I, as much as anybody, can attest to the positive effect that dance and movement have on our bodies physically. Our hearts and lungs, muscular system, and strength can all be greatly improved by movement and dance. It’s just well-known that exercising has a positive impact on us physically when done healthily and safely.
But what about the effect it has on our mental health? Well for me, I haven’t always put the two together.
I’ve danced all my life. I have vivid memories of the hours I spent in front of the TV watching the kids on Barney the Dinosaur and joining them with their dance routines or more times than not, going completely rogue and choreographing my own dances. I had loads of friends growing up thankfully but still found that a massive chunk of my childhood was me, by myself in my room, dancing. It didn’t matter what CD I got my hands on, I would dance to track after track and visualise the dancers alongside me on the stage and the hundreds and thousands of audience members watching me (while giving all the attitude and sass that I could as a 6-year-old). It's quite strange actually because even though I was on my own, for sometimes long periods, I don’t remember feeling alone or sad, I just remember being so happy, excited, and invigorated afterward. And of course, when it would be time to go to my weekly dance lessons, I would be like a kid on Christmas morning with the excitement, before rushing straight home to perfect what I had just learned before the next week. I just felt happiest when I danced.
In the years that followed I would have looked at all of this and not put much thought into it and the effect it had on me and my mindset. It wasn’t until I got older, and more to the point, until I stopped dancing completely for a few years that I realised how much of an effect dance had on me. Not only physically, but mentally too.
As I got older, I never wanted to stop dancing, even as my friends starting to stop for different reasons. Sometimes it wasn’t by choice, it was more that things got in the way; work, studies, boys, socialising. And although I had all these things in my life too, they always fell second to my dancing. Whilst in secondary school I started working as a student-teacher for my dance school, and when I left school and started college and had other jobs, I always made sure they fit around my dancing so I could keep going. Then in 2014 when I was 24, I decided it was the time to “grow up” (inverted commas because I fell into the trap of believing that to be a grown-up meant I had to stop dancing), and get a “real job”. I was moving from Ireland to the UK to live with my boyfriend and needed a new full-time job, and having no connections with any dance schools in the UK, I thought it would be the best time to do so.
I stopped dancing for a full 2 years for the first time ever. And initially, I didn't mind. There was so much going on that I didn’t really have time to miss dancing. Having just moved, I put a lot of my feelings and emotions down to homesickness, stress, and settling into my new surroundings. But after a few months, I started to really miss moving and music. So instead of doing what I innately knew would help (dance), I joined a gym for the first time in my life! After realising working out alone wasn’t the one, I decided to try some of the exercise classes, and this started to make me feel good. I loved the upbeat music and “dance-like” rhythm of the boxercise or aerobic-style classes, but after a couple of weeks, I got bored and stopped.
This trial and error of different things continued for another year and a half. At the same time, I really wasn’t feeling good or happy. I wasn’t myself and I wasn’t the girl my boyfriend had fallen in love with and I started to doubt my decision to move countries. I had essentially gone from being someone busy with exciting things, highly independent, and creative at home to someone working a full-time office job, with no creative outlet, and who was highly dependent on my boyfriend. Due to this, our relationship started to suffer and I knew a massive chunk of it was because of how low, unfulfilled, and downright crap I felt. And in April 2016, after a pretty bad argument, which left me booking a same-day flight home to have “crisis talks” with my family, I promised that I would and could make it work. I knew I couldn’t help my relationship until I tried to help myself, but I still wasn't 100% sure how. And then, in the August of the same year, I started back dancing.
At this time, I still hadn’t figured out that stopping dancing had been a massive catalyst in my lacking self-esteem, my confidence, and my overall mental health. I only started again because I saw an Adults dance company on Facebook who did girly-commercial style dancing a stone throws from me, called the Neptune Girls and I thought it looked cool. However, after my very first, not-so-good, and quite shaky lesson, I felt different. I didn't fully understand it at the time but I just remember feeling like the girl who walked into the studio that evening was not the same person who strutted out. And as the weeks went on this got stronger and stronger.
It probably took a good 6 to 12 months before I looked back and was able to piece it all together. Dancing for me wasn’t just a hobby, it wasn’t just a job and it wasn’t just exercise. It was like therapy in physical form. It felt like I was under a spell as soon as the music started. Any worries, stresses, or problems seemed non-existence during this time. I could dance and move without the constant barrage of thoughts and noise of life whirling round and round in my head. They would still come back once I stopped, but I felt able to deal with them again with fresh eyes and a new perspective. And of course, this not only affected my mindset, mentality, and headspace but also filtered into my relationship and other aspects of my life.
Now, I’m completely aware of how dramatic this may all sound, but that’s because for me it was dramatic. In the space of a year, I went from flying home to figure out my life, what I was going to do, and potentially where I was going to live, to getting engaged, really enjoying my job, and also feeling like my “old self” once again. Returning to dance was like a domino effect on so many parts of my life, and I fully believe that if I didn’t go back things would probably not be the way they are for me today.
