s success, it may be that your people-pleasing habits are getting the best of you. You also haven’t been true to what you really want, deep down,” says psychologist Dr Pene Schmidt. You can tell if someone has too much influence over you by the way they make you feel. “If you find yourself feeling worried, anxious, uncomfortable, or resentful, these can be great warning signs to let us know that we need to stop and reassess the situation,” she says. If friends continue to dictate the terms of a relationship, then perhaps it’s time to find new ones Girls are also given advice on communicating with parents who may be putting them under pressure. “Assertive communication is one of the most valuable tools teens can use if they’re experiencing conflict with their parents”, says Dr Schmidt. All good, but perhaps could have done without the half page illustration of a mother shouting through a megaphone with the words ‘Bla’, ‘Bla’, ‘Bla’ coming out of it maybe implying mothers yell but have nothing important to say which may not facilitate the positive and calm communication encouraged in the article. (Yes, I know, I’m a mother). Read entire post here.
Dolly Doctor and Oral Sex: is advice to girls clear?
Dolly Doctor this issue deals with oral sex. Parents with younger Dolly readers in the family may want to be aware of that and be prepared to talk about it with them (Dolly has featured’ Readers of the month’ who are 11). Also, although the age of consent is 16, the article opens with 15-year-old Sarah who is considering it. Consent and possible legal considerations are not mentioned.
Dolly says “even though you’re not having penetrative sex, there are still serious consequences when it comes to oral sex.” Now I’m no sexologist, but I’m not sure Dolly has got this right. Perhaps the writer means you’re not having sexual intercourse as typically understood? In the practice of fellatio, I’m pretty sure something goes into a mouth. And in male to female oral sex, a vagina can be penetrated also. I checked with Susan McLean, former policewoman of over 20 years standing and specialist on cybersafety, young people and legal issues. She responded:
Oral Sex is sex just the same as vaginal (penis/vagina) and digital (finger/vagina) and ALL are covered by age of consent laws. You can be charged with rape for example in any of the above cases. Sexual penetration laws also cover all the above plus more, anal sex and use of implements to penetrate. Consent needs to be explained as you cannot give consent under age, cannot give consent when under the influence of drugs/alcohol, cannot give consent if fearful, coerced etc
Girls are warned that they can still contract STI’s from oral sex. Emotional issues are raised. Tegan, 16, felt vulnerable even though it was with her boyfriend. “Even though I knew he cared about me, I started feeling resentment towards him. It made me realise I hadn’t done it for me and I wasn’t ready,” she said. Psychologist Gemma Cribb says: “Becoming sexual before one person is ready can damage the bond in your relationship. This is why you need to keep up communication.” Girls are told they can be comfortable with saying no. “You’ll know it’s too early if you find yourself getting anxious about the prospect of sexual intimacy, or you try avoiding one-on-one time together,” says Cribb. Readers are also reminded they can change their mind at any time.
Girls are offered 5 points to help them consider if they are ‘ready’ to “transition from kissing”. The assumption, given the subject of the piece, could be that this means from kissing to oral. Aren’t there lots of other things in between kissing and oral? In another section ‘Your Biggest Questions Answered’, given the level of pressure girls are under to provide sexual acts, (as mentioned in my previous review of Girlfriend ) the last is significant: “What if I don’t want to do it and he doesn’t want to be with me?” The response is: “It’s your body so NEVER do anything you’re not totally comfortable with. Lots of girls rush into things because they want to please their partner or think they’ll be called a prude if they wait,” says Cribb. “Linking your self-worth to sexual acts is not OK. If they’re not willing to go at your pace, they’re not worthy of you!” Read full review here
The article ‘Like a Virgin’, in the October issue of Girlfriend, argues, quite rightly, that there is a double standard when it comes to men losing their virginity and women losing theirs. “It’s time we stopped talking like virginity loss turns boys into men and girls into ruins,” writes Emily McGuire.
McGuire includes the experiences of young people including Karen, 15, who “just wanted to get it over with” and Krissy who was keen to “move on from feeling annoyingly virginal.” Despite the big event being less than physically great, she says that afterwards she felt “relieved” to have done it.
Holly, 17, says: “Boys think if they don’t lose their virginity by a certain time, then they’re not man enough. Then they do, they’re praised. With girls, it’s easier to say you are a virgin than not, because girls are given a hard time when they do have sex and can become labelled.”
Of course there is a double standard. We don’t see any ‘purity balls’ where sons promise their purity until marriage before their mothers – it appears to be always a father/daughter event. But I would have liked to have seen some more exploration here for why Karen wanted it over and done with and why Krissy felt it was annoying to be a virgin. Perhaps there are messages in the culture that contributed to the girls feeling this way? A culture that tells girls they should ‘put out’, pornography-based socialisation into early, even sometimes premature, sexual initiation. There no stories here from girls who felt that it wasn’t easier to say they were a virgin than not. Girls often tell me they pretend they are sexually active for fear of being seen as losers or hung up. A 15-year-old girl I met at a school a couple of weeks ago told me she was considering having sex with a 19-year-old she had met twice because she was being teased for not having had sex yet and feared being labelled a prude. It was clear she wasn’t ready. I didn’t feel there was an adequate representation of stories here because an experience I am told of, over and over and by girls of increasingly younger ages, is pressure to engage in coerced and unwanted sex and regretting first sexual experience characterised often by drunkenness and force. It’s good GF reminds readers that 75% of its readers are not sexually active (according to a survey) and that “If a guy threatens to leave you if you don’t have sex with him, dump him quick-smart. Dude’s a jerk.”
‘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.
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
The two most important articles in this issue are on anxiety and the importance of sleep.
Anxiety appears to be a plague on our girls right now. ‘Feeling anxious? How to deal when your worries take over your life’ looks at the symptoms of anxiety and how to recognise when it is impacting on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis at school, home, work or socialising with friends. Different forms of anxiety include social anxiety, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Girls are encouraged to seek professional help if their anxiety is spiralling out of control. Maise, 16, shares her story of developing a nervous disorder which made her physically ill, with vomiting, panic attacks, crying and shaking. After treatment with a psychologist, her anxiety attacks have ceased. “For anyone out there who is a sufferer, one thing I can say is don’t deny you have a problem, because chances are someone you know is going through the exact same thing. And, most importantly, there is help out there,” says Maise. A related piece is on dealing with stress.
‘Next stop ZZZ Town’ stresses the importance of sleep at a time when all the indicators are that girls just don’t get enough of it – which of course exacerbates anxiety. Teens need nine hours of sleep a night to function well. Says sleep specialist Dr Chris Seton: “If you’re too tired, your mood goes downwards and it affects your learning and ability to remember stuff – lack of sleep is linked to issues like depression, anxiety and suicide”. Sleep shortage is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Girls are advised to: go to bed and wake up at the same time, avoid caffeine from the afternoon onwards, exercise, turn off electronics 45 minutes before going to bed, do something relaxing 45 minutes before bed, open the blinds and be exposed to sunlight as soon as they wake up, have a cool, dark, quiet room and not to sit on their bed to do homework or watch TV – their brain needs to learn that this is a place to sleep. Read more
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
An important article on the health impacts of alcohol
In my talks in schools around the country, I am told distressing stories of alcohol-related harm. Violence, sexual assault, damage to physical and mental health. My friend and colleague Paul Dillon, a drug educator with 25 years experience and founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) hears these stories too. He’s written about this recently here.
We are concerned about the damage being done in an alcohol saturated culture and by an industry which deliberately targets young people by designing, packaging and marketing alcohol in ways attractive to them (see my Sunday Herald Sun piece on this Here.) So it is timely and a positive intervention when a magazine like Girlfriend decides it has to educate its readers on the issue.
‘Drinking this weekend? Read this first’ is a direct piece about the harms of alcohol, especially binge drinking. Describing alcohol as ‘liquid poison’ GF exposes the risks of drinking: brain damage, breast cancer, liver damage, stomach inflammation, pancreatitis, heart disease, nerve damage, weakened bones, damaged skin and death (alcohol causes 13 percent of teen deaths in Australia). Nicola Newton from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre warms that binge drinking increases risk of injury and accidents and makes you do things you’ll regret. Read more
When I speak in schools, I’m often asked for advice on how to help a friend with an eating disorder (and not just girls – a male student ask me in a school in regional NSW recently). So I was really pleased to see the piece ‘Help! My BFF is wasting away before my eyes: How to deal when your bestie has an eating disorder’. Lydia Turner, co-director of BodyMatters , says one in five diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die from the illness, while other types of ED’s like bulimia nervosa are linked to high rates of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. While alarming, it is important for girls to know these harsh facts, especially in light of the raft of on-line pro-ana (anorexia) and pro-mia (bulimia) communities which encourage self-starvation as a life-style choice and post skeletal images as ‘inspiration’ for thinness.
While girls are advised to show patience and compassion, not centering conversations on food and appearance, it is imperative the need for professional help is stressed and GF does this. If the friend with disordered eating refuses to seek help, readers are encouraged to disclose to a trusted adult (such as a school counsellor) regardless – it could save her life. “It is extremely distressing to watch a friend deteriorate before your eyes, but it’s not your responsibility to save her and you don’t have to shoulder this burden alone. You need to let the experts take charge…remember that this is a complicated illness and you cannot deal with it yourself,” GF wisely advises.
Related is ‘Why diets are dumb’ about how fad diets compromise nutrition and health. Deprivation is discouraged in favour of learning to eat in a balanced, healthy way. Specifically addressed is carb cutting (some girls won’t even breathe around carbs let alone eat them) and informed of the benefits of carbs for health. Body detoxing is described as “completely unnecessary and bad for you.” Liver and kidneys perform that job. Skipping meals messes with metabolism and can lead to binging afterwards. Meal replacements are also discouraged, as they don’t allow the full range of foods for long term health. Read more here.
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.”
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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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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.