Do all good girls go bad?

I love Rihanna's catchy "Umbrella" tune. When it comes on Video Hits on a Saturday morning, I find myself ditching my breakfast to bust a move on front of the teev (hoping Husband will not get out of bed and see my enthusistic display). Despite it being totally danceable, the lyrics (co-written by Jay-Z and "The Dream") are also quite sweet:

"When the sun shines
We’ll shine together
Told you I'll be here forever
Said I'll always be your friend
Took an oath
I'mma stick it out 'till the end
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we still have each other
You can stand under my Umbrella..."

Despite the mushy lyrics, 'sweetness' isn't the first word that comes to mind when I see 19-year-old Rihanna artfully dancing around with her umbrella, dressed in fish-net stockings and black leather.

Miss Rihanna, whose album is titled Good Girl Gone Bad, isn't the first star to openly exploit her new-found sexuality by way of a provocative film clip. For Christina Aguilera it was "Dirrty"; for Britney "Slave 4 U". Rihanna's not breaking any ground here. But in the era of Bratz dolls and Pussycat Dolls, you've got to wonder what kind of message Rihanna's clip is sending out to young girls. Do grown girls all get around in their knickers? Will boys like me if I dance like a stripper?

Teen sexuality, and the way it's expressed, is a vexed issue – something parents fear, teachers gloss over and churches attempt to control. These days, it's further complicated by social networking systems. Back in the mid-90s, when I first started to notice boys, you would start hanging out on the basis of proximity (dating someone who lived close by or went to the same school), attraction (lack of facial acne = big plus) and general interest (they knew some of the same people or had a similar hobby). You'd meet boys at friends' parties, through their older brothers, in church youth groups (I suppose; back then I wasn't much of a church-goer), at the beach or on the school bus. These days kids hook up on the basis of MySpace profiles and pictures (which are often Photoshopped or posed provocatively).

The question of sex – when to start doing it, who with and why – is even more complex. Teen sexual experimentation is nothing new (just look at 1981 Bruce Beresford flick Puberty Blues). That's not to say the majority of teen girls aren't smart, carefully weighing up their decisions about when to 'go there' despite the pressures of raging hormones, more 'advanced' (or easily led) friends, and that all-encompassing quest to be cool. We also have groups of Christian teens pledging their virginity till marriage (and their parents sighing relief).

My own teens were a flurry of 'pash and dash's' and relationships with young boys who didn't know any better. Had my parents known what I was up to, I'm sure they would have locked me up in a tower Rapunzel-style. But you get away with a lot when your school results are good and you say 'please' and 'thank you'. In hindsight, had I established my own 'value code' earlier on (as you know, I rediscovered Christianity a few years ago now), and stuck to it, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache, regret, misdirected energy and misused brain space. Teen brains are oft not equipped to deal with the complications of intimacy.

The Saturday Sydney Morning Herald yesterday published a feature story on teen sex – 'Let's talk about sleepovers' by Julie Szego. According to the story, teens are 'claiming' each other, which is basically lay-bying someone you're interested in but shopping around on the side (it seems today's teens have too much choice, in every way, and bore easily). They're also embarking on sexual exploration earlier (the average 'first time' age now being 16).

The 'raunch culture' created by Paris Hilton and her posse, hip-hop film clips and singers like Rihanna, who quite literally wear their sexual desirability (think Fergie's midriff tops, Paris's thigh-scraping dresses and Britney's cleavage-enhancing halter tops) has definitely had an effect on girls. And the guys who date them. In the SMH story, one boy says: "Those [girls] who don't act raunchy and everything, well, it's not that they get ostracised, but people aren't as willing to go out with them to parties and stuff... It's a bit of a Catch-22 for girls; you're judged if you do things, and you're judged if you don't." Further in the article, a school counsellor says: "I've seen girls presenting themselves as promiscuous on their MySpace profile and then taking on that persona in reality... they'll change their behaviour to suit their profile if they think they're getting a lot of kudos." Another school counsellor interviewed by Szego says some girls are basing their self-esteem on "serious" relationships, becoming dependent on the guys they date.

