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
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
Many girls and young women look to girl’s magazines for advice on life, relationships, bodies, health and sexuality. But too often they receive conflicting advice and mixed messages and even, sometimes, outright contradiction.
Take for example, information provided in the sealed section of Girlfriend this month, where, within four pages of each other, two medicos give different information about age of consent laws. A 15-year-old, in a relationship with a boy the same age, enquires about age of consent laws because the two want to have sex. Dr Philip Goldstone replies “generally, if you are both under the legal age of consent, it is still illegal for you to have sex.” However Dr Sally Cockburn, under the heading ‘What if you’re both under the age of consent?’ writes: “If two people are both under the age of consent, but are the same or similar age, and both decide to engage in sexual activities, it’s not a legal issue – as long as there’s no coercion, violence or power imbalance involved. Basically, as long as you’re both in control and making informed decisions, there are no legal problems.” So who is the reader to believe? Isn’t this important enough to get right? How does the editing process work at Girlfriend for a contradiction like this not to be noticed? Girls don’t need confusing advice about where they stand under the law.
Not a matter of legal confusion, but something that is consistent is that I have to comment on the ‘Project You Reality Check’ again like I have to on the equivalent in Dolly. The logo is used so inconsistently I have little choice. On the front cover the ‘Reality Check’ provides the vital information that a tag was removed from fashion girl Kylie’s top and that the water in the background was darkened. Seriously, why bother? Then inside, ‘Style School’ features four girls with the ‘Reality Check’ telling us “We haven’t retouched any of these images – we didn’t need to! All the girls look great just the way they are”. So if that’s the case, does it mean that when girls are airbrushed they didn’t look ‘fine the way they were’? Do some need to be airbrushed while others don’t? Also confusing is that the young women featured are specifically clothed to highlight and play down certain parts of their bodies. For example Alex, 15, is dressed to give “the illusion of longer legs” and a mix of large and small prints “also disguises any unwanted bumps”. Eloieese, 14, is lanky, so given curves and a defined waist and “fuller figured” Gemma, 18, is put “in a peplum top, as it draws attention to the slimmest part of her body – her waist”. No airbrushing – but they are still dressed to give the illusion of something other than what they are, and to hide unwanted bumps. I’m all for the disclosure…but it needs to be consistently applied and align with what else is in the magazine as a whole. Otherwise it loses all meaning. Read article here.
This issue contains an explanation of the ‘Retouch Free Zone’. “DOLLY is all about healthy body image – that’s why we only feature photos of girls that haven’t been altered or ‘perfected’ in any way. Whenever you see this stamp, you know the girls pictured are real and unretouched!”
Wonderful. But if only.
“Whenever you see this stamp”? What if you don’t see it? What does that mean? The declaration does not appear on every image of every female in the magazine. It occurs inconsistently, which raises doubt. Why ‘retouch’ free’ on this one and not this one? And what about the ads? They are never ‘re-touch free’.
Selena Gomes is on the cover. Not a ‘re-touch free’ logo in sight and Selena’s skin is as flawless as the day she was born. Was she re-touched? Don’t readers have a right to know that? A consistent approach would be helpful.
More helpful (though somewhat lightweight) is ‘The 7 deadly sins of facebook’, on online etiquette – how to avoid looking like a stalker, keep control of your online image by setting your privacy settings high (the context is avoid being tagged in ugly pictures of yourself posted by others prior to approval…not so helpful), taking it easy with the ‘like’ button and avoiding angry outbursts.
