Girl Talk: Happy anniversary!

Girl Talk: We made it to three! Triple whee!

Loyal GWAS followers might recall my post 'Marriage is like Magda', in which I described the "Les Misérables" skit Husband and I were in the habit of performing for all and sundry in order to deflect the fact that we were well and truly, well, miserable.

Following that post, I was commissioned to write a story for CLEO titled 'What No One Tells You About Marriage', which painted a pretty bleak picture of life after "till death do us part". I broke that down into six pointers: he will treat you like his mother; you marry his family and his ex-baggage; men want sex ALL the time; it's all about the "in-betweens"; and you must invest. Of course, I concluded on an upbeat note: "you may even find it within yourself to laugh at his fart jokes". Some people were aghast, but it was absolutely a projection of our growing pains.

Now, I'm happy to report that three years into this crazy thing they call marriage, we are going great-guns (less guns blazing, more peace fire). In a sort of ironic turn of events, life literally conspired to tear us down (career burnout, financial issues, health issues, people issues), but rather than run away or turn on each other, we rolled with the punches together. Playing different roles but on the same team, we talked long and deep and prayed hard (and occasionally bit our tongues). Like Princess Buttercup and Wesley facing the fire swamp and defeating Prince Humperdinck (see The Princess Bride), adversity, it would seem, turned our marriage around. That, the grace of God, and a little thing called The Marriage Course.

A few months ago, we agreed to join two other couples (one with three children; the other with a baby on the way) in a marriage course called, yes, The Marriage Course! We met each Wednesday night for seven weeks to watch a DVD, complemented by a workbook (which Husband doodled all over – symbolically defacing our marriage!), and discuss our "issues" together. While Husband still declares the whole process was a patronising exercise in Wasting Time (he being the marriage expert and all), I know we gained a lot of insight into our inherent differences, needs, desires and hopes, and how we can adopt practical measures to keep the love alive. The top three things I learned?

1. That looking after myself is one of the best investments into our marriage I can make. My happiness = husband happiness. Obviously, my eating disorder had a drastic impact on the health of our marriage – like an addiction or infidelity, it crept in between us and created a vast chasm. Closing that gap has been tough. Really tough. But, as Husband said to me: "You don't have the choice of going through this alone." For him, it's meant trying to understand, learning to be empathetic and being patient; for me, it's been a willingness to let him in to help me heal. I've also had to turn my mentality from victim to victor: taking that dance class, eating well, sleeping well, pursuing friendships, getting career satisfaction, buying that new dress... it's all part of becoming whole again.

2. That we need to spend quality time together OFTEN, which does not include being in the same room attached to our Apple Macs. Husband and I are both workaholics. Not for financial gain or status, but because we're passionate about our work and living out our life purposes. No matter the motive, if work takes over, there's another wedge in your marriage. Sometimes the wedge is deliberate: rather than deal with our problems, we'd burrow further into our respective jobs. While we have more boundaries about our home office now, we're working towards moving our office space off campus. And, shock horror, having no internet connection at home! We're also aiming to pursue joint interests, do new things and take more mini-breaks to keep from burning out (again).

3. That love is about putting yourself in your partner's shoes... even if they're big and clumpy and uncomfortable. Going camping is something Husband loves, so agreeing to do such activities is a way for me to ensure I'm doing my part for his happiness and to make him feel loved. Alternately, he loathes stinky old bookshops and going to the ballet, but knows they make me happy. Selflessness is a really hard thing to achieve, especially in a society that deems you're only as good as your last great career achievement, your wardrobe, your body weight and even how much time/money you gave to charity. The onus is on "being our best selves" but often we forget that the best way to be our best is to perform selfless acts for other people. Even our spouses. Part of this is learning to speak your partner's "love language" (I'm a mad gift-giver but gifts barely register on Husband's joy radar).

Oh, and then there's sex. That came up a lot. It's closely related to points #1, 2 and 3! Who'd have thought marriage would be SUCH HARD WORK?

Husband and I celebrated our third anniversary today with coffee, macaroons and friands at Hart's Cafe on Mount Tamborine (owned by Pro Hart's son, Kym, and his wife Debbie, if you're curious – thank you for the special treatment, guys!).

