Faith Talk: He who cast the first stone

Faith Talk: He who cast the first stone

It's been rather amusing observing the verbal joust between John Howard and his former Treasurer via the nation's press, with Howard's political memoir, Lazarus Rising, the talk of the town. Aussies are famous for sledging – on and off the field –  so let's take a moment to reflect on one of my favourite kick-butt Jesus moments in the Bible, which is quite pertinent as far as civility is concerned.

As the story goes, the Pharisees and scribes bring a woman before Jesus who has committed (and been caught in the act of) adultery and is to be stoned for her crime. When confronted by these men of standing, he bends down to the ground, draws a line in the sand, and says, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

The consciences of the men got the better of each of them and one by one they walked away from Jesus and the woman, their heads hanging in shame. Guilty as charged. When they had all gone, he said to her, "Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?" She said, "No man, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." (John 8:1-11)

To my mind, there are a few lessons* we can take from Jesus' teaching here but for the purposes of this post, there are two: the idea that no matter our rank in life, we are all guilty of sin in its various guises; and that being quick to judge and/or point the finger at others is the fastest way to bring disrepute on ourselves. Hypocrisy stinks.

Belittling others and bignoting ourselves is a common trap in a culture that requires us to stand out from the pack and strive for success. Being the bigger man (even when you are physically the smaller man) takes a dose of humility often in conflict with a culture of meritocracy commensurate with financial gain.

To sit back and watch as others claim our ideas as their own, be promoted to positions of prestige as we languish at the lower rungs on the corporate ladder or achieve what we hoped was within our own grasp is frustrating and often infuriating.  

But what often gets lost in the wake of this (often futile) climb towards self-fulfillment or aggrandisement are a peaceful conscience and a reputation for being a person of integrity. 

I'm no saint: I'm often tempted to refute, have a go or counter someone else's opinion; to take offense, get uptight or anxious and retaliate. But dibber-dobbering and whingeing are not particularly becoming traits. I've always felt petty and silly in the process when I've succumbed, and regretted these ramblings on reflection.

In some circumstances, something must be said: a gross injustice, crime or slight against a loved one might be cause for a defense of some sort (I encountered a woman recently who is still deeply resentful of a journalist who tainted her son's professional reputation).

Constructive criticism is also often warranted, in the right place and at the right time, if we could do with cleaning up our act in some area of our lives. But defending your own reputation – or your professional choices – takes serious consideration.

What is to be gained? Is this something that should be confined to the pages of a diary under lock and key, a therapist or a good friend? Or should it be aired for all and sundry to read?

Understanding that not everyone will like us is a valuable primary school lesson; but learning to tolerate, and even love others, in spite of their opinions of you takes a whole lot of humility. Additionally, acknowledging that behind every closed door is a darkness requires maturity. And saying, "You were right, I was wrong; I'm sorry," takes guts.

Howard and Costello can have their public jousting match, and we will be privy to the odd sledging on the cricket pitch this season, but nothing makes a man look smaller than pettiness, particularly when he/she is far from perfect themselves.

"A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult." (Proverbs 12:16)
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." (Luke 6:37)

* The idea that the woman, and not her adulterating partner, were brought before him is another post under 'Feminism'!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS Note: A TV Hits Clarification

GWAS Note: A TV Hits Clarification

Well, this is awkward.

While the bi-monthly TV Hits magazine will no longer grace the stands amongst the Rolling Stones and Jmags, word from Pacific Magazines is that the brand will live on in one-shot specials, like the recently published Short Stack tour guide, which was a resounding success.

In even better news, there is soon to be a TV Hits Rip N Stick poster book in newsagents, which should please Liz no end (and I'm a sucker for a sticker).

So, R.I.P., to the mag and long live the one-shot.

Good times, indeed.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Pop Talk: TV Hits R.I.P.

Pop Talk: TV Hits R.I.P.

While this iconic magazine didn't quite make it to its 23rd birthday, drowned out in a mosh pit of entertainment blogs, self-made YouTube stars, MySpace pages and reality TV show forums, it has left a lasting impression on a generation weaned on its pop-culture packed pages, cover mounted treats and JTT posters. Liz Burke takes us on a trip down a memory lane to the tune of Hanson.

Always the aspirational reader, I think I was begging my mother for my first issue of TV Hits before I got my pen license. Foregoing a cream bun and an icy pole at the tuckshop to invest in the mag and gain a glimpse into the programs I wasn't allowed to watch became a minor obsession.

Party of Five was at its peak of popularity and strictly off-limits at home, but I knew the answers to what older family friends and cousins were fussing over lay within pages behind the beautiful black and white Neve Campbell cover.

After a sneaky trip to the newsagent and a close study of every fact and tidbit in the special issue, the cover was quickly transferred with authority over to a Social Studies exercise book. A clueless kid had quickly become an aficionado of all things Salinger.

