Learning to Find the Glow Within
16 January 2018 at 8:46 am
Pro Bono News speaks to Pretty Foundation founder and CEO, Merissa Forsyth about a new fiction book to teach young girls how to love their bodies.
All bodies are special for different reasons.
This is one of the key messages behind a new book that aims to teach young girls how to love their bodies.
Charlie’s Tales: Sylvie and the Star Tree is the first of a series of books from not for profit Pretty Foundation that aims to instil key body image messages in young girls.
The hope is to develop the protagonist, the red-headed Charlie, as a peer role model who embodies the characteristics of a healthy body image, and seeks to live her life to its full potential, to set an example for girls as young as three.
Pretty Foundation founder and CEO, Merissa Forsyth says the series aims to build resilience in young girls through teaching them their true value, by instilling positive body image messages through each of Charlie’s adventures.
“The protagonist Charlie has been created to set an example for young girls and I hope her adventures can educate, amuse and inspire girls to think just like her,” Forsyth says.
“We also hope to change the often stereotypical way that girls are portrayed in fictional stories in order to provide opportunities for different shapes, sizes and physical characteristics to be seen by young girls.
“Charlie has wild, red hair and she doesn’t have the typical ‘skinny’ body often conveyed in other children’s media; we want our girls to know that healthy can come in different shapes and sizes.”
According to Forsyth the foundations for body image are laid in early childhood, with some girls having already internalised the idea that “thin is good and bigger is bad” by the age of three.
“38 per cent of 4-year-old girls are dissatisfied with their body size,” she says.
“This research is not just a one off thing that has come out, this research has been seen throughout Australia, and internationally… we can already start to see these things coming out early on, why is no one doing anything about this early on? So we said it was time for us to really start to do something in this space and that’s why we’ve moved into it.”
The target audience of the foundation is girls aged between three and six years old.
The foundation has three focus areas: parents, peers and the media.
“So those are three areas that have a big influence on little girls when it comes to their body image,” Forsyth explains.
“One area that we are focusing on particularly with this project is the media, so toys, books, animations, things that they interact with at that level.
“[We thought] why don’t we actually create something that rather than potentially having a negative reinforcement, which is often what they see, has a really positive influence, in something that is going to be totally engaging.”
With this in mind the book intends to teach young girls directly, through “edutainment”, rather than simply educating parents on messages they should pass on to their daughters.
“It is education combined with entertainment. So for a child who is highly entertained, they don’t realise there is added messages that seep into every book, every episode,” Forsyth says.
“We are going to create an animated series off the back of this and then obviously a range of books in the Charlie’s Tales series, and each one will have really strong body image messages that we focus on.
“I guess the overall purpose is just to start building resilience at a young age by allowing them to read these books or have these books read to them, and see this peer role model, and then they go, ‘Oh cool, she is really awesome’, without realising they are going ‘she is someone I want to be like’.
“And this Charlie character is everything that we want for our little girls, she goes out there and believes in herself, she helps other people, if you look at the inner beauty side of things, she doesn’t care about the way she looks, in terms of where her value lies, she kind of goes ‘my body is a vehicle for life and I’m just going to use it to do good’, so that is essentially what we’re seeking to do.”
To help them achieve their aim, Pretty Foundation has teamed up with body image experts and content developers Viskatoons, to help create characters, the story, and illustrations that will be engaging and relatable.
“We’ve got a team of people, so we’ve got body image experts who have been in the field for years and years, they have helped us in the process of what the content should be, the key messaging, even illustrations, making sure the characters aren’t damaging in any way, all those things, they check through that and go through that process with us,” Forsyth says.
“We then also brought a production agency on board who have done this for years, they are called Viskatoons and they helped us through this whole thing. So they developed the story based on what we had briefed them and developed the illustration, as well as the online video and they will be developing the animation, which they’re working on at the moment.
“They have done it for years so they understand children’s content, and combined with our experts in our team we have been able to combine forces to have this entertaining story that comes to life in a really magical way with the evidence and the body image side of things combined with it which is really important.”
The key messages of the first story, which tells of a little gnome named Sylvie who is trying to reach the stars, focus on the fact that every person’s body is unique and that we need to value the ways we are different to everyone else.
It also aims to teach girls about inner beauty and character, with one of the key lines of the book being “look within to find the glow”.
Forsyth says the series will focus on four key body image pillars.
“The four things that we want to focus on really, is that our bodies are a vehicle for life, so what our bodies can do is far, far more important than what they look like, and the fact that our inner character, our inner beauty, is far more important than what our body looks like as well,” she says.
“The other two areas that we explore are the whole self-efficacy piece, the bravery piece around girls can do stuff, just believe in yourself. There’s no need to go ‘oh I can’t do that because the boys do that’, or ‘that’s not for me’. You see little girls say that and it’s like ‘no, of course you can, just give it a go, you can absolutely do that’.
“The last piece is around the fact that our bodies are all unique. Every single person’s body is different and unique and wouldn’t it be boring if we all looked the same, that’s what we try to teach young girls.
“It’s all in the book.”
The story also comes with a number of questions that parents are encouraged to go through with their child after reading the story, which include “why is it ok to look different” and “what things make you special on the inside”.
The book has been endorsed by Professor Susan Paxton, an expert in children’s body image at Latrobe University, who says it is an important addition to the types of media children are exposed to.
“The book is an important addition to the media landscape for young children that will contribute to girls developing healthy body image,” Paxton says.
“Charlie is a fantastic role model who sees her body as a vehicle for living life to its full potential.”
The book has also attracted support from The Westfield Group which will help launch the book through in-centre events throughout Australia, starting from 20 January.
Liptember, an initiative with a core focus on female mental health, is a major funding partner and supporter of Pretty Foundation.
“Their support has not only allowed us to develop this book, but it has also enabled us to give away 10,000 free copies across Australia,” Forsyth says.
She says, the aim is to “make it huge”.
“This is going to be as big as Peppa Pig, it is going to be as big as Dora the Explorer, it is going to be as big as Frozen, that’s where it needs to be to make an impact and we see this going international,” she says.
“So I say that is our dream, but it is more the place we’re going to get to, that is how determined we are as a team.”
The books will be available for sale on the Pretty Foundation website for $10 with all funds raised to go into developing further body image initiatives.