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”