“Brag on yourself”— that’s advice given by chief storyteller (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder) Shonda Rhimes to a room full of young women professionals and adolescent hopefuls alike on the days leading up to International Day of the Girl (Oct. 11) as part of Dove’s Girl Collective initiative. Out of context her consult may seem like she's encouraging narcissism, especially with a world of social media at our finger tips where all we do is brag (and post food pictures, in which we are basically bragging about said food so yeah, still bragging).
Let me backup as to further explain. As an attendee of the first-ever Girl Collective gathering, a product of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, I watch as Shonda floats onto the stage looking immaculate in a white blazer with colorful lining that peeks through with every step, paired with bootcut jeans and perfectly coiffed curls. She takes her rightful place at the podium as folks begin to take their seats after giving her a standing ovation simply for her entrance. I, too, take my seat among the room full of women who’ve gathered at this lofty warehouse on a Saturday in Los Angeles to hear her speak about developing positive self-esteem to help reach your full potential, hoping to takeaway some gems that will make us more confident in doing the chief storytelling in our own lives. And she does drop gems, but unlike Oprah who often times uses a megaphone to deliver bite-sized nuggets of wisdom, the #TGIT queen’s approach is softer and subtler. Once she gets going, however, kernels of real-life confidence tools that are tangible and practical just start pouring out.
Which brings me to “Brag on yourself”—her version of a pep talk that works like a mantra. And then follows it up with rallying us women to start a bragging revolution for which I’m totally game for after hearing her brag. Here’s her own personal example which she shared: “[I’m a] talented writer with a very good booty and good sense of humor.” Okurrr, Miss Shonda!
With all the bragging we may or may not do on social media, we rarely ever brag to ourselves. How often do you brag to yourself about yourself? Shonda’s message is clear. Owning our accomplishments and shinning qualities is the first step to healthy self-esteem. She stresses how she earned those bragging rights because she worked hard, and that we, as women, should be equally proud of our accomplishments to want to brag, too.
How Shonda got to this point of pristine self-esteem is a mystery that she begins to unravel before us after being joined by a panel of fellow self-esteem pros including SZA. For starters, she says journaling saved her life. And it’s those very same journals that serve as inspirations for some of her greatest shows and characters, that consist of powerful female leads, i.e. Annalise Keating, Meredith Grey and Olivia Pope. When Dove's self-esteem global ambassador, Jess Weiner, asks what her thought process around choosing the actors who play these pivotal roles, she simply replies, “I’m just looking for a person.” This is something that I knew immediately I needed more explanation on because Viola Davis, Ellen Pompeo and Kerry Washington are not only crucial to making these characters come to life, but shaped a girl power takeover on our television screens every Thursday night.
After the panel Shonda digs deeper, “I'm just trying to make sure that the stories that we're telling and the people that were putting on television and happen to be representative look like people in the real world. I don't think that there is a way to give a message to young women that suggest that they have to look a certain way or be a certain way or talk a certain way or live a certain way to be healthy. It just feels like we should be representing women as they truly are.”
I ask about how she teaches her three girls about self-esteem. If you didn’t know, Shonda is a mom. She adopted two of her daughters Emerson Pearl Rhimes and Harper Rhimes nearly ten years apart, and Beckett Rhimes, 5, was delivered via surrogacy.
Research shows 6 in 10 girls believe that to do well in life they have to look a certain way and half of girls feel that these comments reflect reality, a statistic that the Dove’s Girl Collective is aiming change by creating a safe space to for these girls to talk with each other and providing them with pro-active tools like Shonda’s bragging exercise.
“I try really hard to let them be them. They are three very different girls. They could not be more different from each other and I really try to let them be who they are, themselves. It's really hard to take three adorable girls and not try to dress them all the same in really cute clothes,” she explains. “I try not to dictate how they're going to dress as long as their covered or what they are trying to do with their time, I try to really let them be their own people.”
At this point, I’m wondering how does she do it? “It” meaning be a mom, while literally changing the face of television and promoting badass self-esteem techniques. Unapologetically she says, “I have help.”
“Honestly you can't be a powerful working woman and not have help but I feel like people don't admit that. But I have a lot of help.” I love her blatant honesty and immediately understand why she was chosen to lead the Girl Collective event. She’s vocal about whatever issues need a voice using the stories she tells as her megaphone. Brilliant! So what’s next in Shondaland?
“There is so much going on right now in politics, there is so much going on right now in terms of how were relating one another in this country, and how were relating to one another between countries. I feel like there is more than enough there. I don't know if we need to be telling those in fictional worlds because they are being played out right now. But I think there is plenty to tell.”
From her answer, I wonder if there’s a political thriller in the works to replace her beloved 7-season hit, Scandal. Perhaps, one where a "fictional" reality TV star sits in the oval office and is accused of heinous crimes like p*ssy grabbing. Hmm…
On the behalf of all my writer friends and myself, before our conversation comes to an end, I make sure to ask how she comes up with these dramatic storylines that continue to keep us at the edge of our seats. Shonda’s response is again, shamelessly honest, “If I knew where my stories came from I would bottle it and sell it and go to the beach somewhere [laughs]. I feel like stories come from some place deep inside.”
“I get inspired every time I meet a new person and I get inspired when I'm out in the world doing regular things. You can't get inspired just by working so I get inspired whenever I am out in the world doing things and hanging out with my kids or friends. It feels like just living is inspiring when you're looking for stories.”
Beyond the event, Dove is creating an ongoing community at Facebook.com/groups/DoveGirlCollective for girls, and for women who want to connect with one another and get inspired to take action.
(Photo: Getty Images for Dove/Unilever/Edleman)
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