It wasn't just a thirst for knowledge that saw the iconic newsstand staple constantly creep its way into mum's shopping trolley on after school trips, causing many an argument at the Coles checkout. Peeling out perforated posters with an aim to plaster one's bedroom in pop royalty was most satisfying. The generously sized glossy posters were the best, my youthful exuberance directed at building up a bedroom wall JTT shrine in their honour.

Movie star and musical obsessions rotated as quickly as the magazine's fortnightly turnaround – how very Gen Y. Alicia Silverstone, Mariah Carey, Scott Wolf, Craig David, Usher, Nick Carter, and Joshuas Jackson and Hartnett each had their time in the spotlight and were meticulously profiled to the point where everyone in school knew their favourite foods, the names of their siblings and, of course, their star signs and who they shared their birthdays with.

I think it was also TV Hits that bore the shocking news to many red-faced Gen-Yers that brotherly trio Hanson were not the all-girl group we thought they were.

Products of a pre-Google upbringing remember waiting by the radio all night long with one finger on record for that one song to come on. Top 30 hits were then looped over and over in attempt to osmosise the lyrics, which often involved resorting to stopping the tape after every line to record tricky phrases – don't worry, it wasn't just you!

How else were we to know how S.O.A.P partied? Toward which direction Cleopatra was comin' (turns out it was "atcha", not "out there"), or Billie Piper's laissez faire philosophical reasoning (because we want to)?

The God-sent cut-out lyrics cards that highlighted four of the month's biggest hits were included in every issue, and saved a whole lot of pause, rewind and transcribe time for me and my dusty pink Sony Walkman. Anthems from All Saints, 5ive, Backstreet Boys and Mandy Moore are ingrained in all of our memories and we have Australia's only teen entertainment mag to thank.

Another memorable souvenir was the TV Hits yearly diary. While not an acceptable school planner, the colourful ring-bound organiser was to be carried at all times behind grid books and Kent sets. Although the diary was mainly used to chart crushes and study the celebrity trivia and quizzes that lay between the brightly covered covers, I can't imagine we had that many important dates to remember in those early teen years.

While the final issue will likely attract a few nostalgic readers to pick it up and revisit what they clung to so dearly before titles like Girlfriend and Cleo filled its space in their satchels, TV Hits will leave a hard to fill hole in national newsstands.

Yours truly,
Liz @ Girl With a Satchel

Glossy Talk: Why Frankie and I can't be friends

Glossy Talk: Why Frankie and I can't be friends

Getting together with an old friend is sweet sorrow for Lucy Brook.

When Frankie launched in September 2005, then-editor Louise Bannister (now assistant publisher) and creative director Lara Burke held an impromptu launch from a brown vinyl couch plonked in the middle of QUT’s Creative Industries precinct.

I was mid-journalism degree and scuttled from the media building to the quadrangle to meet the ladies behind this quirky, clever new book, crammed with cute graphics, wry first person rants and a fresh, alternative manifesto. From the first issue, I was captivated. Real people? Check. Intelligent, grounded content? Check. Savvy social commentary? Hip, arty design? A deliberate lack of diets and dildos? Check, check, happy check.

Frankie captured the zeitgeist of the mid-2000s, when young women were increasingly fed up with the stagnant content in mainstream women’s magazines but weren’t quite ready to spend their weekends devouring Time. For a year or so, I never missed an issue. Frankie and I settled into a comfortable, predictable rhythm – one that more than 38,000 readers no doubt feel settled in today. 

Frankie, in case you haven’t heard, has a cult-following, burgeoning circulation and has been steadily catching big name glossies like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I’ve changed, Frankie hasn’t, and we've grown apart.

Though its loyal readership of bright, trendy young things might disagree with me, Frankie’s December/January issue seems stale, as though resigned to a state of inertia. I expected to be inspired and entertained, but I was annoyed. I don’t want to read bad jokes about why someone is an awful house guest, or struggle through expletive-laden attempts at funny.

This golden line actually appears in one of the stories (do not proceed to read if easily disgusted): "I hope her unborn children develop rabies whilst in the womb and leave a coating of diseased froth on her vagina on their way out!" Sorry, but either that is completely unfunny, or I have no sense of humour.

I don’t want to look at models doing ‘wistful’ in cheap hotel rooms, or have informative articles tell me that Truman Capote wrote True Blood (that would be In Cold Blood). A sneak peek into the gardens of creative types and a pictorial feature on dark magic in northern Ghana are somewhat redeeming, but I wanted ingenuity and connection, and I got zip.

