GWAS: Lessons in The Elements of Style #1

GWAS: Lessons in The Elements of Style #1

In print for 40 years, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is as timeless as Audrey Hepburn in a little black dress: an essential desk accompaniment for the sub-editor, writer and student or, indeed (indeed, she wrote!), anyone putting pen to paper; finger tip to computer key; middle finger to people who refuse 2 use proper English in txt msgs.

Let's face it; in the age of Twitter, email and rabid acronyms (ROFL), the art of producing pretty, pithy prose is being lost. But produce pretty, pithy prose we must because, as Roger Angell writes in the foreward, "we are all writers and readers as well as communicators, with the need at times to please and satisfy ourselves (as White put it) with the clear and almost perfect thought."

Smug and nerdy? Maybe. But this is a blog about media and magazines and pretty things, and if the copy ain't pretty, I simply don't like it.
So, the kindly folk at Penguin have allowed me to extract some very important lessons on matters of mastering the English language into as much for my own amusement as a collective refresher course. Yippee!

With a dose of writerly humility, and knowing full well that there are more than a few expert sub-editors amongst the GWAS readership (who would do well to avoid narky situations like this), herewith lesson numero uno.

Omit needless words
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Many expressions in common use violate this principle...
The fact that is an especially debilitating expression. It should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs.

owing to the fact that
since (because)
in spite of the fact that
though (although)
call your attention to the fact that
remind you (notify you)
the fact that he had not succeeded
his failure

See also the words
case, character, nature... Who is, which was, and the like are often superfluous.

His cousin, who is a member of the same firm
His cousin, a member of the same firm
Trafalgar, which was Nelson's last battle
Trafalgar, Nelson's last battle

A common way to fall into wordiness is to present a single complex idea, step by step, in a series of sentences that might to advantage be combined into one.

Macbeth was very ambitious. This led him to wish to become king of Scotland. The witches told him that this wish of his would come true. The kind of Scotland at this time was Duncan. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murdered Duncan. He was thus enabled to succeed Duncan as king.
(51 words)

Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth achieved his ambition and realised the prediction of the witches by murdering Duncan and becoming king of Scotland in his place.
(26 words)

Edited extract from The Elements of Style (Illustrated), Strunk, White, Kalman, $19.95, Penguin

Your truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Glossy Talk: Slow magazine - Frankie for grown-ups?

Glossy Talk: Slow magazine - Frankie for grown-ups?

"While it is true that we are not a library, I would rather
have happy browsers than an empty shop," wrote Mark Fletcher of Australian Newsagency Blog recently. "It’s my job as a retailer to do everything possible to convert the browsers into customers."

And so it was that I came across Slow magazine: newsstand browsing in that old-fashioned way. Laced with witty, colloquial copy and leisurely features and columns, Slow is "for people who think life's too fast... People who are more than happy to take some time to read stories about people, wine, music and the unhurried way of life." I liken it to Frankie for grown-ups.

In keeping with the slow movement, I have been slow to catch on (issue #4!) but I savoured every inch as I made my way through its 130 pages over cups of tea and coffee, messy splodges of which are now embedded on the pages – though I think editor Jacqui Mott would want it that way ("Tea is a friend of slow," she writes in her 'From the editor' note. "It's traditional, natural, sensory and most gratifying").

The magazine is devoted to life outside the big cities, which some will find foreign and alienating (or else a welcome escape) but I found a comfort given I reside on "rural" ground. But the interviews with creative types, like author/cook/publicist Kirsty-Mannin-Wilcox (this month's beautiful cover subject), Sunday Mail cartoonist Neil Matterson and designer Jo Nathan are worth a read regardless of your geographical circumstance.

Mott, who runs the magazine from Castlemaine, Victoria, has worked for The New York Times, London's Sunday Telegraph and Rolling Stone and clearly has a nose for a good yarn and clever copy. Slow brings together elements of Frankie, Real Living, Jamie, Top Gear and the late Vogue Entertaining + Travel. Though much of the content is parochial, the human interest angle brings out universal themes – of savouring life; of finding one's path; of having a laugh. This is a magazine with HEART.

The Really Good Bits

- The profile features. I took something away from every one of them. Crafted with heart and wit, the writers take themselves inside the world of their subjects and relay what they see, hear and smell, leaving us with a well-rounded picture of what this person is like: what drives them to do what they do and live how they live.

- Manning-Wilcox is effervescent. Brendan McCarthy has captured her at home with his lens, while Sue Peacock applies her writerly skills to four pages of text. We learn she's co-written a garden recipe book called We Love Food, using her years as a book publicist to identify a gap in the market. She uses words like "lambasted" and five years ago moved to the country with her young family. I implore you to read this piece as much for Peacock's skill with words and McCarthy's photography as Manning-Wilcox's story (replete with recipe for pea and ham soup).

- 'Pollie want a punch line?' is a profile of editorial cartoonist Neil Matterson written by Genevieve Barlow. Great insights into how he works, why he can't stand working in a newspaper office and finding his professional feet.

- The 'Totter' section takes us to Woodend, Victoria, where you can visit the Hanging Rock made famous by Peter Wier's 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock: "Note: the locals would prefer you didn't bellow 'Miranda where ARE YOU?' from the top. They've heard it all before," advises Peacock.

- Through the 'Slow Spy' product pages (this month it's everything beginning with 'H') I learn about Bob Shop's customised pass the parcel games. Fun!

- 'The Italian Job' tells us about the Ballarat Italian Association by way of one man's rekindling of heritage almost lost through integration into the Australian community.

- Like the latest Yen magazine, Slow takes us to four art galleries via 'Counter Culture'.

- As a teetotaler (in the capacity of a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat) I'm not in the habit of reading alcohol reviews, but I really enjoyed the 'Bottleneck' page. A novice and an expert have given comparative appraisals of a Craiglee Shiraz 2006. Entertaining.

- Jeremy Booth takes a Toyota Camry Hybrid on a road trip and writes home about it in 'Just good friends.' His assessment? "It's a top car but it doesn't actually involve you in the driving process. In fact, you don't actually drive it, you steer it... There's a great deal about this car to admire. But it's not a car I could ever love. Instead, we're just good friends." Even I can relate to that! Think Top Gear meets Australian Traveller.

- Unlike most mags, which give album reviews about 50 words a piece, Slow gives us at least 200, each with a 'standout track' and rating out of five. The reviews are given context, with notes on each artist in addition to comment on their new-release. Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me is given five out of five. The reviews are rounded out with a Q&A-style interview with indie/folk artist Young Werther together with a list of five songs that have slowed him in his tracks (it would be ironic to buy them on iTunes, no?). Equal kudos for the book review pages.

- Meet designer Jo Nathan via Lauren Mitchell's 'Wool Class', which takes us to her home sitting on 1200 acres in Deniliquin, Victoria. "Her career was forging ahead in the city but there was always a nagging feeling there was a different way to live," writes Mitchell. "Her craft was al about quality, handmade, slow-made materials: perhaps her life could be too?". Nathan graduated from RMIT, lectured in knitting, travelled and showed her knitwear at Australian Fashion Week in 2007. But after a trade show in Paris, she took stock. She says (I LOVE these quotes):

"I just thought, oh my God, this world is so huge, so competitive, it's such a big, big world. I didn't know where to go... so I came home... I'm more relaxed now knowing what I do has its place. I didn't have to chase things, I can settle in this market, live the life I want to live and have my own designs. It's made me stronger and more settled in who I am. It's been a big journey and I feel like I know the path now."

