In Mini Mermaids, we explore different types of strength - mental, emotional, physical - and how at different times and places, we will need to call on one or all.
This month, Poorna Bell, author, columnist, competitive power-lifter and mental health advocate, speaks with us about her new book ‘Stronger: Changing Everything I Knew About Women’s Strength.’
Due out later this month, the book weaves the story of Poorna’s own journey, with those of other women who have found their own strength within physical activity.
1. Let's jump right in with the video you have pinned on Twitter. It shows you successfully deadlifting 130 kg . You say 'This is the only lift I failed... but it taught me to fight & never give up. It’s never too late.' Why is this such an important message?
Personally it's an important message for a couple of reasons. The first is that we have this idea that fitness or being strong is something that you can only achieve when you're young, and that the older you get, there is this sense of being able to do less or only ever diminish. And that's just not true. Aside from health reasons - which is something that affect anyone of
any age - there is no age limit on trying new things, or trying to fulfill your potential of seeing how fast you can run or how much weight you can lift.
The second, was to say that failure can still be an achievement, that even just the act of trying can be as impressive or praiseworthy, especially if you've had to overcome a lot to get there. No one feels great about failure, but what makes it worse is if that failure meant you just didn't try again, and what makes it better is getting back up and giving it a shot until you succeed.
2. Your book title specifically says 'Changing Everything I Knew…' (which is refreshing). Do you remember when your view of women’s strength began to change? What are the misconceptions that make you want to scream?
It wasn't a lightning bolt moment but it was during a specific time, when I went to compete in my first powerlifting competition. I remember still struggling with the push-pull concept of knowing that in order to get stronger I'd need to put on more muscle, which would mean my body would change, but at the same time, feeling so constrained by that societal pressure for women to remain as small and slim as possible.
That view is so pervasive - not just in media but in how every single person around you talks about their own body - which has only gotten worse during the pandemic. But then I went to a competition and I saw women of all shapes and sizes, and ages, and they were just super strong. Which taught me so much about this ill-informed preconception we have of what 'health' and 'strength' looks like.
After that competition, when I then went into the mainstream gym I used to belong to, and I realised how gendered certain sections of the gym were, and why women felt so intimidated in the weights section, it just seemed unacceptable to me.
Women are more likely to suffer with osteoporosis - something weight training helps prevent - and are more likely to deal with heart issues when they hit 50 - and weight training helps enormously with cardiovascular health - so these blockers to women getting physically stronger (if that's what they want) aren't just sexist, they are dangerous for our health.
3. After the 5km challenges, our Mini Mermaids tell us that their sense of accomplishment makes them braver and more willing to take on other challenges. How has your journey with strength training impacted other aspects of your life?
It has impacted it hugely. Many times, with strength training, I would think 'I can't possibly do this, this isn't physically or mentally possible' and then I'd do it, and that goes into this reservoir of self-belief, so that the next time you're confronted with that negative voice, you have the evidence that you've overcome things before.
It has positively impacted my career and my relationships with my loved ones, but also, it has given me more confidence in my own decision- making. It's not that I'm making the safest choice or the least riskiest, but rather, I'm building failure within that, so that even if it doesn't work out the way I thought it would, I can learn and adjust. With strength training, you have to make so many adjustments to what you do to make sure you lift safely, and do it as efficiently as possible. That creates a really good mental capacity then, for recreating that in other areas of your life.
4. In a recent column you wrote about writing a 'Covid Rage Diary.’ Rather than burying our anger, you stress the importance of acknowledging and releasing that anger, while tracing its origins. What are some suggestions to help people practice what almost seems like emotional strength training?
I would say it's exactly that. Journalling or keeping a diary or being able to literally write a list of everything that is irritating you or making you feel angry at the moment helps enormously. Not only does it act as a pressure valve, and therefore makes you kinder to your loved ones around you, it also highlights things in your life that you may need to actively tackle and confront. The latter is really necessary in order to have an emotionally healthy life because trust me, resentment can have a terrible effect on you not just mentally, but physically.
5. We're starting to emerge from the pandemic? What are your wishes for yourself, your family and friends in the coming months?
