Worshiping the Writing Muse

65105.jpg“I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle
with human emotion.”

Laini Taylor

I love to read. I have always been devoted to reading. In the bath, before bed, with my children – I surround myself with words that help me make sense of the world. Words that amuse me. Words that challenge me. Words that leave me breathless with their brilliance.  

This week I struggled to make sense of some particularly disturbing events and searched almost manically for the considered insights of others. I thought I’d share some of my angst with you, and the words that helped soothe me. The pieces of writing I chose to absorb have not provided me with simple answers, but they have at least validated my own inner turmoil and ultimately made me feel less alone…

I have included links to the complete articles I quote from here in my articles of interest page.

 1. Heartache – The horrific abuse of children, both in Texas (where 463 children were removed from a polygamist camp after reports of widespread sexual abuse) and in Austria (the nightmarish story of a father’s ongoing imprisonment and sexual abuse of his daughter) left me feeling deeply sad.

I love children. More than I ever thought I could – and not just my own children, but everyone’s. This love and the empathy I have for young girls in particular seems at times so very large and hard to contain. It has arrived suddenly and unexpectedly into my life and whilst it is key to my success in working with young people (they can see, smell and taste its authenticity) it does also leave me psyche wounded by reports of children being harmed.

I ached to move beyond despair and sought to discover what, if anything, these events could teach:  

There is a link between the horrific violence committed against the women of the captive Austrian family and the apparent abuse of teenage girls in Texas, and it is the same unbroken chord that connects them tangentially—but significantly—to Hannah Montana’s fall from grace. When women and girls are routinely viewed as objects, they are dehumanized. They can be seen as chattel or animals, until someone uncovers a horror so complete that we recoil from it. Yet every day around the world, women are still sold into marriage, shunned for their husbands’ adultery, and raped as sexual assault is used as an instrument of war.

No, the degradation we have seen so much of these past few weeks does not signal the end of the world. But it provides a chilling reminder that history itself, with our own culture of sexism and misogyny feeding it, still consigns women to fates no man would wish upon himself.” 

Thank you Melinda for finding these words for me. Thank you writer Marie Coco – the pieces fit. I can now move beyond despair and get angry, and once again be active.   

2. Dilemma – 

I love reading blogs and am refreshed by the immediate, unfettered way bloggers write. The on-line world buzzed with news that Dove’s “real beauties” may not be so real after all. Crikeyreported that: “In a May 12 2008 profile in The New Yorker posted online, Pascal Dangin of New York’s Box Studios is quoted as saying he extensively retouched photos used in the Campaign for Real Beauty, which, if true, could seriously undermine an effort that already has subjected Unilever to considerable consumer and activist backlash in recent months. –AdAge

Even if this latest report is not true, I still feel instinctively uneasy about Unilever’s involvement in any self esteem program designed for girls. Unilever’s other key brand is the not-so-respectful Lynx. Lynx is a brand targeting young men, it promotes hyper sexualised images of women stripping and gyrating to a guitar rift lifted from a 1970’s porn film: “Boom Chicka Waa waa…”  

I have, of course, blogged on this in previous posts. The quandary? To speak out more publicly via the mainstream media, or to remain composed. On the one hand, I have plenty to say about the wisdom of allowing Dove into schools. On the other, as the CEO of a private company that also works in schools on self esteem and body image programs,  I do not want my arguments to be dismissed as merely “sour grapes”, nor do I want to be seen as criticising The Butterfly Foundation as they manage Dove’s in school programs in Australia. I believe the Foundation is highly reputable, hard working and genuinely committed to the welfare of young women. Other women I also admire enormously have been affiliated with Dove’s campaign too – including Naomi Wolf, a woman I consider one of my feminist role models.

The words below pre-date the latest outbreak of Dove alarm, this piece was written in 2006. I find I continue to return to it, however, as it confirms my suspicions and hearing them articulated so passionately, provides a release…   

HOW comfortable would you be with a fast-food chain providing the nutrition information in your son’s biology class? How about a beauty company lecturing your teenage daughter on her self-image…

What’s going on is a sales pitch. Everywhere we look, we see the beauty industry attacking women’s body images in the name of selling products that don’t actually work. Dove ingeniously aligns itself with the critics of its industry, while doing what exactly? Selling the same you-too-can-be-beautiful creams as its competitors…

Yes, these women are big and fleshy when compared with the anorectic adolescents usually trotted out to convince us to part with mega dollars for small pots of potion. But these confident, grinning women, with their perfect teeth and flawless skin, don’t resemble those I see in my local shopping centre pushing trolleys. There isn’t a wrinkle or a saggy behind on any of them.