The years when I didn't dance were the times in my life when I struggled most with my mental health. I craved music and movement but nothing ever fully satisfied that and it became detrimental to so many areas of my life. Of course, other things were affecting how I felt too but dance had always been, and probably always will be, my release and escape, and without it, I wasn't sure how to cope with everything that was going on.
I say that I am someone who doesn't "suffer" from my mental health thankfully. And by that, I mean that I've never had any medical or other support to help it. But just as we all have physical health; mental health is also something we all have. They can both be good and healthy at times, bad at others, and something we need help with along the way too. We all know there are things we can do to help look after ourselves physically; like drinking water, eating nourishing food, and getting enough sleep. But are we as aware of the things we can try and do to maintain our mental health? We wouldn't wait for our physical health to reach rock bottom before we start to look after it and the same applies to our mental health; being mindful of doing the things that nurture and improve it when we can.
For me, it's dancing. In a studio or class setting. In a nightclub, freestyling away to my heart's content without a care in the world. Or even just in my kitchen, cranking the radio right up and moving around in whatever way feels good. I realise that now. And there are still days now when I feel like the last thing I want to do is move let alone dance, but these are the days that I need to dance the most and the times it has the biggest impact.
I dance now for me, my body, and more importantly, for my mind.
If you are struggling with your mental health, you can get help locally by visiting the Health and Care page of www.portsmouth.gov.uk or talking to your GP, Postive Minds. https://www.positivemindsportsmouth.org.uk/ , Talking Change https://www.talkingchange.nhs.uk/ or CALM https://www.thecalmzone.net/about-calm/what-is-calm/
I’m a young woman who has been lucky enough to be offered lots of awesome opportunities; I feel as though it’s my responsibility to speak out about the inequity of opportunities, also. But at the same time, I feel that by sharing successes, we can create positive change through a positive focus. It might be the final push that encourages that young person to apply for an internship or encourages a board to give another young person a seat at the table. So I’ll attempt to do both.
I have been incredibly lucky. I’ve been offered some great experiences, and a fair few have come along in sort of a domino effect. The story I always share when talking about what I do is this:
I’m a student and youth activist. I have always been involved in student voice type things, but in secondary school, an opportunity arose for some of the members of our student council to take part in a Portsmouth-wide student forum, the Council of Portsmouth Students (CoPS). In all honesty, I wasn’t entirely fussed about going - I didn’t really know what it was, but a trip seemed fun, and so I put myself forward. Long story short, I had to rock, paper, scissors for the final place and my goodness, I am so thankful to little Ella for winning that game. I joined the forum and stayed a part of it for 3-4 years, working with schools around LGBTQ+ education and better integration for disabled students, among other things. In the 2nd and 3rd years, I was elected vice-chair of the forum (a big thank you to the facilitators that encouraged me to run that day). -The nerdy little ginger girl won! Those roles alone brought me incredible opportunities; I got to go to board meetings and speak at conferences and even got to go to the House of Commons. Before this, I had never realised that adults and decision-makers cared about the views of young people, and it was eye-opening.
Now, I understand that not every adult or decision-maker is like this, but that’s just fuel to my fire. Eager to keep doing more, I got involved in projects like Future in Mind, a mental health-focused steering group that used coproduction. Then I was nominated for and presented with a Diana Award, something I will be forever proud of -even though that imposter syndrome pokes its head from time to time.
This domino effect that I talk about, CoPS really kickstarted that for me, so a big thank you to Unloc, who host the forum, for all of the support over the last few years.
Long story short, I was able to get involved in projects working with the Solent NHS Trust, even getting to speak at their AGM. I was voted to be head girl at my secondary school and was also successful in applying to be a youth ambassador for ONE, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030. For the last three years, I have been able to say that I campaign with other ambassadors and lobby MPs in my free time (which I find pretty amusing). Thanks to this role, I’ve now been to the House of Commons a fair few times, and I still get as excited as the first. I’ve also gotten to participate in the YOUNGA youth delegate programme, working with young activists from around the world to form communiqués ahead of the UN general assembly.
And now, I find myself on two advisory boards; I still campaign with ONE and have just been elected as one of Portsmouth’s Deputy Members of Youth Parliament. It makes me so excited to have the chance to give back to a city that has offered me so much.
However, we all know that not many other young people are as lucky. Nobody would have to rock, paper or scissors in an ideal world to gain access to opportunities. Luck should never play a role in the development of young leaders and change-makers.
One of the biggest challenges I face is learning to say no. I recognise that I am fortunate to be invited to take part in the things that I do, and not enough young women have the same and so it can feel like I am not genuinely valuing what others offer me and that I’m letting down those that aren’t so lucky when I do say no.
As you can guess, with that comes quite a big workload. I’m currently in the midst of exams for my A-Levels, and I have to be quite strict with myself in remembering that, right now, I have to be a student before attempting to be this superhuman youth activist that has endless hours in their day. That doesn’t mean I feel any less guilty, though.
