It started around the age of 8. It was a cold and snowy morning and I asked the kids to put on their snow pants and get ready for school. My daughter got dressed and looked in the mirror, somewhat dismayed. “I don’t want to wear these to school; they make me look fat.”
I was shocked. Why did she say that?? How could she think that?? And most importantly, why did she care so much what others thought??
I racked my brain…she must have caught me looking in the mirror at my own waistline. Maybe she overheard too much table talk from her Dad and I – the “calories in-calories out” discussions we’re always having? Maybe it was the stick thin actresses she saw on the Disney Channel? I just didn’t know…but I do know that it started young.
Over the years, my husband and I have worked hard to instill the value of physical fitness in our kids. In addition to organized sports and dance, we try as a family to ski, hike and take part in fundraising walks and runs. We’ve also been known to organize our own family boot camp at the local park by our house.
We try to focus on being “fit” rather than “thin” and feeling good, strong and confident. I like to think we do a good job of that, but I occasionally still hear all three of my daughters criticizing what they see as their own body flaws.
It’s well-known that girls experience a crisis in self-confidence as they enter adolescence, but some statistics from the Canadian Women’s Foundation still surprised me:
- 64% of girls between the ages of 12-19 are considered inactive
- 36% of girls in Grade 6 say they feel confident, compared with 14% of girls in Grade 10
- in one BC study, over 50% of girls said they wished they were someone else
This is why I’m SO excited about a new program coming to Calgary for tween girls, between the ages of 8 and 12. It’s called Sole Girls…don’t you just love that name?? It’s a learn to run program for tween girls, but it’s really about so much more than running.
The girls meet weekly with mentors, who are high school and university aged girls, to have conversations about things that are on their mind. Topics can include anxiety over friends or school, bullying, lack of confidence, setting goals, having values, etc. They have meaningful conversations with girls who “get it” and have lived it. Then, they head outside for a training session led by a certified running coach. It’s a non-competitive running program that teaches them to find their “happy pace” and by the end of the 8-weeks, they are mentally and physically strong enough to run their first 5K!
I had the chance to interview Sole Girls founder Ashley Wiles recently. She was so honest and inspiring, and really believes in what she’s doing. Did I mention that she is a two-time Ironman and was recently awarded the 2016 Inspiring Coach of the Year by Brooks Running. You can watch her recent speech (below) at the TedxKids@BC forum in Vancouver.
Ashley talks about how she loved running as a kid, but then as a teen it wasn’t cool to be sporty, she hated her muscular thighs, she increasingly had self-doubt about herself and just desperately wanted to fit in. But, she kept running. Then, as an adult, Ashley once again faced severe anxiety – so much so that she found it hard to get out of bed, she wanted all of her problems to just go away and she used emotional eating as a coping strategy.
Then, she did what her friends and her family used to tell her to do — she laced up her shoes and went for a run. She took that first step. And once she started running again, she saw the light…she was able to get out of the “scribble” in her head that was dragging her down. Physical activity is a well-known buffer against mental illness… those endorphins are great stress and tension relievers.
She was also deeply affected by the suicide of Amanda Todd. Todd, a 15-year-old teenager from Port Coquitlam, took her own life in October of 2012 after being the victim of bullying.
“It wasn’t ok that girls were feeling this way, and no one was talking about it. There really was no inclusive community where people were saying, ‘It’s ok, not to be ok.’ That’s where it started for me,” says Ashley from her home in Vancouver, Canada. She started Sole Girls in February of 2013 and hasn’t looked back.
We all suffer from anxiety at some point. I still remember having an anxiety attack in the makeup room at the TV studio where I worked, minutes before going on the air. Who am I to read the news? Why will people listen to me? What if they don’t like me? I was completely paralyzed by the insecurities running through my head. I don’t know how, but I rallied and went on the air that day. I went on to have a successful career in TV news, and being physically active has become an important part of my lifestyle.
Through Sole Girls, Ashley is creating a community of girls who build each other up, rather than take each other down. They talk and express themselves freely and get active together – you don’t have to be the fastest or the best on the team; there’s no pressure because it’s all about fun and friendship. Ashley and her team are helping girls stay active and confident as they navigate the tricky teen years that are so fraught with the pressure to be perfect.
I’m super excited for Ashley and Sole Girls Calgary coach Jaclyn Heenan. Together, I know they are going to offer a great resource to Calgary girls…and their parents.
“The number one things parents really want is for their kids to succeed, to feel good and feel happy,” says Ashley. “What makes our program different is that we’ve added the physical activity and the mentorship. It gives girls the tools to look inside themselves and then release their inner awesome! “
If you’d like more info and are interested in attending the upcoming LeadHERship training course on March 25/26 at the Calgary Girls School, simply click here.
You can follow Sole Girls on Twitter and Instagram or join the Sole Girls Facebook page for updates.
— Sole Girls (@sole_girls) September 7, 2016
*Thank you to Sole Girls for partnering on this post. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.