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We’ve teamed up with Bobbi Brown to find out what “being who you are” means to inspirational women in New Zealand.

Sarah Longbottom is familiar with the hurdles one has to overcome to embrace being who you are. Through Ngā Rangatahi Toa, a mentoring programme of which she is the founder and executive director, Longbottom works with disenfranchised teenagers in South Auckland. Ngā Rangatahi Toa harnesses the explorative power of creative arts to provide vulnerable youth a space in which they can transform their own lives. “Through our programme our kids build a sense of purpose and direction.”As for why Longbottom turned to creativity to empower youth, she explains that it was the obvious choice. “To be who you are, you have to be well. Creativity is an outlet that allows you to be who you are,” she says. “What we do is all about love, kindness, and compassion. But first it’s self-love, self-kindness and self-compassion.”

Longbottom’s journey began with herself. “I realised I wasn’t practicing love, kindness and compassion to myself, so I was limited in how much I could authentically inhabit these values with others. As soon as I started cultivating unconditional positive regard for myself, then it became very natural and easy to have this as the baseline to the way I move in the world,” she says. A good place to start is to stop concerning ourselves with how others see us, says Longbottom. “That poison of comparison is bred into us at an early age. The world we live in seeks to fix our identities from very early on – we are relentlessly told who and how we are supposed to be and, like it or not, we internalise these limitations,” she says.

“Through Ngā Rangatahi Toa, creative arts are employed in a therapeutic and cathartic manner to explore the stories we tell ourselves. A lot of our kids have been surrounded by negativity – at school, in the community – and they have internalised this perception of how the world sees them. We create an environment for them to reinvent themselves.”Being accepting of the fact that everyone has self-esteem issues is just as crucial to self-kindness and self-compassion. “Everyone has self-esteem issues. It’s part of the human experience,” believes Longbottom. “For me personally, and what I try to instill in my staff, is don’t hate on that part of you that feels unworthy, don’t run away from it.”

Instead, Longbottom says it’s important to be aware of your feelings and be curious. “Be aware of the world we live in, the messages we’re bombarded with on a day-to-day basis through the media. Accept and love this as part of who you are, and have a deep understanding that you’re not the only person feeling that way.” Longbottom freely admits that she struggles with self-esteem issues herself. “It would be easy to hate on this part of myself (which I do sometimes), but I think the practice is to look at, accept and love that part of myself. When I do, my self-doubt seems to lose its power, and I can be who I am with more ease.”

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