An Open Letter to the Health Minister


Dear Hon Greg Hunt, Minister for Health,

I am writing in response to news your department has paid instagram ’influencers’ for posts in promotion of the Girls Make Your Move campaign. Given you have ordered an immediate review of your ministry’s activities you are aware of the hypocrisy of investing in exactly the kind of messaging that’s contributing to the damaging pressure young girls face today. The same messages that were identified as barriers to entry for young women getting active. The disjunct of a professional model posing in lingerie in one post and then promoting the #girlsmakeyourmove campaign in another is blatant to us all. Yes you’ve axed the marketing company that ran the campaign but I would like to know what you are going to do now?

To be frank, I feel lost. I’m working tirelessly on a program to encourage young girls into a better headspace called MissAdventure . It’s aim is to have girls fall in love with their bodies not because of what they look like but because of what they can do.  

I don't want to protect them by wrapping them in pink cotton wool. That's BS. Life isn't that kind.  Adolescence and adulthood is hard. A few #motivational pictures of fit bodies doesn’t cut it against a tsunami of insecurity. I want to equip them to tackle the pressures they will face head on and practically. 

I want girls to armour themselves against the fake, superficial stuff they’re bombarded with on social media. To create a deep, unshakeable self worth forged in lessons of failure and the challenge of trying new things. Resilience born in the sweat, blood and tears needed to achieve goals. I want to be by their side as they weather the storm of adolescence and navigate endless messages of inadequacy in every airbrushed advertisement and unattainable post they come across.  

You want to know how to inspire girls to make their move? To me, the answer is in adventure & time spent outdoors. The seemingly last domain a woman can stand and not be judged by her appearance. Mother Nature doesn't care what you look like as you climb that mountain or tackle that wave. Instead she tests you, resets your boundaries and clears your head. She demands you are well nourished and strong and insists you become a better version of yourself. 

As Health Minister I don't need to tell you the benefits of the outdoors on the physical and mental health, but I do need to alert you to the fact that you have an army of people just like me out there in the nation, at your disposal, looking for government support and a way of spreading their programs.  I could list 10 of them for you.

Girls don't need other perfectly toned, beautiful girls to tell them to be active. They don't need 'role models' with 6packs from extreme dieting and hundreds of thousands of followers posting endless bikini clad selfies, they need examples of real women. They need opportunities to be active and to be guided by relatable people who break a sweat just like they do. They need to see other kids venturing out, trying new things and having fun. It is ok not to be perfect and what really matters is that they have a go.

I feel I have the right to say this because once upon a time I was one of those girls. I was Miss Australia, a title coveted by many young women. It was a great experience. I don’t regret it, I used it to launch my career BUT it bred my insecurities far deeper than it created a sense of validation and it took me years to unlearn them. How ironic. A competition, which tells you, “you are the most beautiful girl in the country” put me on a self-inflicted rat wheel of insecurity. How obvious. How painful.  

I can offer insight to young girls because I’ve been where they want to be. I’ve been a model since I was 16, I too have been paid to endorse campaigns, I’ve been on red carpets and in glossy magazines. It left me empty. At my most insecure I did photo shoots I would never feel ok doing now. It’s not a life to be held on a pedestal as an example of what kids should aspire too. It's a trap. The sweet promise of validation, the 'likes' 'comments' 'shares' feed you in the short term - instant gratification at the expense of long-term stability. It’s too dangerous and unrealistic, even for those that have lived it. 

I’m not here to condemn other women or those influencers for their choices, every woman has a right over her body and how she presents it, but were they an appropriate choice as paid role models for this particular message? I, as a taxpayer, question it. That said, some of the initiatives of the campaign are fantastic, your own instagram feed is a case in point and I have been encouraging people to your website as a resource for months but now I wonder if I can trust the campaigns’ integrity when on one hand it’s saying one thing, while on the other it is doing the exact opposite?

Irresponsibly selecting influencers, even just a few amongst other appropriate ones risks a trend of young girls in barely there, active wear sticking their arse in the air, hash tagging #girlsmakeyourmove... thinking that they’re supporting a good message whilst doing the opposite of what you intended. Feeding the vicious cycle. Perpetuating the idea that you have to look amazing while participating in sport and physical activity. The slippery slope has her, and her audience, drowning in no time. 

I don't want girls to fall into that trap by trying to replicate those lifestyles. They aren't real and they aren’t sustainable. Not for anyone. It will never equip them with the tools to get through the pressure of real life. We know this, so why as a society do we perpetuate it? Why is the government funding it?

I found my intrinsic worth in the world around me. Every character trait I most love about myself I learnt outside. Getting beat, getting up again, failing, succeeding and all that lies in between. 

Knowing ‘Adventure was the Answer’ I'm seeking to give that same lesson and opportunity to girls at a highly influential age, in my MissAdventure movement. Aimed at tweens and teens we are starting a series of Adventure Mornings where they try a new outdoor activity; learn a new skill get unplugged and wild. The activity is immediately followed by a facilitated chat about issues they are facing around self worth, resilience, mental health, nutrition etc. At the same time as the girls are doing this, parents simultaneously engage in conversations about how to raise brave girls and have discussions around the examples they set as role models at home. “Ambassadors” are adventurers, athletes, girls of all backgrounds, colours and sizes. Ordinary people achieving extraordinary things that we can hold up as examples not as posters. It’s the tip of the iceberg of what I want to put in the pipeline.

So why am I at a loss? Because I sit at my computer every day trying to get my message out, rallying allies, questioning how to raise the capital, navigating the bureaucracies and endless red tape looking FOR SUPPORT and then I see this... 

and I wonder what I could have done with 600K of taxpayer money for young women's health? Don't you?

Yours Sincerely,
Caroline Pemberton