Interview with Anthea Paul, author of Girlosophy

Interview by Magdalena Ball

Why and how was Girlosophy born? 

Girlosophy itself was born in New York City in the US. I had been working at photo editor at a magazine, and noticed just how much retouching we were doing. I kept thinking to myself that this was so wrong, it wasn’t helpful and that I was part of the problem. So that was my beginning point. I felt like I had to take some responsibility for the messages which I was sending out. I was very familiar with the media and knowing that there wasn’t much media out there in a general sense which was presenting healthy images to young women. This started my whole brain whirling over and I felt it was time to do something to redress the balance. In Australia we actually have the highest per capital consumption of magazines of any country in the world, and women are vulnerable.

You funded the project yourself (at least until A&U picked up the book). If they turned you down, would you have self-published it? 

I did have to fund the initial project myself, take all the photographs and do the layout. Being a five colour project, I had to present a completed project to a publisher to get it to the level it needed to be done, otherwise they would never have gone for it, because of course it was hugely expensive. I did look into self-publishing first, but I decided it wasn’t going to get me the distribution I needed, and taking into account all of the marketing and distribution costs, I decided it would be better to have a publisher take it on. On paper the numbers for self-publishing looked exciting but it was hugely riskier.

Why was it necessary to write Real Girls Eat? 

That’s the thing I was getting a lot of parents writing to me about. I needed to keep my readers moving forward, and biochemically speaking it’s a crucial thing for the other six projects. Without a good sense of food, and the skills to choose and cook it, you just can’t manage the total mind-body-spirit of Girlosophy. All of Girlosophy is aimed at girls from about 14 to 24, but of course there is a massive swing on the upside of that. Mothers are reading it with their daughters.

Real Girls Eat is fairly critical about fast food giants like McDonalds, magazines targeted at young girls, and fad diets, and yet the books have been lauded by Dolly and entertainers like Britney Spears. Has it changed anything in the messages that magazines like Dolly or performers like Spears dish out? 

I definitely have struck a nerve and I’m finding that magazines and performers are becoming more responsible about the messages they present, understanding that role modelling happens in subtle and overt ways. When something is as popular as Girlosophy, the message filters in. The first books were only bestsellers in Australia, and they haven’t been published overseas, so the message hasn’t been diluted. The books sold in other countries are the same as the books being sold here. Women are liking the message because it is for them. It doesn’t come with big conflict of interest like the magazines. I’m just a concerned individual in the community and my only aim is to have this sisterhood flourish.

Have you received any negative feedback or self-justification from fast food chains? 

Not at all. That may come, and I’m certainly prepared for it. I was very careful not to name any specific fast food chains, and to be honest I’m hardly going to stir their pot. They’ve had this before. I might even count some negative feedback from the chains as a success, because change is what I’m aiming for, but I didn’t talk about specific chains and I don’t think any one chain is responsible. It’s the collective effect. Even Jaime Oliver has taken this one with his schools program. It’s becoming a huge topic, and everybody agrees. There was a fantastic article by Adele Horin in the Sydney Morning Herald which I urge you to read (LINK) how this is going to be the next big thing. She talks about how she went to an amusement park full of 50,000 kids, and a door opened in her mind. You can read the statistics but until you actually see how hugely overweight a large proportion of the kids are, it just doesn’t become tangible. I don’t blame parents, because it’s very hard for them — they’re up against huge commercial budgets.

Why do you think that the media has gone so astray in terms of getting positive messages out to young girls? 

The simple answer is that it doesn’t pay. Positive messages don’t make them money. They’re not going to make girls want to have the latest clothing, watch the latest television series, buy into the latest diet, or buy high fat expensive food. Positive messages don’t sell products. That would be counter-productive. Junk sells – either it’s junk food, junk media, or junk clothing. Girls and parents have to be unbelievably resistant to huge advertising budgets to get beyond that pressure.

What is the most critical message that you hope to get out to teenage girls?

That looking after yourself starts with knowing how to shop, how to cook, and how to feed yourself. Girls need to develop these skills. For some reason home science doesn’t seem to be studied anymore, and cooking in its basic equation is crucial to master. I want to get the message out that cooking is fun, and that it is lovely to be able to bring friends, flatmates and family around for a great meal. It’s an art form, and a social gift, and despite the proliferation of cookbooks, we just don’t seem to be doing that much home cooking.

Lots of adults are also pray to insecurities, poor eating habits and chronic dieting. Have you thought about doing a form of girlsophy for the older woman coming to terms with aging? 

That’s an interesting thought. While researching Real Girls Eat, I’ve had to get right into all the variable diets, and there are so many out there, the Hollywood Diet, Atkins, and a new one, the Warrier diet. No wonder young girls are so confused when their mothers are so intense about this issue. It has occurred to me. I guess I’ve been in the throes of this one which has been this year’s work, but yes, I’d love to do something like that. It would be a great thrill to broaden the scope of what I’m doing.

How do you go about coming up with your Girlsophy topics? (and what might be on the cards next?) 

I know exactly what my next three books are, and what we do do is to decide to bring one subject forward based on timing/issues/maximum impact, etc. This year has been a big on for food, and the time was definitely right for Real Girls Eat. So my next one will be based on issues that I see coming down the pipe and making sure that hopefully when things start to happen we are ready. I won’t reveal any hints though about what’s next (even my best friend doesn’t know, and she isn’t happy about that!), and I’ll tell you why. I have my imitators, who carefully watch what I’m doing, and if I reveal too much they might jump into it. Also it’s like being pregnant–if you talk about it too early by the 9th month people are all tired of the topic.

Are there some other projects that you’re working on, or dying to work on? 

I’m actually doing a lot of great collaborative work with the National Breast Cancer Foundation and Gillette. This was a really great thing which allowed me to get in touch with a whole other section of the community. Breast cancer is a really important issue for me and many other women and I enjoyed doing this immensely. I’ve also been doing work for The Tibetan Friendship Group–a Tibetan charity group, and we had a month’s trip to India to look at some of the projects we sponsor. It’s a really huge priority to me to give more time and energy into that project. I’ve actually contributed a short story for a book produced for War Child International titled Kids Night in 2, which was created to help the lives of children in conflict areas. So these are my three pet projects, and I’m trying to increase my commitment to them wherever I can.

Visit the Girlosophy website at www.girlosophy.com

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