- 'Dwell' introduces us to the concept of living in a shack (four architects design their dream shack). Given Husband is trying to convince me to set up home in a SHED (I kid you not), I've warmed to the idea after reading this piece. The concept is all about simple living in pared-down spaces. "I see shacks as having one or two people living in them, they're a place to get away without all the mod cons. And in design, it's the little things that will make the difference," says architect Robin Larsen. Going by his sketches and philosophy, he can build my shack any day.

- Jamie Durie and his The Outdoor Room comrades might take interest in the 'Grand Design' feature about good garden design by Michael McCoy. I am one of the people who "don't care a fig for plants" but thoroughly enjoyed this piece, which left me with a smug air of knowledge.

- Slow treads on Vogue Living territory with 'Master Peace', a 10-page profile of Australia's leading abstractionist, Robert Jacks. "Some artists have sketchbooks; I don't. Instead I have bits and I throw them in a suitcase. But I have these small paintings which dry overnight. I can stack them away... and when there is seriousness all day, you need a bit of fun, so with a glass of wine I just relax and paint whatever comes." I love the images of his workshop and tools.

- Jacqui Mott covers the art of "casseroling" in 'Hearty & Soul'. The perfect meal for chilly nights, "casseroles are famous for transforming cheaper cuts into classy cuisine – I'm talking fork-friendly, flavourful, standout fare."

- Academics Nick Trakakis and Michelle Boulous Walker write of the slow movement – and the pursuit of wisdom, "academic Darwinism", philosophy, the artist, "essayistic reading" – in 'We're not the only ones'. Bookish nerds like moi will feast on this piece.

- Brigitte Zinsinger takes us to Saint-Germain-en-Laye in Paris. "Tell a Parisian you live in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and you're going to elicit an enchanted ah, c'est superbe! in admiration of such a good address," she writes. J'adore this five-page feature – to the very last column inch.

- Pauline Murtagh pens a column about Melbourne eatery Lentil as Anything. "The atmosphere and compassion behind the concept made me want to pay even more than I would for upmarket silver service. If I had a million-dollar bill, I would have left it. This is a place that sums up everything great about living in an Australian city – community, multiculturalism, food and innovation."

- The last page, 'Slow Cooker', is one out for my own heart, given I'm a newly minted slow-cooker owner (thanks, Mum). This issue, it's roast chook.

The Not-So-Good Bits

- Pollyanna Sutton (how I envy your name!) goes to Thailand to shed her fatigue via a detox. Five bags of supplements, a colonic, a blood-sugar fasting test and starving your body till your next juice fix? I'm skeptical. This is more GOOP than Slow, surely. The idea of a five-day detox seems to rail against everything Slow stands for. "Detoxing is focused work, with appointments, supplements and juices to coordinate; this is not simple unwinding," she writes. Still, I enjoy her lively account of this self-inflicted, bourgeoisie torture regime.

Pretty Pages

- Jo Nathan's creations (under the Woolliwoolli name) are modelled by two girls over eight pages. No heavy Photoshopping. Big tick!

- Not exactly "pretty" but I love the image of Broderick Smith (musician, copywriter, occasional actor) in his big old chair.

Glossy Rating: 4.5/5. While the mag is no doubt catered more towards people of my parents' vintage, and for Victorians, and I've been slow to catch on (ha ha), I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the company of Slow issue #4. It's a breath of fresh country air; a wholesome, hearty magazine to peruse over a slow-brewing pot of tea.
Glossy ads: Acqua Viva Day Spa;; Passing Clouds wine; Mon Coeur housewares and furniture; Melbourne Farmers' Market; Russel Parsons Builders and Designers; Kyneton Toyota...
Blosses: Jacqui Mott, publishing editor

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Glossy Talk: ACP's Beauty Awards + Industry Code of Conduct

Glossy Talk: ACP's Australian Beauty Awards + Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image

It's sort of ironic that ACP Magazines should be celebrating its Australian Beauty Awards – dubbed "the Beauty Oscars" – at the same time that the Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image, which includes magazines declaring when images have been airbrushed, is released.

How many of the beauty companies or 2500 products included for judging would get the body-image-friendly seal of approval based on their advertising images? Compliance with the 'realistic and natural images of people' criteria stipulates:

- refrain from removing moles, freckles and other permanent distinguishing marks;
- ensure skin tones remain natural and refrain from smoothing over creases and lines;
- ensure that where alterations are made to an image of a person it results in the image remaining as close to natural as possible and not resulting in a significant change to the image (except where the intent is to produce an image that is not realistic;
- dislcose images that have been retouched;
- where organisations wish to further demonstrate good practice in this area they are encouraged to develop the media literacy of their consumers by making them aware of the extent to which images have been manipulated within a publication and work that goes into taking professional photographs of models.

Further, the 'Fair Placement' principle "encourages organisations to ensure the messages in advertising do not contradict the positive body image messages that may be presented in editorial content. Organisations are encouraged to follow body image editorial content with advertising that uses consistently positive messaging... refrain from following body image editorial content with advertising for products or messages that are concerned with:
- rapid weight loss
- cosmetic surgery that is not medically necessary
- excessive exercise
- promoting negative body image or are in direct conflict with positive body image messages."

A quick flick through any glossy on the stands and it's plain to see about 0% of beauty advertising to women would get the tick of approval. Take, for instance, a Maybelline DPS for SuperStay Makeup. The copy reads: "Meet the foundation that stays fawless beyond any stretch of the imagination." The irony!

This typifies one of the key problems with the code: changing an entrenched media culture based on selling product for its survival. I really do sympathise with editors and publishers who have a lot of hard work ahead of them if they are to comply with the code. HEADACHE. Sustaining a glossy magazine without beauty advertising is nigh on impossible. Beauty is BIG BUSINESS in glossy land.

Speaking to Mediaweek, Beauty Awards ambassador Bronwyn McCahon says: "[Advertisers are] chuffed when they get notification they have won awards, because at ACP we do have such a power to communicate with the young women of Australia. If we are announcing a product as an overall winner in skin care, or hair care, it's a big testament to that beauty product. A lot of advertisers are getting on board and wanting to run with their own advertising campaigns off the back of the Beauty Awards. A lot of our readers are beauty obsessed and want to own the best products and will spend a fortune, so the website was updated regularly and was really interactive with the judging panel."

The Beauty Awards winners will feature in a 12-page beauty supplement in the August issues of Cosmo, Grazia, madison and The Australian Women's Weekly. Winners will be announced on Monday July 5. Whether beauty advertisers or the code wins on the body image front remains to be seen. I imagine many meetings taking place behind boardroom doors. Change is afoot.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Growing up girl in a pop culture world #2

Girl Talk: Growing up girl in a pop-culture world #2 – a personal precursor to the National Body Image Initiative

Before my "professional self" takes stock of the facts and opinions being bandied about
the web (internationally) in response to the National Body Image Advisory Group's initiatives, and knowing all too well how our personal experience can alter or cloud our perceptions, a reflection on glossy culture extracted from a 30-minute speech I gave last year at the Women's Night of Spirituality...

