Photo Credit: Marie Clark, Clark Communications
You’re not smart enough. You’re not savvy enough. You’re too fat. You’re too skinny. You’re just a pretty face. You’re not pretty enough. You’re too loud. You’re too timid. You’re too tall. You’re too short. You have a bad attitude. You’re promiscuous. You’re a problem child.
These are just a few of the toxic messages our girls receive daily about themselves. They are constantly picked apart and derided as they learn how to navigate their young and promising lives in a society that is quick to judge and slow to forgive. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to completely shelter girls from these attacks as they come fast, furiously and from every direction (family, friends, school, TV, pop culture, music, etc.). So, counter messaging is such an important part of raising their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Thus, a key part of the Mo’ Girls Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Programme is fortifying our girls against this kind of toxicity and building them up from the inside out. How? Through radical displays of self-love and positive affirmations.
Early in the morning, just after breakfast and just before the start of the day at both pilot camp venues, it could be heard echoing from the groups’ respective spaces. At the end of the day, it could be heard booming—loud, proud and unapologetically—from the main rooms. One after the other, each girl stepping into the circle of her peers and her encouragers (facilitators and guests) and making the bold proclamations that they’d been taught upon entering the space on day one, and the group responding with love, affirmation and respect as they repeated her loud and bold assertions…
Participant: “I love myself!”
Group: “She loves herself!”
Participant: “I mean every single thing…”
Group: “She means every single thing…”
Participant: “from the top of my head to the soles of my feet!”
Group: “from the top of her head to the soles of her feet!”
Participant: “ I do my dance like…” (then she dances)
Group: “ She does her dance like…” (then the group copies her dance)
It was fun. It was memorable. It was and remains the single most impactful part of the programme from an empowerment perspective. The manner in which the girls were affected by these affirmations was noted by administrators, facilitators and guests alike.
“In Arima, [the] girls demonstrated higher levels of self confidence by [the] third day. [They] showed joy at saying the words to self,” said Pearl Yatali-Gonzales, Team Auditor for Mo’ Girls-Arima and Midi Moguls Facilitator for Mo’ Girls-Port of Spain. “Overall [the] POS participants demonstrated an awareness of self and personal value—delighting in showing us how they enjoyed the affirmations.”
A constant reminder that they are worthy of love, respect and positivity, but that it has to start with them and emanate outward, this exercise/activity is a foundational aspect of the programme that all of the girls connected to and took away with them. It is what we refer to as the “Self Love Cipher.” Not the only tool to instill confidence and empower the young women and girls in the programme, but by far the simplest and most catching. Colleen Davis—a Mo’ Girls programme facilitator and a Mo’ Girls-Port of Spain camp mom—was particularly sold on the transformative power of this exercise.
“As a parent [of a girl in the programme], a facilitator [of the camp] and a woman of faith…one of my favorite experiences of watching the Self Love Cipher was the transformation in a girl who was very clear from day one ‘I don’t want to be here, do not ask me to take part in the self love sessions.’ And, in the end, her being one of the first people to jump in and proclaim with all that she had ‘I LOVE myself, I mean EVERY SINGLE THING…’ and it was just amazing to watch these young women realize their own potential and worth as the week went on,” Davis said.
Marie Clark, a woman entrepreneur in her own right and Superwoman (participant in the camp’s skillshare initiative whereby she came and shared gems of wisdom from her own experience with the girls) was even moved by the activity on the last day of camp from the outside looking in. She just happened to be observing/auditing the last day of Mo’ Girls-Port of Spain and was touched by the Self Love Cipher.
“I was particularly inspired by the formalized demonstration of self-love AND support that occurred daily through the cipher circle. Too often women are stereotyped as being catty and/or unsupportive of each other and the presence of the cipher circle and the enthusiasm with which these girls and teenagers participated and lifted up each other in the circle was heartwarming,” Clark said.