dollyseptcoverThe Impossible Goal of Pursuing Perfection: Dolly September 2013

Melinda Tankard Reist

 

‘The ultimate guide to being yourself’ is about self-acceptance. It offers girls three lessons in how to be themselves: Fall in love with you; Quit Faking It and Get inspired, not obsessed. The first encourages girls to recognise and love themselves for their unique traits. This is well and good. But I don’t think we can ‘fall in love’ with ourselves. We can value our innate dignity and worth, and work to resist pressure to conform to an idealised norm, but ‘falling in love’ is a bit over the top. I don’t think we are meant to be ‘head over heels’ with ourselves – telling girls they should be setting up impossible expectations. I do like the advice to girls to start a gratitude journal and list five things they are grateful for every day, as expressing gratitude is a proven way to improve mental health. ‘Be your own therapist’ also advises girls to organise their thoughts, reflect, be more positive and relieve stress by keeping a journal. I don’t quite agree with the conclusion though: “There’s nothing more empowering than knowing that no matter what life throws at you, you can cope with it.” This puts too much pressure on an individual girl. As I move around the country speaking in schools, I hear shocking stories, including from girls who have suffered sexual abuse and other forms of violence, depression, anxiety, cutting – which has increased by 90 percent in 10 years in older adolescent girls and 60% in girls 12-14 – and eating disorders. Sometimes they won’t get through without significant professional intervention and other support.

 

Related is ‘The problem with “perfect”’ which helps girls avoid the perfection trap especially when looking at images on Instagram. Girls are encouraged to see beyond physical ‘blemishes’ and focus on personality, attitude and intelligence. Pursuing perfection is an impossible goal, as it doesn’t exist and will contribute to anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Girls are reminded that many images are touched up and put through filters.

 

‘How to argue productively’ helps girls understand the difference between being assertive and being aggressive in an argument. “Assertiveness means speaking up for yourself and telling the truth in an appropriate way,” says psychologist Jo Lamble. “If you attack the other person, you’re being aggressive and you may even be bullying someone.” Disagreements can be healthy says Dolly, the key is how you play it out. Stride Foundation (stride.org.au) provides the following steps: Agree to find a solution together; Gather more information; Suss out what you each need, Brainstorm win-wins and Action time. Three argument scenarios are provided with tips on how to respond.

 

‘Gay. Straight. Bi’ offers advice for girls conflicted about their sexual orientation and refers them to organisations they can seek help to discuss this. ‘So your ‘rents are loved-up (just not with each other)’ helps girls deal with a parent’s new relationship – How to handle visible affection; When you don’t like the new partner; When it seems he or she doesn’t seem to like you; When you’re feeling left out and When you’re stuck in the middle. Good communication skills are emphasised.

 

‘The power of manners’ helps girls understand social etiquette when invited to a party (ask what you can bring), on public transport (not being rude or loud on your phone or with music, offering your seat to an adult), how to RSVP and cancel plans. Girls are also encouraged to send thank you cards. Advice is given on tech and on-line etiquette also: Avoid checking phones consistently when with people (good advice for everyone, not just Dolly readers); Don’t use your phone at the dinner table and have it on silent at school or work. Online: Don’t ask your boss to be your FB friend, don’t post pics where you look great and your friends don’t, don’t suddenly “add” your best friend’s ex on FB. Some additional advice on not using your phones and social networks to engage in gossip and bullying could have been added.

 

There can’t be enough articles in girl mags on the importance of sleep, so I welcome ‘When worry keeps you up at night’ which helps girls find the ‘off’ switch before going to bed. “When we’re stressed, anxious or worrying about things, physiological changes happen in our bodies that create tension and arousal,” says clinical psychologist Emma Webster. “Our bodies might tense, heart rates elevate, breathing quickens and our bodies release hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin”. These are incompatible with falling asleep. Stress and insomnia form a vicious cycle. Girls are given advice to help them sleep: set aside ‘worry time’ during the day, have a quiet, dark room, a relaxing wind-down period before bed, keep to a familiar nightly routine and go to sleep and rise at the same time.

 

‘Your stories’ includes an article about a survey which reveals that 62% of teens want material things but 39% don’t want to work for them. Zoe, 15, believes too many teens are used to getting what they want without working for it. “Our generation is definitely lazy like that,” she says. Zoe urges them not to rely on their families to get what they want. Alix 18, shares how her mum beat cancer three times and how she herself will be tested for the gene this year. Jess, 19, is taking steps to overcome obesity. I was pleased to see that weight issues weren’t reduced to food – genetic and emotional issues were mentioned and Jess is seeing a psychologist to help her deal with underlying reasons for her health problems. Kelsey, 19, lost two friends to suicide and created the Hope album to benefit those suffering mental illness or suicidal thoughts. She also launched Salvation City (salvationcity.org) to refer people to help. “As I began talking about the topic of suicide, people began to open up and share stories about how they, or someone they know, had been affected. I’ve met parents of teens who have committed suicide…I’m not a professional or a counsellor, but I believe we can all reach out to others and make a difference.” Good on you Kelsey. It’s so positive to see girls making in a difference in the world and I’m so glad girls magazines continue to provide space for stories like this.