I’ve spent most of my life living according to the gospels of Dolly, Cleo and Vogue and practicing at the churches of pop culture and Sportsgirl. By the age of 26, I’d achieved glossy magazine perfection: I had a gorgeous fiancĂ©, a shiny diamond engagement ring on my finger, a job promotion and lots of fabulous friends. I’d traveled to Europe with my best friend, shopping up a storm in Topshop; and I was fit, healthy and slim. My day-to-day life was a whir of photo shoots, model castings, flashy events and editorial meetings. I felt included, appreciated and validated. Life was full and fabulous. But it was all stripped away...


Every day working on a magazine, you’re bombarded with images of celebrities filtering in from photo agencies around the world. From those, we’d pick and choose which pictures to feature on our fashion and beauty pages and which celebrities to put on the cover. When you’re looking at those images all day, it’s easy for your perceptions of normality to become warped.

Around 2006, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Mischa Barton and Lindsay Lohan were big business, and so was their stylist, Rachel Zoe. As the story went, every young celebrity who fell under her magical gaze was magically turned into a ‘Zoebot’: a super-skinny version of her former self adorned in over-sized sunglasses, big jewellery, towering heels and caftans.

As a sort of backlash against what we deemed to be the unhealthy promotion of impossibly skinny bodies, my editor and I started talking about developing a campaign to encourage girls to treat themselves with respect. As news of the obesity epidemic was also filtering into the media, we decided that we needed to find a happy medium between the Zoebots and the unhealthy lifestyle pervading Australian homes.

After speaking with Dr Jenny O’Dea, an eating disorder expert whose research revolved around the need for self-esteem in healthy girls, it was decided the path we would follow would be holistic: one which addressed the mind, body and soul. We called the campaign ‘Self Respect’.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the task of researching the campaign, talking to doctors and nutritionists and psychologists; recruiting a team of teenagers to participate in our photo shoot; and writing advice for girls on health, nutrition and exercise. I formulated a whole lifestyle program for them to follow in the lead-up to summer. It was only later that I’d recall becoming obsessed with a similar program I’d read about in Cleo as a 17-year-old.

As my dietician would later remind me, it’s only a dietician who should be thinking about food all day. Handing me the task of coordinating the Self Respect campaign, while deeply satisfying on a career level, was to the detriment of my mental health. Sort of like handing a potential terrorist a set of bomb-making instructions. In hindsight, I should have told my editor I'd battled eating and body image issues in the past.

As I became immersed in diet literature, knew the calorie count of every food and started exercising obsessively, to the point where I suffered a stress fracture in my ankle. But the validation came by way of compliments – I looked like a Zoebot! I was preaching Self Respect and self-love from the glossy pages of Girlfriend but taking the concept of Self Control beyond reasonable limits in my own life. I was criticising Nicole Richie for being a negative role model, yet I had fallen victim to the persuasions of thinness myself.

I developed what is called “orthorexia”, which is a dedication to extreme healthy eating. Though I’d had eating issues since I was a teen, my mother was a dieter of the Jane Fonda/grapefuit generation and experimented with Atkins, I became beyond fussy about what I’d eat, slowly eliminating food types until I was quite content to survive on the few that I knew would keep me ultra-trim.

My husband, mother and father tried to reach out to me, encouraging me to see a dietician, but I was stubborn and knew best. Durr, I liked being skinny! Our whole media culture is based around the celebration of thin – and I had got there. Whee! Yay for me!

My condition only worsened when I quit my job so my new husband and I could move to Queensland. I went freelance, dedicated myself to the magazine blog I’d started earlier that year and worked from an isolated office, where my main company were the glossy magazines I’d sought solace in as a lonely teenager dealing privately with the breakdown of her family and the absence of her mother at home. Only, now I realize the glossies make terribly lousy company. Especially if they are your only company.

I’d left my career, my family, my friends, my church, and my wonderful lifestyle behind in Sydney. I had God and my husband and his family and friends, but I completely shut down, immersing myself in work and exercise. The less social I was, the more antisocial I became. I became like The Grinch of Dr. Suess’ imagination. Horrible to look at, my face drawn and emaciated, and unpleasant to talk to, I would snap at the suggestion that I needed help and burrowed into the blog, while committing my off-time to grueling workouts.

The very essence of being a good Christian woman, wife, friend and daughter evaded me – it’s hard to be caring, compassionate, kind, welcoming and loving when you’re exhausted, counting calories or anticipating when you might get your next food fix. Ironically, shopping became like torture, as none of the clothes I liked fitted properly. The worse I felt about myself, the more I punished myself. My sense of self-worth – my self-respect – diminished.


The character I identify with most in the Bible is Job. The man who had everything only have it taken away to prove his faith. I don’t believe God let me hit rock bottom to spite me; I think he did it to cleanse me of all the wrong-thinking I’d acquired and to slow me down for long enough to appreciate the lessons. But there was a part of me that became fearful to let the eating disorder that had come to define me go. If I wasn’t the skinny girl, who was I?

There’s a scene in the brilliant ABC TV series The Brides of Christ where Sister Catherine – the flame-haired, highly educated, rebellious nun played by Josephine Burns – explains how we are each like onions and that it’s God’s desire to strip away the layers of the onion until we become smaller, shinier onions: perfected versions of ourselves unencumbered by guilt, fear, disappointments, self-loathing and worldly expectations. Glossy expectations.


While Vogue tells me that the latest Prada handbag and detox diet is the answer to my prayers, I like to think my faith and personal moral code is stronger now than these superficial persuasions. The glossies have been described as “self-hate” manuals, which exist to ensure women feel insecure about themselves enough to buy the products they proffer. By their standards, your skin, hair, body, home and successes will never quite be good enough.

Women aren’t completely clueless: yet we consume this stuff with relish. You have to ask why – it’s my job to ask why.

Having worked in the industry and kept the company of far too many magazines, I’m only too aware of all their shortcomings. One of my major gripes with the glossies is the glorification of weight loss. While I don’t deny that many women are happier when they feel they look better, this Cinderella Syndrome – the transformation of women via a makeover into glossy stereotypes – tells us that the only thing worthy of celebrating is our looks. And if you don’t have those, you might as well be invisible.

But, for all their faults, the glossies also give me insights into the world of other women.

I'm all too aware that I am an extreme case. I'm a walking, talking cautionary tale about what can happen to a girl when she uses glossy magazines as a road-map to life – or for a sense of self or security – because she's not aware that there are OTHER options. I am also very aware that I am not just the product of popular culture – parents, friends, family, society, schooling; everything feeds into one's self-perception. But we are ALL influenced by society and mainstream culture (people living under rocks notwithstanding).