Maybe I’m expecting too much? I don’t want to suggest that my disappointment with this issue is remotely indicative of how others might feel about it. Frankie has filled an aching void for savvy young Australian media consumers, and in positioning itself as an “indie/twee/hipster/creative” magazine (as Rachel Hills wrote here) perhaps it’s inevitable that it won’t appeal to everyone at every stage in their lives?

One can’t discredit the ground Frankie has broken. Would we have believed in the early 2000s, when our obsession with celebrity was beginning to pique, that two 25-year-olds peddling their sweet, left of centre, gossip-free glossy would be taken seriously?

That Frankie, which, refreshingly, features real people of all ages (nannas included), races and socio-economic backgrounds, would be wholeheartedly embraced by a generation weaned onto Dolly/Girlfriend then Cosmo/Cleo then Vogue/Marie Claire? It’s pleasing that Frankie is a runaway success. What’s not pleasing is that I fall smack-bang into their demographic, and I just don’t get it.

Perhaps Frankie needs to refocus with some original, thought-provoking content that will reignite the flame for former devotees like me? Inspiring features that have you nodding and ‘mmm-hmming’ as you read. Some fresh voices. Less focus on ‘cool’ and more focus on ‘real’.

Or am I expecting too much of an old love?

Yours truly,
Lucy @ Girl With a Satchel

Satchel Vision: IDM's Marina Go (Part #1: Younger You magazine)

Glossy Vision: IDM's Marina Go (Part #1: Younger You magazine)

Last week, Independent Digital Media – the brainchild of Michael Hannan, former owner of FPC Magazines, which sold its titles to News Magazine in 2007 – celebrated six-months of, its newest digital brand ironically aimed at turning back the clock.

In some ways, IDM's foray into print is a counter-clockwise move, too: for IDM, digital is the main game and print plays a supporting role. Last month the Sydney-based publisher put Younger You into print with a 132-page book priced at $9.95 and on October 27 will have a newsagent shelf presence as well (a 284-page one priced at $14.95).

Just as represents the "pointy end" of beauty, so too does Younger You with its pro-anti-ageing editorial direction, which is supported by a booming $448.5 million industry in Australia (and that's just the non-surgical cosmetic market).

The magazine is essentially a service title that celebrates "ageless celebs" and features stories on skin serums and sun damage, non-invasive laser technology, fake tanning, weight loss and flattering hairstyles. There's also information on fixing facial "irregularities", faking better-looking busts and liposculpture. It's supported by ads for anti-ageing skin products, The Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery and a slew of cosmetic professionals listed on the Younger You website.

To be honest, I'm not a fan, just the same as I dislike Vogue's yearly Cosmetic Enhancement Guide inserts, but I'm not currently in the market for a face life. Marina Go, publisher of the magazine, puts forth a convincing argument for the brand's existence. A former magazine editor, Go has been with IDM for two years and graciously shares her insight into digital and the Younger You brand in this first installment of our interview (again with the irony; the video looks a bit warped, though Marina is lovely).

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Faith Talk: There's something about Mary

Faith Talk: There's something about Mary

In a media culture that often supplements strength of character for celebrity and faith for fame, the life of our newest golden girl, Saint Mary MacKillop, is a welcome addition to the national narrative and an example for us all.

Pilgrims paying their respects and miracles aside, the focus of the coverage of MacKillop's canonisation has overwhelming been on the celebration of her admirable (some might say "saintly"!) character traits: her tenacity, fierce independence, sense of justice, humility, courage and devotion to her life's calling (her "vocation" in Catholic speak).

In this sense, Saint MacKillop provides us with a model for Christianity In Practise 101 at a time when the Catholic Church is increasingly distant and removed from secular life, as much as it is a target for derision. Inasmuch as her saintly status is based on her posthumous intercession with God, her worldly status makes her an intercessory for church and society; an accessible deity. 

Those now familiar with MacKillop's life story, conveyed in part to us through her prolific letter writing and journal entries, will know of her trials: her debilitating illness (she was often unable to get out of bed to go to mass), accusations of alcoholism (she took a tipple of brandy to ease her pain) and her temporary excommunication from the church in 1871 over a "constitutional dispute" (which may have had something to do with her outing of a sexually abusive priest).

At that time she wrote, "When I was asked to kneel before the Bishop, I felt lonely and bewildered ... I do not know how long I knelt there facing the Bishop and four priests with all my Sisters standing around. I knew they were there but saw no-one and I think I was trying to pray ... I shall never forget the sensation of the calm, beautiful presence of God."

Even for an atheist Prime Minister there is something to revere in MacKillop, with Julia Gillard calling her "a role model and a guide" in a column for The Sun-Herald, while feminists rightly champion her bold stance against the powers-that-be in the Vatican and her valiant desire to protect children.

But we can't reduce MacKillop's triumphs to human virtue, nor to uniquely Australian character: she would be the first to admit her whole existence was underpinned by her faith in God.