Remember the Sex and the City episode where Carrie takes her 25-year-old protoge to a book party, then later discovers she's a virgin? "Is this supposed to be shocking, wagging one's (rude word) at every good-looking stud who walks by? Please!" says the 25-year-old to a perplexed Carrie. Casual relationships were de rigeur for Carrie and her pals. The female quest for the perfect man (or even a flawed one who would just love you, exclusively) was, of course, the driving force for the show (and Carrie's weekly sex and relationships column for The New York Star). But I think that the positive role of female friendship, rather than how far flagrant promiscuity (worn with Manolo Blahnik shoes) will take you, was the more empowering message the series had to offer.

Young women should be educated about their sexuality, what it means to be a woman and self respect. They need parents, teachers and role models (young female celebrities like America Ferrera, Anne Hathaway, Mandy Moore and Amanda Bynes dress demurely and shy away from the popular LA clubbing scene) to interpret the messages the media at large is sending them about how to represent themselves (after all, cute and smart is just as alluring to boys and men than sexy and flippant). There should also be an emphasis on the establishment of values, whether they be Christian-based, family or other guiding moral principles, with which they can more confidently make decisions, sexual or otherwise.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Disorderly behaviour

Dear loyal GWAS reader,

A quick FYI: As Husband has acquired a brand spanking new Mac for our home office, I shall be posting at night, which, in turn, means the more I yabber on to you, the less cuddles he gets – I shall therefore endeavour to keep things succinct (which really benefits you anyway, no?)!

Anyhoo, I have just been watching Insight on SBS. It's a brilliant program. Host Jenny Brockie (a Gold Walkley Award winner for excellence in journalism and 20-odd years experience in broadcast journalism, no less) is a first-class act, mediating between the studio guests better than Oprah (and with far less interjecting with relatable stories of personal experience with BFF Gale). Tonight's topic: 'Starving For Answers', which addressed eating disorders: "the trends, the science, the treatments."

What I coincidence, I thought! Not only has disorderly eating been a journalistic passion of mine, I was also intending to blog about a truly excellent book that any girl in her twenties, and her mother, should read – Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters – The Frightening New Normality of Hating Your Body by 27-year-old American journalist Courtney E. Martin (who is quite possibly the Naomi Wolf of Gen Y).

One of Australia's foremost experts on eating disorders, Dr Jenny O'Dea, was part of tonight's Insight panel. I've interviewed her before and was knocked over by her common sense-approach and pure passion for the subject. She's just undertaken a massive survey of 9,000-odd school-age children (2006) and found the occurence of eating disorders and disorderly eating (i.e. dieting, over-exercise, laxative abuse) has increased substantially since 2002. With all the media-fuelled paranoia about obesity and the subsequent in-school programs, etc., it's no wonder kids are thinking about food a little differently than they did before (say, like, when we were kids: the odd sausage roll and ice-cream was unconsciously worked off with games of chasies around the asphalt playgrounds; not with sessions at the gym – life was simpler then).

The main causes of eating disorders, as identified by the program's esteemed panel, which also included child psychologist Kenneth Nunn and Susan Sawyer from the Royal Children's hospital, are a genetic predisposition towards depression and anxiety, a lack of proper life coping mechanisms (or did I just make that up?), perfectionism (which Martin delves deeply into throughout her book), competitiveness, and a desire to control one's circumstances (which, as a little lady of God, I know is really not possible – the more control you try to exert over your world, the more messed up/out of control it seems to become!).

There were three women on the panel – two teens, a girl in her mid-20s and lady in her 60s – who all shared their experience of living with an eating disorder. Proving EDs are not merely the domain of teens, Danielle Kent developed an eating disorder at age 24. She had finished her uni degree and was working in a good job when the symptoms started to kick in. She puts it down to her will to control – everything in her life was seemingly good (educated, good job, stable relationship), yet she felt she could lose it all in an instant. She became self-focussed and though people started to compliment her on her shrinking figure (such a no no!), she withdrew from social events and stopped catching up with friends – so all-consuming was her fear of food. She says she felt like a horrible friend and daughter. These negative feelings just further fuelled the problem. Every day to her felt like groundhog day – regimented eating of the same foods, excessive exercise. She couldn't concentrate at work. My Lord, I thought, I had/have a scary lot in common with this girl, and I'm sure my sister and some friends could identify with her, too.