‘The downside of YOLO’ – the motto ‘You Only Live Once’ and LWWY, ‘Live While We’re Young’ discusses the risks to young people of living by these codes. Dolly asks: “Do these cute shorthand mantras really warrant their sometimes long-term effects?” Psychologist Gemma Cribb says these mottos attempt to justify crazy behaviour regardless of consequences. “When somebody tweets ‘Oh well, YOLO’ it means they’re already aware that their decision might not be sensible.” Another psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, says YOLO can be used as an excuse to deal with peer pressure or embarrassment. “Girls might be pushed into situations that they don’t want to face and instead of saying no, they think ‘What do I have to lose?’”. Rapper Ervin McKinness and four friends were driving in a speeding car when the 21-year-old tweeted: “Drunk…going 120 drifting corners…#YOLO.” Minutes later all were dead. Brain development is discussed. The frontal lobe – responsible for impulse control, problem solving and considering consequences – isn’t properly developed until 25. Girls are advised to think smart rather than by the YOLO mantra. Read more here
At an event in Amsterdam recently, I was ordered by a woman on the stage to take the hand of the woman next to me, who happened to be 76-year-old Hedy d’Ancona, and tell her she was beautiful. This would be more conducive to her self-esteem, apparently, than reminding her that, having served as a minister under two Dutch governments, as a member of the European Parliament, and as chairman of Dutch Oxfam, she was immensely distinguished and I was honoured to be sitting next to her.
Read full article here (including her take-down of the Dove ‘real beauty’ marketing campaign. Greer could have added Dove parent company Unilever’s diet products, cellulite creams and skin whitening creams and its sexist Lynx brand also!)
See also my piece in the Sunday Herald Sun a couple of weeks ago where I argued it was time to replace ‘Love your Body’ campaigns with a ‘Love your Mind’ campaign.
I ASKED a group of Year 12 female students what message they would like me to deliver on their behalf to an advertising conference I was about to address.
Their profound and carefully worded message?
Not exactly poetic. But they were tired of the way advertisers covered the public domain with unrealistic, sexualised, hyper-thin images of women, eroding their self-confidence and self-esteem and making them feel inadequate.
Of course, it’s not just the ad industry. Girls receive distorted messages every day from popular culture, magazines, clothing and music video clips.
New research shows attempts to help girls feel better about themselves don’t work – because there’s no let-up in the barrage of messages telling them they’re not good enough.
Mission Australia’s 11th national Youth Survey – the biggest annual poll of 15,000 people aged 15-19 – found 43 per cent of young women were significantly concerned about body image, which was in their top three concerns.
Mission Australia’s national manager of research Dr Bronwen Dalton echoed what many of us have been saying: current interventions are a failure. “Well-meaning efforts to combat the problem by governments and others have failed to make an impact,” Dr Dalton says.
“Unrealistic and unachievable images of physical perfection seems to have entrenched high levels of concern among young women. Magazines are some of the worst culprits when it comes to feeding young women’s negative views of their bodies.”
There’s too much emphasis on positive self-talk without demanding any changes from those who promote, prey upon and profit from the body dissatisfaction of girls.
Telling girls to repeat over and over “I’m beautiful as I am” isn’t going to cut it.
We have a meaningless body image voluntary code of conduct, with no penalties.
A code with no teeth was always doomed to fail.
That only 15 companies entered the Federal Government’s inaugural body image awards showed what they thought of them.
The winner was Dolly – just after it revived its model competition upholding the body ideals of the global beauty industry.
A runner-up was the Dove Body Think Program. Dove is owned by Unilever, which also owns the Lynx brand, known for its degrading depictions of women. As for the other entrants, we don’t know who they are – I’ve been waiting five months for the list from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
The body image code was claimed to be a world-first attempt to regulate the industries contributing to increased rates of body shame and eating disorders.
Minister Kate Ellis wanted industry professionals to “move beyond the ‘business as usual’ approach and take real action to promote positive body image”.
The aim was to gather the beauty, fashion and advertising industries in a partnership to address the growing problem of body image dissatisfaction. But industry didn’t really care.
Even Mia Freedman, then head of the National Body Image Advisory Group, said the code she helped create has been given the “fashionable middle finger”.
Another problem is that even well-meaning programs still emphasise looks.
Butterfly Foundation’s Stop The Fat Talk campaign encourages girls to love their bodies. For example, they can say “I have a great butt” and “my hips are sexy”.
CAN’T we appreciate their marvellous design and function without falling in love with our bums?