"I do indeed feel such a grateful love of God when He denies me my natural desires - even when they sometimes seem best, " she wrote. "I do so long to love God, and be grateful to Him when He denies me anything I expect."

MacKillop never claimed to be faultless but she saw that operating apart from God's will did her and others no favours. That's a challenge for us all. Of course, we're not all called to become nuns, but a life of service, of Christianity in action, and the comfort and joy of the presence of God in one's life, is not exclusive to religious types. It just comes at a cost.

Amidst the celebrations for our first saint, perhaps what is being lost is the narrative on which the whole Christian faith is based: of Jesus Christ's sacrificial intercession here on earth in atonement for our imperfections, and the fundamental requirement of Christians to love the Lord their God first and foremost (not a saint, not our children, not ourselves).

As a wise woman (a living saint in my eyes) preached at my church on Sunday, faith gives life goals, purpose and destination: "When we put our faith in the Lord Jesus, our lives change completely. But that is only the beginning of the journey... Faith isn't just for some special people, a few elite saints. It is for all of God's people."

Good readings on MacKillop:
The problem with having a vernacular saint by Scott Stephens
MacKillop inspires modern women by Miranda Devine

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Satchelnomics: Parity Like It's 1983

Satchelnomics: Parity Like It's 1983

Liz Burke
Feeling pressure to lower the Australian dollar? Deflation talk killing your buzz? Have no fear, Treasurer Swan, Liz Burke is here with a sure-fire economic strategy. Dive into your Dollarmite account and buy some Jatz crackers and French Onion dip: let's get this parity party started!

Did anyone else let out a little squeal when our dazzling dollar made its brief foray into world domination, leaving the economy in a state of AUDelight? For just short of an hour late Friday night we got there, soaring to a high of $US1.0003, the highest the dollar’s been trading since float, before pulling back to just under parity state.

While this is good news for some (hello, Topshop!) and not so much for others (sorry, exporting industries), there’s no denying its significance. And so, in the tradition of newsworthy celebration inspirations, I’ve decided to mark this occasion with a homage to the year that started it all: 1983.

In that year, so I'm told, the Hawke Government made the decision to float the dollar. It was also the Year of the Cabbage Patch Doll and Mircosoft Word. But more significantly, a little mixtape called Thru the Roof ’83 was released.

Purchased by everyone with enough newly market-influenced pocket money, it spent five weeks at the top of the Aussie album charts. Who knew that 27 years later these seemingly unrelated events would finally find a link, as the Aussie dollar took on the direction of its musical birthmate and really went thru the roof?

This annotated mixtape of parity-powered ‘83 classics provides a suitable soundtrack to any economically stimulated soirée. Tonight we’re gonna par(i)ty like it’s 0.99!

Side a
1. "She works hard for the money" – Donna Summer. A fitting tribute to the Australian economy and its rough and ready recovery from the GFC. She’s certainly been working hard to come back from that, so you better treat her right!

2. "All time high" – Rita Coolidge. Under that windswept perm and copious eyeshadow sliced awkwardly between Bond scenes, Rita had more centsibility than Moneypenny herself, the prescient Octopussy theme’s chorus providing a view of what would happen in the Australian money market 28 years on.

3. "One on one" – Hall & Oates. $US poster boy George Washington and our currency’s marsupial pin-ups certainly played that game on Friday night, seeing AUD finally nudge the greenback off its turf.

4. "Down Under" – Men at Work & 5. "Australiana" – Austen Tayshus. These two speak for themselves, really, throwing in a bit of national pride. If the portrayal of our fellow countrymen in these film clips was nothing to be proud of, at least we now have a thriving financial market to make up for it. 

Side b
6. "Too shy" – Kajagoogoo. The dollar is falling just shy of the parity mark, though many economists are speculating a not-far-off rise to as high as $US1.10. While a rapid increase could be dangerous and stabilisation equally so, everyone’s keeping hush hush as to what’s going to happen...

7. "After the fall" – Journey. The fall of the USD that is. RBA intervention? Rates hold? An online shopping revolution? Or an even stronger formation of the Australian Contiki army taking advantage of international exchange rates?

8. "I’ll tumble 4 ya" – Culture Club. The USD has indeed taken a gracious tumble, and more stimulus to aid recovery could definitely be on the cards. An economic equivalent to whatever Boy George used to keep his fringe upstanding could certainly keep a weakening economy afloat.

Nb. Popular finance-themed cocktails have been omitted from this post to provide a more wholesome Parity Party experience . What’s worse than starting a day on the trading floor feeling All Ordinary? (boom tish!)

See also:
Federal Election Party Time!

