Why we love gracie’s gals
gracie's gals is an empowerment and leadership focused fitness experience for girls ages 6 to 14. The gg's community teaches and fosters optimism, enthusiasm, grace, vulnerability, inclusivity, and leadership; key skills and values that help build happy, kind humans!
As I pulled a fistfull of coloured Sharpies out of my bag, I could see her face light up with genuine excitement. After taking a few moments to gush over our shared love of office supplies and all things organizational, I asked Shelby to guide us through an affirmation activity; she gladly obliged.
Repeat after me,"I am a strong and powerful human being with unlimited potential."
She carefully chose the purple, blue, and green markers and began writing the affirmation with which she launches each gracie’s gals series: "I am a strong and powerful human being with unlimited potential." What a great, all encompassing affirmation, I thought to myself. “Okay so,” Shelby instructed, “I want you to write down 15 things that you like about yourself in one minute.” She explained that the list could include both physical and nonphysical characteristics; anything that could follow an “I am…” or “I like my…” type statement. I admit, I felt the pressure, but hey, I asked for this. And this exercise was created for 13 year old girls so, how hard could it be for a late twenty-something lady like myself?
The answer: real hard. Uncomfortably hard. So hard that it borders on sad. She set her watch for 60 seconds, and timed me as I jotted down traits that came to mind. Actually, the phrase ‘came to mind’ isn’t accurate; it was more like ‘searched my cluttered mind while nervously laughing to hide the anxiety I felt as I struggled to like myself in front of people’. My list went like this:
I am kind.
I am helpful.
I am a good friend.
I am a good listener.
Ugh...I like my hair.
I am generous?
Why is this so hard?
“And stop!” Shelby exclaimed as the minute ran out and I was left staring at my pitiful six-item list, defeated. I encourage you to try this for yourself; it only takes a minute and sobering results are guaranteed! Seriously, try it. I’ll wait... What did I tell you? So hard it’s sad, right? But don't worry, this is only an exercise. The good news is that these things get easier the more we practice them.
I found it pretty challenging to come up with 15 things that I like about myself. Although, the internal reminder to not list too many physical characteristics at the risk of sounding braggy came naturally. Because, you know, I wouldn’t want to come off as full of myself or, you know, ...confident. Why is something that seems like it should be so inherently natural, come so unaturally? Why do so many of us struggle with liking, and loving ourselves?
Shelby reassured me that I am not the only one who struggles with this type of exercise. She explained that this is common for most of the gals she coaches. When given this task, most will struggle to list 15 things they like about themselves, even when given up to 20 minutes to do so. Today, it is easier for most to list off things they dislike about themselves, than things they do like. This reality is at the core of what Shelby and gracie's gals seeks to change.
Woah - pretty powerful stuff, right?! Using affirmations like these is an integral part of the gg’s platform to help young girls reframe negative thoughts, into positive thoughts. Teaching them not only to love their bodies, but also, and more importantly, who they are on the inside. I told Shelby that I wished something like gg's existed when I was kid; she replied: "I get that all the time".
After a brief intermission to "OMG" over some ice cream and raspberry squares at Kelly’s Bake Shoppe (shout out!), we hit the streets of Downtown Burlington to stretch our legs. As we walked, Shelby shared that her desire to create gg's stemmed largely from her own personal struggle with body image. When she was in grade 9, Shelby was recruited in a mall and began modelling. She enjoyed it for a couple years, but admits that it began to take a toll on her. She went on to tell us about one particular audition where she was having her measurements taken: “So here’s the funny thing about my butt…” she started “...they measured around my hips, and she said it’s 36.5 inches, and the cut off is actually 36.” She laughed as she recounted this memory, but you could tell that this was an influential moment for 18 year old Shelby at the time. “And so, I just became hyper aware of it. I was already choosing to view my body under a microscope. I wasn't happy with the way I looked. There were some days I wouldn't even consume 1,000 calories because I thought I needed to lose weight.”
As we walked alongside Lake Ontario, we couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous the weather was that day. Dozens of people sprawled out on the greenspace, lots of dogs to test my attention span, someone playing a didgeridoo for passersby. The sound of seadoos turned our heads just in time to catch a backflip! The Burlington Waterfront is a pretty great space; we recommend it. We sat down in the nearby grass, and carried on talking. Throughout our discussion, two words seemed to come up more than any others; language and attitude. No matter where the conversation went, we kept circling back to discuss the importance and power of language and the influence it has over attitude.
Shelby teaches her gals that words have meaning, and that they should be mindful of the words they choose when talking about themselves, others, and their goals. Phrases like: “I can’t…” or “I will try…” are discouraged (and punishable by burpees). Gals are encouraged instead to choose phrases like: “I am…” or “I will…”. It’s even okay to say “I failed…”! Because, hey, failure is honest and we all do it. It's all about keeping it real and avoiding exaggeration. The motive is for the gals to bring awareness to their choice of words and to see how it reflects on the outcomes of their goals.
Shelby also saw a need to educate parents, and has recently launched a ‘Mother-Daughter’ series, where, you guessed it, mothers join their daughters in both fitness and journaling activities, like goal setting. Even well-meaning parents may be inadvertently using language to the detriment of their child’s self-esteem or confidence without even really knowing it. “I always preach it to the girls, but I want moms to also have the knowledge and confidence to go home and practice it with them. They create their daughter's conscience; that's why having them on board is so important.”, she explained. This series gives mom the tools to best support their daughters in achieving their goals by applying more consistent messaging while at home.
Because language is so important, it is incorparted into each series,. One way that language is practiced in gg's is with yoga-inspired ‘clearings and vibrations’. "We do a clearing first, because if they need to get something off their chest to be present, then it gives them the opportunity to do that...And then we immediately switch to vibrations; so it's something that they're excited about. It shows them how easy it is to shift your perspective by interrupting stress, worry or fear with gratitude." Interrupting stress, worry or fear with gratitude...write that down people; that's gold.
'Pespective' is another key concept in gg's. Shelby explained that gaining perspective is key when choosing how to approach an issue, or change in life. “Attitude, for me, is something you choose” she continued, “Struggle or experience, challenge or opportunity; you choose”. This for me, is a big deal. Even as adults, we often struggle with attitude. And it’s not often understood as something that we have complete control over; but we do! How much happier are the days that we approach with a positive attitude? Change can be uncomfortable, but it’s much more beneficial to accept and work within circumstances that we cannot change, instead of resisting them. By teaching this at an early age, girls learn to focus on what they can control, and become empowered to choose for themselves how to tackle each day, each new challenge.
“By creating a connection and environment that is rooted in optimism and LOVE, for ones self and others, I teach all of my gals to conquer from within.”
- Shelby Rowland
Unlike our own words, we don’t have control over the language others choose when talking about us. Language is used to tell stories about what we can and cannot do, who we are and who we should be. We hear these stories from our parents and classmates, on TV and on the internet. And if you hear a story enough times, you start to believe it.
We reminisced about the things we were told as young girls that, by no fault of our own, we believed. And we believed them because oftentimes, they were told to us by people we loved, and trusted. All three of us chimed in with a resounding "UGHH YAAAS!" at the mention of being told: "Oh, you're too emotional!" or the classic, "You're so senstive". These phrases may have seemed like no big deal to the parent or person who spoke them, but to a young girl, they were formative. I used to hear these phrases on the regular from my parents growing up; and always with negative connotations. These words were telling me that my emotions were wrong, unjustified, and an inconvenience to others; and I began to believe it. I heard it so often in fact, that I began to actually apologize for my feelings. I apologized for feeling things that I felt... I'm sure many of you can relate to this; think about how messed up that is. The things we say to ourselves, and the words we hear from others are powerful, and can either stand in our way or propel us forward.
Choose to tell yourself only stories that serve you. Don't waste time on negativity, you don't have time for it. You're too busy being a queen!
We could've sat and talked for hours but, we were losing daylight and it was past Kate's bedtime. We headed back towards the street where we had parked, still talking of course. One thing comes across as abundantly clear when speaking with Shelby, she is truly passionate about building girls up. We could listen to her talk girl power and soak up her radiant positivity all day!
Spaces where girls are free to be vulnerable without judgement are so important, and yet are widely underrepresented. gracie's gals is a rare gem and we would like to take a moment to thank Shelby for all that she does to empower young girls in our community, and for taking the time to share her expertise and good vibes with us. Shelby, you are inspiring and we adore you.
And to everyone who made time to scroll through, thanks for stopping by. We hope you enjoyed it and will continue to follow us as we jump into Chapter 2 of HERSTORY // BOOK.