I wouldn't wish the burden of an eating disorder on my worst enemy. I am hyper-aware now of how I want to bring up my girls, should I be blessed with them. First and foremost, I will love them with every inch of my being - by being there for them, listening to them, disciplining them and telling them to pursue their passions, get a solid education and utilise their gifts. I will try to NEVER talk negatively about my body around them. I will tell them God created them to be Just As They Are and loves them regardless of their achievements or looks or clothes.

I truly, truly hope that the next generation of girls can be saved by a fate similar to mine through the work being done in the community and by health professionals and even some magazines to correct all the wrongs. How wonderful the world would be if there were two feisty, spirited Sister Catherines for every vacuous pop princess; a thousand happy, healthy, functional, loved girls for every girl with a satchel who lost her way.

See also:
Girl Talk: Catholics, Cupcakes and Community
Girl Talk: Through the glossy looking glass
Glossy Talk: Girlfriend - a glossy role model?
Glossy Talk: The body beautiful

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Celebrating Our First Female Prime Minister

Glossy Talk: Julia Gillard prime ministerial material for Weekly cover?

"We are wondering when or if Julia Gillard should be a cover... How soon before she is PM?... Will she sell?". So tweeted Australian Women's Weekly editor Helen McCabe on June 8, followed by a second tweet on June 15 telling followers her July cover was sorted (three blocks of chocolate sacrificed in the process).

Could Australia's first female Prime Minister be in line for her first glossy cover in the lead up to an election? And, if so, will this publishing powerhouse help Labor seal the deal for another term? Furthermore, should a glossy be politically bi-partisan, and should it be running a candidate on the cover?

As far as middle-aged female constituents are concerned, the Weekly is as good a campaign platform as any other media. It has 2.19 million readers (14% of the population aged 15-64), but beyond that, it makes political waves across the media (see: Tony Abbott "virgingate"). Even more so, the requisite marketing paraphernalia that accompanies any new glossy issue (in-store posters and the like) would amount to free electoral advertising.

As Gatewatching posted in January: "The Weekly is a colossus, that really does reach an incredibly wide sweep of Australian voters. Looking bad in it means looking bad to a lot of people. For a man who is struggling with women voters, Tony Abbott has at the very least taken a huge risk with his comments. If they really were off the cuff, and really do hurt him, he will come to regret going unprepared to an encounter with the Weekly, one of Australia’s most important political publications."

Following the Twitter trail, The Weekly's associate editor Bryce Corbett suggests that a cover and cover story is in the works, but given the Weekly's July issue deadline and on-sale date (June 30), and, of course, developments in Canberra, it's more likely Gillard will make an August debut (issue on sae July 28). Still, we could be surprised: editor Helen McCabe, with her newspaper background, could pull strings. This is a MAJOR event as far as Australian women are concerned, though Gillard crosses demographics: her "femaleness" is not the key to her success.

Former prime ministerial wife Therese Rein made the September 2009 Women's Weekly cover, while Gillard was pictured looking saintly in a Christmas themed spread titled 'Magic Moments' in the December 2009 issue (above), far from the stern, businesslike Gillard we've seen pictured elsewhere in the press (it's the kind of softness we've seen the PM display since the spill; sigh).

Regardless of whether she gets a Weekly cover – which will be dissected and critiqued and widely reported – it's refreshing to be celebrating a female success story in the glossy-sphere not associated with weight loss.

For full spill/Gillard/Rudd coverage, visit our ABC.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Growing up girl in a pop culture world

Girl Talk: Reflections on growing up girl in a pop culture world

When I was 17, I performed a contemporary dance piece to Portishead's "All Mine" for my HSC major work, and Mum and Dad came to watch. I wore a little black chiffon dress, which covered my arms and chest but showed a lot of leg. It was a fairly demure look, but the choreography was quite sophisticated – all elongated leg extensions, floor rolls and running side splits. The moody, dramatic music lent the piece a sexual expressiveness that my father was ill-prepared for. I vividly recall his look of reserved mortification. His little girl was no longer the snowflake with the cotton wool balls glued to her tutu: she was a young woman. I wasn't trying to be deliberately provocative; I was just doing what I love.

How soon we forget.

I was reflecting on this yesterday after seeing pictures of Miley Cyrus at the Much Music Awards. Not so different, Miley and I (millions of adoring fans, fame, wealth, musical talent excluded). In fact, Miley's story probably reflects that of a lot of young women on a less grand scale. I certainly wore some provocative outfits and did some things I'm glad to have not have had broadcast over YouTube or tabloid magazines or Perez Hilton as a teen.

Last week Nicole Richie had this to say in response to Lisa Wilkinson's question about leaving her "crazy days" of partying with Paris behind (I will stop banging on about this soon):

"You have to understand I'm 28 and I started The Simple Life when I was 20 or 21, so I'm sure that you can say that the difference when you were 20 to closer to approaching 30, you just grew up in just a very natural way. So, no, there wasn't a day when I woke up and said, 'Okay, it's time to completely change my life'. It's just part of growing up"

In her piece, 'Leave Miley's Crotch Alone', Tracie of Jezebel writes: "Aside from the bizarre assumption that a minor should have no expectations of privacy if she's behaving and dressing a certain way in front of other people, there's also another conversation happening, in which adults are trying to intellectualize and analyze the sartorial decisions of a 17-year-old girl, and ultimately coming to the conclusion that she shouldn't experiment with her sexuality because she's just a kid and she doesn't know what she's doing. My question, then, is: How is she supposed to learn?"

Is projecting all our worries about porn culture and the sexualisation of tween and teen girls onto Miley Cyrus (or, indeed, Hilary Duff – guilty as charged) helpful? Should we lock Disney princesses up in fortified towers so their youthful curiosity or sexual energy doesn't get the better of them? Or cover them in veils and long garments to avoid having to look at their burgeoning bodies? Turn our backs in shame when they refuse to play the good girl?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the early sexualisation of girls, aided and abetted by porn and raunch culture (increasingly part of popular culture), and arguably Perez Hilton, is to their detriment (I recommend Getting Real for further study). I cringe every time I see one of my nieces (aged three and six) do something behaviourally that's too mature for them ("Look at me, I'm a supermodel!"; "Look, I'm wearing my bra!" Eek). And I know, without doubt, that the predominant messages they see and here via the media are to blame.

But I believe we can all contribute to correcting this by educating the girls in our lives to apply themselves to their studies, explore their creativity beyond makeup application and make informed choices about their bodies and relationships (and reading/viewing habits). We can make them less vulnerable by making them smart. What girls don't need is more pressure or judgement.

After recommitting to my Christian faith about five years ago, while I was working on a teen mag, I was aghast at the judgement that fell on me – magazines like that were deemed evil by default. It was always a frustration trying to explain that we were actually doing lots of good things to address girls' self-esteem; ergo, don't judge a book by its cover. This has always struck me as odd, as Jesus was such an accepting person. He encouraged people to turn from their sin, but never turned away someone in need. What's more, he attended to and nurtured women instead of sidelining them. They were a crucial part of his ministry.