My wish is really simple, which is that we remain healthy for as long as possible, that we get to see each other and celebrate being in each other's lives, and to realise that we really don't know what's coming round the corner. So all those things you've been putting off, that you think there is endless time for - there isn't. With or without a pandemic. So take every opportunity you can to invite joy into your life, whatever shape or form that takes.
‘Stronger: Changing Everything I Knew About Women’s Strength’ is available at bookstores and online nationwide starting 29 April 2021, as well as her earlier books 'Chase the Rainbow' and 'In Search of Silence.' Poorna writes a weekly column for INews, and is a contributing writer for The Times, Grazia, The Guardian, Red Magazine, and Stylist.
Follow Poorna on Instagram and Twitter, and visit her Website
MINI MERMAID TALES: Selina Wray, PhD Professor of Molecular Neuroscience Alzheimer's Research UK Senior Research Fellow
This month's Mini Mermaid Tales comes from Professor Selina Wray. We got to know Selina while training for the 2019 London Marathon for Alzheimer's Research UK. In addition to the stellar work she does with of the University College London (UCL) Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, Selina trained as a COVID vaccinator with St. John's Ambulance (you know, in her spare time).
Named Alzheimer’s Research UK’s 2018 David Hague Early Career Investigator of the Year and voted Red Magazine’s Pioneer of the Year, Selina devotes time to encouraging young people from all backgrounds to discover and explore science.
Her best advice: Don't be afraid to fail. So very Mini Mermaid!
1. Can you tell us about your work at University College London (UCL), as well as Alzheimer’s Research UK?
I run a lab at UCL, which is trying to increase our understanding of Alzheimer's disease (AD). In AD, nerve cells in the brain become sick, leading to symptoms including memory loss. An effective treatment for these diseases would prevent this, however in order to develop such a treatment we need to understand the biological changes that occur in nerve cells. In the lab we will take stem cells from patients who have dementia, and because stem cells can become any cell type in the body, we change them into nerve cells that we can study in the laboratory. By comparing cells from people with and without dementia, we can understand what causes the cells to become sick in AD. Understanding these changes will aid the development of new drugs to reverse these defects and thereby halt or slow the progression of diseases including AD and FTD.
Alzheimer's Research UK fund a lot of the work in our lab, and I work with them closely to increase public awareness of dementia and also to help their fundraising activities.
2. You’ve been really open about your background and why you want to make science and research more accessible to children. Who inspired you and in turn, what are your favourite ways to champion the next generation of scientists?
I was really inspired my science teachers, who were always so enthusiastic and made the subjects fun and interesting. Particularly at A-level when they would go above and beyond to show us what practical science could be like – i.e. what sort of jobs a scientist had, rather than just the theoretical side. We try to help support junior scientists gain experience in the lab, through the In2Science scheme, which provides support for students from under priviliged backgrounds. We also take part in open days through schools and several people in the department are STEM ambassadors. Its never too early to be interested in science!
3. When you were awarded the Red Magazine Women of the Year “Pioneer Award,” you praised the women scientists with whom you work - that you celebrate together and you commiserate together. How has this cohort influenced your research and career?
Science has many ups and downs – there is the thrill of discovery but also disappointment when papers or grant applications get rejected. Having a good support network means you have people to celebrate the success with, but also people who can make you feel better when things don’t work out – although the disappointments are hard they are inevitable and not the end of the world, so its important to have people around you to help you see that and put things in the context of the bigger picture.
4. Building resilience is a big part of Mini Mermaids - showing girls that it’s ok to take risks and that setbacks/challenges don’t equal “failure.” How do you learn from your research, even when it may not be the outcome you wanted or expected? And why is this so important?
Every experiment we do is informative, whether it works or not. If things don’t give the expected outcome, we spend time discussing what went wrong and how we can improve next time. Mistakes and failure are the best way to learn, so it’s important to not be scared of them!
5. How does physical activity fit into your life? What are some of your favourite ways of being active and why is this important to you?