Tomorrow he goes on tour with the JC Epidemic crew before departing for China for a week of show riding (he be a freestyling motocross madman). For the first time, I'm not afraid to say out loud that I will miss him and that I prefer having him around. No kidding.

Artwork by Olivia, our 3-year-old niece.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS: The Clippings Post

Favourite clippings lovingly gleaned from newspapers, supplements, local press and magazines...

Garance Doré is the fashion world's answer to the book publishing scene's Elizabeth Gilbert. Her blog, Une Fille Comme Moi (“A girl like me”) has the same cult status as Eat, Pray Love (for dedicated fashionistas, it's a daily spiritual experience), her work is revered by the likes of Anna Wintour (the glossy world's reigning Oprah) and, like Gilbert, she met her true love while pursuing her art (her partner is The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman... as if you didn't know).

A gifted illustrator, photographer and impeccable dresser, Dore elicits the same girl crush vibes as Gilbert, and almost as much press coverage. Just this week her misconstrued comments about plus-size models were picked up by The Huffington Post, while British ELLE commissioned her to produce a subscriber-only illustrated cover of Demi Moore for its May issue.

Dore also garnered press coverage this week for her collaboration with Australia's Westfield chain of shopping centres, for which she has produced a series of illustrations inspired by eight Australian designers to be shown in an exhibition titled Garance Dore: Winter with Westfield Installation (open for a month from April 28). Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald's Essential Style supplement, Natasha Silva-Jelly relays the blogger's thoughts on Australian style ("easy and relaxed") and working with Westfield ("total artistic freedom"). Grazia's Tamara Davis also covered the story in "Vive la Garance": "The very funny, very French Garance is bringing her camera, her boyfriends... and her unique art here as part of an exciting exhibition for Westfield."

It would seem Dore leads a sort of fairytale existence where fashion, passion and personality co-exist harmoniously, but not without dashes of reality and humour, a quality which also endeared women to Gilbert. A recent diary update of hers reads:

"I just spent a week locked up working in my house. I’m totally washed out and I kinda look like a B.O.B., the blob from Monsters vs. Aliens, but I don’t care, I put on a touch of red lipstick and get myself up to go celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the TV show Habillées Pour… I’m going because I love that show, and because I want to give a kiss to Mademoiselle Agnès, Loïc Prigent, Mélinda Triana, and everyone else who have brought style to my living room for the past 10 years."

How to contribute to The Clippings Post:

1. Scan in your clipping (single page is preferable – no 6000-word essays from The Monthly: we don't want to fall asleep).
2. Email clipping in JPG or PDF format to
3. Provide credits (publication, date, author/photographer/illustrator/stylist).
4. Explain why you enjoyed the column/story/page layout/illustration/image/styling.
5. Supply mailing address so you can be duly rewarded with a plump new book for your bedside table.
6. Stay tuned to see if your clipping made the cut.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Glossy Talk: O The Oprah Magazine's 10th Anniversary Issue

Glossy Talk: O The Oprah Magazine's 10th Anniversary Issue, the unauthorised biography and populist, positive spirituality

Oprah Winfrey is so revered amongst her media peers that Kitty Kelley, the notorious celebrity biographer, was reportedly met with the resounding sound of slamming doors as she went about researching her latest unauthorised tell-all, Oprah - A Biography, which was published in the US on Monday (coming soon to Oprah's Book Club reading list... not).

This is in stark contrast to the impressive names surrounding Oprah's picture in support of the 10th anniversary issue of her eponymous magazine: Elizabeth Gilbert, Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Phil, Diane Sawyer... these are just some of the issue's contributors, who together with other powerful supporters (she backed Barack Obama; Michelle appeared on a cover with her), stand in testament to the persuasive pull of the Queen of Media.

O The Oprah Magazine sells around 2.5 million copies a month. To what can we attribute its success? Well, there's the TV show, syndicated in 145 countries and watched by 50 million Americans each week alone, which winds up production in September next year (she'll host a new show, Oprah's Next Chapter, on her OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network).

Taking the daytime talk-show genre out of the gutter, The Oprah Winfrey Show has catapulted Tom Cruise off a couch, put women's and social justice issues on the agenda (and free things under the chairs of audience members) and laid books like Eat, Pray, Love on the bedside tables of women the world over (coming to a cinema screen starring Julia Roberts soon!). That sort of reach doesn't go astray.

