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Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Strong is Beautiful: empowering girls by Lani Silversides

Lani Silversides is a dedicated mom who heard and saw some things that didn't sit right with her, being a mother of two young girls. She wanted her girls to learn they could be active, hard workers, determined, and STRONG, just like the boys on the playground or soccer field. She started taking photographs and talking to girls, only to find they could definitely benefit from someone helping them see how strong they really are. These girls needed someone sending them the message that they can be whatever they want to be now and when they grow up, including professional athletes. 

She created a book, My Strong is Beautiful, and other wonderful products on her Web site (listed below). More than that though, she's starting a movement among young girls, building confidence and self esteem, helping them have fun through feeling physically strong. 

I admire this work so much as a mother of a daughter who keeps up with her big brother outside and on the field! More so, I really appreciate the work Lani is doing, as I'm a school counselor who works with adolescent girls who are yearning to figure out their place in the world and find anything they are good at or strong enough to do. This work is meaningful, inspiring and important. 

Thank you, Lani, for sharing with us!

                                                          Images shared from Lani Silversides

One of Lani's latest ideas is an after school program for young girls. I love this! 

Here is the general description of the program:
This class will strike a balance between teaching the fundamental physical skills used in various sports (different skills and sports each week) and the life skills learned through athletics and being active, such as teamwork, communication, trying new things, etc.  The emphasis of the class will be having a supportive and fun environment for girls to learn new things and to build self-esteem, confidence, and pride.  

The before and/or after school program has been developed in a way that it can be run ANYWHERE.  So, are there high school or college athletes in your area that might volunteer and do community service to run a program at the elementary school?  Are there any moms or teachers that would run a session?  A PTO in your town that runs after-school options?  

One session is 6-8 weeks, once a week, for an hour each.  

Lani sends a kit to the coach including the lesson plans, the t-shirts, “I CAN” cards to send home with the kids after each class, and a My Strong is Beautiful book to give them at the end of the session.  

Lani wrote: We have one starting in the New Year in Clinton, NY, Brooklyn, NY, possibly Austin, TX, and more.  I am connecting girls within each program with a “PenPal” from another program and one of the lesson plans includes drawing a picture in response to a prompt that would be sent to their buddy (i.e. what do you want to do when you grow up? OR I can___ fill in the blank, etc.).  

All girls have a t-shirt that unites them and makes them part of a team and my hope is to spread these all around the country (or beyond!).  Coming soon, my plan is also to create an online community where coaches can login to access training videos, lesson plans, and more, making it even easier to coach a program and participants of the programs all around could be connected as well.  

Here is where someone can sign up if they are interested in learning more or starting a program.  I would love to help get these going in your community!:

1. Where did the idea for your work with My Strong is Beautiful come from? What was the thought process behind this?
So this youtube video I think sums up the whole progression:

Basically it started with signing up my 5 year old girl for karate partly because I felt like she needed to learn she could play with the boys (and something physical at that!).  I realized I wanted to try to normalize that as quickly as possible because there were subtle gender stereotypes I was seeing play out in pre-k and I could only guess it would continue to get worse as she went on through school.  

I started talking to friends who were also parents of girls who were in elementary school to ask what it was like for their daughters.  I then learned one was teased for the clothes she wore, one was told she couldn't play tag with the boys at recess, and one was teased for her big arm muscles. That is when I decided I wanted to do something about it.  

Photography is a hobby of mine, so I invited a group of girls to my first "Get out and play" photo session. I brought footballs, baseballs, and all sorts of things and just had them play while I photographed them. Not completely knowing what might come of it, I just snapped away.  Then, looking at the photos after the fact, and turning many into black and white, I fell in love with them, so did more of these sessions trying to include as many girls as I could doing all different sports and activities.  What I noticed was how much they were smiling and happy and proud to show me what they could do!

2. How did you come up with the title for your work? What does it mean, represent to you?
So one of the things I had the girls do was the "strong arms" pose. Again, it started with wanting to show that having muscles is AWESOME and nothing to be ashamed of. This eventually became the basis of the logo.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with all the photos, but I had experience building a website before, so I decided to first grab a domain name and I thought I'd put them all into a website somehow.  That domain name that I landed with was and there was the title for me!  The "MY" is very important because it personalizes it.  

When someone says it, it means something to THEM...not just that girl over there, or the professional athlete, but THEM. Strong has many different meanings, so I liked that.  

Showing “strong arms” (i.e. flexing) becomes a physical cue almost to get into that proud mindset, but “strong” means more than just strong muscles.  There is physical strength, mental strength, emotional strength, etc.  I liked this because it could be personalized again and meaningful in however the individual wants it to be. Beautiful was important too because to me, it has so many different meanings.  I don't mean it in the superficial way.  I mean it in the holistic, inside and out, way. 

3. What does it mean for you to "empower and inspire girls to be proud of their strong"? 

So, I want for them to be PROUD of who they are.  And I believe EVERY girl has strength and beauty.  So, the point is to be proud of their own “strong” whatever that means to them.

4. What does a strong, athletic, tough girl act like? sound like? look like? feel like? 
My hope is to teach all girls to be proud of their own strength and who they are, no matter what that is.  I want to teach girls to take on the “I CAN” attitude when it comes to facing challenges or trying new things and along the way learn the importance of physical activity and exercise!

5. What is your hope for all girls? What do you want for their futures?
My hope is they dream with limitless possibilities.

6. What are your favorite physical activities to do with girls? 
I just like to go outside and play with them!  We have a container filled with soccer balls, volleyball, basketballs, beach balls, roller blades, etc.  Just getting outside whenever possible to play with them (in the winter if it is too cold to be outside I bring them to the gym with me because I coach a varsity girls basketball team). In the summer when we go to the beach I would make hurdles out of sand and we would get all the friends involved in it.  Things like that…

7. How can moms help their girls be strong, confident, powerful, and athletic, starting from an early age? What activities do you suggest they try out?
I think being mindful of language is really important.  Helping girls develop a growth mindset is hugely helpful not just for sports but for academics and life in general.  

I have two posts on this: and .

From the blog: I think the easiest example to share with parents is when your child draws a picture (one of hundreds over time that you are probably going to recycle when they don’t notice) and you say, “Wow! You are such a great artist!” You may actually be doing more harm than good. Your child might now have expectations that every time she does something, she actually needs to meet those standards you have set of being “Great!”.  This type of reaction and praise can actually prevent them from trying new things in the future for fear of it not going perfectly.   Instead of praising your child with how great the end result is, what you could say is, “Wow, you must have worked really hard on that!”  Or, you could comment on specifics, such as “I like how you used green and blue stripes there”. It is still a form of praise, but with very different results for the future. By commenting on how hard she has worked, you have now shown her that you are pleased with her effort or the process rather pleased with only the outcome.

So basically, comment on effort and process, not outcome, such as “You worked really hard at that.” Also, if they first respond to something with "I can't do it." you can respond by adding the word YET and emphasize to keep working on it.  If you pay attention to this, I think many will find how often they praise their young kids with how great they are at everything they show you (I was totally guilty of this!).  So, paying attention to your language I think has the greatest ability to impact the mindset your kids have.
9. You feature strong girls on your Facebook page. Can you tell us more about these girls you feature, and how someone might refer a girl to you?
Anyone in the world can submit a photo to be part of the strong girls gallery on the website.  Each week I feature a photo and will email back and forth with parents where I ask them to ask their girl their favorite activities, their ultimate dream, and what they want to be when they grow up.  I love documenting their responses and hope families will submit photos and come back and do it again as they get older. 

Did you see the recent Q&A on the blog with Maddy Evans, a professional soccer player?  She is the first in a series of Q&A’s that I am doing with elite, professional, and/or Olympic athletes.  The point is to share their story of how they got to where they are and the reality is they were once just young girls running around outside or driving their parents crazy with a ball in the house! 

Below is a drawing Maddy’s mom found.  Doesn’t that put things into perspective? Look at her now! I believe in the importance of teaching our girls to set those goals and dreams and it can be anything they want!

10. What do you offer as far as products, free resources, etc. on your Web site? 
There are activity sheets (ranging from easier to research necessary!) on the site that can be printed off.  I have some high school students working with me to create more and would love to have more school clubs or groups make some of their own to contribute to the site!  

The blog also includes advice for parents, athletes, and kids in the realm of sport psychology (goal setting, mindset, practice, gratitude, etc.).  There is also gear (t-shirts and hats) with the strong girl logo (submitted photo of two girls below wearing one of the shirts).  

And there are books.  There is a link to my book, My Strong is Beautiful (also on Amazon).  There are also a number of Usborne books.  Usborne is one publishing company that has some great sports and action sticker books that have girls as the main characters as well as health related non-fiction books.  

Any proceeds from purchases go directly toward improving the site and adding resources. 

11. Can you describe the work you did for your book - photographs, etc.? Where can they purchase the book?
You can purchase the book on amazon or find the link from my website!  After reviewing the pictures I realized I wanted to do more than just have them on a website or on social media, so I wrote the book, with the emphasis on "I CAN" and then paired each line with a photo.

12. What is the one message you hope young girls take away from your work?
Be proud of who they are and dream big.  

13. What is your advice to a mother raising a young girl?
Keep an open mind about what they can be playing with or doing for activities and what they are capable of. Also, modeling is so important.  

Look at the books that you have in your house.  Are all the girl characters dressed a certain way or playing a particular role? If you have any with sports are they only male characters? Girls need to SEE all that they can do and be, and become.  And kids like to imitate what they see a lot, so being mindful of what they are seeing in picture books is one thing you can do.

What we have for toys, clothing, and books, can all shape their views of what is possible.  A big reason for making the book was because I realized how hard it was to find strong female athlete characters in childrens books.  My girls sleep with the book now.  They like to read a page, like "I can run" or "I can balance" and then demonstrate the activity.  They are seeing real life images of girls doing these activities.  The photos are also intentionally black and white in the book.  I didn't want color of the outfit to distract at all from the action. 

14. What are some words you'd use to describe your girls?
Active, energetic, feisty, determined, curious

15. How does this work you are doing for other girls help you be a strong mom yourself? 

I think I am modeling for my girls that when you believe in something you can go for it, as this started with me just wanting to do something to show my own girls what they are capable of and has turned into wanting to make a difference for everyone!  

Great offer: 
I don’t have any way of giving discounts on the gear or my own book that is on amazon.

But, I am an independent consultant with Usborne books (because they were one company I found had some GREAT sticker books with girl athlete characters among other fantastic empowering and non fiction books). I joined so I could have them on my website.  But, if anyone wanted a chance to earn free books, they could host an online facebook party and earn themselves a bunch of free books (they simply need to invite friends to an online 1 hour event on FB and I do the rest of the work).  It is one way I can share Usborne with others and I'd be happy to help someone share books with their friends (great xmas gifts!) and earn some free books for themselves.  If anyone wanted to do this, I could offer an extra $20 in free books when we close out their party. is the full selection and some of my favorites are on my website. 

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