I do want to emphasise that I’m not telling you to stop reaching out to young people to collaborate. There are lots of us that do! But just remember that a majority of opportunities go to the minority, and we are probably working on lots of other things too.
My diary can get pretty busy at times. When working with adults and professionals that don’t usually coproduce with young people, I find that there can be this sort of disbelief at the fact I might not have loads of availability. Yes, I’m at college for regular hours of the day, but I have calls scheduled around that (Dare I say, Zoom has made commutes easier); I have to work, find some time to do ‘normal’ thing (urgh, I hate that word) oh and fit in some food and sleep somewhere. I’m not selling myself as an easy person to work with, but I’m trying to say that there seems to be no middle ground in this world of empowerment. You have all the outreach or none. And for those of us that have lots, we really don’t want to say no (you’ve found a rare one of us if we say no straight away regardless), and if we had a few more hours in the day, there would be no stopping us.
I don’t share the adventures that I’ve had so far in vain, honest! I take every opportunity to encourage decision and change-makers to work with young people and to give them a seat at the decision-making table. And with the world of online conferencing, though I do recognise the inequality amongst tech access, I don’t see any excuse not to branch out and work with a greater variety of young people.
I think empowered generations go on to be responsible generations. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think about a time when we need that any more than now.
Mental health. I am not qualified to speak about this topic, but I do feel that it is a conversation we must all have. First and foremost, it should be a conversation we have with ourselves and how to be kind(er) to ourselves. As lock down easies and the pace of life accelerates, will we remember to facilitate moments in which we can breath a little deeper ? Whether we acknowledge it or not, the likelihood is that we all know someone who is struggling with various aspects of being human. Most of the time, we find ways to function through the fractures; nurture positive habits, guard our focus. But sometimes, this struggle to be human manifests in deep, heartbreaking ways, like the most recent passing of Nikki Grahame ; someone Davina McCall quoted as being “the funniest, most bubbly sweetest girl."
Sometimes, the struggle to be human is very well hidden. In the last year, I’ve had more than one conversation and done my best to reassuringly hold their gaze as they got lost in thought, relaying to me the confusion of hearing about how their friend’s son/father/daughter suddenly took their own life, leaving people they were connected to dissecting the last known time they interacted with them, mentally mining for red flags, clues from that last argument they had…that last Facebook post they made…that last not-quite-there smile they gave.
I have also found myself in conversation with friends who have reflected on how this lock down transition is impacting them mentally ; some have found ways to find spaces to breath deeply through these concerns, thoughts, anxieties. To function through the fractures. To practise self kindness when they don’t quite get it right. In one conversation my sister and I were walking along a beach and noted several cruise ships sat in captivity doted across the horizon ; almost ghost like in their posture. They had been there for the entire year. We tried to imagine the economic and social impact this would have on the communities that lived and worked on those cruise ships. The trickle down effect this would have. Then we moved onto other industries…. I jokingly wondered if the entire country might in fact experience a sort of collective post lockdown traumatic stress from this past year. From all the jobs lost. Opportunities missed. Sacrifices made. Lives lost. Thankfully, before we got to the ‘here, breathe into this brown paper bag’ stage of the conversation, my small human pulled us both out of our escalating spiral and demanded that we create hand prints in the sand.
Within this culture, mental health is a sometimes uncomfortable conversation that we don’t lean into enough, and as an organisation, we aim to do two things ; celebrate the city (mainly outworked though the Inspirational Women Of Portsmouth project ) and collaborate with creatives to lean into difficult conversations. I am grateful for Joe Hill and Gavin Mann ; film makers and absolute gifts to my creative energy who started a conversation with me over a year ago on how we can creatively lean into this issue. I have just spent the day with them filming our third and final film exploring individual stories around mental health. Claire, who very kindly volunteered her time to be part of the project is an incredible human being. A warrior. An overcomer. I can normally sit really still when engaging in conversation, and in so doing demonstrate to the person that I am fully present, fully engaged and honouring their story. There is so much of Claire’s story that resonated with me and left me in awe of her, especially as a mother that I found myself immersed in her story. Several times during filming, I realised my hands were struggling to contain this immersion and choreographing their own overwhelmed dance. I would have to consciously uncurl my fists and direct them to my laps in an attempt at stillness. I had conversations with my fingers and teeth about how chewing on my nails was not the most reassuring gesture to convey. I came away from the filming both depleted and exhilarated by her overcoming spirit, determined to celebrate that spirit in some way. Should I write this blog right now ? Or go for a run (don’t be impressed. That translates as move in the general direction of a quick-walk-aspiring-to-be-a-jog). Or glass of wine ? Run with a flask of wine ? No. Too messy. So I spent the first half hour treading a pathway to three obscure geographic points ; inspect the top left hand drawer in the hallway, check the bookshelf for that book I’ve been trying to find…..go back to the desk and frown at the laptop. I absently put the kettle on for a coffee five times.
So we’re going to share our films next month, and I hope for some of you at least, you have your own moment of being immersed in one of our participants brave story, and it will be a story that resonates with you but also leaves you with hope in overcoming. Because your mental health matters.
Learning from our Basimbi (young women) feature
What comes to your mind when you hear that phrase ?
Perhaps you think of Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, just a few of the many apps used to connect with people from all around the globe. I think of innovation, revolutions, communities and movements. However, as a fifteen-year-old female it’s becoming increasingly harder to not be exposed to the harmful and unhealthy dark side that social media has within our society.
From around the age of 12, I was given the opportunity to navigate the intricate ways of Instagram. As a young child I found it fascinating to upload my own images for all my friends to see, I would watch my phone glow with notifications informing me that people had liked and commented on my very own photos. It made me feel known, as though people really knew about me and liked me enough to interact with my page.
We, as humans, are vulnerable to social approval, meaning that we are always given, or sometimes search for feedback. As a young child, social media was fun to me. It was a way to see what my friends and idols were getting up to, what they had for dinner, their new clothes or even their favourite song at the current time. If used correctly, it can become an amazing way to interact with people in a safe way.
However, I was only young when I was enjoying social media, I wasn’t worried about what I looked like, why would I? There aren’t many beauty standards for 12-year-olds. Reaching around the ages of 14 and 15 I was saturated in technology. I felt as though there was a benchmark that had to be met when posting a picture online. Every wisp of hair had to sit perfectly, the angle would have to showcase the best side of my face and the lighting had to be natural because I didn’t want people knowing the amount of effort I put into my pictures. If I had a spot on my face I would wait until it was gone to snap a selfie because of course people couldn’t know that I, a teenager going through puberty, had spots. Looking at people’s social media accounts I felt the knock-on effect of their perfect pictures. I thought ‘If their pictures are perfect then mine have to be’ without selfishly thinking of the next person to see my picture and the knock-on effect it would have had on them. I, like most people my age I’m sure, became addicted to comparison. I often looked past all the photoshop and filters other people were using and just decided that they were prettier than me and there was nothing I could do about it.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I started learning about the specifics of social media. How a lot of companies manipulate your timeline and orchestrate when people see your photos. I realised that we only see a small snippet of somebody’s life, the highlights of their week. It is pointless to compare your behind the scenes with other people’s glamourous fake life. I began looking at the value of myself and what I can do to make myself a better person without measuring myself to other people. I had to measure myself with myself. How do you determine somethings value? You compare it to better or to worse things. Start improving yourself to get the best version of you. Use your bad days to reflect on how you are going to improve yourself. We are all persuadable and influenceable, it’s a natural occurrence, so start surrounding yourself with content creators that don’t force you to measure yourself against them or shove their photoshopped pictures down your throat every second making you believe this is how they live their life 24/7. Be aware that most of the pictures on your Instagram feed, or uploads to Facebook are a very small portion of somebody’s life. And it’s important to know that you don’t have to fit in to the so called beauty standard based on the people in your feed.
I think social media is a great way to get motivated, learn new things and communicate with everyone. It can be a very toxic place to be on when growing up, however, it only becomes dangerous when you begin to question your worth. Use it to educate yourself or educate somebody else. Use it to learn a new hairstyle or a new language. Use it to watch a new fitness routine or tips on how to eat healthy. Use it to watch your favourite YouTubers or the newest show that’s out.
But remember, YOU are in control. Don’t get stuck on the dark and corrupt side of social media.
About the #Basimbi (Learning from our Young Women) Blog Feature :
The first of our #basimbi (young women) blog is supported by The Girls Network mentoring scheme. 'Addicted to Comparisons?' has been written by Antonia Wintson. Antonia is currently finishing up her GSCE's this year and is on track to study her A level's at college. Her desire is to continue to study Psychology at University. Antonia has a huge passion in writing, listening to music and taking long walks with her dog in the forest. She also has a love for podcasts and watching movies. Antonia's mentor, Komal Helyer has over 20 years experience in email and digital marketing. VP Marketing at Pure360, Komal leads the Go-to-Market, Retention and Brand strategies at Pure360. Komal's passion to support greater diversity in the workplace is the driving force behind her commitment to mentoring individuals in the industry. She has been nominated for many awards and was proud to win Corporate Woman of the Year '19 at the Business Woman's Excellence Awards.