But behind the show, there's the lady, who appeals just as much to high-powered women working in corner offices as her daytime TV audience. Her philosophy of "living your best life" and "living authentically" has an almost universal appeal (albeit indulgently bourgeoisie). "We've just capitalized on what she stands for," Hearst Magazines' Cathie Black told Brandweek after the successful launch in 2000.

O The Oprah Magazine took spirituality mainstream by creating "mainstream spirituality". Her detractors, like the authors of O God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality, have accused her of taking Christian traditions and mixing them with other ideas about spirituality to create "a hodgepodge of personalised faith", as apposed to subscribing to the Bible's teachings. Writing for Brandweek after Oprah gave The Secret airtime, Matthew Grimm said she "never met a hackneyed, feel-good gimmick she could not pimp."

Oprah's focus on personal growth puts women in control of their own lives, and their "inner lives", wrestling away the notion of abiding by didactic religious rules. Instead, her magazine offers a blueprint for living: "I've sometimes thought that our purpose here at O is to offer recipes for living – and this month we've gone all out, gathering advice from ten of our favoruite experts to help you make the years ahead healthy, wealthy and wonderful," she writes in her editor's letter. Health, wealth and joy are all within your reach – you just have to reach harder.

A large part of Oprah's appeal is her willingness to share her battles. The magazine has charted her weight struggles, with the January 2009 issue feature "I'm mad at myself..." garnering the most reader letters and inspiring stories in more than 900 media outlets, including The New York Times, People and Jimmy Kimmel Live. On May 9, she'll be mobilising the masses for a 'Live Your Best Life' walk to raise money for charity, "because giving back should feel good".

Her generous spirit and commitment to altruism underwrites the commercial nature of her media empire. Which is not to say world domination and money making are her motives: far from it. "When we started this magazine, I had no expectations," she writes. "I was clueless about the business of magazine publishing. Sometime during the first few months, I actually said to our then editor in chief, 'Maybe we should lose some of the ads. There are just too many of them.' I was immediately set straight on that point. We exist because of the ads. 'Oooookay.'"

Despite a string of editors, each one navigating their way between Oprah and Hearst, the magazine has perfected its editorial offering of expert columnists (Martha Beck is the columnist 35% of readers would most like to have a coffee with, followed by Dr. Phil), health and lifestyle features, makeover stories, no-fuss fashion and beauty pages, celebrity interviews (often conducted by Oprah herself), tales of heroism and triumph over adversity, uplifting affirmations and product placements.
"Oprah's Midas touch turns every product that she recommends into an overnight sensation, every book a bestseller and every product a must-have," wrote Mark Riddix for Forbes earlier this year.

But will her soothing brand of populist, feel-good spirituality, permissive morality, good deeds and self-empowerment through control of one's relationships, weight, career, style, face and bank account continue to resonate with women? In the absence of a more influential alternative, it's likely. But is it enough? Will we ever be enough?

"She rekindles hope and renews the spirit of those who have given up on their dreams, but some women whose attempts at self-reform have fallen short time and time again recognize the limitations of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps," writes Janice Shaw Crouse for Concerned Women for America. "Some women recognize the necessity for a theological framework to ground faith. Those women doubt that "feeling good" is a sufficient roadmap for spirituality."

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS Girl In Media - Louise Bell

In March this year, former magazine creative director and self-described "decor junkie" Louise Bell parlayed her passion for spotting trends into a store selling the coveted pieces she felt were mostly inaccessible to middle income earners.

So, and a burgeoning blog of the same name, was born. Here Louise chats about Doc Martens, airbrushing with abandon and managing the mother-load...

Where did you grow up and what were your
childhood interests? I grew up in Durban, South Africa, and we immigrated to Sydney, Australia when I was 12. I was interested in the usual stuff, but was very obsessive about the appearance of my dolls – I kept their little knitted bonnets firmly in place to avoid messed up hair, and my Cindy doll slept in a lucite/perspex tissue box. Music also featured heavily. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was the first song I ever obsessed over, followed closely by "Walking on Sunshine" and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". I would have been about seven or eight years old.