Helen Mirren's New York Magazine comments took me a little by surprise but gave me pause of thought: "The Playboy Mansion, coke, and the rise of all that—Guccione and Hefner always pushed it as liberation, but it didn’t seem like that to me," she says. "That was women obeying the sexualized form created by men—though maybe we always do that, because we want to be attractive. But I was kind of a trailblazer because I demanded to do it my own way. I’d say, ‘I’m not having it put on me by someone else.’ I didn’t want to be the sort of puritanical good girl with a little white collar who says, ‘Don’t shag until you get married.'"

Knowing what I know now, I'd say there's value in being the puritanical good girl, despite it being the unpopular way to go. Sexual permissiveness isn't even an issue anymore; it's the default, rather than the exception. But there is still a massive chasm that exists between what the world values in women, as dictated by men and advertising/media/Hollywood (sex! success! glossy hair! cool clothes! big boobs! tiny butt!), and what God values in women:

"Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious."

Like Billy-Ray Cryrus no doubt, my dad still loved and adored me even after the Portishead peace – instinctually, he wanted to protect me and keep me close to him, but all he could really do as a father was to love me and do the best he could to raise me well and create foundations in character to see me on my way. I have made many, many mistakes, but he's always there at the end of the phone line waiting to hear me out and help me get back on track.

God is absolutely the same, if not infinitely more generous and gracious with his time and gifts. The most liberating thing is knowing that God loves you Just As You Are. And wants the best for you. Miley "Can't Be Tamed", and – God help us – Perez will likely live to blog another day, but she will grow up, hopefully, with the knowledge that she's loved no matter what. As she sings, "Keep the faith, baby, it's all about the climb".

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS: The Clippings Post!

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

Age. It's an issue the glossies often handle awkwardly – preaching age acceptance on the one hand but filling their sheets with images of 20-year-old models for inspiration and ads for age-defying skin creams to thwart the inevitable onset of time. You know you live in a warped society when women fear wrinkles more than death.

Perhaps a men's magazine can cover the issue more honestly? The May issue of Esquire, the Women's Issue with Christina Hendricks on the cover, caught the attention of writer Lee Tran Lam for this reason: "I’ve started reading Esquire and (surprisingly for a men’s mag), am really loving it! They recently ran a Women’s Issue, and one feature had interviews with all these women at different ages – 18, 27, 35, 44 and 53. It’s really a great snapshot of how people change over time. Some of the comments are throwaway, but quite a few are inspiring or thoughtful and funny."

The spread she refers to features head-and-shoulder shots of more than 50 women. I think Darlene Lyon, 44, best sums the whole thing up when she says, "The reality hit me in the waiting area for this shoot. I'm not 18. Or 27. Or 35. I'm 44!". Isn't that just the thing – we can happily course through life completely uninhibited about our age or wrinkles or cellulite or weight or greying hair until something in the media, or the sight of a lithesome 18-year-old in short-shorts at the mall, puts us right back in our place.

Poo to that. The most generous thing we can do for each other is to just be real, which is why I salute Mia and her tummy and bare-faced blogger Jodie Anstead and any glossy that celebrates age and beauty and womanhood in an appropriate way (enough skin and body tips from Miranda Kerr!) and to accept that ageing, like cellulite and winter-time weight gain, is inevitable, so why not roll with the punches and get on with living life?

As for Esquire, it may have put busty, airbrushed Christina Hendricks on the cover, but applause for showcasing women of all ages in a natural, uninhibited, non-sexualised way, together with their insights and quips. Now, I'm off to Sydney to celebrate my mum's 58th birthday!

Contribute to The Clippings Post!
Lee Tran is being sent a copy of French songstress Emilie Simon's latest album, The Big Machine (thank you, Cartell Music), for her troubles. Follow her lead and secure yourself a copy by submitting a clipping this week! Here's how...

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 along with your mailing address.
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.

GWAS Note: Look forward to a mammoth double-edition of Media Musings next week unless I manage to sneak some Mac time en route to Sydney.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Forgiveness (Guest Post)

Girl Talk: Forgive but forget me not

Now the marks have been submitted (whee!), I have a little time to ponder – and share with you – some of the excellent work I had the pleasure to appraise through QUT's feature writing course this semester. This column by the vivacious Ellen-Maree Elliot was written in class time. The subject: "You know what I really hate...".

You know what I really hate? The phrase: “Forgive and forget”. Not the whole phrase. I generally think forgiveness is pretty important for closure and moving on and maintaining and strengthening relationships. My main problem is with the “forget”.

Last Monday my little sister, who is eleven, killed her bird. In the early hours of the morning, we found the grey and white cockatiel struggling for life, starving and too exhausted to open his mouth for water. Mum cradled the bird, stroking his soft feathers until his tiny heart stuttered to a stop. He died because his owner was more preoccupied with replaying Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” over and over and over (and over) than with feeding him.

My sister's chest heaved and tears streamed from her big blue eyes. I wanted to cuddle her and tell her it was alright; that it wasn’t her fault. But I couldn’t, because it wasn’t alright and it was her fault. But I did forgive her because I, too, have been guilty of murder of a cockatiel through neglect (R.I.P. Arthur, how I miss the way you would whistle "Jingle Bells" with me). While I have forgiven myself for that gross indiscretion, forget it I never will.

Seriously, one of the most amazing gifts we’ve been given as human beings is memory. I firmly believe the reason I remembered Arthur in light of my sister's atrocity, and the girl who spread (rather nasty) rumours about me in year nine, or the (rather nasty) rumours I spread about another girl in year eight is not a character flaw, but a survival instinct.

If we remember the wrongs committed to us by others, or that we have committed ourselves, we remember not to put ourselves in similar situations. We can prevent ourselves making stupid decisions or other people making stupid decisions or saying that stupid thing that probably didn’t help stem the spread of the rather nasty rumours.

On a grander, more altruistic scale, if we remember the wrongs committed in our society – Auschwitz, Rwanda, or closer to home the Stolen Generation – we can see the signs of social injustice and stop the cycle before it completes its revolution. But forgiveness is, as another infinitely superior saying goes, divine.

When I was 15, I went to Robben Island in South Africa, the place where political prisoners, Nelson Mandela being the most notable, were held during Apartheid. We were shown through the prison by a man named Glen. He had been held prisoner and brutally tortured for more than ten years for his efforts to stop Apartheid.

He said, “I had to let go of the anger in my heart and forgive the people who imprisoned me, because without forgiveness, how can we have unity? How can I have moved forward? But I will never forget what they did to me. And that is why I stay here and show people through the prison. So people will see this and prevent Apartheid from ever happening again.”

And so, I leave you with a slightly edited version of the saying, in the hope it will replace its predecessor. Simply: “Forgive”.

Yours truly,
Ellen-Maree Elliot @ Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Relinquishing your professional name

Guest Girl Talk: A rose by any other name by Sarah Ayoub of

Over the weekend, I found myself sharing with friends the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when my husband calls me by my maiden name: a cheeky, throw-away "Hey, Holburn" conjures up feelings of nostalgia, pride and comfort all at once.

While I felt changing my name was a mark of respect for my new husband, and a symbol of a new beginning, there was definitely a BIG part of me that grappled with identity issues as I came to grips with my new relationship (and name) status. It's partly why I started this blog shortly after our engagement – the longing to grip onto a sense of self (digging my feminist heels in online, so to speak).