The “love your body” emphasis could create more pressure, implying all women should feel beautiful all the time. I imagine there are a lot of women who don’t feel beautiful – but that’s OK, because beauty shouldn’t have to define self-worth.
Perhaps it’s time for a Love Your Mind campaign to help girls see they are more than their bodies.
One of the advisory group recommendations states: If, after a sustained period of continued developments, there is a broad failure of industry to adopt good body image practices, the Australian Government should look to review the voluntary nature of the code.
We haven’t yet had the “sustained period of continued developments”.
A voluntary approach hasn’t worked, and the Mission Australia results prove it.
Inspiring young women, competitive eating, runaways, how alcohol and smoking harm girls’ skins: some helpful articles in Dolly November 2012
Two issues of Dolly in a row (last one here) about which I’ve found some positive things to say. Perhaps it’s time for Generation Next to find a new reviewer?
‘Dolly All Stars: Introducing this year’s crop of young, talented DOLLY readers!’ contains an inspiring line-up of young women doing good things in the world. Makhala, 19, is a mental health advocate who raises awareness and funds for mental illness, with Young And Well (yawcrc.org.au) and ReachOut.com. Makhala suffered depression and self-harm before she discovered the therapeutic power of horses. Monique, 17, is a youth ambassador for World Vision’s 40 Hour Famine and travelled to Ethiopia. We’re so lucky, she says “to live in a country like Australia. Often we become absorbed in our own world and forget what life’s like for others.” Her ultimate goal is “to see no child go hungry.” Rachael, 18, is an ambassador for the vision-impaired through The Royal Society For the Blind. You may have seen her on The Voice. Legally blind, Rachael “always wanted to prove people wrong. I was told I wouldn’t be able to read or write as well as someone with vision, but I’ve done it.” Jordann [eds: spelling is correct], 18, is an ambassador for Australian Teens Against Animal Cruelty (ataac.org), especially in circuses. Hannah, 16, is an activist against sex trafficking. She took part in Project Futures School Cycle Challenge through Cambodia, raising $40,000 for the Somaly Mam Foundation which rescues sex-trade victims. Project Futures (projectfutures.com) is hosting Somaly Mam in Australia right now actually.
12 y.o ‘Reader of the month’, 13 y.o model finalists…
Girl Mag Watch October 2012
Reading the October issue (yes, I know, just scraping this review in in time) of Girlfriend, I found myself checking the front cover to make sure I’d picked up Girlfriend and not Dolly.
I’m wondering if perhaps Girlfriend is moving in on Dolly’s readership. And, if so, could this see Dolly pitching openly to 9 and 10-year-olds?
The ‘Reader of the Month’ is a 12-year-old: Kayleigh from Queensland. Buying Girlfriend is “my favourite part of the month” she tells us. Girlfriend is “like the teenage-girl handbook” (even for girls who aren’t yet, apparently).
We meet Girlfriend’s Model Search Finalists. While Dolly came in for criticism for reviving its model search, (its winner was 13), Girlfriend’s competition has been ongoing. But Girlfriend’s finalists are in a similar age range to Dolly’s. Under the heading ‘I wanna be a supermodel’ is Georgana, 13, Sharnee, 13, Jade, 15, Jessica, 14, Elizabeth, 14, Molly Grace, 15, and the comparatively older Stephanie, 17.
‘It was a liberating act to throw them away: I had been held captive’
I sat near a girl and her mum in the coffee shop recently. She would have been 10, 12 at most. She had on wedge shoes, tight leggings, a handbag, and flicked her long, blonde hair around like a cast member from Gossip Girl. I was so sad. Where are her running shoes? Why does she care about her hair? Why does she need a handbag? To stash her lipgloss? Where is she learning to dress and behave like this?
The endorsement of profligate spending habits, the lavishing of attention on the self, the preoccupation with other peoples’ lives, the obsession with celebrity, success, money and beauty above all else. Where did these ideas come from? From whence did they germinate and propagate throughout the world in turn telling us, ‘This is the way to look, to act, to be!’?