Who/what were some of the key influences and inspirations in your formative years? I feel fortunate to have been a teen at a time when the world was discovering both "The Supermodel" and "Grunge". And I embraced both, wholeheartedly. I had both a subscription to (US) Harper's Bazaar and pair of 10-hole "Cherry Docs" in Year 10. Fashion magazines and music videos were my life. Actually, not much has changed since then.

High-school: did you love it or loathe it? Loved, loved, loved. I had a hugely positive high school experience, and regularly catch up with at least 10 close friends. I particularly enjoyed Biology, and also Art – Pam and Daphne, my art teachers, were absolute gurus; they were passionate beyond speech. My Year 12 Art Major Work was selected for Art Express and exhibited in the Art Gallery of NSW, which is testament their dedication as teachers.

Travel, university... how did your post-school life pan out? I studied a Bachelor of Design for four years straight after high-school, which meant long hours and stacks of hard work. I wanted to chuck it in on day two! On a brighter note, I won a trip to London to see Lenny Kravitz live at Wembley Stadium whilst studying one weekend. I had Triple M on and called up for one of their "Rock-tober" promotions. I took a friend, and we travelled to San Francisco, Rome, Florence, Paris and London, of course. It was incredible.

How did you get your start in the creative field? One requirement of my degree was that we undertake industry experience for four days a week in our final year. I was fortunate (after many unsuccessful applications) to land an internship at Dolly magazine. It was unpaid initially, but after a couple of months, they started paying me, which was a complete and unexpected bonus.

What direction did you take from there? As my Dolly internship was coming to an end, I landed a job as a graphic designer at Australian Good Taste magazine. But the editor of Dolly at the time, the very lovely Susie Pitts, was determined to keep me at ACP, so she did a quick ring around, and I was subsequently offered the job of junior designer at Cosmopolitan magazine. From there, I worked very closely with Mia Freedman, and moved up the ranks to become Deputy Art Director, Art Director, Creative Director, and later Creative Director of Cosmopolitan as well as Cleo and (once again!) Dolly.

Which roles have you enjoyed the most? I have enjoyed it all, but for a passionate graphic designer, the role of a Deputy Art Director is usually ideal in the sense that you are free to literally design pages all day. The Junior Designer is often doing a good share of menial tasks (saving images from disks, filing, etc.) and the Art Director is often consumed with deadlines, attending numerous meetings and designing the cover each month (an often painfully lengthy process).

Tell us about your role overseeing the creative direction of Dolly, Cleo and Cosmo. What did that involve and how did you differentiate each magazine's aesthetic direction? Having worked alongside Mia Freedman for so many years, I was fortunate that when she was announced as Editor in Chief of the three titles, I was offered the (newly created) role of Creative Director of all three. Maintaining the separate aesthetics wasn't as difficult as you might imagine. They all had their own unique identities and philosophies and this, coupled with three different "font packs" (the typefaces used by each mag) made for a relatively smooth running machine. Being highly organised was key, but managing three different deadlines, approving every single page layout, plus designing three covers a month certainly kept things... "colourful"!

The recent trend towards going sans
Photoshop: faddish tokenism or welcome trend? Without question, faddish tokenism. But that's just my opinion. And have you noticed how 'sans photoshop' on a cover simply means "no lipstick or mascara"?

But do you think things have gotten out of
hand? Absolutely, I do, and I think 90% of the time we aren't even aware of retouching. It's only when it's done poorly that people start talking. But, that said, it's the same argument as "Models should be fatter". People are asking for something I don't believe they truly want to see.

What limits did you attempt to stick to? I was an art director at a time where retouching or "airbrushing", as it was called on the olden days(!), was a very new technology. And Mia and I just went for it! We literally did as much as we could get away with – different heads on bodies; you name it.

Are Australian art directors' hands more tied than their overseas counterparts with regards to access to images? Of course – we simply don't shoot as much, and you have every women's lifestyle mag bidding on the one shoot of, say, Cameron Diaz. Cosmo was fortunate to have access to all the US Cosmo covers, which was great. We used them at least 50% of the time. Cleo was harder, as they were competing for cover shoots with the Marie Claires and Madisons. Dolly was even harder still – you could only get PR approval for the super young celebs, and if you wanted someone even slightly older, like Rachel Bilson, say, the cover usually went to an "older" mag like CLEO.