I needn't have worried – it takes more than a name change to separate a girl from her heritage, says she who retains the 'nee' in her blog byline – but the issue is particularly pertinent to women whose professional careers have been built on a single, distinguishable and (hopefully) reputable name, particularly now in the era of search engines.

Here, bride-to-be Sarah Ayoub of discusses her thoughts on the practicalities of the convention – in terms of commerce, career prosperity and identity – for a professional journalist...

Most people jump straight into frenzied, exciting wedding planning when they get proposed to. I jumped straight into salvaging my identity.

Before I became a journalist, I was adamant that I’d change my name after marriage. There was no question about it. I didn’t want to be a woman who was threatened by her identity being usurped by that of her husband’s.

Furthermore, I had spent the formative years of my university education simply giddy with the excitement at the prospect that I’d lose the ethnic name that no one knew how to pronounce or spell when and if I married my Anglo-Saxon boyfriend.

But now the day that prospect has arrived, I couldn’t be more torn. As a freelance journalist, my name is my business and my brand – it’s my trademark in each article I write, the keyword in my website domain and the aspect of copyright that makes every idea that I develop into a story permanently mine.

I can't help thinking that I’ll be losing three years of media profiling – dozens of articles in big-name publications, presentations at industry events and interviews on TV and radio – simply by removing the surname that I’ve known all my life and adding on someone else’s.

In March 2008, The Daily Telegraph revealed that, according to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the practice of changing your name to that of your husband’s had tripled in a decade, up to 12,923 in 2006 from 4020 in 1996. It seems that women are pursuing the more conventional route for the sake of sharing the same name as their children, a decision which I find noble and cute, but which I consider to be made in a situation different to my own.

My pop-cultural heroine Lois Lane spent years wistfully waiting for her superman while simultaneously kicking corruption’s butt as the Daily Planet’s most renowned investigative reporter, earning herself an infamous reputation in the process. Her joy at finding out he was masquerading as her geeky partner-in-journalism Clark Kent was diminished somewhat when she realised, upon their happy-ever-after engagement, that she’d have to leave some of that infamous achievement behind if she took his last name as her own.

Far be it from me to consider myself a journalist in the league of my heroine, but her predicament certainly echoes my own. My name is synonymous with my job and the area I have fashioned as my specialty. It is the manifestation of my area of expertise in my profession because I write about race and identity and assimilation with regards to the Arab-Australian community. And I have an Arab-Australian name to validate what I'm saying more than text or interviews ever could. My name translates to me living my profession, and my career and work is more credible because of it.

I know I'm being dramatic, but I can’t bear the thought of losing that spark of recognition if someone were to read an article with my by-line and not register to associate it with the work I have written in the past. But what am I going to do? Stick a ‘nee’ in every by-line of a story when sub-editors have enough work to do with word counts and layouts? Or hyphenate it, creating a potentially more cumbersome name to accommodate, complete with all the email, business card, website and social networking profile changes?

When it comes down to it, I realise I have burdened myself with this decision because I feel that it is more than career history that I am potentially throwing away. The ethnic name that I was so anxious to be rid of has also became my mark. It symbolises a piece of cultural heritage, a mark of my ancestry, not just in terms of family, but in faith and race too. I find it hard to see myself making kibbeh and vine leaves and tabouli without retaining an aspect of the Lebanese typecast that could help justify it all.

In the end, I have spent one of the most exciting times of my life pondering whether the portfolio I’ve spent years nurturing and cultivating would smell just as sweet if I said goodbye to the old me, and ushered in a girl who was basically making a name for herself from scratch.

I know that with all this passion for my work, I’ll still be worth reading no matter the name under the headline. Moreover, I realise that marriage is a beginning and not an end – and that I still have my words, I still have my personality and, most importantly, I have my true love, who is ultimately the byline that will stick long after the music of the media - and the wedding - fades away.

Is trading in a name the ultimate love sacrifice, needless career suicide or the relinquishing of girlhood identity? Come December 5, I hope to have settled that conundrum. Perhaps you, dear GWAS readers, can help me?

Read Sarah's pre-nuptial columns for Bride To Be magazine here.

Yours truly,
Sarah Ayoub @ Girl With a Satchel

Glossy Talk: A love letter to Sophie Dahl

Glossy Talk: A love letter to Sophie Dahl

I adored this eloquent reader's letter penned by Jennifer Villarina and printed in the June issue of U.S. Vogue in praise of Sophie Dahl's Up Front piece, 'Secrets of the Flesh':

"I feel it may have been a mistake for VOGUE to publish Sophie Dahl's "Secrets of the Flesh". In doing so, your magazine has set the bar for future articles about food and diet impossibly high. The depth with which Dahl writes about her personal experiences (as a voluptuous model surrounded by calorie-obsessed mothers, a chronically ill waif, and finally a food writer) is unique for someone with her background. Dahl's description of her ultimate appreciation for food as the fuel of life and source of memory is eloquent and touching. Her writing is as balanced and flavorful as the good she describes and–like a perfect meal–left me happy and satisfied."

My sentiments exactly (but expressed so much better). It is more than a little ironic that Vogue should set the bar for body image editorial. But there you go. Wintour wonders never cease.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Pop Talk: Adriana Xenides' lonely heart

Pop Talk: Adriana Xenides - did Aussie TV's game-show golden girl die of a lonely heart?

A dazzling smile can mask a lot of sadness, but a pretty face and fame can't buy you peace – it's an all too familiar tale from the fickle world of pop culture recently brought to life by Megan Gale's role in I Love You Too. Describing the parallels between her role playing an Italian model and her real-life experience, Gale told Adelaide Now:

"The [scene] that sticks out the most for me is the hotel room scene. She is in this gorgeous
hotel room suite with beautiful bunches of flowers and gifts that have been sent to her but despite all of that, she is really sad and she's isolated and she's lonely because she's on the other side of the world and she doesn't know anyone."

It's a scene I'm sure the late Adriana Xenides,
the former hostess of Wheel of Fortune, and by virtue of her 18-year run on the show an Aussie pop culture icon, could relate to, such was her palpable sense of isolation and sadness, conveyed for public consumption via gossip magazines and tabloid current affairs shows.

In 2001, she said: "I was voted one of TV's most loved icons but I had never felt so alone. One day I opened a magazine, and saw my face smiling back at me. I was shocked by the sorrow in my eyes and realised that I had been faking my smile for far too long. I tried to think back to where it had all gone wrong. When did I lose my enthusiasm? When did my famous smile become a chore? I felt anxious and alone."

Most recently the "former TV beauty" told Woman's Day that she had had five heart attacks, crediting her best friend, her dog Red, with rescuing her after a collapse. In a 2007 segment on Today Tonight, she bared her bloated belly for all to see the affects of her gastro-intestinal disorder. Her appearance was a comfort to other sufferers who talked of the debilitating, terrifying affects of the condition.

"Adriana had a heart of gold and she couldn't do enough for people,'' her one-time co-host John Burgess said. ''She always put other people ahead of herself. We've lost a good person.''