I think keeping active is really important. I love to feel strong and healthy – and also being active is the best way to keep your mind healthy and destress after a hard day! Pre-lockdown I used to do 3-4 classes per week at Barry’s Bootcamp. I also like running, so I would do parkrun every Saturday as well as other races, including London Marathon in 2014 (EDITORS NOTE: Selina would run to and from the lab to check on cells as part of her training runs. Very cool). Since lockdown began I’ve been doing home workouts over Zoom with the trainers from Barry’s as well as running 2-3 times per week.
6. Lock down dog or cat?
Cat ☺ I have a kitten called Billy and he’s been such good fun to have around! I love dogs too though and would definitely like a brother or sister for Billy in the future!
To learn more about Professor Selina Wray's work and for updates on Billy's workouts, follow her on Twitter @SelinaWray
It's the magic of a flying wizard, the recreation of the Sistine Chapel, the darkness of a black hole. It takes us on journeys through time and space - sometimes chronologically or sometimes not at all. It creates rivers and waterfalls, or makes them disappear completely. Sometimes it's in our face; sometimes we don't even notice it. Welcome to the world of visual effects (VFX).
Lucky us - this month we chat with Lucy Cooper, Managing Director of Union VFX, a visual effects company based in London's SOHO neighborhood. When you've sat in front of a screen over the past few months, odds are you've seen the work of Union (think recently nominated BAFTA films 'The Dig,' 'Emma,' 'The Mauritanian,' 'Misbehaviour').
Lucy, named one of the Inspirational Women in Tech 2020, shares a bit about her job, how to get involved in the industry and why she loves being active.
1. Can you tell us about your position at Union VFX and where some of our Mini Mermaids and their families may have seen the work you do?
I’m Managing Director at Union. I work with the founders to set the goals we want the business to achieve. Then, I'm responsible for working with the team to make them happen. This includes everything from business operations, people and new ventures to ensuring that we preserve our culture and identity.
In addition to this year's BAFTA-nominated films, some other things we've worked on include 'The Crown,' 'Swallows and Amazons,' 'The Hustle' and 'Mamma Mia! Here we go again.'
2. You are passionate about women supporting women, including your work with Animated Women UK. Why is this so important to you?
I work in a very male-dominated industry - although it is getting better. By asking questions, we’ve learned that the women in our industry face some unique challenges and benefit from support and guidance from more experienced female mentors.
It’s proven that diversity of all kinds makes for a more successful business and I truly believe that a representative workforce (51% of the UK population is female) creates a great balance and culture for everyone.
3. What would you say to young girls who might have interest in VFX and animation?
It’s a great industry to work in. I love being around creative people, seeing something develop from an idea into a finished film or television programme and being able to watch and enjoy the work that my team help create.
If you’re interested, have a go! Make short films or animations with your friends. You’ll learn so much and have fun! There are lots of free tools and guidance out there.
A great place to start is ACCESS:VFX. They have lots of free resources to help you find out more about the industry as well as a great podcast and access to mentors in a safe online environment for anyone over 13.
4. In Mini Mermaids, we have two characters - Mini Mermaid (our inner cheerleader) and Siren (our inner critic) to help girls process, understand and manage the messages they hear, both internally and externally. Have you had an experience where you’ve reframed a situation to channel your inner cheerleader?
It’s totally normal to have an inner critic. Mine can be quite vocal. I am often asked to speak at events or on panels, which can be quite daunting. My Siren voice will be saying ‘what do you have to say of relevance? What if you mess up and get trolled on Twitter?’ And so on it goes.
Everything always sounds scarier than it is and, thankfully, my Mini Mermaid voice talks some sense and overrides my Siren. It says ‘of course you do, you wouldn’t be doing your job if you weren’t capable.’ I find in most scenarios as long as you do your homework and are honest and human, you can’t go that far wrong.
5. How does physical activity fit into your life? What are some of your favourite ways of being active and why is this important to you?
I like being active. It makes me feel good, but it’s not always easy to find the motivation to do active things. For me, it’s important to do something I actually enjoy as that makes me keep doing it. Also, doing it with friends really helps as you’d be letting them down if you didn’t make the effort - and often you get to go for coffee/brunch afterwards :)
My advice would be to try lots of things. I love everything from hill climbing and snowboarding to running (sometimes), pilates and walking the dog. During lockdown it’s been challenging as you can’t really do things with your friends in the same way and organised / group fitness has been off the cards. However, I’ve found meeting friends to walk my dog (when allowed) and doing online fitness classes has helped me a lot to keep well in my body and head.