Why did you choose to leave? I didn't. I was made redundant in November 2009 and, at risk of sounding like a cliche, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. If I wasn't made redundant, I simply wouldn't have had the opportunity to make such a drastic career change. So I feel very fortunate. Life has only just begun.

You now manage your store and your blog ( and family life... how do you do it all? I honestly don't know! My son is in first grade, and my daughter is looked after four days a week, so that's a bunch of time I have to keep things chugging along nicely. My blog traffic has more than quadrupled in the past couple of months, so that also tends to fuel the fire! The hardest part is making dinners, washing, picking up toys, tidying rooms...

What does an average day involve for you?
7am: Wake up. 7.30am: Get up and check emails, check site traffic, moderate comments. Cup of tea and toast. Shower. 8am: Get Anoushka up (Jasper is already up drawing/building Lego), make kids breakfast and dress them. 9am: Take kids to school/daycare, grab a takeaway coffee on the way home. 9.30am: Settle in to emails, blogging, packing orders, etc. What ever requires my attention. 5-7.30pm: Kids, kids, kids. Any mother will tell you the dinner/bath/bed bit is the busiest time of day by a country mile! 7.30pm: Cup of tea and a magazine or back on the net for more blog inspiration/education. I have so much to learn, and use the evenings for "homework".

Where do you get your inspiration? Everywhere. The colour of a pear at the fruit shop, the fabric of the dress worn by the little Italian lady that shuffles up our street every day, a page in a magazine, a comment left on my blog, a story in the newspaper. What my eyes can see, inspires me. Constantly.

What are some of your favourite magazines and blogs?

Fave decor blog: Absolutely Beautiful Things. Brisbane-based Anna Spiro has been an enormous influence since the minute I discovered her blog about three years back. She has such a great eye for style. Sometimes I think she just cheats and reads my mind!
Fave food blog: 101 cookbooks. Gorgeous food with a (mostly) healthy slant. Heaven.
Fave fash blog: Apart from the usuals (The Sartorialist etc), Definitely Golden ( is positively dreamy.
Fave mag: Right now, I'm totally hot for Vogue Living. And Inside Out. And Real Living!
Fave online mag: Lonny ( Co-founded by one of the Editors of the now defunct, Domino magazine, it picks up pretty much where Domino left off, and has every single interiors blogger squealing with delight on a regular basis.

Who have been some of your mentors? Pat Ingram and Mia Freedman were not only my mentors, but also my Fairy Godmothers, and my confidants. To have worked under just one of them would have been enough, but I had the good fortune of learning the ropes from, and having the support of both of them.

hat is the common, philosophical theme that underpins your work? You will always find me attempting to improve the appearance of something, one way or another. It's as simple as that. Without my eyes, I would be nothing.

If you could create your own magazine, what would it feature and look like? It would feature decor (colourful, practical, stylish), fashion (chic, affordable, flattering) and food (nutritious, easy, interesting). And it would look like a party you wish you'd been invited to!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Mags: InsideOut Turns 10!

Glossy Talk: InsideOut Turns 10

"Inside Out launched in April 2000, a home-grown Australian title with an eye for beauty and a brain for practicality," writes editorial director Karen McCartney in the magazine's 10th anniversary May/June 2010 issue ($7.95, out today).

"We wanted to show homes that inspired our readers and then tell them how to do it: how to japan-black a floor, source the artwork or have a sofa covered. We wanted to be modern and relevant, trustworthy and resourceful, inspirational and good to look at... and I think we have achieved all of the above."

Since its re-design last year, the mag has upped its sales figures – further proof that a few tweaks keep mag-stand browsers on their toes! But if any issue were to typify McCartney's assessment of the News Magazines bi-monthly, it's the anniversary issue.

Past the tea-towel gift and funky modern cover (there's a subscriber-only cover designed by British artist Rob Ryan, too – see right; it looks sort of like a postage stamp), there's a splendour of celebratory editorial content all packaged up in layouts to please the most finicky of home stylists.

While InsideOut appeals to the upper end of the household set (like advertisers are interested in people with no money!), it doesn't have the sterile, snooty feel of some design publications – nor is it patronising. Though not as nextdoor-neighbourly as category leader Better Homes and Gardens, it's generally warm and inviting, showing us around the homes of its friends and utilising its Little Black Book of contacts for optimum credibility. If InsideOut were a home, it would reside in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs or Melbourne's Toorak.