Eating disorders suck at your brain – gorgeous, smart, clever and ambitious young women are practically paralysed by them, like caged mice stuck on a running wheel. Martin's book (which you should definitely buy on – I shall find out the Australian publishing details, though) delves into the minds and hearts of young women, mostly in the US college system, who've either experienced full-blown eating disorders or who, like Martin, teeter on the edge of developing one.

Thankfully, Martin does offer words of hope. Overcoming or avoiding an eating disorder may come down to feeding your spiritual hunger (that be the God thing – whatever flavour of spirituality you may choose, you need something bigger than you guiding you in life; we're all just little girls deep down, looking for approval in all the wrong places). It's also about giving yourself permission to mess up. And finding a way to think of food as fuel for your body (food is not the enemy). It is okay to be vulnerable and ask for help. There's a better way to live, which includes sampling the smorgasbord of amazing food out there and not worry about what it will do to your waist line. We all JUST WANT TO BE NORMAL about food; yet we stray far from the norm when it comes to the expectations we put on our bodies. Perfect, schmerfect.

The funding for eating disorder programs in Australia is abysmal. This is something that needs to be addressed. I also worry that if we, as a generation (hello, Ys!), can't pull this thing together (this thing we have in our heads about food and dieting and being perfect), our daughters may just suffer the consequences. I was talking to a colleague today who says a friend of hers forbids her daughter to eat bread and has convinced her she's allergic to lollies, to protect her from the weight issues she experienced herself as a teen. ALARM BELLS! Our mothers have a huge role to play in our self-perception – in those developmental years, they are our first true role models. If they're dieting and avoiding carbs, what does that say to an eight-year-old? That mummy is normal? Then are all those other hamburger-munching mummies whacko?

We have a responsibility to get right about eating and health, for the sake of the little girls we'll all be bringing into the world.

Wow, I have so totally blown out that whole 'succinct' thing: poor Husband.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Secret girls' business

You know summer's on its way (at least in Retail Land) when the ads on TV turn from hot-chocolate to skin firming cream; from office workers breathing in cuppa-soup fumes, into Jennifer Hawkins negotiating flights of stairs in a thigh-high flouncy yellow dress.

Switching between Australian Idol and Ugly Betty on Sunday night, it wasn't only Hawko who caught my (and Husband's) attention: the new Bonds 'Kaleidoscope' ad is a visual fiesta (20-odd bouncing bums and sets of boobs) in celebration of summer and the female form, though not in a 'Dove Real Beauty' thigh-dimples-are-hot kind of way. None of those Bonds girls have wiggly wobbly bits to worry about. But nor do they look anaemic or too thin – slightly rounded bellies and boundless energy make these chicks look like good health personified; like they survive on whole foods and sunshine. While Bond girls are sexy, Bonds girls are fun-loving. Heck, I'm gonna pop straight into Myer and buy me some of that colourful cotton (that would equal ad success for Bonds)!

We Aussies have always preferred a healthy look – the kind of girl who looks like she could swim for an hour without signalling to be rescued and run the Bondi-to-Bronte without passing out from fatigue. Hawko, DJs' Megan Gale, the controversy-prone Lara Bingle, the Tozzi sisters, Getaway girl Natalie Gruzlewski and The Great Outdoors' Shelley Craft are arguably good body role models. They love their exercise, and look fit and toned, but eschew crazy weight-loss diets. And men love them.

It's arguably just as hard to look fit and healthy as it is to look supermodel-thin: anyone can skip a meal (please don't EVER) but toned thighs require some serious workout sessions. Hawko, for example, is a gym junkie and loves her outdoor sport, while Gruzlewski gets her incidental workouts running about the place filming scenes for Getaway. For the average girl working a 9-5 job, when most hours are spent with bum on seat, or cramming uni study in between part-time work, it's near impossible to dedicate the time to working out that these aspirational Aussies put in. The answer? Eat as healthily as you can and try to do some form of exercise every day (walking to the vending machine doesn't count) – we can only do our best. Fake tan can do the rest!

May the self-confidence be with you!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. The music from the Bonds ad is super-catchy. The 411? It's "Marina Gasolina" by Bonde do Role (classed as "Baile Funk" music – i.e. 'Funky Party'; a mix of "Brazilian funk, Miami bass, electro and punk", as described on You can download the track at, but be quick – Bonds are offering only 1000 free mp3s. You can also view the add, directed by Alex Smith (his profile is also online), and a 'Making of the Ad' clip. The wonders of video streaming!