Yours truly,
Liz @ Girl With a Satchel

Interview: Modern Media Maven - Melissa Hoyer

Interview: Modern Media Maven – Melissa Hoyer

After years covering the style and society beat for Sydney's The Sunday Telegraph, Melissa Hoyer refashioned herself as a freelance lifestyle commentator, using her media mileage and bulging Little Black Book to strike up hosting arrangements, writing gigs with Australian Traveller and Grazia, and ambassadorial roles with the likes of Crossroads, Pantene and Westfield. 

Two years into running her one-woman show, all the while performing single mum duties behind the scenes, Hoyer has another editing credit to her name: Rouge, a mini beauty magazine and dedicated website published by Procter & Gamble (P&G) and distributed to one million Australian homes. 

While serving as a vehicle for P&G's female-friendly brand ads (Max Factor, Covergirl, Olay, SK-II, Herbal Essences, Pantene...), Hoyer has recruited a reputable team to bring the editorial pages to life, including fashion writer Glynis Traill-Nash, art director Cheryl Collins, journalist Sandra Lee, stylist Nicole Bonython-Hines and photographer Carlotta Moye. The magazine is also flush with findings from P&G's survey on cosmetic surgery. I chatted to Melissa about finding balance in work, rest and whiteboards.

GWAS: With all your media commitments, I imagine every day is a bit mad for you?
Melissa: I can look at next week and think, 'Oh, it's quite quiet', but because I work so much reacting on the news of that day – and someone will ring me and say, 'Come and do something on television', or 'Do something on radio' – I have to be always very prepared and ready to talk on anything at any point on any media. 

On average, I probably do three television [appearances], on morning television, one of the evening shows or Sky News; radio I have a regular thing with Kyle and Jackie O here every week; others will ring me to comment on something or other; writing for Grazia is whatever they want; and my blog tends to get a bit lost because it's something I'll do after all my paying work. Unless you can monetize it, I can't be making a living out of blogging every day at this stage of the game.

There's this great myth about television of radio that you just go in there and rave about anything but you don't. You really have to succinctly put your opinion forward. You do have to research – you do have to be up on popular culture and news and trends. Just the research that goes into it – reading every mag, reading every online news site – takes a lot of time.  

How did you find the transition into freelance? When you have the comfort zone of working with a big company – you've got your superannuation; you've got your weekly or monthly salary set in stone – it's a big thing to move away and create a new life.

Because I was established in my area – having been with News Limited for over 20 years – I had a reputation and I think I had integrity, which you need to be able to do that change successfully. I'd already developed contacts and people knew what I could do; I was able to segue into these great new things but the platform was the training and experience I got with News.

It didn't scare me – you sometimes have to get out of your comfort zone to recreate yourself. You get a bit complacent... It got to the point where the column I was writing, in my mind, had become pretty stale. I didn't want to become stale myself. Then I went to Bali, got back, and it was time to move on. 

How do you manage your glossy alliances? I do a bit with Grazia, so in some editors minds I'm aligned to Grazia. But because it's a role where I don't go into the office, and it's quite a loose relationship, I still have to know as a fashion commentator if marie claire is celebrating 15 years or whether Who is doing their Best Dressed list. Nobody dumps me because I write occasionally for another magazine: I don't think they're that naïve. I actually quite like doing a bit for this one, a bit for that one – I'm liking discovering all these other companies. I did that for so long.

How did the Rouge gig come about? Procter and Gamble in North America have a website called Rouge, and a seasonal magazine they distribute, which features their products but is also very lifestyle driven: it's not just a catalogue. When I was approached to be involved, it needed to be someone who could write, who could edit and magazine and who had contacts. The offshoot is the ongoing website. I think there will be more magazines once they work out how successful it was from a sales point of view.

The website is about making it as general and lifestyle and fashion and beauty oriented as possible. Of course a site that is funded by P&G will feature P&G products but I don't think it's too narrow-minded with every story having a mention of a P&G product.

How did you bring it all together? We were basically given the book to fill. We could use some of the stories that were published in the American magazine but we wanted to generate local content and make it more us, and Australian, by bringing in local talent... Cheryl Collins, the art director, and I didn't want to be too bombarded by other magazines; we did look at the other Rouge magazines, but I didn't look to the local magazines to emulate. We wanted to make it as informative and clean and readable as possible. Because it's a small mag, we couldn't throw too many words on a page.

What's your opinion on cosmetic surgery? When we commissioned the survey – and it was a good, legitimate survey – the statistics were quite scary. One in two people have had or think it's absolutely fine to have something done, no questions...

It's a constant conundrum. I think all the glossy magazine editors must feel it – particularly over the whole airbrushing debate. They want to be seen as supporting real women, but then women out there actually want to see these nearly ethereal, unrealistic images. They have enough of the real world seven days a week. 

