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 As I became more and more withdrawn from life, by the time I started secondary school, I was a timid and easy target for bullies because I never bit back.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.
Tash: I was your typical swot at school and loved nothing better than studying, but while at uni, I was scouted by a modelling agency.
I was constantly being told ‘you have a beautiful face but your body lets you down’, which led me to resent my body and punish it in all kinds of ways. When I eventually got help, I had three months of intense therapy and then spent about a year learning how to look after myself, finding a place in the ‘middle ground’, where I could eat healthily, exercise for pleasure and like myself. I realised that these are skills and that everyone should learn them.
That was my motivation for going in to schools and shaping a relevant, practical and fresh class that teens could really apply to their lives.
Grace: As a kid I was shy but put on a brave face to hide behind my flaky eczema and mixed-raceness (there were very few ‘people of colour’ in the Midlands, circa mid-90s).
I was cripplingly aware of my differences, but buried my hand in the sand rather than dealing with them.
Yet my dreams of being a singer meant having to work in the most aesthetically-focused industry of all; the music biz.
After ignoring the way I looked for so long, I was suddenly catapulted back to a place of insecurity. My bubbly character I had used as a mask quickly vanished as I struggled to stay afloat with work.
By the time I met Tash in 2009, I needed no convincing that everyone needs the chance to get a handle on the relationship they have with their body and mind to achieve their dreams – as I now realise is the root of self-confidence.
What is your overall aim with The Self-Esteem Team and how can people get in touch?
We’re bringing a mental health and self-esteem revolution to the UK; too many people suffer in silence, desperately ashamed of their secret. Our main motto is to encourage everyone to be the best version of themselves; this means questioning things around them – whether it be advertisers, TV shows, their idols – and not soaking things up like a sponge. We believe that a critical mindset can lead to a positive life, and that being happy doesn’t necessarily mean never being depressed or having blue moments ever again, but learning how to cope when those moments when they hit and knowing that the storm will pass.
We’d love people to get in touch via social media, either @_selfesteemteam for Twitter and Instagram. Or find us on Facebook at The Self-Esteem Team. We’d also encourage teachers (or students/parents to bug their teachers) to check out our website www.selfesteemteam.org and book us for a workshop in their school.
You’ve got a new book coming out called The Self-Esteem Team’s Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs?!! What sort of things does it cover?
It’s the 20 questions we’ve most often been asked by our students over the past decade, answered. The book represents our ethos because we have always been led by teenagers’ agenda. We let them tell us what they need rather than assuming we know.
While the book is compact, hopefully it packs a punch with everything from sexting to self-harm, BFFs to bullying, and health to haters. We wanted to deliver a handbook which readers could carry around with them wherever they go, so if they’re ever struck by a lack of confidence, they have a little bible of self-help in their bag. This was as close as we could get to actually shrinking ourselves and living in people’s pockets as their personal cheerleaders. (Although any doll manufacturers out there, we are TOTALLY up for being moulded into miniature versions of ourselves.
When it came to writing the book, how was the work divided up? Do you each write specific sections?
The chapters explore a range of topics from ‘What’s the best way to handle bullies?’, ‘How do I know if I have an eating disorder?’ to ‘How do I look after my skin?’, this then allowed us to match the subjects to the SET member, taking into consideration our personal experience and expertise on the topic. There are some subjects where all three voices come through and a few where only one of us takes over. We wanted it to be as authentic as possible, so we only comment if we have something to add, rather than for the sake of it.
If you could only own one book, which one would each of you pick?
Nadz: Hmm, soo tricky. I would say Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. It is by no means a happy book, but there is something about the main character Camille that I identify with so much.
Grace: Kill Your friends by John Niven because it’s informative, grotesque, hilarious and thought provoking and ALL about music.
Tash: The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter because you could spend forever analysing it and still not really know what it’s about.
What are the challenges of The Self-Esteem Team?
We guess the main challenge is that there are only three of us, so we can’t physically be in every school in the globe, which would be the dream… but we are working on adding Associate Lecturers to our team to broaden what we offer, including one tutor who now delivers lessons on pornography.
What’s been the best thing about The Self-Esteem Team?
Getting feedback from students who have been inspired by one of our workshops is pretty much what we live for, or when our social media followers get in touch to say we gave them the courage to go to an audition or stand up to their boss or wear a swimsuit for the first time in a decade. We all know what it was like, that black cloud, and so encouraging others to see an alternative makes us want to burst into Beyonce style twerking.
The icing on the cake is having a bond like sisters, which obviously means exchanging 10,000 WhatsApp messages a day.
Do it! Don’t procrastinate! Even if you don’t have a full idea yet, start carrying around a notepad to jot down ideas or conversations that you hear going about your daily life. Write down your dreams when you wake up. Or you could aim to have a ‘non-screen’ day, where you swap your laptop and phone for writing. If stuck for ideas, force yourself to write for five minutes at a time, and see what you come up with; think of it like a writing sprint. Don’t allow your conscious to interfere and don’t let your pen even leave the page for those 300 seconds, you’ll be amazed with what splurges out.
If you’re the opposite and have a very concise idea, just focus on getting it all down on paper or computer as a skeletal piece, then go back and do drafts. Don’t get caught up in each sentence being perfect or grammatically glorious, that’s the fun bit at the end when you go back to edit.
Good luck… and send us a signed copy!
The Self Esteem Team’s Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs!? is published by John Blake Publishing (August 2015,) and is available in eBook and paperback formats.
View at The Book Depository.
View on Amazon UK.
For more information on The Self Esteem Team, visit http://www.selfesteemteam.org/