Ayo Awotona leads empowerment session for female students at Heathfield Community College

25th January

Caroline Barlow, Headteacher welcoming Ayo Awotona

Becoming a Better Version of Yourself – Ayo Awotona

Despite an arduous three hour journey, true to her reputation the visiting speaker Ayo Awotona arrived at Heathfield Community College last week full of energy and enthusiasm to speak to Year 9 and 10 girls.

Her work is based around female empowerment and self-esteem. Her focus in speaking to the pupils was to challenge assumptions and suggest some solutions.

Ayo acknowledges that sometimes: “girls are struggling with self-confidence and need practical ways to become secure in their identity and boost their self-esteem. The experiences they have had growing up can have a lasting effect on how they view themselves, which often causes struggles emotionally, academically, physically, and/or behaviourally. Some of the issues girls face revolve around self-image, self-worth, and the influences of social media”

She explained this thinking to the girls and offered a simple and practical set of strategies that could be used to empower girls to become better versions of themselves. Ayo argues that the battle against low self-esteem is a tough one for girls today but one that is surely surmountable.

Working with HCC girls she first of all explained her own journey. Sent to school in Nigeria at a young age she explained how growing up, she struggled with low self-esteem and never knew who she was as an individual. She describes herself as an expert at craving attention and validation from others (especially boys!!!). Ayo explained she was someone who appeared rather ‘tough’ and ‘confident’ on the outside, but behind closed doors, she would often struggle with who she was.

Having established the role that social media can play in enhancing and magnifying our own doubts – as well as sometimes being a powerful force for good at times – Ayo went on explain a useful solution focused strategy that can be used to move ourselves out of a low mood or self-esteem.

She called it DIST. It summarises a solution-based approach to working on self-esteem. Summarised below with an example it might provide a useful way to avoid getting stuck in a low mood. These are just examples, other strategies might be worth considering.

DDefine the problemI am feeling low and bad about myself or upset based on recent engagement and interaction with aspects of social media or group chats
IIdentify the root causeThe negative feeling comes from comparisons with or engagement with others either: feeling my life/appearance/achievements are not ‘good enough’ comparing myself to people who are nothing like me or have different body typesor encountering negative and unkind experiences Leave me feeling low and unsure of my own value. I need to feel better about myself and my own achievements, feel that they are valued and recognised.
SStrategies that might helpI could use social media less often or avoid/remove certain groups or apps.Look at people that are more like you e.g. body shape, hobbies and people that promote body positivity.I could focus on what my own strengths and skills are and how I can use these more.I could learn a new skill, or a could try an activity in a different environment.
TTake actionI am now going to: Set a time limit on my social media useLearn more about how images are often falsified (e.g. what photoshopping is and what it does)Gather an understanding of my strengths, and how I can use these, journal where these have worked well.Speak to [name of person] to get some help and support to help me do this.

Students were engaged by her delivery and many clearly really thought about the ideas she brought, a number stayed and took the opportunity to ask her questions and talk to her. They expressed the following as valuable ideas they were taking away:

I found it really useful to remember to try and define the problem rather than just get stuck stressing about having a problem

and “this will be useful as I sometimes don’t know how to stop feeling sad”

Others stated “I really resonated with the not comparing yourself to others!

Another student agreed “Yes because that’s often not real, its better to focus on the best parts of yourself and develop that

I liked the focus on being you, finding strength and positives in that rather than comparing myself to other people

Caroline Barlow, headteacher reflected on how this speaker was a part of a bigger picture: “Ayo represents our commitment to these issues, she is the third speaker this year representing strong female role models talking to students about confidence, resilience and building self-esteem. What was particularly powerful about Ayo was her solutions focused approach to issues of self-esteem and confidence, giving our girls the potential approaches and tools to start to build their own future.”

Ayo agreed to share some resources including a workbook that will allow the College to follow up in small workshops as needed.

Some of the students coming together at the end of the empowerment session with Ayo Awotona