Her private life was marred by driving offenses, a breakdown, relationship trials, financial issues, depression and the intestinal disorder that ultimately caused her death, according to reports. Since leaving Wheel of Fortune in 1996, Xenides had struggled to find her feet, appearing variously on Big Brother, Beauty and the Beast and Burgo's Catch Phrase.

"People knew her as a model and a game show hostess, but she was well educated, came from a great family and spoke five languages,'' her former publicist and friend Michael Shephard told The Sydney Morning Herald. ''She had such an amazing insight into life and the world, and a great passion for animals. She didn't get to show that side of herself because of the nature of the beast.''

Let's hope her death is not in vain – and that other TV personalities (or, indeed, anyone with a public profile) whose coping mechanisms are fragile might find the extra personal support they need to cope with life in the limelight. While "Baby" John Burgess, her 12-year hosting companion, visited her hospital bed, it's a shame that such a bright lady should have felt so terribly alone.

Depression and isolation lead to lonely hearts, so it's wonderful to hear the Queensland Government has committed $8.5 million over four years to reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. The first International Youth Mental Health Conference is to be held in Melbourne on July 29 and 30 – sign up here.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

GWAS Short & Sweet (Carrie-ing on edition)

Join Girl With a Satchel for a cuppa and chinwag every Monday morning...

Often over the weekend I'll mentally torture myself chew over whatever blog posts I've put up during the week – there's usually one that leaves me cringing on reflection. Like wearing something trendy that Does Not Suit You (billowy, pillow-casey prairie dresses, anyone?) only to look back in horror: what the feck was I thinking?

Such posts generally occur when I forget to check in with my Christian values ("the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control"), even though while writing them I wrestle with the uncomfortable feeling that something is amiss.

Like Sarah Wilson, who confessed in her most recent Sunday Life column that she squashes self-doubt by shoving food down her gob, I too often ignore my conscience/gut feeling/lack of peace by attending to my face with food. Instead of just sitting there, all meditative-like, waiting for peace to wash over me before I commence, I gun it and gobble like a little piggy. Silly innit?

I felt this way posting about Sex and the City 2. I did think it was shockingly bad, yes indeedy. And many of you agreed(y). But I do also think that perhaps it was a little unfair to our (fictional) friend Carrie Bradshaw, on whom so many hopes were pinned and dashed in a (two-hour) flash. "Little Black Dash" responded to that post in this way:

"Maybe they were all just admitting to things that aren't perfect or attractive or moral that some women feel? Yes, there were some cringe-worthy moments but I also thought there were some fairly honest (even if it was a bit forced) moments that made me feel something and made me think... just sayin'."

One of the things I loathe most about the "female condition" (a state too often fed by the glossy media) is the judgement – from both self and other women. The Carrie presented to us in the film disappointed on so many levels – the palpable dissatisfaction with her lot life, the incessant (and unnecessary) shoe shopping, the inability to voice her concerns with Big, the searching for approval, the sneaky (regrettable) kiss with Aiden, the seemingly vacuous, superficial existence, the crimped hair (now we're getting picky), BUT... throw a girl a bone.

Golly gosh, I know I haven't got it all sorted out, strive as I might (see evidence here). And I know there are a lot of women out there who could probably identify with Carrie's sense of falling short of the perfect life (because, ping!, we are human).

I had the pleasure of speaking to a beautiful woman at church on Sunday – an extremely intelligent dentist who shared some of her struggles with me. While she's long since let go of the fear and anxiety that once controlled her, she still wrestles with control and perfectionism. And she's in her 40s. Sweet relief. I found we both covet peace in our lives – the sort of inner assurance, contentment and joy that lets you shine and not be a bitch (like Carrie can be) because you are desperately trying to control everything within your grasp but you can't because – grrrr – you're not in control. But while "letting go" comes more easily for some, we really have to work at it.

You can't lose weight without changing your exercise and eating habits – so too, you can't hope to be more content without practising contentment. This is absolutely how I found myself in a state of anxiety a week or two ago – I let myself go (spiritually speaking). A gorgeous and wise friend of mine (who has fabulous taste in shoes) responded in this way:

"Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Life’s too short and you need to nurture yourself a little more than most. There’s nothing to be scared of. Even if you do make the wrong decision – who cares – it’s not like you can’t ever make a right one after that to get back on the path you want to take."

So, to all the girls/women/ladies/mothers who identify with Carrie or this girl (with a satchel): it's okay. But perhaps if we stopped and took a few moments to replenish the spiritual stores, we'd find that, whee!, we are actually quite content and can Carrie-on; no superfluous face-stuffing, shoe shopping or self-flagellation necessary.

"Many of us race from one thing to another, driven by our need to accomplish, yet never feeling fulfilled or stopping long enough to appreciate our worth in God's eyes. Lasting fulfillment doesn't come from reaching another goal or deadline... What makes you think you can fulfill God's purpose for your life without taking the time and effort required to build a relationship with Him? Without fresh fire in your soul you will burn out. Another credential and another trophy won't cut it. Only God can restore what all your striving has depleted. God will never ask you to do anything that replaces what His presence alone can do. In His presence crowns lose their lustre and human accolades become meaningless. (See Revelation 4:10-11.)" - The Word for Today, June 6

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Pop Talk: Sex and the City (a cautionary tale)

Pop Talk: Sex and the City 2 (a cautionary tale of cocktails and tulle)
*Spoiler alert*

Possibly the most-analysed and collectively panned film of the year, I went into a screening of Sex and the City with an open mind. My biggest fear coming out of the cinema? That the loose ends imply a third film might be on the cards.

Okay, to say I had no preconceptions would be a lie: I genuinely wanted to be able to say, "It's a bit of frivolous fun – so quit with the feminist contextualising and Take A Chill Pill". But I can't. Because the film has attempted to make statements about the modern female condition that are as outdated and cliched as the 1980s ensembles in the opening scenes.

I cringed from start to finish (spoiler alert!). But it wasn't just Liza Minnelli performing "Single Ladies", Samantha's relentless crass innuendo, Charlotte's hot nanny with nipples on top or the sartorial, sexual and cultural atrocities committed in Abu Dhabi that induced my wincing. It was the embarrassing and sad realisation that Carrie had once been an aspirational role model of mine. And the scary thought that young women (or, indeed, older ones!) still might find value in modelling themselves on the show's precepts.

'Tis true, I was once a Sex and the City advocate and a card-carrying Carrie girl. I was studying at university when the show first aired on Australian TV and tuned into Channel Nine at 9.30pm every Monday night to watch it (though the episode screenings were about two years behind the rest of the world!). I didn't subscribe to the girls' fragrantly promiscuous lifestyles, nor their frequent use of the f-word, but I did covet their wardrobes and their kinship and their careers.

I know I'm not the only aspiring writer to have looked at Carrie Bradshaw as a fictional heroine, despite knowing full well that a designer wardrobe on a freelance writer's budget is about as achievable as Sarah Jessica Parker's impossibly slim physique (her influence in the body-image department is a whole other post) and that scoring a by-line in Vogue is equally as challenging (aspiring freelance writers might do well to emulate Aussie journo Rachel Hills, who has had an actual Vogue by-line, or former Vogue fashion features director Clare Press).

