Talking back to the Media

Did you happen to catch the debate on the sexualisation of children in the media (“Sex Sells – but at what cost to our kids?” ) on the ABC’s A Difference of Opinion,Thursday 27th September?  Enlighten’s Victorian Program Director, Sonia Lyne, was present.

I thought the program had interesting moments although the issue did tend to get confused. The real issue set for debate was whether pre-pubescent children are being inappropriately portrayed in a sexual way by the media and having sexy, adult type products directly marketed to them. Associate Professor Catherine Lumby constantly interjected and instead seemed to want to discuss the need for teen girls and women to have the freedom to express their own sexuality – which of course no one on the panel was disputing!

Furthermore, what did Ms Lumby hope to gain by repeatedly referring to historical evidence of the exploitation of children?  Her argument seemed to be that historically, “kiddie porn” has always existed, so what is all the fuss about now? As Melinda Tankard Reist from Women’s Forum Australia pointed out, we now know better – aren’t we meant to be more enlightened? YES!  

One suspects that Ms Lumby’s historical references were simply an attempt to flex her academic muscle – there was much toing and froing over whose research had the most credibility. Mmmm. I would have loved to have been there and offered a practitioners perspective… the various experts made much of statistics and their recent contact with small handfuls of girls in focus groups. We work closely with over 200 girls each week and I can confirm that although they are incredibly media savvy, they are still vulnerable and susceptible to media messages (if they weren’t why would marketers produce such advertisements?!) and they are not happy!   

One positive that came out of the program was the consensus on both sides that education is really important and that all young people need to be critical viewers of popular culture. Although I do not think the media is solely responsible for the sexualisation of children and the objectification of women generally, I do think it plays a key role.

I love the idea of encouraging girls to talk back to the media and share images of women that are positive and affirming (perhaps by creating their own “Hall of Fame”) and by naming and shaming some of the exploitative, inappropriate messages that they will no longer tolerate  – “The Wall of Shame.” This idea is further developed in the video entitled “Girls, Sexuality and the Media” in my VidPod, here girls also become “culture producers not just culture consumers.” Fabulous.

Got me thinking about my own “Hall of Fame” and “Wall of Shame”…. these need not be ad’s that exploit and sexualise young children, rather ad’s that generally objectify women and make us feel less than we are.

I had to restrict myself to just a couple in each category as I have work to do and could easily get carried away here and go for days 🙂 Help me out –  feel free to comment and add yours!

The Hall of Fame


As mentioned in a previous post, love the slogan for their new women’s range (“Sport is not an obligation. It`s a game. So play. And have fun. It`s up to you. Throw away expectations. And surprise yourself along the way. Impossible is Nothing.”) also loved their ad. featuring Jodie Henry looking strong and confident – also pleased at the the lack of gratuitous flesh we are so used to seeing in most sport ad’s!   

The Body Shop


An oldie but a goodie featuring Ruby the anti-Barbie. It still makes me smile. I thought it appropriate to include too given Anita Rodderick, Body Shop founder, has recently died. Love the slogan ” There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do.”   


The Wall of Shame

Unilever and the Lynx ad’s

Talk about on the nose…beautiful young women who gyrate uncontrollably and strip at the mere sniff of this cheap, nasty aftershave!

And to add injury to insult, the men featured are so damn inappropriate – in one ad. the “sex magnet” is a medical practitioner ( a Dentist – is there any more vulnerable position to be in than with a mouth full of instruments?) whilst another features a girl cavorting wildly in front of her boyfriends elderly father! All so Freudian and horrible.

Lynx’s target market for this campaign is 14-15 year old boys. Gee, thanks for fostering respect for girls in our young men Unilever! As mentioned in a previous post, Unilever also own Dove and whilst promoting this rubbish for boys, they are pushing their Real Beauty campaign on young women…GRRRRRR. I’ll say it again – MIXED MESSAGES.

Dolce and Gabbana  

The recent Women’s Forum Australia Newsletter alerted me to this vile ad. for fashion label / perfume giant Dolce Gabbana.


Thank goodness this ad.was banned in Europe as it clearly glorifies violence against women. It is not a new “angle” for D & G though; a number of their campaigns have featured violent images of both women and men in pseudo-rape scenes. I have tried to ease my conscious for years as theirs also happens to be my favourite perfume but this was the last straw! I have thrown all my D&G perfumes out. 🙂 Ahhhhh…purse power.

Natan Jewellers

The ad. below is an older one (2003?) for American Jewellers Natan ( a large prestigious jewellers who have a reputation for producing ad’s that are incredibly demeaning!). I thought this one was so woeful that I googled it to check its authenticity. Sadly, it was the real deal. Thank goodness I don’t have a rock from Natan or that would be binned too!


Over to you !

5 thoughts on “Talking back to the Media

  1. Sonia Lyne says:

    Yes I was present in the audience on Thursday night and I found my frustration during the show increased as the discussion on the true nature of the topic decreased! I also believe the panel tended to deviate into tangents that avoided the real question. YES – the discussion was weighed down with too many historical references on Catherine Lumbys behalf.

