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Raising Women: Amanda’s story

Laura Peppas

Amanda Whitley tells how she’s trying to raise her daughters to become healthy, confident young women.

Dancing in the living room with her daughters Olivia and Sophia – free, giggling, unguarded – is when HerCanberra’s founder and director Amanda Whitley is happiest.

“It’s one of those rare times where you can let loose and just be,” Amanda says.

“After a long day at work and school, the girls and I will often put on some music and just dance around the house together.”

With so much of the family’s life revolving around dance classes (from afro to dancehall, contemporary to samba, nothing is off limits) it’s surprising to learn that when Amanda was growing up in the small town of Tarcutta, dance classes weren’t an option.

“I had always wanted to dance, but because we lived in a town with a population of 300, the nearest studio was a good 40-minute drive away,” Amanda says.

“When we moved somewhere bigger, I asked my father if I could take dance lessons and he quickly quashed the idea. And that was the end of that.”

It wasn’t until she was in her late 30s and living in Canberra that Amanda revisited the idea.

“After Sophia was born prematurely it changed my perspective on so many things and I remember setting myself a goal to learn to dance before I was 40 – I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and wonder ‘what if?’” she says.

“I started to learn Zumba and after one class I was hooked. About a year after that I started instructing and it provided a springboard to other classes – I’ve since done salsa, samba, reggaeton, dancehall and afro. It’s my joy…I can’t imagine life without it.”

Amanda believes Latin dancing in particular teaches her girls a valuable lesson: that you are more than your big bum or cellulite.

Having battled bulimia for three years in her early twenties, she says it’s important that her girls grow up loving their bodies for what they can do, rather than what they look like.

“The thing I love about Latin dance is it embraces all shapes and sizes – you see samba dancers that are super toned and fit but there are also women sizes 16-18 with a bit of a tummy that can still rock a bikini,” she says.

“I think the girls learn from what they see and appreciate different shapes because of that. Olivia often says, ‘Mummy, you have a lovely big bum.'”

Growing up in the era of ‘the supermodel’ – with tall, ‘glamazon’ role models such as Cindy Crawford or Naomi Campbell –meant there was an emphasis on unrealistic body ideals, Amanda says.

“I was a five foot five girl looking at these women and to me, it was just so unachievable, but there was this attitude that you had to strive to look like that,” she says.

Eventually, bulimia became her way of “clawing back control.”

“When I arrived at university, everyone seemed prettier, skinnier and smarter than me…I felt the pressure to be ‘perfect’ to be seen,” Amanda says.

“I tried every diet known to man, and when they didn’t work, I started taking handfuls of laxatives and making myself sick after meals, several times each day. I’ve always been good at most things I’ve turned my hand too, but my weight has always been the one thing that I haven’t been able to master.”

Although there’s a fear her daughters could face the same pressures when they enter their teenage years, Amanda believes the ideal of “the perfect body” has shifted.

“Now I speak to younger girls and they don’t care about their cellulite, they say ‘this is me, take it or leave it’ – they own it and they’re proud of their bodies at any size,” she says.

“I look at them and think ‘I could learn some lessons from you.'”

Amanda says her own mother was always incredibly supportive in her upbringing.

“One thing I learnt from her was to have a thirst for doing your own thing: she was always working, as much for enjoyment as for money – whether it was driving the school bus or working in the corner store,” she says.

“Even now, aged 68, she’s just started writing book reviews for the local library. I hope my girls learn from that and realise that if you find something you love, it doesn’t necessarily have to feel like work. I never want to push them into anything but I also want to give them every opportunity they are interested in.

“It’s very easy to do as my Dad did and say ‘it’s my way or the highway’, but I don’t think it’s the right way to raise children who can think for themselves – you need to give them firm boundaries and then trust them to make their own decisions. That’s a big challenge, to learn to let go.”

For now, Amanda and her husband Drew are just happy to enjoy those “little, constant surprises” that come with raising their young girls.

“The thing I find fascinating is seeing the people they’re growing into, and it’s so interesting to see yourself reflected in their personalities – the good and the bad,” Amanda says.

“That’s one of the things I love most about being a mother – children make you see things in a completely different way.”

Photography by Lux & Us.

You can read this article in full and more in our latest edition of Magazine: Break The Mould. Available for free while stocks last. Click here to find your closest stockist. 

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Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author