One might suggest that these are notions as old as Adam. That humankind has always looked to the “other” (beings, things, icons) for validation, security, community and guidance. That stories need to be told to connect us and that the pursuit of upward mobility is a natural state of being. And that the advertising, media and entertainment industries cannily cottoned on because commerce is king.
But never in history has the “image”, of self and of others, been so intensely present, forcing us to compare, assess and validate ourselves by these externalities seen on the screen and in print. In turn, the selves projected out into the world are edited, controlled and Photoshopped, and one’s internal politics are governed increasingly by a conscience distorted.
There need to be options for girls. Most will simply never measure up to TV/celebrity/model standards, the prevailing benchmark for women in our culture, as far as their physicality is concerned (and we know it is a concern: the surveys continue to tell us, but you only have to sit back, listen and observe). These external pressures should not be reason for them to loathe themselves. What is the answer?
One friend of mine, a mother and journalist, has a policy in her home called “bin juice”. If there is ever any negative talk around body image in her home, the immediate response is, “Bin juice!”. She herself, like me, has struggled with body image issues. It is personal; a source of ongoing shame that needs to be negated each time it rears its (ironically) ugly head. Now she will not tolerate “bin juice” in her home. She is starting a new family culture.
Yes, it starts with us.
We all have the potential, in small ways or large-scale, to rail against the culture and create a new status quo. The main problem is the sheer financial power and momentum behind institutions and industries that rely on bodies as a commodity. They are hugely influential in the public sphere. Take the Logies, for instance. What would Australian entertainment’s night of night’s be without the red carpet, the dazzling dresses, the makeup, the glamorous ladies, soon after populating all the magazine pages?
In consuming these images via television, the internet or in the magazines, though it might sound trite, we are participating, to an extent, in the perpetuation of the body-beautiful stereotype, as well as the idea that men can wear the same suit but stand-out because of their personalities, whereas women need to compete on physical points. In this act, their full personhood is essentially stripped of them, while at the same time we create and consume still more unattainable beauty benchmarks.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Round and round on the merry-go-round we go, until our heads are in such a spin that we do not know where we started out: ‘Where is my starting point?’, you might ask. ‘I don’t think I like this ride anymore.’ It’s not the individual women, by virtue of their chosen profession or entertainment associates, who are the problem: it’s the tangled web of industries all vying for our attention, our dollars and our sense. They are experts at captivating us. But we are collectively wising up.
Many women I know, including myself, have a no women’s/celebrity magazines policy in their home. It was a liberating act for me to throw mine away, though the reasons for doing so are manifold (personal, political and spiritual). I had built up a wall of them and I was held captive, oppressed by their sheer presence. For a very long time, I had justified my consuming them (in a way that should require a prescription) on the basis that “I need to be abreast of the culture” and “Hey, I run a media blog!”
Regrettably, because of my own influence, my nieces started to think it was okay to buy them. Girls will always want to emulate those who are closest to them, who show them love and attention. We are approval seekers.
And here’s the rub: I think some women can tolerate exposure to everything the entertainment, pop-culture and media industries can dish up for them with little effect to their personal wellbeing (as far as survey results go, we find there are few). There are others who skip past the culture with barely a sideways glimpse in its direction and carry on with all of life as if it did not exist.
These blessed women have never become indoctrinated into “glossy culture”, with its models and fashionistas and pricey clothes and tips on makeup application and the best new accessories and ‘all-hail-the-celebrity!’. But sometimes in life – like the Goldman Sachs banker who had an epiphany and resigned over the company’s “toxic greed” only to be met with a patronising “Well, durr” in response – there is a reason we enter into it, eventually finding ourselves complicit.
We have not yet seen the proverbial light, and we need to come to our own conclusions, awaken consciousness, about such things to grow as humans, which we are all entitled – indeed, should be encouraged – to do.
Why might someone choose to stew in a culture that benefits them little? That forces one to reflect on their body, their clothing, their achievements, their relationships and feel only inadequacy or anxiety? And that, in turn, causes to project these anxieties onto others? Or to think of others in the same way? To lead them also astray? What turns them into something their childhood selves would have despised or been saddened by?
Like someone possessed to spend their life savings at Star City, perhaps they simply do not value their own life enough, nor see the possibility that they might live a different way. A way that is even more satisfying and gratifying than what the culture is prepared to serve them. But there is an “out” as well as an “in”. You can turn off. Not buy. Bin ‘em. Pick and choose according to who you are and what you value.
The world has an amazing ability to numb our senses, our minds, our hearts into a state of apathy where we are prepared to just accept the status quo and onwards we go or else try to fit into it like a square peg in a round hole. But in order to create change – real, lasting, meaningful, thirst-quenching change – there must be the ability to reason, options to chose from and also the will to pursue that which we have decided is the better choice.
If I am to give up smoking, for example, knowing that it is injurious to myself and those around me, I must know how good it will make me feel to liberate my lungs and receive the appropriate support and edification to give up. If I am to give up eating fast food, then I must learn to love preparing good food for myself and my family and similarly gain knowledge and support where it is lacking. These things can take time. In some peoples’ lives, a “wake-up call”, like a heart attack, a diabetes diagnosis, or the birth of a baby might give us us a new appreciation for how precious life is and the determination to change on a faster schedule.
The former Fox film executive Scott Neeson had a profound experience in this sense and moved to Cambodia to concentrate on philanthropy. But there are some whose vested interest (or blind self-interest) is in keeping our options limited; there are others whose creativity for thinking around the status quo has been limited by the relentless 24/7 news environment or the world of commerce and the fashionable thinking of the day and the internet information exchange.
In order to think outside the culture, and carve out a self-identity apart from it if we feel our real selves have been suppressed, we sometimes need to step out or back for a while and ponder questions such as ‘Is this how I want to live my life?’, ‘Is this helping or hindering me?’, ‘Is there another ‘me’ I would like to be?’.
It must be a conscious decision: we cannot be forcibly pried away. And it does not necessarily require physically removing yourself (for example, you may have a job to hold down). It can be a process of elimination whereby habits and thoughts and feelings are more consciously reflected on. Feelings are fickle things, so it must go deeper than that. There is a “rightness” of heart and mind and soul that comes when you feel you are becoming who you are meant to become (the process may never reach a finite point, but there must surely be this progression).
But while I can escape from the culture, shutting it out or picking and choosing things for consuming, the dominant culture still remains to be absorbed, growing in strength and power. Inevitably, we must enter back into the fray where the world exists (seemingly tilting off its axis), hopefully having learnt something and created for ourselves more solid foundations, a firm sense of self apart from the culture; better equipped to tackle the the lure of the desirables all around us that coo and call in weak moments when vanity and the ego and the desire to be just like everyone else is vying against your better sense.
You are better able to discern the good from the bad; the worthy from the worthless, but we remain imperfectly human, given over to moments of hypocrisy, weakness and relational infidelity (one’s life quest might be to overcome these very things and replace them with sure-footedness, strength and loyalty).
As culture reflects our human progression, too, even those who choose to eschew it because it offends sensibility or triggers some lesser part of themselves to commit an act of personal treason, there are pointers within the culture that alight the collective heart and remind us that, ‘Hey, it’s not all that bad after all’. A story of a victory of humanity over circumstance, like that of Aung San Suu Kyi, or the ANZAC spirit that permeates the news media each year on April 25 come to mind. Such people and events reconnect us with what we truly value as humans; what we value AND what we despise; what we can let go of and what to reprise.
The world is a diverse and interesting, promising and hope-dashing place, and we are all products of upbringing, culture and our times, for better or for worse. None of us is free of the stain of making a mistake, of calling someone out when we were wrong; of daring to think ourselves superior in some way when the truth is that we are vulnerable; most of us have unwittingly, or by choice, fallen prey to the prevailing cultural snares or into the traps of our own shortcomings (they have a habit of playing off each other). All of life must forge forward, and we learn as we go.
But we have to also accept culpability when it is the right thing to do.The turning point in my thinking about the dominant culture for girls came about 2007 when I was a stand-in panellist on the Girlfriend magazine Model Search. (As an aside, in contrast, the Girlfriend of the Year competition, which celebrates girls’ gifts, abilities and talents all the more, has sadly never attracted as much revenue as the lucrative Model Search). On that occasion, after hundreds of hopefuls had ushered past, six finalists were announced.
But two girls shared the same name of the final finalist. Two approached the stage. One was turned away.
I cannot imagine how mortified that girl (whose name I conceal) would have felt that day: a teenager publicly embarrassed because she hadn’t measured up; hadn’t made the cut. I felt immense shame and rage at the injustice of it all, my hands forever stained to have played a part in the stage show. I phoned her mother and we organised for them both to visit.
In the event of this pathetic but earnest consolation, organised as much to appease my ill feelings as to build up the girl’s self-esteem, I was humbled by the humility, willingness and positivity of her and her mother. She shared with me all the good things she was doing in her life, and the positive, affirming way that she’d been raised. Her personality popped and buzzed and fizzed over. To be in her presence was a delight. The world seemed to say, ‘It’s going to be alright’.
But it would be a terrible shame to leave this life thinking that you could have helped to make at least a small change, especially when you yourself had been complicit due to ignorance (and, to this end, we must grant each other some pardon for failing to prevail against circumstances that set the wheels in motion). John Newton knew that, that’s why he penned “Amazing Grace”. I do not like to heap blame on others, to judge or condemn, and in the event that I have in the past, I have nearly always reaped discontentment in return.
When I hear of teen modelling competitions now, I can feel only sadness. Why are we still here? Why hasn’t something changed? Has the talk not been loud enough about the damage such things are doing to girls? Who are we loving more: the images girls are told to aspire to (and the income they generate as they circulate endlessly from magazine to internet and perpetuate over and over again), or the girls whose entry cards end up on the cutting room floor? Have we not loved girls enough to create a sweeping change? Or do we, as a culture, accept that the pretty girl still wins the on the day and that she is an entirely different and superior species or commodity to the regular girl next door?
I wish I could have stopped time and suggested that two girls, not one, sharing the same name would be finalists that day on the Model Search stage. Similarly, I wish I had reached out to that girl in the cafe, and her mother, and said, “Hey, how about we hang out sometime and I’ll show you how to climb a tree or write a poem – pack your backpack and we’ll make a day of it!”. Perhaps I will get that opportunity again some day? Every opportunity lost to tell a girl that there is so much more to her than how she looks, and to show her what life could look like outside the world of celebrity and fashion, is an oversight.
It’s hard for mothers to push back against the culture when they see their girls adopting behaviours and attitudes in conflict with their best intentions. It is a minefield out there. So there must be support from families, schools and teachers, communities, churches and other organisations to help them fight the onslaught with counter-cultural messages, activities and role modelling until the collective consciousness awakens to the damage it is doing, not just today but generationally.
It is a travesty to think that every day there are girls who cannot enjoy who they are or how they look due to external politics and economic self-interests (so expertly articulated by Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth all those years ago) that creep surreptitiously (or ostentatiously, as is the case with reality TV) into her life and subconscious. But I believe this current generation is smart; it’s one that can learn from the mistakes of before and rise above to declare war on that which distorts, robs and plunders their self worth.
As the “starfish story” goes, there is value in changing just one girl, but think of what the world could be if every girl could escape the trappings of culture. To find within herself the strength and self-knowledge to be exactly who she was created to be and to learn to hold onto what’s good while confidently declaring all the rest “bin juice”.
Erica Bartle is editor of GirlWithaSatchel.com and a former deputy editor of Girlfriend magazine. She has tutored in writing at Queensland University of Technology and has written for publications including Eternity newspaper and Sunday Life magazine.
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
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Ruby Who? book and DVD plus Too sexy too soon MTR DVD in one bundle for $120 saving 22% on the individual price.
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
“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.