    My extended arm was overlooked by Jeff throughout the night – I keenly wanted to interject at numerous points to express my passion for the topic and turn the panel’s conversation towards the importance of the question.

    I felt most compelled to speak after the 2 young models commented on their experience in the advertising/modeling industry. I would have liked to have firstly commended and affirmed their confidence, and then proceeded to point out that they are in the minority when compared to many other girls. The majority of girls we work with are in a more vulnerable position and do not necessarily have the confidence to speak out. As we know, models are exposed to an industry in that suggests life is all about looks and sex appeal. I would have loved to have pointed out the fact that most advertising is suggesting a lifestyle that encompasses far less than what is the real meaning of life.

    Let’s talk about what will HELP. My list of factors that will help minimise the affects of the media’s sexualisation of children would have included:


    Family and friendships
    Meaningful conversations
    Knowing one self
    Knowing your OWN beauty,
    One’s own intelligence
    Dreaming and working towards achieving what you believe
    Being critically savvy and aware
    Being a media participant and not just a media consumer
    Self empowerment.

    Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to vent on your wonderful blog.!!

  2. Danni Miller says:

    Sonia I agree with you entirely. Many of the girls enlighten works with are, whilst increibly media savvy and intelligent, far more vunerable than the two 18-19 year old models who spoke out in the forum.

    For a start, the girls who spoke are older. There is a big difference between a 12 year old and an 18 year old! I really think younger teen girls should have been given a voice. After all, the panel were discussing the appropriateness of having girls as young as 12 (ie: young Maddison I mention in a previous blog – ‘Youth and sex sell baby” ) subjected to the adult modelling world.

    I was chatting to NSW presenter Kellie earlier and she made another excellent point (thanks Kel) – the fact that teen girls are media savvy and intelligent does not make them immune to the media’s objectification / sexualisation of images of girls and women. Quite the contrary, Kel was arguing that in fact “a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing” in that we only then feel more guilty for buying into the hype and negativity as we KNOW WE SHOULD KNOW BETTER.

    When we ask girls in our workshops on deconstructing the media whether they are aware of air brushing etc, they respond that yes, they are.

    When we then ask do they still look at images and wish they more like the girls pictured, again they respond yes!

    The clincher – they then inevitably tell us that this makes them feel even worse about their self doubts…” I am supposed to be smarter than this, I know it is all rubbish and tricks but still maybe my teeth should be whiter…” etc.

    I certainly had this compounded guilt over D&G perfume…the self talk went something like: ” You know this ad. is wrong, and you know that by buying their products you are silently endorsing their portrayal of women…why do you still have their products in your house? How committed are you Danni?”

    When I binned it all you will be pleased to know the voices stopped. 🙂

    Love this opportunity to bounce ideas off you all! Would love to hear from any teachers or students who read this blog….

  3. Jane Higgins says:

    I have just returned from holidays and did manage to see the ABC program – Difference of Opinion. The rest of my family were asleep while I shouted at the TV and yelled “But …. you have missed the point….. get real ……. not true!!!!” Ms Lumby appeared to think that her ‘academic’ position gave her the right to respond for all young women. I think her points were off the mark and out of touch. I appreciated Ms Tankard’s voice and from my experience with young women, she was much more in touch with their thoughts, actions, beliefs and the pressures they are under than Ms Lumby.
    Young women are our precious future and as older women we have the responsibility and role to stand up and fight for their emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual health. We must empower them to do this too.
    As a 40 year old woman – I do not want a 13 year old model telling me what I should buy or how I should look. Nor do I want her to look at herself airbrushed and ‘worked’ and think she is not good enough! She is perfect as she is – as I am. We can not allow our girls to be sexualised and used as products to sell anything. It harms them, us and the companies they represent. I urge any company thinking of advertising to do so responsibly, honestly and with integrity.

  4. Francesca Kaoutal says:

    Hello Everyone. I know my comment is a little late but couldn’t resist sharing my view and a few thoughts!

    Jane you referred to a need for companies to advertise responsibly. This got me exploring a different thought. I wish some retailers would behave more ethically when it comes to stocking products. Let us leave women’s fashion out of this (sweatshop clothing) and focus on products for little girls. I know when the retailers here made available padded bras for our little girls this outraged many of us, but the padded bras are still around despite our outrage. In a book I read recently “Full frontal Feminism, A young woman’s guide to why feminism matters.” by author Jessica Valenti, I learnt that Tesco a large superstore retailer in the UK has made available the “Peekaboo” stripper pole and stocked it in their toy aisle. AAAARGH, what next!? Will we see similar here and if we speak up, would it make a difference?

    Speaking up will make a difference, it may not remove the product or prevent irresponsible advertising but it can raise awareness. It just reaffirms for me my belief in how important it is to educate our youth on the media. Unfortunately I don’t think much will really change in the way some company’s are choosing to market their products to young girls until there is strong political leadership and government legislation to catch up with the advertising and marketing that is encouraging the premature sexualisation of our children. Lets continue to have discussions with girls around advertising and that will be one step in the right direction.

    To read anarticle by Dr Emma Rush from The Australia Institute on the issue, Child sexualisation is no game, go to

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