I’ve been thinking a lot about inheritance and ‘elders’ ; nurtured by several moments over the last few weeks. I recently found an audio recording from nearly two years ago when dozens of my family gathered in Zambia for my brother’s wedding. As with many Zambian gatherings, it was a wonderfully chaotic time of meals, conversations and matriarchs gathering together to noisily delegate and argue over meal ingredients, outfits and how your child should be raised - normally pre-empted with ‘why can’t your son speak to me in his mother tongue ?…” I had been snugly cushioned between several aunts and my dear, dear, quietly contemplative Gogo (Grandmother) with her piercing, knowing eyes. I am a grown woman and I still find myself frantically auditing my naughty-moment-meter when she looks at me that deeply (did Gogo notice that third glass of wine I sneakily poured myself ?..yeaa that twinkle in her eyes is a definite 'yes child, I did'). But I digress. I had reached for my recording device, watching in fascination as my young, feisty cousin took on several aunties and elders, challenging their opinions on several issues. The fire that fed her was like an invisible circle that animated all of them. Even though they all got a little more self conscious and subdued once I started recording, the conversations that afternoon were long, noisy, opinionated. I adored every moment of that afternoon. When I found the audio recording, I had to pause a moment and reach for my phone to look at the last text conversation between my Aunty Esther and I. Gentle, generous Esther, with her larger than life laugh had just died and hearing her voice again was an absolute gift. I’ve captured some of these conversations on our Inspirational Women of Portsmouth Podcast series.
I also recently had the privilege of working with the Fabulous Josh on their ‘Wearing Mums Make Up’ creative project that included an opportunity to mentor several women in capturing their stories for a short podcast series. My podcast story reflected on how I often found myself both frustrated and overwhelmed trying to achieve several things on any given moment. I reflected on how my ancestors, my spirit mothers would have watched the mother of my mother’s mother having similar moments of being both frustrated and overwhelmed. She may have done that agitated finger bite I inherited from my Mother as she sat in her frustrated moment. But those spirit mothers would have danced and laughed and spoken life to my name, and all the quirks that would make me me. I am grateful for them.
My Gogo looks at me with the same joy and laughter in her eyes. We have deep-spirit conversations with each other without saying a word. Our conversations normally end with a gentle tap of my shoulder, or with her weathered, frail fingers gently skimming over mine, like she’s passing something on to me that I can’t quite see but feel in my deep exhale. She connects me to what my ancestors saw when they sang about me.
Running the inspirational women of Portsmouth Awards also had me thinking about inheritance, and whether we recognise and celebrate elders in our community, whatever the context. The concept of celebrating and actively learning from ‘elders’ in our youth obsessed culture has been lost, some might say for the good. I think I can safely say that for a lot of us, when asked what a significant elder or mother might have passed on to us, there’s more likely to be a ‘hold my drink’ moment comparing notes on the not so constructive character trait/trauma/ humiliation/ resentment that’s been handed down to us. And yet, I wonder about the role of elders in community. I came across a fantastic saying through an inspirational Zambian Queen Sibongile Tasila Phiri (yes, she is that fabulous!). She recently shared a quote from @Xavier.Dagba : “As you focus on clearing your generational trauma, do not forget to claim your generational strength. Your ancestors gave you more than just wounds”.
We can learn a lot from a safe, life-affirming elder. And these can be ‘elders’ in the symbolic sense. So I am going to continue to promote this concept through the Awards event, even if some people may not entirely understand why. This conviction has been compounded by the recent passing of Anita Godson from Covid-19 Anita founded Lilly & Lime; a Portsmouth-based social enterprise, enabling, supporting and training young people with learning disabilities into sustainable pathways of employment . https://www.facebook.com/lilyandlimeld Although I’ve never met her, I think I would have liked to sit at her feet awhile and listen. Learn. Be challenged. So. Who inspires you? Is there an elder you can learn from ?
Nominate who inspires you by following this link. Deadline Friday 5 February.
Photo Credit @Juciara Awo
By Kelly-Marie Baker
Behind every great woman, there are many other great women! Female empowerment is a movement. Movements don’t happen with just one person, and the same goes for the majority of achievements. At Pamodzi, we recognise that when a woman is celebrated for her outstanding service, business prowess, inspiring bravery, or general fabulousness, she has a tribe behind her. A mighty group of humans who continuously offer support and encouragement and propel her to greatness.
The women of her tribe might not even be with her this present day. They can be a combination of voices throughout her life offering guidance and encouragement. Voices that she still hears today, each one most likely assigned to the situation that calls for that specific wisdom.
Her tribe have lifted her up when she’s down, advised when she’s lost and listened when she’s desperate. They know her worth, sometimes more than she does. They can envision her goal even when she’s lost sight. And they can give her the words she needs at that very moment to kick her butt back onto action!
Tribe Members Each tribe member has a role to ensure our lady’s success:
Whilst all the tribe members are offering their support and guidance, there’s the addition of our lady’s internal compass. These are those voices from her past and present. They could be from family members, podcasts, books or quotes she has read. Her special mind will bring the appropriate audio she needs to move forward with her life and goals.
Award Recipients The inspirational ladies that are nominated and, of course who receive an award at our Inspirational Women of Portsmouth Awards are representing her tribe of incredible women who are part of her journey. We recognise all who play a part of our award recipient’s life and hope that our celebration of them encourage more women to nurture each other to reach their goals and dreams in life.