From the gushing contributors' panels to the endearing pull-quote by architect Zahava Elenberg on the contents page ("I don't think you have to cordon off parts of life from one another, with kids having one set of standards and you having another"), we're off to a good start.

My favourite features include:
- 'Style Ideas That Never Date', two pages of expert suggestions laid out in bitsy, multi-font format;
- 'Australian Style', a glimpse into four homes with different aesthetics (Lee Mathews is a bit of a girl crush of mine);
- the 'books & blogs' page (which sounds like less of a sell, more of a show-and-tell using titles 'Books We're Reading' and 'Blogs We're Loving');
- Lee Tran Lam's story on Rob Ryan (her writing is like opening a Christmas present);
- the anniversary homewares trend pages (the rustic styling by Glen Proebstel is gorgeous, but I was just as intrigued to know what one gives on their 3rd wedding anniversary...leather);
- 'Playful placemats': simple flat-lay styling, the "whimsical" pieces speak for themselves. Why shouldn't the dinner table look fun?;
- love Lainey George's description of artist David Bromley: "the peripatetic, insomniac artist who is legendary for channelling excess energy into the crumbling edifice [who] won't be drawn into talk about the pragmatics of space and plan." Features like the one on Bromley's home are accompanied by a two-page 'In Detail' spread helping readers to source similar items. Clever.
- 'Tailor-Made Living' is a profile piece on fashion stylist Nicole Bonython-Hines, who's quite well known in glossy circles. In the opening spread, she wears a bright Marni outfit complimented by a mood-board of magazine pages. Together with husband Peter, she has renovated a former childcare centre to create a family home for their five children (washable sofa covers essential);
- the Eijffinger and Pip Studio wallpaper, page137, which features Christmas card, storybook and religious motifs;
- 'Desktop', styled by Vanessa Colyer Tay – seven pages of work desk ideas. Love, love, love!
- the Love travel guides featured page 180 come in a linen envelope ("smitten from the start");
- the last page, featuring Karen McCartney's top 10 stories from the past decade, more for her insights on what works best in her magazine than the stories themselves.

Of course, McCartney hands the editorial reigns over to Richard Waller in mid-May. What a fantastic legacy to leave behind.

Congratulations to the team!

The magazine is holding an auction of the 36 items that appear in its 'Art Market' spread to raise money for HeartKids. Bookmark the mag's blog here.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Lad mags only part of the problem

Glossy Talk: Lad mags only a part of the problem re. the sexualisation of young girls. Also: Can smart young girls make a difference?

Like so many girls raised in the 80s, it was Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret – borrowed numerous times from the library and read beneath bed covers – that introduced me to the concept of boobs, periods, bras and Playboy.

When Margaret moves to New Jersey, she befriends Nancy Wheeler who, on their first encounter, tells Margaret, "In a few years I'm going to look like one of those girls in Playboy." Nancy is in the habit of practising kissing, applying lipstick and reveals that "all boys of fourteen are... only interested in two things – pictures of naked girls and dirty books!".

Nancy educates Margaret in what to wear ("wear loafers but no socks"), and the now-famous way to increase one's bust size:

"If you ever want to get out of those baby bras you have to exercise," she told us.
"What kind of exercise?" Gretchen asked.
"Like this," Nancy said. She made fists, bent her arms at the elbow and moved them back and forth sticking her chest way out. She said, "I must – I must – I must increase my bust... We copied her movements and chanted with her. "We must – we must – we must increase our bust!"

At one afternoon meeting of the 'Pre-Teen Sensations', the group headed by Nancy, Margaret is persuaded to find her father's Playboy magazine: "I mean, if it was so wrong, my father shouldn't get it at all, right?", reasons Margaret. The girl in the middle of the magazine is eighteen and has "huge" breasts: "She looks out of proportion!" observes Margaret before the Pre-Teen Sensations finish up with 50 rounds of bust exercises (in stark contrast to what the Baby-Sitter's Club girls were doing with their time!).

After Margaret has an encounter with Philip Leroy during a game of Two Minutes in the Closet, the sixth-grade girls watch a film on menstruation called What Every Girl Should Know "brought to you courtesy of the Private Lady Company". Margaret's not buying in: "The booklet recommended that we use Private Lady sanitary supplies. It was like one big commercial. I made a mental note never to buy Private Lady things when and if I ever needed them."

