I am very pleased to be welcoming The Self Esteem Team to Novel Kicks today. The team, Natasha Devon, Grace Barrett and Nadia Mendoza work to challenge stereotypes, reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and they aim to educate young people (as well as teachers and parents) about self esteem. With individual experiences of their own, the team have just released their book, The Self Esteem Team’s Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs!? We catch up with them to talk about their book, what they do and their writing process.
Welcome Ladies. Can you tell us about The Self-Esteem Team and how it originated?
Tash: In my teens I struggled with an eating disorder. Despite having been a ‘straight A’ student with ambitions to be Prime Minister, my illness gradually chipped away at my potential, so that by the time I was 25 I had no job, no money, no friends and no life.
After I recovered, I was determined that no other young person should suffer the same fate and began devising a self-esteem lesson that I took to schools and colleges all over the UK. This was the class which went on to create the building blocks of SET. Demand was soon so high, I recruited Nadz and Grace. Now we visit four schools a week working to improve students’ confidence and have also branched out into mental health, offering classes not only in body image, but bullying, exam stress, self-harm, and how to handle difficult feelings, too. We’re also campaigning for wellbeing to be at the centre of the curriculum, instead of tacked on as an afterthought. After all, if you don’t have your health, grades mean nothing.
You all have your own story to tell. Can you each tell us a little about your own experiences?
Nadz: When I was younger, there were troubles at home which led me to hide away in my bedroom a lot rather than confront them. As I became more and more withdrawn from life, by the time I started secondary school, I was a timid and easy target for bullies because I never bit back.
Lonely, frustrated, and with a complete lack of emotional vocabulary to talk about my feelings, one day I locked myself in my room and cut myself.
What started as an impulsive act on a random day in my first year at secondary school, went on to have a hold over me for two decades. I used self-harm as a ‘friend’ to turn to when my head went black. Only now, having recovered, can I see how self-destructive it was and how I treasured it more than it ever did me.
With the help of CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy] and a very lucky break in journalism, I eventually found my feet after university. Now, I hope to speak for every kid who feels they’re not ‘cool’ enough and let them know it’s okay to be different. And that different can actually be fun.