Who inspires you? You can nominate the women that inspires you most here
By Gràinne Thompson
Empowerment. What a massive and effective word.
Encompassing so much power and strength whilst having many simple and easily understandable definitions, such as “the authority or power given to someone to do something” or “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights”. Although these are both similar in sentiment, they differ slightly in quite a significant way. Both are about power, strength, and control essentially but the main difference is whether to be empowered we need to be “given” the power by someone or if we can do that for ourselves.
Empowerment is a word that has been used since the 19th century, but it feels like we are hearing it, talking about it, and most importantly embodying it more and more over the past few years. And although the act of empowerment and being empowered has been an entity all through time, maybe like me, you have been unaware of its place of importance in society before its most recent popularity and “moment” within mainstream media and marketing.
Looking back on my memories of being or feeling empowered, there are some subtle and some vivid experiences dotted throughout my life, stemming all the way back to my childhood and right up to my life now. Although I have only consciously been aware of the Empowerment movement and its importance over the past 5 years or so, I am fully aware that my journey and experiences unknowingly started a long time before that. Thinking back, and with my interpretation of what empowerment looks like to me now, my first memorable experience of being empowered was most definitely as a young child probably of primary school age. Of course, in my younger years, I had not even heard of empowerment, let alone be aware that that was what I was experiencing. And on the other side, the people who were empowering me were probably none the wiser either. They were just encouraging and supporting me, a young girl, at a time in my life when their belief, influence, and guidance were very much needed and appreciated.
I remember when I was little being told that “I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up” on more than one occasion. Albeit a pretty standard statement to make to a child, these people who I loved and admired; my Mam, my favourite teachers, the people I looked up to, planted a seed of belief and encouragement in me that I, unbeknownst to myself, carried with me. This is one of the many advantages of a young mind; the unwavering belief that anything is possible. And to have that notion reiterated by someone else sparked a light and a belief in myself that stayed with me for a long time and continued to grow more with the further nourishment and guidance that I received. As I grew up, like most people, my confidence and self-belief dipped at times, mainly through my teenage and early adult years. And even though it felt like everything I did at this time was nerve-wracking and panic-inducing; like trying to be myself without standing out too much either, it was a statement that I would constantly refer back to and repeat to myself the many, many times I needed to. This was not authority or power being given to me as such, but it was the feeling of support and encouragement, and being given the space to grow stronger and more confident in my own beliefs and abilities.
Like all societal and economical movements, empowerment has evolved and changed through the years, with various people and organisations stating what their ideologies of it are. And although at its essence it is a positive, uplifting, and warranted movement it is not without its problems or discrepancies. All it takes is a quick google search to see that there are many discussions happening around a myriad of topics that one side deems to be empowering and a celebration of women, while the other side says they are actually disempowering and damaging to the cause. Differing opinions on whether certain types of music, clothing, job roles, and even our sexuality are empowering or demeaning. The list is expansive and never-ending as are the arguments surrounding them. A lot comes back to the differing definitions mentioned at the start, on whether or not we should have to wait to be “given the power and authority first” or if we as women should be shown and encouraged to use the power we already possess, which in turn leads to us becoming empowered. It's hard to not get confused and bewildered by all the noise and talk around it all, especially now with so many companies and industries jumping on the “Empowerment” bandwagon and using it as a buzzword and as a sales tactic for their marketing. Maybe all of this combined is why there is so much confusion around empowerment and what it actually means and stands for? Because unfortunately as the understandings and explanations become muddied, and numerous differing opinions get added to the mix, it may end up actually diluting the overall message and effect.
The conversation around what is and isn’t empowerment could go on all day, and although some may feel the confusion and debates are detrimental to the overall cause I think that having the conversation, either way, is too important to be seen as negative. These conversations lead people to think. Think about what they define empowerment as and what it means to them. It leads to peers discussing what it feels like to them and the effects it has on their lives. It also leads to people standing up for what they deem to be true when they feel the message is becoming misconstrued. The conversations are good and needed. It keeps the heart of the cause beating and growing to more people and communities, which continues the push for change.
For me, my understanding and what it means to me is quite basic. It is about creating and providing spaces and environments where women feel safe, heard, confident, and important. Spaces where we are elevated to a point that we feel supported enough to be able to stand up for what we believe in. Where our rights, feelings, and opinions matter, and if we don’t deem this to be true, that we can use our voices to work towards changing it. It allows us to have power over our own lives, the choices we make and the paths we follow. There is an element of entitlement that we can and should be able to make decisions for ourselves because we know what we feel is right and worthy for us.
