What I Like About You

I recently found myself leading a workshop on body image and self esteem for a large group of grade seven and eight girls. One of the tools I like to lead with is a getting-to-know-you exercise in which every participant shares their name and something that they like about themselves with the group. The only rule is that this quality cannot be appearance-based. With adults, this exercise tends to be fairly smooth – at our age most adults are able to define something they value about themselves, even if it takes a moment of soul searching. With twelve and thirteen year old girls, it was whole other ballgame. It went something like this:

“Okay guys, let’s stay together! What’s one thing you like about yourself – not body-based. Let’s start on the left.”

“Um….I don’t know.”

“Yes you do! You’re caring!”

“You’re a good friend!”

“You’re good at drawing!”

“You’re creative!”

“Okay everyone, those are great comments. Now let’s hear from her directly. Do you agree that you like any of these things about yourself?”

“Umm…yeah…I guess so…”

“Great! Which one?”

“Um…” “Caring!”

“Good friend!”

“Drawing! Creative!”

“What do you think? Do any of these fit with you?”

“Um…I guess I’ll go with caring.”



“You totally are!”

Take that exchange and repeat it about 15 times. This was our experience that day. About half the girls were about to identify a trait they liked about themselves – most often based on their physical ability or their relationships with others. Half were not, though they all received warm comments from others that they could draw their valued qualities from. I found myself ruminating on this at the end of the day. On the one hand, having a room full of classmates shout out things they liked about you must feel pretty good to a middle school student. On the other hand, I wondered, was I unfairly putting these girls on the spot? Was it an uncomfortable exercise for them? And what was behind their inability to name something they liked about themselves – low self esteem, shyness, not wanting to be seen as conceited? I thought back to my own experience of being a self-conscious young girl and realized that I would have answered, “I don’t know,” as well. This gave me pause. I knew the exercise would be an interesting one, but didn’t figure that I would end up engaged in as much self-reflection as I did.

I had asked the girls to fill out evaluation forms about the workshop, and most of them did. I decided to look through them in search of any feedback about this particular exercise. To my surprise, I saw that no one had indicated that they disliked this exercise, and that several of them had noted it as one of their favourite parts of the workshop. What a great feeling! To know that, even though the question might have stumped or challenged some of the students, they were all able to rise to the occasion – if not to state something they liked about themselves, then to help their peers out by saying things they liked about them. The atmosphere was rambunctious, to be sure – but the kind of raucous exploration and teamwork it provoked made my day.

Jackie Grandy is NEDIC’s Outreach and Education Coordinator. She can be reached by e-mail at nedic1@uhn.ca or by phone at 416-340-4800, extension 2660. Contact her directly to lead a workshop in your area.