Hannah Beecham, CEO and Founder of RED January and RED Together, start RED January in 2016 after witnessing the transformative effect that regular exercise had on her Mum as she recovered from a period of severe depression.
Since then, thousands of people have joined this movement, which encourages people to get active every day of the month by choosing an activity that makes them feel good – physically and mentally. Hannah shared some of her favourite memories
1) What is RED and what prompted you to start it?
I was inspired to start RED January after witnessing the positive effect that regular physical activity had on my mum’s mental health.
RED January is a nationwide movement that’s empowering people to get active every day in January, to beat the blues away, as well as raise funds to help others in their community.
Whether you run, walk, swim or choose your own activity, you can set your own goal and enjoy support from the RED community every step, splash and pedal of the way!
2) We LOVE RED January and can't wait to be involved in it again in 2021. Why do you feel RED January, and it's community are going to be especially important next year?
It’s fantastic to know the Mini Mermaids community will be joining us again!
As we reach the end of a globally challenging year, our hope is that RED January provides people with something to help them kick start 2021 in a positive way.
No REDer will be alone this January as thousands of us will be coming together united with a common goal of getting active every day.
3) Can you tell us about any standout moments that you have had with RED over the years?
Standout moments always involve meeting REDers and hearing the positive impact that RED January has had on their lives.
I fondly remember meeting the first ever REDer that wasn’t someone I knew. After spotting them in a RED t-shirt, I ran after them! After a few embarrassing moments of me trying to explain that I was a fellow REDer, it was incredible to know that RED was reaching and supporting people outside of my friends and family.
4) What are your hopes for the future of RED?
That we not only reach and empower more people to start, rekindle or continue being active to support their mental health, but we also provide such a wonderful experience that REDers return and kick start each year with RED!
5) How do you keep your physical and mental health balanced?
I’ve been enjoying meetings on the move this year. To be outside walking and talking always revives me. Work and play combined. It’s a win, win!
All the fun details about how to join this incredible movement can be found here!
Today, I’ll log onto a forum I’ve looked forward to for ages - Women in Sport and their discussion on primary age girls and physical activity. Even before the pandemic, I banged the drum that we need to help children, and especially girls, get and stay active and we need to start helping them at a much younger age.
Now, my drum has become a full on orchestral percussion section.
Here we are, heading towards the end of Lockdown 2 and stumbling into winter. The seriousness and longevity of the pandemic’s effect can not be understated. The losses and sacrifices that people have made over the last year are immense. Some families have lost everything and we won’t know - for months or even years - the exact extent on the mental, emotional and physical health of the nation.
We can NOT sideline the impact the pandemic had, is having and will have on our children and the role that physical activity can have in their recovery. As a nation, validated by research from organisations like Women in Sport, Youth Sport Trust and Sport England, we started to fully recognise the powerful impact movement has on the health and wellbeing of our children, so much so that OFSTED and the UK Medical Officers updated guidelines to stress its value.
At the same time, studies have shown the negative impact the lack of physical activity has had on children during lockdown and how important is that we get children moving again.
So why is it that physical activity is being placed at the bottom of the list of what is important in the recovery?
1) Mini Mermaids is now into its 11th year (yey!) What prompted you to develop the programme?
Two really profound experiences led to the creation of Mermaids. First, in my work as coach and personal trainer, I met women in their 30s and 40s who wanted to re-engage in some type of physical activity, but struggled internally with how society defined their worth. Before they even set foot on a running track, they were already beating themselves up - they looked fat in spandex, they weren’t good enough.
It broke my heart. So many of these brave, strong women had done remarkable things in their lives. But the stories they had been told all through their lives tied their worth and value solely to how they looked and were reflected in the eyes of men.
As I dug in deeper and listened to their heartache, I felt that this was all so much part of their “little girl” story. The images, the cultural definition of beauty and worthiness. What they heard and what they were told all throughout their lives began when they were as young as 6-7.
At the same time, Megan Tresham, our co-founder, was looking for something for her daughter that would help her withstand the external pressures that so many young girls face by believing in herself.
We both felt this was an opportunity to create something special. Something that tapped this internal dialogue, where girls define their worth and value and to teach them that they deserve respect for their humanity. Also, we both knew physical activity needed to be a part of this journey.
2. What changes have you seen over the last 11 years in the issues that young girls are facing?
I feel that the same challenges are still here. I would love to say that girls are now thinking that they can do anything and they have a true sense of themselves. We are seeing more women are in positions of power and it shows that you can get to the top because of hard work and determination, not because of gender, colour of your skin or what you look like.
On the flip side I think that we still have so many of the same complex struggles that I grew up with. I had MTV and glossy magazines and conversations with my mom and grandma who talked about how a woman’s worth and value are based on having a man. Girls are growing up these days with social media and a false sense of how life should be. I am worried how girls are going to gain a sense of internal peace and comfort. The external changes as you grow older and I am worried that girls are not going to see this from all the false images that they see now.
We’ve made progress, but we can’t let up. That’s why programmes like Mini Mermaid are so important. We teach girls that the inside matters more than the outside, and that they have the power to define their identity and value. Will that always be easy? Not at all. But they will have the strength and resilience to work it out for themselves and find their true voice.
3) What is your favourite part of the programmes?
LOVE the multi-generational relationships that happen. It’s rare that a coach does not say to me that the curriculum changed their lives as much as the girls. It is critical that I can sit with women who are 10/15 years older than me and listen to their wisdom and stories and struggles. This is what the role of the MM coach is.
Also, when I see Mini Mermaids do the power pose and own that moment, chest up, taking up space and owning their power - wow! The sense of accomplishment after they have completed their 5km, doing something that they thought that couldn’t do - I never tire of seeing the girls faces in that moment.
There was a Mini Mermaid who wouldn’t walk or run during any of the sessions but then one day, she did it and seeing the freedom that she had was incredible. It is life changing when you discover that freedom, when your heart and your head are free.
4) The unique aspect of the Mini Mermaid programmes is the fact that it transcends countries and societies. Why do you think this is?
Because what we talk about in Min Mermaids is the human experience. It is not exclusive to any society, economic group, country, tribe or language. It is the human condition
We need to acknowledge and understand our inner dialogue and how it affects our human path. We will all have moments of terror, and grief and sadness and we will also have moments of joy and elation and success and love.
When I visited Uganda I tried to understand - in my limited way - what it must feel like to be displaced from your home because your village has been completely destroyed. Your family has been murdered. You are the lone survivor. This is the story that you carry with you. No one will have lived this traumatic experience apart from you.
But you can still experience joy and happiness. This is where MM and Siren come in. They don’t tell you how to experience what you have experienced. Whatever your experience, you will have a voice (Siren) that is fearful and reminds you of your mistakes, you are not enough. Mini Mermaid tells you that you are enough whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your experience. You are still worthy of a life that is dignified. It is not defined by a single experience.
5) What are your hopes for the future of Mini Mermaids?
For every girl and every woman to have the chance to be part of the Mini Mermaid curriculum. If I could blink my eyes and the curriculum to be everywhere and, in every school, I would. Everyone has an inner critic and champion and I want them to know that they have the power to differentiate between the two of them and then make the decision to take them on the path that they want to go in life. To cross a finish line whatever that finish line might be in life. I want Mini Mermaids to reach every corner of the world.
6) How do you keep your physical and mental health balanced?
I struggle with the term ‘balance.’ Balance suggests that we are like a three-legged stool and we have to have every single one of the legs on the floor before we can be useful. Life is more of a balancing act. You are always stable enough to get through what we have in front of us even when one leg of the stool is a bit shorter than the others. Sometimes I think that it is unfair to say that we always need to have this perfect balance of everything. We just don’t have the capacity to have our eyes on everything all the time - and that’s ok. We are Moms, partners, employers/employees. So it is putting the pieces together to balance on that one thing that needs our focus at that time.
