Redefining Beauty and Empowering Teenage Girls with Mandy Kota

Due to the lack of safe spaces in her teenage years, Mandy Kota created a supportive and encouraging platform for teenage girls to talk about the hard conversations and be empowered to be unstoppable women they can be at the same time.

Now, as she continues to educate women about their inner goddess, she is on the mission to redefine the meaning of beauty standards in our society with her #DefineBeautyOnYourTerms movement.

Find out out more about Mandy Kota, Founder and CEO of Flourish Girl, ex-speech pathologist, model and TedX Speaker, on redefining beauty and empowering teenage girls.

 
 

Hey Mandy! Thank you so much for sharing your time and your journey with us here at HER Progress. To start our interview, tell us more about yourself - your passions, hobbies, what you do, etc.

Hey Her Progress! Thank you so much for having me - I love the initiative you have started so I’m so honored to be apart of it! (Awww thank you so much!) Passions and hobbies - gosh! There are so many. I feel like I have a creative soul, so I love creating creative content for my social media accounts and I LOVE creating new pinterest mood boards too. What I love to do outside of work is spending time with the people I love most - my partner, my family, my housemates and friends!
 

That's so sweet! So, you mentioned in our Insta convo that you’re an ex-speech pathologist, which is super cool! How did that come about and has it contributed to what you do now with Flourish Girl and the heart behind this movement?

It’s really funny - I literally fell into speech pathology. I remember being in Year 12 and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I wanted to make a difference in people's lives so I saw speech pathology as a university degree and I just gave it a red hot crack! 

So I studied speech pathology for four years, graduated, then worked in the field for two years. Around mid 2016, I started to question my passion for it as I’d overhear conversations from my colleagues discussing the latest speech pathology research and in that very moment, I realised that I wasn’t that passionate about speech pathology. At the same time, I found myself naturally creating safe spaces for my girlfriends to talk about what’s going on for them. I journeyed through life with them, and what gave me so much joy was seeing my girlfriends move from a season of sorrow to strength. I realised that I wanted to do this more at a larger scale. I wanted to do this more with teenage girls because I realised how much safe spaces were lacking throughout my teenage years. And that's where Flourish Girl came in! 

Flourish Girl is all about empowering teenage girls to become unstoppable women. I do this through our school nourish to flourish programs and our mother-daughter programs. Our mission is to equip teenage girls across the world with the social and emotional tools to thrive in their personal and professional lives. Once we empower girls with these tools, we know that they will continue to use these skills to contribute to others in need!

 
 Photography by Chloe Smith Photography (@_chloesmithphotography)

Photography by Chloe Smith Photography (@_chloesmithphotography)

 

That is an amazing journey, and what a powerful movement you got going! In a nutshell, how does those programs and workshops look like? Did you start holding workshops by yourself and now have a team to work with?

Yeah, so the programs I run definitely vary depending on the group of girls I’m working with. Overall, I use a transformational model that helps teenage girls transition from needing peer group acceptance to self acceptance, from appearance driving their identity to their values and strengths driving their identity (and so much more!!). We take girls and their mothers on a journey to find out what stops them from being the woman they truly want to be in today’s world. The beauty of Flourish Girl is that we create a safe space for these girls to open up about what they really are challenged by. I like to see myself as an ‘older’ peer because when I was a teenage girl, I struggled a lot with my self esteem, body image, friendships and relationships with guys. I believe that it’s through my lived experiences that help girls to feel more connected to me and the work we do at Flourish Girl.

Yeah, so I started running these workshops by myself, and I still do a majority by myself. I am in the process of recruiting some incredible female facilitators to join me on future school programs and mother-daughter programs.

 

Wow! Just wow! And the amazing things doesn't even stop there. You’ve also mentioned to us that you have been invited as a TEDx Speaker. That is such an amazing opportunity! Was it through Flourish Girl that this opportunity came about? Tell us all about this experience.

Yeah, it was an amazing opportunity and still can’t believe it actually happened! Yeah, I got this opportunity through Flourish Girl by sharing to TedXUniMelbourne the work we are currently doing across Victoria and they wanted me to come in and speak to their university students. I was definitely nervous at first but I needed to just go back to God and remember that He already had the words for me!! But overall my Ted Talk focused on my current hashtag #DefineBeautyOnYourTerms. I spoke about what the current limitations that society puts on women when it comes to beauty and I wanted to re-define what it means to be truly beautiful in today’s world!

I love that - #DefineBeautyOnYourTerms! Speaking of beauty, you are also a model. Girl, you are totally slaying! Has being a model been one of your passions and has this experience contributed to your movement with Flourish Girl?

Aww!! Thank you - You are too kind!! It’s really funny. I never saw myself becoming a model! I decided to become a model this year. I was at a lovely airbnb in bondi beach with my beautiful partner, Yo (he is my biggest cheerleader and is the greatest gift from God!!) and I was really stuck on what my next steps were with Flourish Girl. So I remember spending time in God’s presence and He gave me these words “In order to change the game, you need to play the game” and it was in that moment He told me to get into the modelling industry!

It has wholeheartedly been God who has helped me excel in my modelling career so quickly! Honestly one year ago, I remember one of my friends was taking photos of me as we travelled around Switzerland and she was saying how I looked so awkward in front of the camera… and to think how far I've come in modelling this year is truly so amazing! :)

 
 Photography by Chloe Smith Photography (@_chloesmithphotography)

Photography by Chloe Smith Photography (@_chloesmithphotography)

 

Wow that’s really awesome! In order to change the game, you need to play the game. LOVE! IT! From this whole experience, what is your top three pieces of advice (or as much as you want to share) for teenage girls and young women who are struggling with beauty expectations and peer pressure?

Thanks!! That’s such a good question! Here are my top pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t copy something just because your friends may be doing it.

    The most powerful women I know are able to create their own unique flavour!

  2. Don’t listen to what the world tells you.

    It’s not about being “skinny” or “curvy.” It’s about just being healthy!

  3. If you feel uncomfortable about a situation, it’s important you trust your intuition and KNOW that you can say no!

  4. Pretty doesn't equal perfect.

    We have to remember that the photos we see on Instagram are only 2% of what is really going on for people. We all have our insecurities and imperfections. We’re all human!

 

Oh, I love these pieces of advice so much! Instagram is really just a highlight reel and not the depiction of what is real. SO GOOD!!! So, we always believe that things - the good and the not so good - come together to build something greater and better. What was the greatest challenge that you have come across when it came into transitioning from being an ex-speech pathologist to pioneering the movement of Flourish Girl? How has this helped in shaping who you are?

Wow! There were so many challenges...and I still do have many challenges!! The biggest challenge for me was moving to a whole new city and losing financial security. I built such a comfortable lifestyle and community in Sydney so the thought of leaving that and not knowing who I will meet in Melbourne and WHEN I will have the same financial security again was definitely scary. I’m so very blessed to have a partner, family and friends that have supported me wholeheartedly during my transition to start Flourish Girl (and continue to do so!!). These challenges have definitely shaped me because I had to build a whole new community in Melbourne and it was scary at first, but since taking that leap of faith, I’ve literally made the closest friends I’ve ever had in my whole entire life. The culture that is created within my friendship groups is truly so special, unique and unbreakable...there really is no words! It’s from this community that I’ve become the woman I am today!

 
 Photography by Jacob Medina (@jacob.medina)

Photography by Jacob Medina (@jacob.medina)

 

 With this journey, was there a verse of scripture or a quote that you held on to, and why?

GOSH! There are soooo many verses!

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." - Phillipians 4:13  → In the moments I feel so out of my depths, I always need to be reminded that He lives in me and that all I need to do is let go of the control and let him in!

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” - Philippians 1:6 → I love this verse because it reminds me to not back out on the assignment God has given me. In the moments when I doubt whether Flourish Girl will work out, I remember all that He has already done through Flourish Girl and the lives that have already been impacted!!

“Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people.” Colossians 3:23 (CEB) → I cling on to this verse whenever I feel myself wanting to please people. When I focus on being a people pleaser, I actually limit who I really am and allow God to take over my day. I also cling onto this whenever I’m in a ‘I can’t be bothered mood, I'll do this half heartedly’. I use this verse to get me back on the horse and striving for excellence in everything I do. I love looking to my church, Hillsong for the ultimate example of this scripture! It’s so nourishing and inspiring to be part of such a progressive church!

 

Yes! We do have those days that we question whether what we have started will work and pan out, but that Word itself reminds us that it will be perfect and finished. So good! So, there are two things that we crack here at HER Progress. Firstly, we believe that we are all works in progress, but people define it differently in reflection to their own journey. What does being a work in progress mean to you?

When I think of the word ‘progress’ I think of a couple of things. I think of celebrating the tiny victories along the way! But also with that, I also believe that ‘progress’ means when we fail and have set backs, we now know what not to do and what will help us move quicker to where we really want to go! So in a nutshell, failing fast is progress to me!

 
 Photography by Rosanna Faraci (@rosannafaraci)

Photography by Rosanna Faraci (@rosannafaraci)

 

 Yes! In relation to failing fast, as we continue to work in our progresses, we reach victories and failures. We always believe that in whatever we are going through, there is always something worth celebrating. Why is it important to celebrate ourselves and our progresses, and how do you celebrate you?

This is something I intentionally need to do every day because I can so easily go to the ‘negatives’ or ‘what needs to be done!’ It’s important to celebrate my progress because it reminds me how far I've come and that I can do everything that is in front of me! I usually celebrate my progress by treating myself. I have an alarm that goes off every morning called “Gratitude and fun time.” It’s when I intentionally have fun like buy a cup of coffee that helps me to celebrate what I've done so far!! :)

 

That's so awesome! I should totally start a "gratitude and fun time!" We've reached the end of our interview and as a community, we always want to support the women around us. Are there any personal or business goals that you are working on at the moment?

You are too sweet! We are wanting to run our Nourish to Flourish School Programs in 40 schools across Australia and New Zealand by August 2019. So we are always on the lookout to work with schools that believe in the power of supporting teenage girls to thrive in their lives!

We are always wanting to see how we can serve and support mother-daughter relationships to thrive as well. So we are on the lookout for mums of teenage girls between 14-17 years old who are ready to take their relationship with their daughter to the next level. We will be hosting our next Mother Daughter Program towards the end of Jan 2019.

If you are interested in either our school workshops or mother daughter program please go to www.flourishgirl.org/programs, fill out an expression of interest form and we can have a chat to see how we can support you!

Also, it would be amazing if we could all use the hashtag #DefineBeautyOnYourTerms. It’s a hashtag I want girls to use when they are posting photos that really represent who they really are. It may be an authentic photo or caption! 

 
 Photography by Joshua Vega (@jshvga)

Photography by Joshua Vega (@jshvga)

 

How can our community find you?

Follow us on Instagram @flourishgirl_ and on Facebook.

Also feel free to check out what I’m up to on my personal Instagram @mandykota.

If you’d like to find out more information about Flourish Girl you can visit www.flourishgirl.org

Awesome! Again, thank you so much for being in our interview and sharing your wisdom. When I do find myself at Melbourne again, a catch up is totally due!

OMGosh! Please do - would love to grab a coffee with you sometime!! :) Thank you soo much once again for this beautiful opportunity!

 
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I would love to thank the amazing and beautiful mandy on sharing her life and journey to us. you inspire us with your boldness and obedience. we are 110% behind you with your movement and flourish girl.
Let’s redefine beauty together, shall we?