dollyaugustGirl Mag Watch

Opening Up About Self-Harm: Dolly August 2013

Melinda Tankard Reist

As is often the case, I find the most helpful offering for girls in teen girl magazines can be found in the shared experiences of the girls themselves.

A passion of mine is opening up safe spaces for girls to talk about issues which are often surrounded by shame, meaning girls don’t get the help they need. One of these issues is self-harm, which has increased 90 percent in older adolescents and 60 percent in younger adolescents, in a mere ten years. So I was pleased to see Dolly again giving space to this issue (I commended the magazine for exploring cutting in its June issue also).

Danielle, who began harming in 2010, tells her story in ‘Reality Reads’. “I was home alone and all the negative thoughts were taking over my mind: that I wasn’t good enough, that I was too ugly. I thought I deserved pain so I inflicted it on myself,” she says. It was seeing an interview with Demi Lovato, who had just come out of rehab for depression and self-harm, that helped Danielle turn things around. “…after I heard Demi, I thought I could get through this,” she says. With the help of medical treatment, she has been free of self-harm for two years. She tweets via @ForeverWithJoeJ about recovery and fundraises for BeyondBlue and Headspace “because they helped me a lot”. She recommends an online session at headspace.org.au where young people can talk to a professional through a chat screen.

Inspiring girls into service for others is Jemima, 16, who is taking part in this week’s 40 Hour Famine. Jemima has been participating in the World Vision fundraiser since Year 7. She has also taken part in World Vision’s Global Leaders Conventions where Year 10-12 students spend the day learning about food security issues so they can promote and lead 40 Hour Famine campaigns at their school.

In what could be seen as a contrast to working to end world hunger, we meet Samantha Garza, 16, the winner of The Original DOLLY Model Search 2013. While I remain a critic of the competition, Samantha appears to have a healthy body shape -she doesn’t seem to be ultra thin – and a positive attitude. She says “There’s no such thing as a diet [actually there is, but anyway], just being healthy and active is best. And the only person I need to please is myself. If I’m happy in myself, I’ll make everyone around me feel like that too. We’re perfect the way we are!” Let’s hope Samantha retains that philosophy when she begins modelling in earnest. The industry isn’t exactly re-known for encouraging self-acceptance and non-conformity to a stereotyped beauty ideal. (See my column ‘When we have to airbrush flesh onto models, you know we’ve got a problem’).

‘Unleash your inner sunshine’ aims to help girls beat the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder where some people feel less happy during the winter months due to a dip in mood caused by less exposure to sunlight. Tips includes meditating, giving yourself a challenge, making a winter bucket list for what you will do when summer comes, having a make-over, accepting compliments and eating brazil nuts.

‘Got a secret: Here’s how to keep it’ gives girls advice on how to retain a friend’s trust by not sharing with others what was told in confidence. “Close friendships are formed by the sharing of information, including secrets. The quickest way to ruin a friendship is by breaking that friend’s trust”, says clinical psychologist Jo Lamble. Advice is given on when a secret should be disclosed: when the secret is hurting someone else, when it’s about something serious such as physical or emotional abuse and when the secret is getting you down and you need someone to debrief with.

There’s a useful piece on mentoring, where three girls describe the benefits of securing a mentor in a field they are interested in. Brooke, 17, did an internship with a public relations company, mentored by one of the business partners. She says she gained a sense of confidence and direction. “Now I can see that there’s a career path for me. If I work hard at it and take the right steps, I can get there.” Paris, 15, currently ranked 10th in the Australasian 2013 ASP Pro Junior ranking, found a mentor in more experienced surfer Rachel, 19, and Jess, 17, found a mentor in her teacher at Macleay Vocational College. “She’s been an amazing support, especially considering I don’t have any adult guidance at home,” says Jess. Readers are given advice on how to find a mentor.

‘Rent Control’ advises readers on how to deal with parents who are described as jokesters, molly coddlers, pushy and meddling. The aim is to stay positive and keep lines of communication open. To cope with a tense conversation, girls are advised to take deep breaths, practice mindfulness, change perspective and remember they are an individual (“Just because your parent loses their temper doesn’t mean you have to do this too”).

‘Get comfy with your own company’ helps girls to see that solitude can be good for them. “There’s a sense of always being ‘on’ and always being connected,” says psychologist and school counsellor Jocelyn Brewer. Girls are often afraid of missing out, but being connected 24 hours a day can develop social media dependence and result in negative outcomes. The ‘I Hate Being Alone’ Facebook page has almost 30,000 likes. “There seems to be a misconception within our society that there’s something wrong with you if you like being by yourself. We’re always striving to be more like those girls who are comfortable in a crowd, and forget that the ability to hang solo is just as important. When you’re comfortable being alone…it shows you’re capable of keeping yourself company without craving the attention of others. It’s also excellent for your mental health”, says the mag.

‘The body image traps we all fall into’ aims to help girls to put a stop to cycles of negative body thinking. Girls are encouraged to avoid comparison traps. “The more time we spend comparing ourselves, the less time we’re spending appreciating our own bodies,” says Danni Rowlands from the Butterfly Foundation. Girls are advices to recognise that negative thinking is unproductive. Six traps are outlined: ‘’If my thighs were as thin as hers, I’d be happy”, “Sarah’s only eating salad this week, so I will too”, “I must stay a size 10”, “I can’t eat lunch because I’m having a big dinner”, “I ate pasta last night and now I’ve put on five kilos” and “I’ve been healthy all day so I can go nuts with dessert”. This last one seems a little out of place. ”Overly restrictive eating can cause uncontrolled night-time binging, so take the pressure off by adding in health snacks,” says nutritionist Karen Kingham. Girls are advised to have a “handful of yummy nuts or a banana” to “send the binge cravings packing.” There’s nothing here that says you can actually eat dessert if you want, without actually ‘bingeing’ on it. That would have been more helpful. As so often happens in these kind of articles, the emphasis is all on individual behaviour with zero mention of the cultural messages which contribute to girls thinking this way – and the importance of working to bring about cultural change to lessen the pressure on girls.

Another helpful article is how to cope when a loved one falls seriously ill. Girls are given advice on dealing with the accompanying and often intense and scary emotions and also how to help a sick friend: lend a friendly ear, give practical support and help friends find healthy distractions.