I find that routine really helps me. My brain, body and heart need routine and consistency. It takes the form of not sleeping in, taking part in mediation or reading before my day starts. I then move my body, however it wants to move. It might be running hard, running slowly, walking or yoga. I try to move for at least 10 minutes a day.
Also, find time for play and silliness. Finding joy with my friends and not staying ridged. I make sure I block out time for play on my calendar. With COVID-19, it’s too easy to stay inside and say, “well, this is all I can do.” But it isn’t. We can get outside in the cold, go for walks, and go for hikes - for both our heads and hearts. If there was ever a time to discover the power we have within us, this could be it. Finding different ways to move our bodies. Recognising the power of a kind gesture. Understanding that everyone has her own challenges right now, including some we can’t see.
Heidi Boynton is the co-founder of Mini Mermaid and Young Triton Running Club. You can hear more from Heidi in her Ted Talk, titled “Permission”
Welcome to Mini Mermaid Tales, our new monthly series where we chat with some of the brave, strong and active women and girls we've met in our Mini Mermaid communities.
Our first conversation? Mel Berry, founder of Her Spirit. We caught up with Mel to learn a bit more Her Spirit and her new campaign, Give me Five, which starts on 26 October. During the campaign, 4x Olympian Donna Fraser, supported by the Her Spirit coaching team will take members on an 8-week journey to a fun 5km walk or run.
1) What inspired you to create Her Spirit and why is it so important?
Her Spirit, supported by Sport England and Public Health England, is helping empower women to take the crucial first steps to live a healthier lifestyle and accompanying them throughout their journey to make this a permanent, sustainable change. Available as an app, Her Spirit harnesses the power of a global community of women to inspire and support members of all ages to transform their emotional, physical and nutritional. Alongside the community, Her Spirit offers daily classes, exercise and nutrition programmes, alongside bespoke advice and support from a host of experts, covering Mind, Body and Spirit.
2) The online community of Her Spirit through the app is a relatively new concept. Why do you think it appeals so much to women and how do you think this is the way forward in promoting physical activity?
With many exercise classes still restricted, communities broken and motivation low, Covid has had a hugely negative impact on our mental health and fitness, with women disproportionately affected. At the height of the pandemic women’s physical activity dropped by 7% while men’s increased by 6%, but the power of the Her Spirit community has shone through. The rapidly growing community has enabled women to work together, to motivate each other and create stronger bodies and minds and has shown the immense possibilities to turn this depressing statistic around.
Time to exercise is essential for our physical and mental well-being and insufficient exercise is a major cause of chronic disease. Obesity is a significant risk factor for some cancers, liver and kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and has been associated with being at greater risk from the most severe effects of covid-19. Lack of exercise is as deadly as smoking. Not getting enough exercise puts women at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, mental health problems and some cancers than men.
Exercise is a basic necessity of health, it should be a fundamental right, yet when time is tight it is often one of the first things to be dropped from our lives. Women have been disproportionately carrying the burden of caring for children and the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic and have found their time for physical activity even further restricted.
3 Your Best Year Yet campaign directly relates to the impact that COVID has had on women's activity levels. Can you tell us about how this campaign is already having a positive impact and what you hope to achieve moving forward?
Jess is a great example and used to be a keen cyclist, swimmer and runner, but stopped exercising during lockdown, as she had to focus on looking after her two children in lockdown.
She found that her mental health started to suffer and she removed herself from social media as she found this to have a negative influence. The only app Jess decided to keep on her phone was Her Spirit.
“It is just packed full of supportive and kind women who are super inspiring and who genuinely want to see you succeed on your own personal journey. Through this support, I restarted exercising and this in turn obviously boosted my mental health as well - it was the start of a positive snowball effect.”
Read Jess' full story here
4) You are also collaborating with Women In Sport for #TimeTogether which is promoting mums and daughters to get active together. From their research, we can see that girls really value time with their mum's and therefore this relationship is vital when viewing physical activity. What are your thoughts on beginning to promote this relationship earlier and help mum's build the physical activity relationship with their daughters?