While I may have identified more with the earnest college student who accosted Carrie in the Hamptons and offered to do her "wash" in exchange for time with her column-writing mentor, the show's permissive consumerism influenced my shopping habits, its styling my clothing choices and its snappy dialogue my writer's voice. I might have even affected a few Carrie-esque mannerisms (the eyebrow raise, anyone?). Cringe.

S&TC was like a glossy magazine brought to life – all fashion, men, sex, relationships and catchy coverlines in the form of one-liners. Coupled with my devotion to the glossies, it gave me permission to shop with abandon. Carrie may have joked, "I like my money right where I can see it... hanging in my closet", but I don't recall her ever really struggling to get by on her last 20 bucks. She always looked amazing. Even when stumbling about drunk... with a cigarette hanging from her mouth.

When I watch the TV series on DVD now, I can't quite believe that I bought in. Yes, the scripts were well written. Yes, they addressed women's issues that were previously taboo on commercial TV. And, yes, the girls taught us about the importance of a close circle of girlfriends. But the values of sexual permissiveness, rampant consumerism, appearance-based narcissism and cocktail-swilling – and the lack of a grounding sense of family or faith – render it an anachronism, at least in my mind.

In the film sequel, we find Carrie discontent to play out her married life to Big on the couch, grasping to hold onto her former glamorous single life, throwing a tantrum over a scathing review in her beloved New Yorker, contemplating the purchase of a new piece of furniture for the corner, writing on relationships for Vogue, playing kissies with Aiden and averting the idea of having children. She still knows how to crack a witty one-liner, but, like Samantha in menopause denial, she's suffering a severe case of arrested development.

Some of the issues (albeit cliched) resonate – the small comforts of married life (which she sees as banality); viewing yourself through the prism of career success (for her, glowing book reviews); and maintaining female friendships – but Carrie's overwhelming sense of entitlement, further enhanced by Big and Aiden's appraisals ("you're different from other girls") and her reaction to Big's anniversary gift ("jewellery would have been nice") just makes her seem immature, like a 40-year-old trapped in the body and mind of a 20-year-old.

Perhaps one day Carrie will leave her girlhood behind and grow up (and what is the definition of a grown-up, anyway?). Or maybe she is representative of a sort of Peter Pan syndrome affecting women who refuse to let go of fashion, jobs, dreams, youthful skin and bodies – anything they have worked for and have given them a sense of self – and settle for a different kind of contentment.

Until then, Sex and the City 2 serves as more cautionary tale than fairytale, about a little girl lost in big girl's shoes, between the streets of New York and markets of Abu Dhabi, still wearing a tulle tutu.

See also:
Hating On Sex and the City is Soooo 2006 by Rachel Hills
The Death of Sex and the City by Hadley Freeman

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Talk: Anxiety attacks!

Girl Talk: Crippling indecision, anxiety & getting wisdom

"'Happy is the man who... gains understanding.' " Proverbs 3:13

A few nights ago I suffered the kind of anxiety attack that left me gasping for air, unable to sleep and wishing my dad was there to chase the baddies away (Husband dutifully rubbed my back). It was a mounting attack, two weeks in the making (or maybe a lifetime!) that had its roots in one of my major shortcomings – the inability to make a choice.

You might expect that a girl nearing 30 had made enough decisions to amount to the kind of life experience that would help her discern when something is going to be beneficial and when it is not. Well, not in my case! (Or, apparently, in the Duchess of Windsor's). At least, not when it comes to big-picture, really important stuff.

Oh, yes, I can pick a meal off a menu in a nanosecond, walk into a store and out within 15 minutes with an outfit, purchase a song off iTunes or settle on which film to see on impulse, buy a birthday gift without a care – I am finely in tune with my sense of style and taste to the point of being utterly relaxed about it.

But other decisions I am much less confident about. Part of this is due to perfectionism – those Choose Your Own Adventure stories of our youth? I would read both outcomes. Editing down beauty product to feature on an editorial page? Let's shoot everything! Editing down a month's worth of books to four to review? Lock me up in a padded room and deny me sharp objects.

I have mostly cruised through life taking the path most expected or wherever the wind swept me – I have fallen into most of my relationships with men out of convenience or a fleeting flirtation with their physical form with little regard for their suitability; I have drifted into very nice jobs mostly on my ability to string a few charming words together; and my approach to financial management has been laissez faire or short-term at best. I think I missed the classes in school titled How To Be a Proper, Responsible Grown-Up.

I don't think I'm a stupid girl, but I also don't think I'm particularly wise, either (Fergie could relate). Though I'm morally quite sound and firm, when it comes to the big-ticket stuff – my happiness, relationships and health – I often trip over myself on the way to taking the wrong path. And often that wrong path is the one lined with the promise of pleasing other people or Living to My Potential (it certainly hasn't been lined with 500,000 pound bribes!).

In today's post-feminist world I, like many women, am spoiled for choice – there are just so many options! A while back, I penned a piece for Cleo about ambition for which I spoke to Courtney E. Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, who said:

"I believe that this generation of girls was raised with the message, "You can be anything," and somehow heard "I have to be everything." This mistranslation was in the modeling--our mothers were, more often than not, total superwomen. We watched them and learned that femaleness was about being caring, powerful, dynamic, beautiful, and yes, pretty damn exhausted...

The quest for effortless perfection is making us achieve at unparalleled rates (we outnumber men on college campuses by 2 million!), but it's also causing unprecedented rates of anxiety, depression, and eating disordered behaviors. We have largely lost sight of happiness in a haze of our own insatiable ambition."

Most recently, a career option (or two) has presented itself and I've been near-paralysed by it: wanting to do the right thing by my prospective employer, but also aware of my own needs and the conviction I have about keeping this here blog bubbling along, as well as my marriage – nothing ruins a relationship quite like a stressful job! – and developing other professional prospects. How many balls can I juggle before they all fall down (ring around the rosy, a pocketful of posies...)?

A friend of mine once advised "bite off more than you can chew and chew it". In some ways I agree with this idea of diving right in and taking on the world when doors are opened. But I really wonder whether it's worth killing yourself in the process (not literally, hopefully). A couple of wise slightly older friends of mine have been quite influential in the development of my thinking in this area – three of them have recently cut back on work commitments in favour of family and down-time, or simply because it no longer felt right.

We can't all be go-getting, Gucci-clad power women tackling project after project on the climb to the top (of what, I'm not sure). Nor can we all emulate the "portfolio" careers of women in the public spotlight (everyone from J.Lo to Garance Dore), who often have extra help on the home/work front. And how terribly boring the world would be if we did.

"Everyone is evolving to portfolio careers or slash careers, depending on your favorite nomenclature, " says Courtney. "Life should be measured--not on dress size, salary, or awards - but on joy, fulfillment, and relationships."

It's sort of ironic that someone who can talk in front of hundreds of people and not feel intimidated, who doesn't blink when having a needle injected, should suffer this kind of crippling anxiety. One thing I know is I'm not alone (in addition to friends, the Bible is absolutely littered with stories of angst) and I will reach safer shores and still waters, hopefully with some newly acquired wisdom in my pocket, and without losing my pants...

"'Do not permit yourselves to be fearful...' " John 14:27

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel