Girls learn 'kung-fu' self-esteem

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Nicole Clark delivered a hard-hitting message to a group of Oxford County girls at Annandale School in Tillsonburg Friday morning in her How to Build Kung-Fu Self-Esteem Workshop.

The Grade 6-8 students did not receive black-belts after the slideshow presentation and discussion, but they are now armed with information on how to decode ads and media messages. They know what self-esteem is, where to get it, how to build it – and why it’s important.

“Giving them these skills, they can now critically look at what they’re being exposed to instead of just taking it completely in,” said Clark, a former Elite Model professional. “So they’ve got some sort of defence now they can put to use.”

“It made sense,” said student Lexi Gray, noting in particular the section on body image, ‘loving your body’ and loving each other.

“Yeah, I think it will help us out more,” said student Denika Waite, recalling a section on compliments vs bullying. “I think we won’t be so rude to each other.”

Media, said Clark, includes everything from advertising to celebrity influence, magazines and billboards, and the Internet.

“I don’t look at magazines that much anymore,” said Waite.

“Even when I’m looking at magazines, I don’t really care,” said student Georgia Lockhart.

“I feel confident in myself,” said Waite, adding with a smile, “but when my mom picks out tacky clothes I don’t wear them.”

“Same,” Lockhart laughed.

Toward the end of her one-hour presentation, Clark suggested the girls try for one day not looking at ‘the media.’ Or even a week. A ‘media detox.’

“Yeah, I would try it,” said Gray.

“I’d try it, but I probably couldn’t do it,” admitted Lockhart.

“I think I’d try – a day – not going on Facebook,” said Waite. “I just got it this year.”

“I’m not allowed Facebook,” said Lockhart, “because my parents say that’s not a very good environment to be in.”

“I’m not allowed Facebook either,” said Gray.

Social media sites and cell phones make it easier for the students to communicate – both in positive and negative ways.

“It (Facebook) doesn’t get vicious…” said Waite.

“But I hear some drama on Facebook,” said Gray.

“Yeah, there’s some drama,” Waite nodded.

“I don’t have Facebook, but all these people show me the messages and stuff,” said Lockhart. “And a lot of people say stuff about me on Facebook – and it really hurts me.”

Reactions to her workshops vary from school to school, said Clark, who has been doing her Self-Esteem and Media Matrix Workshops for about a year and a half.

“Sometimes the girls get really upset and they ask questions like, ‘why are grownups doing this to us?’ I wish the media would be here to hear the responses, and wake up… and ‘restart their heart’ sort of thing.”

Clark, 41, originally from Camlachie, Ontario (east of Sarnia), now lives in Los Angeles. It was a different era for ‘media’ when she was growing up – and it was reflected in body images of the day, demonstrated by some of her slides, which included photos from both her school days and when she modeled.

“When we were kids, we had 10 hours of media and 40 hours of school. Now they have 75 hours – average – of media interaction.”

Barb Ledgley, from Oxford County Public Health, said it was an important message for the girls.

“Hopefully it gets them thinking about ways they can be positive about their self-esteem and just be themselves instead of being pressured to act a certain way,” said Ledgley. “Particularly the way the media wants girls to dress, the way they kind of want them to become adult-ish too early on.

“Fairly early in her modeling career she became disillusioned – she figured out that it wasn’t a very healthy, positive life. They were telling her things she didn’t want to do, telling her to act ways she didn’t want to act.... Now she speaks to girls about body image and self-esteem, and feeling good about yourself, and not letting the media boss you around and tell you how to look and what to buy.”

Nearly 350 girls from the Tillsonburg, Woodstock and Norwich areas participated, including 157 Annandale students, and visiting students from Eastdale (28), Rolph Street (15), Maple Lane (21), South Ridge 19, Emily Stowe (20), and Monsignor JH O’Neil (76).

“Mr. (Nicholaos) Karalis was kind enough to let us use Annandale, and bring all the girls in,” said Ledgley. “Hopefully this will start something, and in their health classes they can have some conversations about it when they get back.”

Later in the day, Clark spoke at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Woodstock to a group of Grade 9-12 girls.

“I think it just kind of escalates, the pressures, the older you get,” said Ledgley. “It’s a similar message, but it might be a little more ‘edgy’ for the older girls.

“A lot of teachers have spoken to us about the importance of girls learning how to feel good about themselves so they treat other people better. It feeds into the anti-bullying and safe schools message. I don’t think it’s going to change everything in one day, but if it starts the conversation that’s a good thing.”



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