Rosemary Stanton's Exclusive Brethren upbringing and eventual escape
A Current Affair - NineMSN
March 15, 2016
Dr Rosemary Stanton, one of Australia's leading nutritionists and earliest television lifestyle stars, still struggles to look at herself in the mirror after a childhood spent in the secretive Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren.
Dr Stanton first came to prominence in 1972 when she was handpicked by Ita Buttrose to write a monthly health and nutrition column in Cleo magazine.
We weren't supposed to read books, we didn't have make-up, we had to have long hair
From there she went on to appear on every morning and daytime television program in the country - becoming a household name.
But had it not been for her childhood spent in the Plymouth Christian Brethren Church, more commonly now known as the Exclusive Brethren, she might have become a sport star or doctor instead.
"I had been brought up in this very strict religious sect," Dr Stanton told A Current Affair.
"You weren't supposed to go to concerts, you couldn't be in school plays."
Growing up, Dr Stanton and her siblings were not allowed to play with other children.
"It was a very exclusive group, we weren't supposed to have anything to do with other people," she said.
"We weren't supposed to read books, we didn't have make-up, we had to have long hair, we weren't allowed to wear boys clothes like jeans or long pants or any of those sorts of things."
The Stanton family did not even own a television.
Like so many others who are different at school, she was bullied. But not just by students.
"We had some teachers who seemed to think that we were these odd strange little religious children and they sort of treated us differently," she said.
"To this day, I think anybody who treats a child differently because of their parents beliefs needs to take a long hard look at themselves."
But luckily, there was one Bronte Public School teacher, Ian Aulder, who believed in her and pushed her to excel in her education.
"I had this wonderful teacher who, to this day, has been one of the major influences in my life and he seemed to think that girls could do anything that boys could do," she said.
It was with the help of Mr Aulder that she transferred to Woollahra Public School and enrolled in an opportunity class for academically gifted students.
But while her studies were going from strength to strength, life in the Brethren was becoming more stifling.
"It became a problem at high school, because I really liked playing hockey - and there were some teams that I couldn't go into because those teams played on a Sunday," she said.
"It made me feel pretty disgruntled. Especially when they went off on a trip. They went to Lismore and they were billeted in people's homes. And that was a total no-no. I couldn't be billeted in the home of a non-believer."
It wasn't just her sporting abilities that were being stifled, but also her educational prospects. Despite achieving marks that would have guaranteed her entry into medicine or any other degree she wished to pursue, she was forbidden from attending university.
"The crux for me came when I was 17 and I did very well at school, and I was told I couldn't go to university, because girls in that sect weren't allowed to go to university in case they were ever put in a position of authority over a man," she said. Eventually, at age 20, she decided it was time to leave the sect that had controlled her life.
"I had made the decision to leave, my sister had made the decision to leave. But when it actually came to the crunch, the whole family decided to leave," she said.
Dr Stanton remembers it being tough for her parents after they left, with many former friends vowing never to speak to them again and simply walking past them if they encountered one another.
"After my mother died, among her letters I found one from a friend who'd been her very closest friend and it just said, 'I just want you to know how sad I felt when I had to walk past you in the street today', and you know, it was enough to bring tears to me," she said.
"It's terrible to think that people do that sort of thing to other people, and I know other people who have left the Exclusive Brethren and their parents die and nobody tells them.
"How could that ever be considered christian?"
Free at last, she started a cadetship with the NSW Health Department and went to university, studying health and nutrition.
It was during her time in the Health Department that Cleo magazine approached her to write a monthly column that went on to make her the nation's most popular expert on nutrition.
But her childhood still continues to shape the way she sees herself.
"I find it very difficult to look in a mirror, we were not allowed to look in a mirror," she said.
"To this day when I go to the hairdresser and she holds a mirror behind to show me how she's cut the back of my hair, I feel the hairs on my arms going up and i really don't want to look at it."
© ninemsn 2016
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