What’s more, and despite Dove’s assertions to the contrary, these women are models. They were carefully culled from the crowd and paid to represent a product. Same as any other casting call. They’re now celebrities, touring shopping centres and appearing on television in the United States – a marketing dream…

In the end, even though Dove may ask some useful questions and may even do some good, its measure of beauty is still calibrated by thighs not thoughts, visage not values and appearances not actions.

Dove’s definition is just as disempowering and confining as any other definition of idealised beauty.

Would Dove really be so concerned about my self-image if it weren’t trying to get me to buy its products? Would the company still bankroll its social and educational programs, if sales declined?

If Unilever, which owns the Dove brand, was really committed to the body image issue, wouldn’t it change the advertising (its worldwide media budget is $8.6 billion) for all its other beauty products: Pond’s, Lux, Pears, Sunsilk and Rexona among them? Wouldn’t it be concerned that it’s the maker of Slim-Fast?

If this was anything more than the savvy implementation of a marketing angle, would the same company have given us LynxJet, the most sexist advertising of recent times?

Call me cynical, but I guess there must be real beauty in those dollars.”

Thank you Helen Greenwood.


Finally, thank you to Margaret Gee, my literary agent, and to Katie Stackhouse at Random House. I have just been offered a book deal with Random and am thrilled by their obvious commitment and excitement about the project.  

I too shall swirl and swing words.



7 thoughts on “Worshiping the Writing Muse

  1. Claire Clements says:

    Congratulations Danni! It’s wonderful that you’ve been offered a book deal by Random. Brilliant! As you know, I’m a big lover of words myself and I love the imagery of swinging and swirling words – playing with words. Did you know that the word “photography” means writing with light? So I love to think of these mediums as playing with words and light. 🙂 Beautiful pictures in the post as well. xx

  2. Pingback: Worshiping the Writing Muse : Nutrition

  3. Danni Miller says:

    Thank you Claire. Claire is a very talented writer too- she has shared her poetry with me and it is so very evocative! How about sharing another poem Claire 🙂 ? Love to read your work…

    P.S I did not know photography meant playing with light – what a fabulous definition! The image of the Writing Muse is from artist / writer Laini Taylor- I am such a fan of her work and her mind! Her blog is well worth spending time with as it is visually spectacular:


    She describes writing as “…both wonderful and terrible. I hate it. I love it. It’s euphoria and despair. It dazzles me, it makes me sleepy. Morose. Belligerent. Dreamy. Irrational. Catatonic. Bitter. Gleeful.”

  4. Claire Clements says:

    Heehee. You’re very sweet Danni. I’m afraid the majority of my poems are quite dark as they are a means of expressing some of the things I’ve been through but I’ll have a search and see if I can find a lighter one to send you. I should send you my book actually…

    Thanks for that link, I’ll check it out! Love the description she gives for writing, very true.

    Happy Mother’s Day too 😀

  5. Sonia Lyne says:

    Danni I was completely befuddled when I read the article from Crikey. I agree with you that The Butterfly Foundation are genuinely committed to their work with young girls. However, Dove’s (Unilever’s) track record with women (Lynx, Slim-Fast) leads me to conclude that they are not sincere, that they are just another corporate body looking at the best ways to push up their marketing dollar. Their “real beauty” campaign has been viewed by millions and consumers will be extremely disgruntled once they hear of these scheming tactics if they are in fact revealed to be true.

  6. Lisa Porter says:

    HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY to all Mums and other women who care for children! I hope you had a joyful day 🙂

    Danni asked me to share my little positive, empowering moment for the day – I participated in the Mother’s Day Classic 4km walk for Breast Cancer at Parramatta Park. There were some really poignant moments – the minute’s silence before the race where I was able to reflect on my Mum, Aunts and friends’ successful battles, and my dear Babcia’s unsuccessful one… walking behind a couple who were walking hand in hand wearing tribute placards – hers read “I’m doing this for myself” and his “I’m doing this for my wife”… two young boys walking with their chemo-affected Mum (I had enough trouble coping and supporting Mum when I was 26 – those boys would have been about 11 – 15!)… but to see the sea of pink, the sheer number of people walking or running in support of the cause – there was such a positive vibe there and I felt that I was part of something bigger – actually doing something to help the cause.

    I loved this post – words are so powerful. I have just finished writing my Year 12 reports and on occasion found myself searching for the best way to phrase things… I know how damaging a harsh word can be and how uplifting a kind one can be, and I tried to keep that in mind even with the not-so-motivated students 🙂

    Sunday was a day of words and actions – equally powerful in their own ways. Congratulations on the book deal Danni – noone deserves that opportunity more than you. You have truly made a difference in our world!

  7. Pingback: adolescents body image celebrities

Comments are closed.