We want to morally say one thing but then present something that's totally different. It's probably worse editing a high-end glossy. They're damned if they do; damned if they don't. Like with The Weekly with Marcia Hines – great cover but then it had to say, 'This cover has been airbrushed'. I think it's a shame they have to say it. 

How do you keep organised? In front of me on my desk I have a monthly planner, so I can look at all of October, and next to me I have my sturdy old Filofax. That's a weekly one where I write down every appointment and it goes in my bag. But the best thing I got when I went freelance was a whiteboard... I write on it everything I'm doing – radio gigs, any ambassadorial gigs, invoices – so I can turn around and see what I've done and what I'm about to do...

I think I like being on one perpetual deadline. You do sometimes think, it might just be my time and in a year's time or two month's time, no one might want you. The media can be a very fickle beast. I may not be needed in certain areas in a year's time, so you do tend to say yes to everything. There are some things I do say no to: you may lose a few bucks by not doing it, but you look at the time and cost ratio. Having a child puts things into perspective. I love what I do but it's a means to an end as well; you have to keep your child fed and clothed. You don't just do it to satisfy yourself and pretend you're a rock star. You do it because it's your work and you have to earn some money.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Eat Pray Love

Girl Talk: Give a girl a break: Eat Pray Love

As a (recovering) workaholic, perfectionist of Catholic roots, I struggle with guilt. Life's small pleasures have too often passed me by as my mind is sidetracked by a mental list of To Dos (work! blog! clean! exercise! pray! achieve!) and To Do Nots (sleep in! have fun! let yourself go!). So the idea of taking a rainy afternoon off to indulge in a movie is about as comfortable a notion as wearing tight leather pants on a stinking summer day. Enjoyment chafes against my work ethic.

But I did yesterday. Because I've tapped into this newfangled concept called A BREAK, or, more particularly, giving myself permission to follow my fancy when the opportunity presents itself in order to find that unique, and ultimately productive, balance between work, rest and play (a full-time life of slovenly slackerism is not something I aspire to – I didn't even do that as a uni student – but the temptation to freefall is always there for freelancers).

To partake in frivolous activities, which might inadvertently nourish the soul, is not something Australians are programmed for – we are largely the offspring of convicts and immigrant workers, not the aristocracy. And there's an added layer of anxiety for women: those without children need to work super-hard to forge careers before the baby time bomb goes off, while those with children need to devote all their spare time to their children. So we need permission from the boss to do it; someone to tap us on the shoulder and say, "Hey, you look like shit; how about taking some time off?".

But by this stage, we are usually so overwrought that "time off" equates to slumping in a heap on our beds, rather than doing something to feed our spirits: like walks in the park, visits to a book shop, enjoying a coffee with a girlfriend or a solo trip to the movies. Or else, we are always waiting for the (rainy) day when we finally reach that career/education/financial goal: then we will permit ourselves to let loose... which sometimes never happens.

Which brings me to my favourite scene in Eat Pray Love: the part where Liz and her new BFF Sofi are educated in the Italian joys of pleasure in a barber shop. "You Americans don't know how to enjoy yourselves." Of course, everyone thinks they know how to live life better than we do. Liz might need to make room in her life for more pleasure, but she's not about to give up on her inbuilt American ambitions.

Just the same, I'm not going to pack my bags, say goodbye to my husband and set off on a round-the-world adventure, but I can build more down-time into my schedule and find enjoyment in daily life. Responsibilities, commitments and ambitions can be managed with a side-serving of romanticism. In fact, the creative muse and productive worker in us all is better served by taking time out before we hit the proverbial wall.

There's a twisted version of Christianity that deems enjoyment sacrilege. While gluttony (over-stuffing one's gob), greed (over-stuffing one's shopping bags) and lust (over-stuffing one's sex life) are often mistaken for enjoyment, Jesus came (and sacrificed himself) so that "they may have and enjoy LIFE, and have it in abundance, to the full, till it overflows" (John 10:10). For those of us who claim to follow Christ, NOT enjoying life – or the comfort and joy that faith assures us – is sacrilege. Why work hard if not to enjoy the occasional fruits of one's labour; the array of treats life presents us?

Like the personal journey that inspired Eat Pray Love, this may itself be an exercise in middle-class Christian narcissism: the atoning for an afternoon off via a blog post (eye roll). Believe me, my interior monologue has already fired off a number of self-flagellating thoughts (I have a PhD in self-punishment). I don't need a guru to alert me to my grandiose aspirations for living a better life. I had a nice time. Now back to the grind...

See other GWAS musings on Eat Pray Love:
ELLE's Eat Pray Love cover coup
Gilbert upstages Oprah; Richard rocks

And Elizabeth Gilbert's talk on nurturing creativity.