Who would have thought that insecure Margaret, with her desperation to get her period and bigger boobs, would have been so savvy and cynical about advertising messages... and yet so detached about what she saw in Playboy ("objectification" was clearly not part of her 12-year-old vocabulary)? The book was first published in 1978 – I wonder if a 32-year-old Margaret would deem that Playboy encounter as a turning point in the construction of her self-image?

This week's Aussie media buzz around the campaign designed to get adult magazines and soft porn material out of the eyesight of children, backed by an esteemed group of signatories, argues that the publications are contributing to the sexualisation of children. The group sees the lad mags and porn titles as part of a broader cultural problem in which society is all too relaxed about the exposure of children to messages and images deemed suitable only for adults.

"The lads' mags are part of the whole problem, contributing to the wallpapering of the public domain with hypersexualised images," says author and women's rights advocate Melinda Tankard Reist. "I do believe they contribute to the sexualisation of children."

In response, Australia's biggest magazine publisher ACP, which is responsible for Ralph, FHM, Zoo, The Picture and People, has acknowledged stricter enforcement measures might need to be implemented, though sees no need for a ban. PBL Media's Scott Briggs, who oversees regulatory affairs for ACP, has also denied the use of younger looking models and pointed to the proliferation of porn on the internet, while the "religious right" has come under attack from Australian Penthouse.

It's a contentious issue that's really snowballing in the media sphere right now, as the Hey Dad child sex abuse revelations and Lara Bingle photo scandal linger in the back of our collective memories. Atrocities against women are prolific in the Aussie public sphere. How did we get here? Or did we never really progress past those oppressive, shag-in-the-wagon scenes depicted in films like Puberty Blues?

From where I'm sitting, the lad mags, whose influence is undeniably dwindling (as discussed by Nik Howe at mUmbrella today), are only a part of the problem. Video clips, advertising, radio ads for erectile dysfunction, fashion's obsession with youth, marketing to tween girls and boys, Suri Cruise in $500 shoes, Lady Gaga on her telephone, former High-5 members on the cover of Ralph, 13-year-old girls being violent and foul-mouthed in films like Kick-Ass, and the omnipresence of the big scary internet... it's a minefield of sexualised messages out there for parents raising children.

All the research would suggest that premature sexualisation leads to complications in later life. Tankard Reist's most recent book, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, presents 15 compelling essays to awaken our consciousness, challenge our thinking and take action in this regard. She has also set up Collective Shout, an agitator group designed to expose advertisers, marketers and media that objectify women and sexualise children to sell products and services.

There’s no doubting that parents and family are the primary influencers in a young girl’s life, but they are competing with a monolithic machine intent on corrupting childhood. How can we change things? This book is a start, particularly Julie Gale’s empowering chapter, ‘One woman’s activism: refusing to be silent’, in which she records the progress she’s been able to make though Kids Free 2B Kids. In another chapter, Tania Andrusiak, author of Adproofing your kids: Raising critical thinkers in a media-saturated world (Finch Publishing, 2009), writes:

"Getting real is going to take courage. It's going to take a collaborative effort to reject a mainstream view that values only one size, one shape, one demure pout... Courage is the spunky eleven-year-old girl who told me how advertisers wanted girls like her to feel inadequate without the brands they sold in girls' magazines – and who hated the way they made her feel as if buying these brands would make her loved, rather than lonely, in the school playground...".

Perhaps the power is in the hands of the Margarets of the world, who should be encouraged to speak up when they think something's just not right – whether in the presence of a body bully like Nancy or the local newsagent who places FHM right next to her Pony Magazine.

Further reading homework! See also:
- Put soft porn out of view: experts
- Call for soft porn curbs rejected
- Girl Talk: Has toddler fashion inspiration gone too far?
- Girl Power in the satchel (Living Dolls by Natasha Walters)
- Get porn out of the corner store (Melinda Tankard Reist)
- Me vs raunch culture. Or not. (Mia Freedman)
- Lost youth: turning young girls into sex symbols (The Guardian)
- Tiny Tots, High Heels
- The Kids Are Taking Over (Playlist)

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel