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This article was written on 08 Mar 2015, and is filled under Psychology, Social, TV, Writing.

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Natasha Devon: Founder of the Self Esteem Team

Natasha-Devon-Headshot

Natasha Devon is a writer, television pundit and founder of the Self Esteem Team.
She writes regularly for The Independent and The Telegraph, has a column in Cosmopolitan Magazine and appears on Sky News, BBC Breakfast and ITV’s Daybreak and This Morning. She has co-authored a number of books on body image and eating disorders in collaboration with psychologists and celebrities. Her specialist subjects are young adults, education and body image.
The Self Esteem Team has worked with more than 35,000 teenagers of both genders from throughout the UK. Their lectures and workshops aim to help young people navigate the worlds of fashion, beauty, media and internet on their own terms, making their own body rules and “rocking their own brand of gorgeous”. It has been shown to help students both academically and emotionally, by understanding and conquering their mental health and body image issues. The programme is endorsed by Gok Wan, who described it as ‘exactly what the UK is crying out for!’.
Natasha works alongside the All Parties Parliamentary Group on Body Image and is petitioning the Education Secretary to give more priority and funding to Personal, Health and Social Education in state schools. She was named a Mental Health Association ‘Hero’ in 2012 and one of Ernst & Young’s top 50 Social Entrepreneurs in 2013.
Natasha’s book ‘Fundamentals: A Guide for Parents & Teachers on Mental Health & Self Esteem’ is out now.

OM: Can you describe an average day at work?

ND: Genuinely, I do not experience such a thing as an ‘average’ day. This is both the best and worst thing about my job. During term time, I spend three days per week in schools and colleges delivering lectures and workshops around self-esteem and mental health for teenagers. I’ll quite often do teacher training too so teachers can follow up the themes in other lessons, as well as parent presentations in the evening.

For the rest of the week I write – I write books and also articles for newspapers and magazines – as well as doing the odd TV and radio appearance.

A couple of times a month I attend various meetings and conferences – both to keep me up to date with the latest research in mental health and body image but also to relay my findings and opinions. I work alongside the All Parties Parliamentary Group on body image and am part of their think-tank group on body image education in schools so I’ll go and put in my two-penneth to (hopefully) ensure the government employs best practice.

In conclusion, my working life is extremely varied! I travel all over the UK delivering the self-esteem classes and get to meet really interesting people from all walks of life, which is brilliant. Sometimes I’ll get in from working in a school in Leeds or Newcastle at 1am and have to be up again at 5am for a television appearance. Other days I get to write at home in my pyjamas. My phone is never off and I rarely take holidays (things which annoy my partner, but then I point out to him that part of my appeal is that I’m such a passionate workaholic).

OM: Have you always wanted to do what you do now?

ND:

I actually invented my job – I really dread people asking me what I do at parties because it takes so long to explain and I don’t want to bore them if they were only asking to be polite! So I’d be lying if I said I always knew I’d be in this exact line of work, although looking back with retrospect, it was obvious…..

I have always loved reading and writing – When I was five years old I was put into an English class with 11 year olds, Matilda style, because I was already writing short stories and reading proper novels (I was, however, awful at maths – just so you don’t think I was a child prodigy or anything). I’ve also always been good at arguing (which delighted my parents as you can imagine) and was captain of my school’s debating team and then later President of my university’s Debating Society. I’m passionate about social issues and love nothing more than putting the world to rights, so looking back it makes complete sense that I am doing what I’m doing, but it’s not something the Careers Advisor is ever going to suggest!

When I was in sixth form I let the people around me convince me I wanted to be a lawyer. I can see why they thought it would be the perfect profession for someone with my skill set, but I qualified as a Paralegal after uni and HATED it with a passion. I also tried my hand at modelling and music in my early twenties and quickly discovered they weren’t what I was supposed to be doing, either. For a long time I felt like a failure but it’s just because I hadn’t found my niche.

There are so many jobs that are really obscure but needed so the world can function. Like I used to date a guy who was a location scout for films – he went and found places where film shoots could take place, according to what was dictated by the script, then got all the necessary permissions so it could happen – No one ever thinks of things like that when they’re deciding what to do.

I am a passionate advocate of the idea that everyone is brilliant at something, but some people take longer than others to find their fit.

OM: What was the hardest part about becoming a Social Entrepreneur?

ND: I started The Self Esteem Team with £100 in my bank account. All the funding available for projects like mine were being snapped up by huge, pre-existing charities. So I had to work for a long time on very little money to prove myself. It was worth it, ultimately, because now I have a loyal database of schools and colleges who know that we provide a top-quality, effective product. But there was no point in just saying that, I had to show them. For about a year I had virtually no social life and no new clothes (and I LOVE shopping) because I was establishing our brand. They were dark, very unstylish times.

OM: And what’s the best part of the job?

ND: There have been loads of things which sound quite glamorous that I’m sure I’m supposed to say here. I made a documentary with Gok Wan. Some of my students presented a speech to HRH Will & Kate. I won Cosmopolitan Ultimate Woman of the Year and got to flirt a little bit with Mark Wright at the awards ceremony….

Yet none of these things were as rewarding as when I get an email from someone I have taught saying “thank you for today, you have really made me see things differently and I feel so much better about myself”. Cheesy but totally true. I love knowing I’ve made a positive impact.

OM:Do you feel you’re treated differently in your industry because you’re a woman?

DM: As a writer you are sometimes treated differently by your readership – the sorts of people who comment under online versions of your articles will quite often make reference to how you look or try and diminish the value of your point because you are female. But I can’t say that any of my colleagues or employers have ever given me any indication that they think any less of me because I have a vagina. I know I’m really lucky in this regard. In fact, a student’s Dad was really sexist to me once after a parent presentation and I actually found myself thinking “oooh goodie! Now I can be part of the Everyday Sexism movement!”.

OM: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? And what other advice would you give to anyone looking to become an Social Entrepreneur ? What qualifications and experience do you need?

DM: The best piece of advice was given by my Dad; “steer clear of fluffy marketing b*llocks”! When you work in the charitable/social sector people use all these wishy-washy, ultimately meaningless bits of impenetrable jargon. You can talk to them for half an hour and come away with literally no idea what they ACTUALLY do. It’s really important to get your ‘elevator pitch’ spot on. Be clear and succinct so even someone who had no knowledge or experience in your chosen field would see the value of what you are doing.

Qualifications wise – I have a BA Hons in English, a diploma in law and another one in psychology. They have all been helpful in their own way. As I’ve said, it’s also important to stay abreast of developments in the field.

Ultimately though, working on the ground with almost 40,000 teenagers has given me the best experience and insight – if I listen properly, they tell me exactly what I’m doing right and wrong (either explicitly or in body language)– It’s all about giving them what they need. I’m constantly tweaking the lessons and lectures so that I can make them as fresh and relevant as possible for our audiences.

OM: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the workplace or in your career?

ND: I was definitely getting too emotionally invested in the early stages. Don’t get me wrong – I genuinely care about each and every teenager I have ever taught – I want them to be happy and successful or else I wouldn’t be doing this job. Yet even people who work on helplines for charities will tell you the most important thing is to close the door when you get home from work and draw a line under your day – just like you would in any other job. Otherwise you end up completely exhausted and depressed, with the weight of a thousand problems on your shoulders. Ultimately, you’d end up not being able to do your job effectively any more, which would defeat the entire object. When I’m working with people with mental or emotional health issues I’m completely committed and in the moment, but when I walk out of the school or college I have to force myself to stop worrying about them – which is REALLY hard.

OM: What does success mean to you?

ND: This is a really good question! Success in my definition is imparting a piece of wisdom people remember and that helps them in some way. My Granddad was a fantastic story teller. He’d tell you about his experiences in a way that showed you the universal significance. I have never seen so many people turn up to a funeral and remember someone so exactly. People could recall precisely what he had said to them and the circumstances in which he’d said it and told me his words had helped them when they were struggling. Success to me would be making a similar mark on the world.

OM: What’s your feminist wish for the future?

ND: I think feminism has a marketing problem – there are a lot of young women who, mainly thanks to social networking, think feminism is about being really angry all the time or hating men.

If you don’t think you need feminism that means you are in fact one of feminism’s success stories, because you consider yourself free to make your own choices and believe that everyone in your life respects you. Our foremothers fought really hard for that. There are women in the world today who still do not enjoy those freedoms. We need to unite to make sure all woman are in control of their own destinies, whilst respecting the fact that they might not make the same choices as us.

Personally, what upsets me the most is that there are women in the world who are not entitled to an education. I think refusing to educate someone is the most degrading thing you can do to them and the easiest way to subjugate and control them. So my own feminist wish would be for every girl to be able to go to school. I’d love to live in a world where that was true.

You can buy Natasha’s book here.

Tweet Natasha here.

The Self Esteem Team

5 Comments

  1. Jean Best
    30th August 2015

    I have been working with secondary school students to promote conflict resolution skills. Our strap line is “conquer conflict, transform into success” We start with inner conflict, which involves developing skills which help students learn ways to deal with any form of conflict, ie eating disorders, self harm bullying and suicide. They become Peace Advocates and develop a project which will tackle problems in their school or community.
    We are holding our third Conference to promote this to all our Secondary schools in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. The title is “Liberate your inner demons”. We have speakers and interactive workshops. It would be great if we could link up. Is there any possibility you could be one of our speakers or send a message to our youngsters, by video etc. thank you for doing the great job you have taken on.

  2. Nikki Bennett
    30th August 2015

    I have been working in capacity of school counsellor and setting up counselling services in schools across Hertfordshire and Greater London for the past twenty years and promoting self esteem workshops and mental health workshops. I work in both private and state schools and have seen so many more cases regarding mental health issues in the last two years. I am incredibly interest to continue working in this field and promoting self esteem and mental health for young people in schools. I would be very interested in having a conversation with you if possible. Many thanks. Nikki Bennett

  3. ros free
    8th September 2015

    i run a half day governors conference each year a would be delighted if you would be our keynote speaker

    • Jean Best
      9th September 2015

      Thanks for your reply. Requesting myself as a speaker. can you let me have more details please.

  4. Mike
    11th October 2018

    Dear Natasha,

    This is an speculative call, to see if you maybe wiling/able to come into our school either to talk to our boys (11-18), or be a leader in staff INSET (or both!?).

    Beyond the many recommendations that are out there concerning your work, I have had a particularly glowing reference from Warwick School for Boys, where I understand you visited in the not too distant past.

    In anticipation of your response.

    Sincerely yours,

    Mike

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