GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — About 140 middle school-aged girls from Grand Rapids-area schools gathered Thursday to hear positive messages about self-esteem and mental health.
The girls filed into the auditorium at Ferris State University’s campus in downtown Grand Rapids on Thursday morning for Maranda’s “Beautiful U” program. At the event, eight-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt delivered her message through a few tears.
“I’m very passionate about mental health and spreading the word that it’s OK to not be OK. So if that means me standing up crying in front of a group of girls, I’m OK with that,” Schmitt, a Canton, Mich. native, said.
Schmitt struggled with depression after swimming at the 2012 Olympics in London and also has a cousin who took her own life. Schmitt got help and competed at the Rio Olympics last summer, winning a gold medal.
Her mission now is to reach as many people as possible and let them now it’s OK to ask for help.
“When you have any success, you’re put on a pedestal, you’re put on a platform. And if I can use that platform in a positive way in … spreading the message that it’s OK to not be OK, at the end of the day, it makes me happy, it makes me proud to say that,” she said. “Hopefully I can save a life, hopefully I can spread this message and save a few lives out there.”
Thursday’s program touched on heavy topics, like depression, bullying, self-esteem, social media and relationships. The idea was to discuss the issues and dish out a heaping helping of self-confidence. The message to the girls was clear: Love who you are, encourage your friends, lift people up and you are beautiful.
“I’m here to tell you you’ve got it and it’s so much more than what you see on the screen,” WOTV4Women’s Maranda told the girls.
“No matter what you look like, what you do, where you’re from, you’re considered beautiful by who are inside. Everyone is unique, that’s what makes this world go ’round every day,” Schmitt said. “Beautiful comes in different sizes.”
It was a message received for Rachel, a seventh-grader at Westwood Middle School in Grand Rapids.
“I know I’m beautiful, I know I’m smart so no one can tell my anything different,” she said.
Navigating the life that’s between childhood and womanhood in a world full of social media and mixed messages is the challenge the girls of today face every day.
“I do constantly put myself down even though I know I’m beautiful, but it’s just sometimes I don’t feel that way. But other times I do feel that way and I know that you stick with what you feel instead of just going with the mass majority,” said Harleigh, an eighth-grader at Valleywood Middle School in Kentwood.
Two upcoming episodes of “Maranda: Where You Live” will feature “Beautiful U.”
–24 Hour News 8 sports staff contributed to this report.