“Learning to love yourself is really hard work. But we believe all girls are brave enough to try.”
Marley, former Performance Company member
Every change starts with an idea. Some ideas exist as small inklings that barely register in our consciousness. Others are big enough in our minds that they compel us to take action as individuals. And some ideas are so big, that they compel others to act once we put them out in the world.
Bringing big ideas to life takes both leadership and community. Four years ago, one of Dandelion’s Performance Company members, Kaitlyn Hemstreet, had a big idea for a dance. She wanted to create a piece about her experience learning to love her body. That piece, called Unapologetic Beauty, led to an even bigger idea: the creation of the Unapologetic Beauty Toolkit, to help girls and young women everywhere tackle the insecurity that they often feel about their bodies.
One part of the Unapologetic Beauty Toolkit is a 17-minute documentary, which followed the members of the 2015-16 Performance Company on their journey to explore body image and beauty myths, while discovering their own unique beauty and celebrating the different ways we are all beautiful. Every time I watch that documentary, I am in awe of the way that the young women who rallied around Kaitlyn’s initial idea spoke so candidly about personal thoughts and feelings that cause too many of us to feel embarrassment, shame and anxiety. That takes guts. That takes leadership. And it takes a safe, supportive community to bring these issues to light.
In the documentary, Kaitlyn shared the feelings that inspired her to want to tackle these issues: “I was really, really insecure about my body and the way it looked … I come from a family of very strong people and we’re built that way … [but] I didn’t look like a lot of my friends that I hung out with in high school.”
Watching the documentary, it is clear that every girl – no matter her body type, the texture of her hair, her personal style or the colour of her skin – struggles with these issues sometimes. Another former Performance Company member, Karine, shared an observation that highlights this reality: “There was one day we asked each other to answer the question, ‘I am beautiful because …’. Some of us just weren’t able to answer … but even if not all of us were ready to accept our beauty, some of us had figured out how, and that gave us all hope.”
The Unapologetic Beauty Toolkit was launched in 2015, and has been available to schools and community groups everywhere as a free resource through Dandelion’s website ever since. But we have also been working hard to bring this resource directly to more girls and schools in our community through the work of our Performance Company.
Thanks to funders like TELUS and the Harry P. Ward Foundation, we are launching the Girls Leading Girls tour in Ottawa for the 2018/19 school year. At each tour stop, the Performance Company will first share a 45-minute performance with the entire student body at a school (including co-ed audiences), followed by a 15-minute Q&A session with the student audience. All of the work that the Performance Company will share will have been created by the Performance Company members themselves, and cover topics like children’s rights, hunger, stereotypes, inclusion, mental health and body image.
Following each performance, our phenomenal Performance Company Director, Kelsey Walsh, and our Performance Company members will run one of the workshops from the Unapologetic Beauty Toolkit with a group of 30 girls from the school. This workshop, called “The Best Part of Me”, will help each girl see herself in new and unexpected ways through photography and the process of creation.
Following our stop at each school, we will shape the images created by girls at each school into a heart that will be shared on social media as part of the #BestPartofMe campaign. These hearts will celebrate the many ways that all girls are beautiful – not just because of how they each uniquely look, but also for the various and incredible ways their bodies work to let them move, run, dance, lift, smell, see, etc.! And every girl who participates in this creative process – which is key to Dandelion’s approach to helping girls uncover and discover their leadership – will be able to share this heart with her friends, family and community.
We are all really, really excited about this – not just because so many girls will have an opportunity to begin seeing themselves in a new, different and positive way, but because they will begin to develop a community in which to have these important conversations. And they will discover, in the context of a safe, supportive and inclusive environment, that they have the ability to put their own big ideas out into the world and create change.
All it takes is one idea from one girl to start something. And more often than not, that girl goes on to keep doing big things. Kaitlyn had an idea to do something about an issue she struggled with personally – and look what that one idea has created, four years later, through the hard work our Performance Company, which embraced this idea back then and continues to do something about it today. Thousands of girls are now benefitting from this one idea … and this impact keeps growing!
And as for Kaitlyn? She’s still full of big ideas. Here’s what she’s doing today:
“For the third year of my undergraduate degree in International Development Studies at Trent University, I am attending an 8-month program in Ghana, West Africa. This program allows for hands on learning, incredible courses out of the University of Cape Coast, and a 3-month internship with a Ghanaian NGO to apply the academic theory learned in class. A very humbling opportunity. I wouldn’t be here without Dandelion sparking my interest in social justice, and helping me see that I can bring my ideas to life with the help of my community!”
Over the coming months, our incredible Performance Company Director, Kelsey Walsh, will be blogging to share stories from the Girls Leading Girls tour with our entire community. We are excited and we hope that you’ll follow along – and cheer on all of the incredible, brave and beautiful girls who will be part of this journey.