And a few select movie reviews (good and bad):
Me Myself I (SBS)
David Stratton's review for At The Movies
The New York Times
The Vine

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Bobbi Brown's Pretty Powerful Campaign

Girl Talk: The Power of Pretty and Beauty Rules

In part because I'm the kind of girl who looks like RuPaul with a bunch of makeup on, I have always admired Bobbi Brown's beauty ethos of using a little makeup to enhance, rather than hide, one's facial features. I have her Makeup Manual; I also use her concealer. It's unreal.

But, to be honest, I was cynical when I saw her latest campaign – called The Power of Pretty – debut on the web back in January; the essential message being that with just a little blush, lippie and mascara you can take on the world (forget that MBA and invest in makeup instead!).

"It's makeup that makes a woman feel confident, powerful and beautiful," Brown told Stylist. "Power is not shoulder pads, success or fame – it's someone who feels comfortable in their skin."

But what about those inevitable days (months or years) when you just don't like the skin you've been saddled with? Can the sum of a woman's facial parts outweigh her brain cells, inner strength, integrity, creativity, sense of humour or faith? Can a lippie pull you up when you're truly down?

Brown has a new book for teen girls coming out later this month titled Beauty Rules: Fabulous Looks, Beauty Essentials and Life Lessons for Loving Your Teens and Twenties. Billed as a "fresh, energetic beauty bible for young women", Brown says her goal is to help girls "look and feel like themselves, only prettier and more confident."

The book contains makeup advice, skincare tips, style secrets, exercise suggestions and self-esteem boosters. It also has a diet page showing girls "good" and "bad" food, which immediately garners it a spot on my naughty list. It is ostensibly wholesome and laid back in its approach to beauty. But what are the underlying messages here? "Beauty rules" – above all else.

Reassuringly, a global survey of 1800 16 to 19-year-olds commissioned by Bobbi Brown Cosmetics tied into the release of the book has found that 90% of young women believe confidence is more a state of mind than about looks, though almost 75% of them said wearing makeup made them feel more confident and capable. 

Other statistics gathered by Brunswick Research for the US, UK and Hong Kong incude:
- 70% of young women in the US and Hong Kong are happy with their looks while only 52% of UK girls are happy with their looks;
- Two thirds of young women started wearing makeup in their early-to-mid teens (13 to 15);
- Two thirds of young women in the US and UK wear makeup five or more days a week;
- 57% of young women in the UK say they do not feel as pretty without makeup (only 39% in the US and 24% in Hong Kong);
- Mothers and friends are girls' primary source of inspiration for being a good person, not celebrities.

The survey also found that the majority of girls see "inner beauty" (separate from just "beauty") as important, as defined by compassion and kindness and a friendly personality (honesty, self-confidence and sense of humour also rated).

"Besides how they feel about their looks, young women today are defining their self-image by confidence, kindness and compassion,” says Brown. "With all the unrealistic images of physically ‘perfect’ women and girls in the media, I’m happy that so many teens realize that self-worth comes from the inside, too."

It would be naive to suggest that looks don't count (our whole society is wired for image). But it would also be naive to think Brown - for all her very good intentions and good deeds - is not in the game of shifting product off shelves. And while teens are wise and savvy, they are also in need of reassurance as they go about forming their identities – can a limited edition Beauty Rules face palette (available to buy with the book) give them that, too?

As Naomi Wolf ventured in The Beauty Myth, our preoccupation with beauty is to the detriment of other aspects of our lives. When the application of makeup starts to detract from more important things in your day (or your bank account), and you start to associate looking and feeling pretty with confidence and self-worth, you've got to wonder if the messages cosmetics companies are sending us are taking away more power than they give.

"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16: 1-13)

See also:
For the love of Dove 
ACP's Beauty Awards + Industry Code of Conduct

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Glossy Talk: Notebook: magazine to close

Glossy Talk: Notebook: magazine to close

News Magazines' women's monthly Notebook: will cease publication with its November issue, on sale October, with the publisher citing investment in its core titles and digital operation as reasons for the closure, though the publisher has committed to extending its Body + Soul brand onto newsstands.

“Closing a title is never an easy decision," said News Magazines chief executive Sandra Hook in a statement. "The staff has worked extremely diligently in a very competitive environment and I want to acknowledge the loyalty of Notebook:’s readers and advertisers.

"The closure of Notebook: will allow us to devote more energy to our core food, home and fashion titles, our market leading digital properties and and other investment areas, including digital applications that are being developed."

Despite efforts to spark sales excitement on the stands, and a repositioning of the title as a women's lifestyle monthly, Notebook: has struggled to find its feet since its 2008 redesign, at which point it did away with its traditional flower-and-vase covers, opting instead to run generic models, as well as ditching its trademark "tabs" in favour of monthly postcards and bookmarks.

