WOMEN MAKING WAVES: Megan Sherer
Women Making Waves is a bi-monthly series by The Women Wave that spotlights badass women who are playing active roles in making waves in their communities.
Let’s face it: we live in a world of comparison. It’s easy to measure ourselves to the person on the street or our co-worker in the next cubicle, but when you add social media into the mix, all of those pressures are amplified even more. Scrolling through our feeds as adult women is already anxiety-inducing enough -- we can’t imagine the enormous burden our youth (who are now growing up in the world of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) feel to be, act, and look according to Facetune and society’s unrealistic expectations.
That’s why we feel so passionately about the work Megan Sherer is doing. Megan is a nutritionist, yoga coach, and meditation teacher who founded be more, a 501(c)3 organization committed to teaching youth the importance of self-love and self-respect, and examining the role that social media plays in their lives. By creating a community of support, encouragement, and empowerment, as well as raising awareness and agency surrounding societal expectations of body image, be more teaches kids how to build each other up and prevent negative conversations and behaviors that often lead to poor body image and eating disorders. Through their campaign and school curriculums, be more’s mission is to get teens out of the world of comparison on social media, and back out into building real-life connections and relationships.
Take a look at these alarming statistics from be more website:
By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape.
60% of elementary school girls ages 6-12 are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat.
81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
Tweens (ages 8–12) spend an average of 6 hours a day using various forms of media, not including time spent using media for schoolwork.
5.4% of children between the ages of 13 and 18 will suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. That’s more than 2.2 million adolescents.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
We created this extremely powerful tool that is the Internet, and it’s our duty to teach our kids how to use it responsibly and safely for their health and wellbeing.
Reflecting back on our own experiences in middle and high school, we can’t help but acknowledge how helpful it would have been to have a resource like be more to equip us with the tools to begin our self-love journeys at an earlier age.
Check out our inspiring and insightful Q&A with Megan below!
What inspired you to start Be More?
Be More started as a passion project 3.5 years ago, and has evolved into a non-profit striving to make an impact on the lives of kids all around the world. My background is in holistic nutrition and eating psychology, as well as yoga and acrobatics. Through my work with both women and young girls, I was noticing a pattern of poor body image and low self-worth that would translate into health issues later in life. Be More started as a campaign to improve the body image of young girls, but the more I immersed myself in conversations with girls and their parents, the more I realized that there was a much deeper layer to the problem.
The advent of social media has given rise to higher levels of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and youth suicide than ever before. I could see how we were giving this new generation an incredibly powerful tool in the form of technology and social media, but we weren’t also giving them the tools to self-regulate their use to prevent negative effects from cumulating. So, that’s what Be More strives to do. On the surface, we invite people to Be More than just what they look like and define their worth on things that matter so much more than their appearance (like being a kind and loving person). And on a deeper level, we use our programs to educate teens on the mental health impacts of social media and provide resources to keep them healthy and balanced.
What do we need to know about how the youth is consuming media and how social media impacts their mental health?
It's important to note first off that social media is impacting all of our mental health, regardless of age. The reason that Be More focuses primarily on youth is simply because as adults we learn (hopefully) to advocate for ourselves and our wellbeing, but when you are young that's not necessarily the case. Plus, I think about how incredible it would have been to have these kinds of tools and resources to empower my self-esteem and mental health as a teenager, and how powerful it would be if we could raise a new generation of kids who are so self-aware.
That being said, research is already linking a significant rise in mental health issues over the last decade to social media use, predominantly among teens and young adults. One study showed a 71% increase in psychological distress and a 47% increase in teens with suicidal thoughts since 2008. Another study shows us that teens who use social media heavily are over 2.5 times more likely to develop body image or eating issues than those who don't use social media. Combine these statistics with issues like cyberbullying, lack of quality sleep, and social isolation that these platforms cause and you can see why it is such a growing problem.
The good news is that something can be done about it. Our focus groups and programming have shown us that teens are really receptive to these conversations and to implementing healthy changes in their life, sometimes they just need the support to do so.
What's one piece of advice that you would give to someone who looks up to you?
I often think about all the things I would say to my younger self if she were sitting right in front of me. There are about a thousand pieces of advice I would want to give her, but if I could choose just one right now it would be this: loosen your grip. The more you try to control life and get attached to specific outcomes, the more frustrating it will be. The second you learn to relax and surrender to the flow of life is the moment that things will start working in your favor. That doesn't mean get lazy and stop taking action. It just means that once you set a goal or a plan into motion, trust that the universe has your back and is working to fulfill an outcome even better than you can currently imagine. Trusting that you don't have to control every little detail of life will free up so much energy to actual enjoy it! After all, what would be the point of being here if we weren't experiencing lots of joy along the way? So take a deep breath, loosen your grip, and enjoy wherever you're at right now because it's all temporary anyways. You've got this!
Here at The Women Wave, we’re big proponents of fully embracing being a “work in progress.” What does that look like for you?
Amen to that! For so many years I thought I had to be perfect and have everything figured out at all times. I prided myself on getting good grades, being a hard worker, and knowing all of the answers. Projecting this image of myself that was so put-together was a problem for many reasons. For one, it meant that I couldn't make mistakes. Since I identified so much with being perfect, I put pressure on myself to never falter or step out of line, and when I did, it felt devastating and shameful. Secondly, it unintentionally kept people I loved at a distance. If you are acting like you have it all together, there is no room for people to come in to support and love you. If you're a one-woman-show, then it can be really hard for anyone to feel truly close to you. Intimacy requires vulnerability, which is the opposite of perfectionism.
When I finally learned that it was okay to admit I was a "work in progress", it felt like my life opened up in huge ways. I could relax and breathe more deeply, no longer weighed down by the burden of needing to have it all figured out a step ahead of everyone else. I could comfortably admit that sometimes "I don't know" and that's perfectly ok. It's actually great, because it allows so much more space for learning and growth. And I was able to become closer to the people in my life by letting them show up for me and giving them the gift of my authentic self. People don't want perfect, they want real. And being a work in progress is the real truth for all of us. Besides, if we had it all figured out at age 20 or 30 or even 40, this life would probably be pretty boring! The work is what makes it so interesting. I try to keep that in mind anytime my perfectionism rears its head.
How can we all take care of our mental health in this world of social media and comparison?
Create a daily practice of self-inquiry. The more you can develop a close relationship with your mind, emotions, reactions, and habits, the better mental health you will have access to. If you are constantly spending time distracting yourself or numbing out, it will be hard to ever heal the root causes of what's going on. The comparison you feel from using social media probably has deeper roots than you know. So besides spending less time scrolling your feed, spend more time getting in touch with yourself.
I highly recommend daily journaling as a practice to create an ongoing conversation with yourself. And if you can make it a practice to mediate for even 5 or 10 minutes before you journal, even better! This way when something is off, you will notice subtle changes and be able to course correct before a problem escalates.
Finally, have lots of self-compassion. This whole life thing takes lots of practice and you won't always get it right the first (or 100th) time, so be gentle with yourself along the way. If something triggers you, give yourself the space to figure out why rather than immediately going to a space of judgment or self-criticism. And never be afraid to reach out if you need support! Oftentimes the most compassionate thing we can do for ourselves is to admit that we need help, and to let others be there for us.
Sterling & Tricia