Like a domino effect, the individuals who supported and allowed me to feel empowered initially (and many who still do now) enabled me to now do the same for people in my life, who in turn, do the same for others in theirs. I know of mothers who tell their children daily that they can achieve anything they want to in life. Friends who constantly remind each other of their value and worth, regardless of what they may think of themselves at that moment. And teachers who inspire little minds in their classrooms to dream big and aim high no matter what their circumstances are right now. These can seem like small and trivial things but through my life all of the small acts combined, allowed me to truly believe in myself and my abilities when I may not of otherwise, which gave me the power to set out to do the same for others when I can. Empowerment is not necessarily measurable by the size or scale of an act or the feelings it evokes, as even the smallest of ripples can cause the biggest of waves.
So tell me, what does empowerment look like to you?
By Kelly-Marie Baker
Adaptations One evening, whilst scrolling through the usual social media noise, I was struck by an image that stopped me in my tracks. It was a standard, unfiltered image of a mum. Headset on with her laptop at the kitchen table. Her son sitting with her on his tablet completing his own work. They were sitting opposite one another with their respective paperwork encroaching on each other’s side of the table. Beautifully representing the new adaptations both mother and son had to make during 2020.
Family rhythms and flows have changed and adapted in households all over the world this year and I have come to realise that no two households share the exact same experience. Each home and its occupants are unique. Homes with key workers, some with their main earners furloughed, others completely at a loss when their small business can’t open. We have families forced into a homeschooling situation, whilst others relishing at the chance to spend more time together. Half the population are enjoying a slower pace of life whilst others are highly stressed. Families suddenly all under one roof, all day, every day. It has been a bizarre and challenging time.
Resilience There is enough content out there to delve into the hardship that this year has brought to humanity. I would like to focus on the resilience that has been displayed. Especially from the women in this world.
Many are concerned (and rightfully so) that the progress and advancement for women could have been undone this year, with early lockdown studies showing that even when working from home, the mothers have taken on the majority of household chores and the homeschool burden.
* Side note: I would hope by now (December 2020) a better flow and fairer sharing of household and family admin has been worked out in your home. If not, then that is something to think about and discuss amongst your fellow house people. ASAP!
I see these points and my initial feeling is anger. Why should it naturally fall on us? We have advanced and why is it when things get tough, we are the ones that end up digging deep and make everything work?!
Well unfortunately for us, I believe it is because we have the capacity too. History has shown how adaptable and determined we are. I would like to celebrate the sheer grit and resilience amongst women. This year the world has needed a female’s touch. It has needed kindness and strength, flexibility, and compassion.
The incredible spirit displayed amongst the women in my life has been beyond inspiring. Their ability to ride the highs and lows, but most of all the way they process their situations and just crack on with life. They always manage to find the strength and creativity to pull through and flourish.
Finish Fierce Lately all I see are Christmas cards, GIFs and memes all striking 2020 off and wishing next year to be better. As funny as some of them are I just can’t get on board with wishing time away. Every single day of our life is borrowed time. During this year we have still been living and experiencing life. It’s just been a version of life that we are not used to. And NEWS FLASH! it’s not about to magically change at midnight on the 31st!
Don’t get me wrong, there have been times I’ve felt worn out, desperate and fed up. During those times, I noticed how little that state of mind actually served me. It just amplified those gloomy feelings and felt rubbish. By switching our mindset to a place of gratitude and compassion is the only way to get the most out of today.
Lesie Dwight put it best:
What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw – that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.
I urge everyone to use the final days of 2020 to reflect, process, be grateful for the lessons and look forward to a better you and a better world. If there is anything this year has taught us is that it’s the small things in life that bring little pockets of happiness. The compassion and connections with our fellow humans and environment.
I believe if we adjust our focus to experience joy in everyday wonders, we can get the most from life. Not just in these crazy times but always.
Stay fierce and finish strong.
By Kelly-Marie Baker
Edited by Roni Edwards
Disclaimer: We, of course, recognise that gender is non-binary. This article is referring to men and people who identify as men.
Every person has their own emotional traits and complex life experiences, this article has used research based on the generalisation and trends in men’s psychological behaviour.
Us and Men. Oh, how far we have come. After millennia of female struggle, we are finally arriving at a place where the importance of equality is recognised.. We can do all the jobs, earn the money, raise the family, even procreate without a physical man in our lives. The age of empowerment is here. And as empowerment is being achieved, we have an opportunity to use this empowerment to walk alongside those who need it.
Our men are struggling. The statistics are screaming at us to do something. But what? How do we support and empower the men we have fought so deeply to be on par with? Why should we add this as another job for us to do ?
How do we keep in balance the fierce feminist activist within us with the challenge of also being a supportive equal that can sympathise with male emotions?
The Men in Our Lives Well, to begin with, think about the men we choose to connect with in our lives, the fathers, husbands, brothers, friends, uncles, cousins, grandfathers. Those individual humans and their individual traits are special to us and they won’t always be the ones contributing to the discrimination women face. Some of them may have even fought by our side.
Our Beautiful Differences It is clear, in many areas of life, that men and women approach things differently. Gender can be fluid and as much as we are equal in society, there are still psychological traits that are gender specific. A basic example is the consensus that women are predominantly ultra-thinkers. Their brains are a mesh of connections and wires that think about multiple thoughts and complete multiple tasks at any given time. Men have more of a sectional approach to thinking. They are task orientated and solving problems create feel-good hormones.
John Gray explains that when women sit down, the blood flow to their brain increases and they think even more, whereas when men sit the blood flow decreases and they can “zone out” more efficiently. I’m sure many of us can recall a time where we’ve been calling the man’s name, whilst he is staring at the TV, with very little to no response! Turns out he isn’t ignoring you, he’s just seriously good at “zoning out”.
Instead of being baffled by our differences, I decided to do some research and became fascinated by the wonderful differences (and similarities) we possess. Knowing the reasons behind our difference and quirks leads to better understanding of each other and allows us to be considerate and adaptable. We want our relationships with the men in our lives to be rich and fulfilling so put the work in and begin to build some awareness about their model of the world.
Create Opportunities for Openness and Be ReadyThink of the person you are most likely to open up with. It is normally someone you can completely be yourself when you are around them. The men in your life must feel accepted by you for who they are. It creates a safe space for them to be able to share. Most crucially though, you must be prepared to allow him to speak, withhold judgement and defensive reactions.
“They would rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off”
Have women become the ‘emotional patriarchy’? In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown highlights that many men feel that when they do open up the women in their life “can’t handle it”. It’s often easier to withhold their emotions to preserve the relationship and their ego. But the emotions and feelings that aren’t being shared need to be released. If they are locked up inside, they will eventually break free in less constructive ways.
Brene Brown uses the term “pissed off or shut down” to describe a response pattern she noticed in her research. She describes; if a man’s feelings are met with resistance, critique, or lack of understanding then they are likely to withdraw and turn their emotions into either rage or shut down completely.
What we can do is create opportunities for a man to speak his mind and pay attention to our own emotional reactions. To accommodate and encourage his openness we can be calm, understanding, supportive and loving. When a man opens up to you, remember they are his feelings, and the focus should remain on him.
Using our Empowerment An empowered woman takes responsibility of her life, she lives by her values and trusts her intuition. She is courageous and empowers others to be empowered. Not because of what she will get from empowering others. But because after she has rested deeply in her empowerment, she recognises that empowerment without action is a vacuum.
The last part of that definition is perhaps the most crucial here. Supporting, honouring and encouraging other humans to feel empowered is a quality every empowered woman can possess. What does an empowered woman who continues to call out gender based injustice but can also gently walk alongside that man who needs to heal look like ? Men deserve respect and compassion.
So, how can we empower men?
I have a vast array of different male figures in my world and they all have their own ways of dealing with problems and challenges. Making sure I listen and offer support allows me to notice when something isn’t quite right with any of them.
My approach with my male friends or family members is quite different to the females in my life. I tend to joke more and talk less. When we meet, we will mostly be doing something like walking, playing sports or cards rather than sitting down for an actual chat. I find this makes conversations more relaxed and if there’s something on their mind it will normally come out. If not, and I suspect there’s something the matter, I will make special effort to build rapport before just asking out right.
“Recognising and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.” — Bill Richardson.
We love the men in our lives so let’s keep a caring eye on them.
Kelly Marie Baker
Edited by Roni Edwards
"My love for my city, Portsmouth, runs deep. I am likely to politely walk you to the door with a list of alternative options if you live here and have nothing positive at all to say about the city. I am also Zambian born and grateful for the depth and colour the moulding of these two cultures has given me (like my inability to project a quietly poised, feminine, and cultured amused smile as opposed to my full blown hysterically-pitched belly laugh...I am working on it). The company name Pamodzi, meaning together, is a celebration of the two cultures meeting.."
Lockdown brought its own unique, never likely to be repeated challenges. I lost count of the times I sat in front of an online video meeting knowing full well that although the top half of me looked professional(ish) and in keeping with the meeting, I was definitely wearing my other half's boxer shorts/pajama trousers. So I am still a little bit bemused that I managed to string together enough coherent sentences to warrant a chapter in the book 'Being a Badass B***h in Business & Life'. whose proceeds will go to the SmartWorks charity . Smart Works is a UK charity that provides high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need
It was an absolute privilege to be asked to contribute a chapter to a collaborative project led by the wonderful Personal Brand expert Annelies James.
Roni Edwards, Pamodzi Creatives Director
Lead Author : Kelly Marie Baker
Kelly-Marie is a tree loving, free spirited mum of two. Based in Southsea, she leads her family on a Home Education journey, learning from life and the world around them. Over the years her creative soul has been fed with the likes of poetry, dance, choreography and, more recently, writing. Her writing is predominantly focused on personal growth and development with a special interest in using the platform to challenge social norms and provoke deep thought. Kelly believes that The Arts are an immensely important tool to communicate complex and delicate issues and is proud to be collaborating with Pamodzi Creatives. Kelly’s favourites are nature, travel, personal development and coffee…all the coffee!