It's so important. Meet Tracey and Summer Brown, our Her Spiriters who spend more #TimeTogether
"For a long time, my anxiety often got in the way of spending time being active with my daughter, I’d often blame lack of time, but it was also linked to me thinking I was not good enough or capable. My daughter Summer is an amazing 16-year-old, that is fearless, talented and energetic; everything that for years I dreamed of being, but am only now starting to live out and enjoy the ensuing benefits.
Like many women across the UK, I was affected by COVID-19. I work as part of the air crew for Tui, though I was furloughed throughout the immediate months of lockdown and it ignited periods of anxiety and worry for me. In reality, it was one of the best things that could happen as for the first time in decades I put myself first and prioritised my physical and mental wellbeing.
I decided to take on the 6 week Learn to Swim Freestyle session earlier this year with her Spirit, a global community that offers women personalised coaching, plans and advice for Mind, Body and Fuel. From day one I embraced the support and inspiration of the women and it’s been the catalyst to overcoming my fears and has strengthened my relationship with my daughter."
Read more about Summer and Tracey here
5) At Mini Mermaids, we teach the girls from the very first session about their strong Mini Mermaid inner cheerleader and their Siren inner critic. How do you combat your inner critic when she is telling you not to be physically active?
Don’t you love that moment when you look up from your laptop and see that your kids have figured out how to scale the outside of the staircase using ropes and harnesses…
….wait, that doesn’t happen at your house?…
My kids love to climb, my daughter in particular. If she, alongside her brother, isn’t rigging climbing gear inside, she’s finding the best climbing trees outside.
There’s the part of me that wants to shout 'be careful, don’t go so high.' But there’s a BIGGER part of me that says 'higher...HIGHER!' whilst thinking about Beah Richards wonderful book, Keep Climbing, Girls.
She’s approaching the age where her confidence could begin to decline. Where elements of society can influence in a negative way what she feels about her image, her body, her intelligence.
I simply won’t let that happen.
According to a YPulse study conducted by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, until the age of 8, boys and girls are equally confident. But between ages 8-14, girls’ confidence drops 30% more than boys.
Without this confidence, girls stop taking healthy risks. Society rewards them for being 'perfect.' Therefore, failure is not an option. The same study found that the proportion of girls who say they are not allowed to fail rises from 18 to 45 percent from the ages of 12 to 13.
So to avoid failure, they avoid risk. Yet, the very process of trying, failing and trying again is how we grow. Confidence is cumulative. A study by EY and espnW said that of the women who held C-Suite positions, 94 percent engaged in some kind of sport when they were young, but the study noted that 'as long as there is a move outside of a girl’s comfort zone, and a process of struggle and mastery, confidence will usually be the result.' As in, they used sport and physical activity to practice, trying, failing, trying again and then mastering which grew confidence.
Like many others, we cheered when we heard the eagerly awaited news that the government would extend the PE and Sport Premium Funding in primary schools for 2020/2021. Within the language of the news, we repeatedly saw the words “wellbeing” and “mental health,” and a celebration of mental, emotional and physical benefits of activity. It helps young people with anxiety and depression. It builds resilience. It creates opportunities for self-expression, building self-confidence, social interaction and integration.
And more importantly, for girls, it creates much needed opportunities to proactively address inactivity before girls start to lose their self-confidence. This loss of confidence results in girls stopping any type of physical activity before they even leave primary school. This lack of participation in physical activity has a negative impact on girls aspirations and self-esteem later in life (Youth Sports Trust).
In Mini Mermaids, we work with girls age 7-11, using running as its simplicity makes it accessible to everyone. That said, Mini Mermaids isn’t about helping schools create ‘RUNNERS!’ Rather, we want girls to discover a safe environment where they can explore different types of movement.
Running, in all its various forms, acts as the conduit through which girls experience the joy of being active and feel the connection between movement and well-being and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. They get sweaty, they get wet and in some cases they get muddy. They get frustrated when it’s hard, and excited when it becomes easier.
Moving for 5 minutes becomes moving for 10 minutes. 10 minutes become 20. 20 becomes completing a 5km challenge. Completing a 5km becomes “I’m going to stick with that tricky science or maths problem even though it’s hard because I know I can do it.” It’s confidence. It’s resilience. It’s self-esteem.
