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Archive for March, 2011

I came across this article recently, reporting that some school photography companies in Australia offer to ‘airbrush’ school photos to cover up blemishes such as pimples or scars. The article includes a comment from Prof Louise Newman, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, of which I am a member, and I completely agree with her.

As a mother, and as a child psychiatrist, I am very concerned about the increasing emphasis in our society on having to look perfect. I’m not saying that it’s a new thing, and certainly people have always strived to meet the cultural ideal. What I do think is new though is that this is gradually invading into youth and childhood, and a major contributor is the use of technology to create an unattainable ideal. The use of undernourished models in magazines is bad enough, but when we then start using computers to change people’s shape, size or appearance, it takes it to another level. Children – and adults – then see a computer enhanced figure being promoted as pretty, or beautiful, or successful and there’s no way that they can ever live up to that.

People may think that removing a scar, or acne, from a child’s school photo is no big deal and that I am overreacting, but I think that it gives our children the message that they are not good enough the way they are. It tells them that their parents will be prouder to show off a picture of them without their ‘blemishes’, and therefore that they are less acceptable the way they are. And this contributes to poor body image and poor self esteem, leading to poor mental health.

Let’s allow our kids to be kids, including spots, scars, missing teeth and bad haircuts, and accept them unconditionally.

Updated 30/03/11: There is a post on this same topic with lots of comments on Mia Freedman’s blog ‘mamamia’ here

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Today I drove with my baby to a local, independent bookshop which is also a coffee shop. There is a cafe at the end of my street, but I preferred to go to the effort of driving to this specific place because I love the atmosphere of being surrounded by books. While I waited for my coffee, I browsed the shop, and afterwards I browsed again and bought myself something new to read.

There has been a lot said recently about the end of bookshops since the collapse of REDgroup and the closure of Borders and Angus and Robertson stores. Ebooks have been blamed, as well as internet based companies such as Amazon and Book Depository who are able to sell books much cheaper. I am a very active reader and spend hundreds of dollars a year on traditional books. I also have a Kindle and read e-books, and I have to admit that I do also buy books online from the websites I have mentioned. As a writer, I am aware about the need to protect the publishing industry and the bookshops, and from this, the authors.

When I write, I like to think of myself as a typical reader, and therefore a typical book buyer.  I have been thinking about the way I buy books, and what this could mean for the future.

It has been a long time since I bought a paper book from one of the chain stores. For me, the shops are often not very welcoming, their stock is often not to my taste, and the staff are not obviously book lovers who can help me and recommend appropriate books. There are times when I have shopped there: mainly if there is a particular book that I have decided to buy, eg as a gift. I tend to use them more for non fiction books too.

Most of my books come from the independent bookshops, and here in Australia, there are some fabulous ones around. These are shops that welcome browsing, they have a great selection of books other than the top 10 genre fiction which seems to dominate the chain stores, and they do ‘extras’ for their customers such as running book clubs, author events, gift wrapping, handwritten book recommendations etc. The staff have actually read many of the books and clearly love to help you find the perfect book. I almost never leave one of these shops without opening my purse. These are the shops that give me a thrill: other women may get excited about a shoe shop, but show me an independent bookshop and I am there.

As I said, I do also buy e-books. I have a Kindle, and really like it: it’s great for travelling; if I finish a book at 11pm and want a new one, I can download it instantly; and it’s perfect to read while I’ve been up feeding the baby at night. The books are cheaper, yes, but the downside is the loss of the physical book in your hand and on your bookshelf. I am getting annoyed with comments associating ebooks with some kind of evil. The reality is that the technology is there, and we use our computers/phones/tablets for everything in our lives, so it is naive to expect books to lag behind. We as authors, and publishers, need to think how we can use it to our advantage rather than whingeing about it. I am also going to get the new iPad when it is released, and one of the selling points for me is that I have seen some wonderful animated ebooks for children on it that my daughters would love: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Rabbit, etc.

Ebooks for me will never replace physical books, but they are an adjunct to them. I will always buy my favourite authors and local Australian books on paper, the kind of books that I am either proud to display in my bookshelf, or will probably read again, or will pass on to others. I will also buy beautiful books, such as special editions, books with illustrations, and hardbacks. But if there’s a book that I want to read, but that I suspect will not be ‘special’ to me, then I’ll buy the e-book.

With online purchasing, I think that the main attractions are convenience and cost. If I am buying a gift for someone who lives interstate or overseas, I will almost always buy it online as it saves me having to go to the post office, and pay for postage costs. And as much as I agree with the arguments about parallel importation, it is really hard to go past the fact that some books are about 50% cheaper online from overseas including delivery.

I don’t think that the bookshop is dead, but rather than the book industry, like every other industry, needs to adapt to the changing world. It reminds me of the outcry when MP3 files and iPods became popular – now most of us download music when we want a new CD; and increasingly we can now download movies and TV shows from the internet rather than going to the video shop. Times are changing, and we need to keep up.

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Moving a little one from their cot to a big girl/boy bed is a major transition: for children and for parents, but there are a few things that can help make the  the transition a bit easier. I think it’s important to either move the toddler a month or two before a new baby arrives, or a month or two afterwards, so that she doesn’t feel resentful about the new baby taking her cot as well as her parents’ attention. The toddler should also have some sense of ownership of the decision, such as being involved (or thinking that they’re involved!) in choosing the bed and linen. It is also worth talking to them in advance about beds and big girls/boys, letting them try naps on grown up beds, and showing them older siblings/friends’ beds. Also, using dolls or toy animals to demonstrate can be a way to explain it. Ensuring that the toddler still has the same teddy, or blanket (see my post on transitional objects) can make the new bed seem more familiar. I’ve read that some people leave the cot in the room as well as the bed and allow the child to choose. I feel that it’s better to just make the transition straight away and it is ultimately less confusing for the child.

It is bound to be frightening initially for toddlers: all they have ever known is their cot, with high sides to keep them in. It is also anxiety-provoking for parents, who worry that their child will be frightened, or fall out and hurt themselves. As with all big developmental changes in our little ones, there’s a mixture of excitement about them growing up, and some sadness that they’re taking another little step towards independence. And as always, I think it’s more of a big deal for parents. Our children seem to take it all in their stride, and they love growing up and being big kids.

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