The most recent circulation data showed a four per cent year-on-year sales loss for the title, which sells 70,188 monthly copies to The Australian Women's Weekly's 493,301. At the same time, home/interiors titles saw a near across-the-board rise in sales, including Notebook:'s stablemate InsideOut, as did food magazines, including the publisher's delicious, Donna Hay and the newly minted MasterChef title.

Launched in 2005 by Federal Publishing Company (FPC) and acquired by News Limited as part of its purchase of FPC in 2007, Notebook: will be sorely missed by dedicated readers who enjoy its positive editorial content and beautiful aesthetic.

The magazine joins fellow interior title Domino in glossy heaven and makes way for new entrants, including Pacific Magazines' The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie and News Limited's upcoming Body + Soul magazine, which target Notebook:'s 30+ demographic, on newsstands.

GWAS wishes the team, some of whom are facing redundancy, and editor Caroline Roessler all the very best.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Book Shelf: Caroline Overington's I Came To Say Goodbye

Book Shelf: An interview with Caroline Overington, author of I Came To Say Goodbye

Journalist Caroline Overington's new book, I Came To Say Goodbye, explores the messiness of humanity – the inexplicable, contemptible and shameful – as seen through the eyes of Med Atley, a simple, decent sort of bloke dealt more than his fair share of struggles.

"He reminds me a lot of good, solid, honest men I've known in my life," says Overington of her protagonist. "I tried to think of what they'd say, if their little girls got themselves in trouble. Then, too, reason I went with him as the narrator, is that I wanted to explore the relationship between a father and his daughter. We say a lot about mums and daughters, and sisters, and husbands-and-wives, but the father-daughter relationship so important, and from such a young age."

Left by his feminist wife, Pat, Med picks himself up by his socks and gets on with raising his two teenage children and new baby girl, Donna-Faye (aka "Fat"). Try as he might to create stability and order, Med cannot predict nor cope with the challenges of his little girl's upbringing: her socialisation issues, her weight, her deadbeat boyfriend and, ultimately, her mental illness. Meanwhile, his older children, Kat and Blue, have flown the coop. The novel, written for the most part in a letter from Med to a family court judge, seeks to address why families fall apart.

"Siblings who once shared the same bath water, who learnt to ride bikes together, who haven't spoken for years... how does that happen?" asks Overington. "Sometimes it's money, but often it's more subtle and delicate than that – lives gone off in opposite directions, with scorched hearts all around, as is the case here, where the children haven't spoken to their mother for years, not even when they made her a grandmother."

What transpires is a heartbreaking, captivating story of a father doing the best he can without the support or knowledge he needs, which ultimately leads to a turn of events you wouldn't wish on any family. It's a reflection of a society in which too many people fall through the cracks; the repercussions so much worse than the cost of plugging the gaps. 

The novel has allowed Overington to canvass issues such as foster care, adoption, child protection, Shaken Baby Syndrome and mental illness, as well as family dysfunction, delving into complex relationships while laying aside journalistic notions of objectivity and the strictures of news reporting.

"It's become near impossible for journalists to get the information they need to be honest with the public," says Overington. "When a child dies, for example, or some other crime is committed, journalists can't speak to the doctors or the paramedics or the police or the schools or the social workers ... all the information has to come through a central media unit, and a lot of information is kept hidden. It's an awful situation." 

Overington will be familiar to those of you who read The Australian's Monday media section (she's the author of Media Diary) or who have followed her Walkley Award winning journalism. Her first novel, Ghost Child, was met with critical acclaim. As a mother of two children, it strikes me that she has become an advocate; speaking for those who don't have a voice, but she insists it's more about the public's right to know. Still, there is a streak of social justice that runs through her work.

"I have long felt lucky to work as a journalist. It's all I ever wanted to do. There are frustrations that go along with it, and I haven't always conducted myself as well as I should have, but I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to do something I love for a living... Whenever I see a young person with a sense of outrage, I think: you'd make a good reporter."  

While she may receive accolades for her work, Overington pays a poetic tribute to those at the coal face of crime and injustice. "Whenever I am asked about whether journalism is difficult, I answer honestly, and say no, it is not anywhere near as difficult as it must be, to be a police officer, and first on the scene of a tragedy; and nowhere near as difficult as it must be, to be the parademic, trying to pump life into a dying child; and nowhere near as difficult as it must be, to be the surgeon conducting the autopsy on a five year old boy; and nowhere near as difficult as it must be, to be the rescue services who pulled up the body of a child from a dam. I come along, hours and days and weeks and sometimes years later, grateful that time has done it's thing, and smoothed a path for me to get to to work." 

And we are all the beneficiaries of the end result. This book can't not awaken your humanity.

I Came To Say Goodbye, $34.95, published by Random House Australia, is out today. 
Learn more about Caroline at

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel