Teen Speak – The Self-Esteem Team
By The Self-Esteem Team
A couple of years ago, I presented one of our parent talks at what I’d call a ‘biffington ra-ra’ school (one of the more austere private institutions our nation has to offer). As I often do, I meandered into ‘ad-libbing territory’ (I have a short attention span) and started enthusing about a piece I’d seen in the Feminist Times a few weeks previously. In it, the writer took an Indian cosmetics company to task on their televised advert for vaginal bleaching cream. ♥
Afterwards, one of the dads in attendance came blustering up to me and proceeded to bellow in my face for about ten years (actual time more like ten minutes). Apparently, he’d lived in India and they’d ‘never’ allow a product for one’s ‘privates’ to be discussed on television (when I reminded him I was just repeating information I’d read in the Feminist Times, he advised me to ‘find a less biased publication’. Charming). Furthermore, skin bleaching, he maintained, was a noble tradition which dated back to imperialism (and therefore I, as a ‘woman in the media’ shouldn’t be talking about it. I suspect, looking back, that he was the sort of person who should be reported for crimes against Everyday Sexism).
“WHY DON’T YOU TALK ABOUT YOUNG PEOPLE WHO SIT AROUND GIVING THEMSELVES SKIN CANCER BECAUSE THEY WANT A POXY TAN?” was his conclusion.
I drew breath, ready to retort that the fashion for tans ALSO has its roots in giving the appearance of wealth and is therefore, by his own criteria, just as ‘valid’ (or, if you’re me, just as daft) as skin bleaching. But then I stopped myself. Because I realised that this man would never ‘get it’.
He’d never understand that going into a school and giving a lecture on why you shouldn’t have a spray tan before your prom would be both incredibly condescending and completely ineffectual. And he’d never understand that the vaginal bleaching story was a teaching tool – If I’m able to make my audience see the lunacy of bleaching your nether regions, I trust they’re intelligent enough to make the connection with the more bonkers aspects of their own grooming routines.
He had, in his rush to demonstrate his superior knowledge of Indian culture and his anger towards young people who want to be ‘totally orange’ (his words not mine), spectacularly missed the point.
That anecdote, for me, sums up the difference between teenagers and everyone else. Children take everything you say literally. They don’t yet have ‘critical faculty’ (psycho-speak for ‘scepticism’), which means if you tell them if they don’t tidy their room the world will implode, they believe you (#handy). The vast majority of adults, conversely, have fixed ideas. They are programmed to see life through the prism of their own immoveable beliefs, values and ideologies.
Teenagers represent a magnificent middle ground. They’re able to comprehend nebulous concepts in a gloriously open-minded way. They have all the mental computing-ability of an adult, with all the wonderful propensity for entertaining new and exciting ideas that a child has. From a writer’s point of view, therefore, teenagers are the perfect audience.
People often discuss teenagers as if they are a mystery, despite the fact that every adult was one once. There are as many variations of teens as there are humans, which makes them as difficult and as easy to understand as everyone else. The one thing that unites them as a demographic, in my experience, is they have an extraordinarily potent ‘bullshit detector’. An assembly of year 10s can identify if you’re being inauthentic in approximately 0.2 seconds.
How did we write our book The Self-Esteem Team’s Guide for Sex, Drugs & WTFs?!! for a teen audience? We wrote it in exactly the same way we’d write to our best friend, or to ourselves. Despite receiving advice recommending that we should, we never ‘dumbed down’. We kept in every single four-syllable word I insisted on using (I love the English language and consider it no fun whatsoever to confine myself only to the simple bits) and every single swear word that seemed to naturally fit within the context of a sentence (because, after all, swears are there to emphasise a point).
So, you can imagine our delight when the very first online review of our tome made a point of branding it ‘not patronising. Ever’. Job done.
The Self-Esteem Team, aka Natasha, Grace and Nadia, are changing stereotypes, reducing stigma surrounding mental health and educating young people on self-esteem. They travel the UK visiting about three schools, colleges and universities per week to deliver their multi-award winning classes on body image and mental wellbeing. In 2014, the Self-Esteem Team were presented with an award at the House of Commons recognising their services to education. Their guide to Sex, Drugs & WTFs?!! answers the questions young people cannot face asking their parents, aren’t sure if they’re allowed to ask their teachers and definitely shouldn’t Google.