When I see my daughter reaching for a particularly high branch in a tree, or attempt a tricky problem when she is climbing, or even when she is struggling with a maths problem my heart beats with fear. The thoughts of ‘what if she falls, what if she fails’ rattle around my brain.
But then I see the sense of pride and confidence in her whole body when she reaches the branch, or completes the climbing problem or gets the maths problem. Or, if she doesn’t get those things on that particular day, I see a flash of defeat, followed by a set look of determination as she vows to herself to give it another go.
That’s what I want her to harness throughout her life, to understand that the knocks and setbacks do not define her, they are a part of her story and what shapes her as does her determination, confidence and pride. So I will keep telling her to climb higher, keep reaching, keep trying, keep falling and to be unashamedly proud of herself.
Recently, I shared that we were working on a way that we could continue to bring our Mini Mermaid programme to girls during these unprecedented times. I’m happy to say that, in working with Nicky Adams and her team at Full of Beans Fitness, we’re now able to offer Mini Mermaids at Home, an online experience that combines our fun curriculum with a wealth of online activities from Full of Beans Fitness.
Wait….what?! A running club? Online?
Absolutely. At our core, we’ve always been about helping young girls discover and embrace physical activity as well as mindfulness practices. We want to engage those girls at risk of stopping physical activity, by creating a fun, judgement-free environment, in which girls feel safe exploring different types of movement.
As part of that, we want to help girls understand, acknowledge and manage how they’re feeling, be kind to themselves in that moment, and consider how physical activity can play a role in that process. This is so important, now more than ever. It's hard when life changes and there's a new reality to navigate. No school. No access to friends. No certainty. It's frustrating, a bit frightening, and tiring.
As a community, country and world, these feelings of anxiety and uncertainty can be overwhelming. This is why we want to be able to help girls and their families to navigate through these feelings, along with supporting our community to stay active.
So alongside the team at Full Of Beans Fitness, we are launching Mini Mermaids at Home. It’s Mini Mermaids with a twist! We are really looking forward to working with Full of Beans as we manage this new world that we are living in. You can find all the details on how to sign up here or email Corrie@fullofbeansfitness.co.uk for dates and availability.
Hope you and all of yours are staying safe.
MINI MERMAID DANCE PILOT TO LAUNCH THIS SPRING, THROUGH GRANT FROM THE HILL DICKINSON FOUNDATION and THE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION FOR MERSEYSIDE
At Mini Mermaids, we’ve always said that we’re not out to create “RUNNERS!”
Ok, maybe we don’t yell it.
But we’re not out to create “runners.”
What we have always wanted is for girls, particularly those who might shy away from any type of physical activity, to discover the joy of moving their bodies, feel confident doing it and experience how it impacts their overall well-being.
We started with running and its various forms; the simplicity makes it accessible to everyone. But we’ve always envisioned branching out and creating new programmes that incorporate different types of physical activity.
Today, our vision became one massive step closer to reality, thanks to a generous grant from the Hill Dickinson Foundation, on behalf of the firm’s Leeds office, and the Community Foundation for Merseyside .
At the core of the Mini Mermaid ethos is physical activity combined with mindfulness practices to help strengthen a girl’s self-esteem, self-confidence and self-compassion. With this grant, we plan to take these powerful tenets and to pilot the Mini Mermaid Dance Programme, a natural progression of our running-based curriculum. We will start the programmes in Leeds later this year.
Much like running, dance has proven to positively impact physical, mental and emotional confidence. In fact, an Arts & Health research paper titled, ‘The effects of recreational dance interventions on the health and well-being of children and young people’ found that among 5-12 year olds, dance not only improved cardiovascular fitness and bone health of children and young people but also that dance has the power to improve how a child views themselves and reduces anxiety. The mind/body connection is evident in many cultures who use dance as therapy to strengthen this connection.
We’ll have more details later this year as we develop and activate the programme. But we wanted to publicly thank the wonderful team at Hill Dickinson Leeds and the Community Foundation for Merseyside for making this programme a reality.
High Fins to the entire team.