A personal message from the founder, Dr Eve Hepburn

Content Warning: brief mention of suicide


Video: Cinzia DuBois


Transcript:

“Now, I’m taking a guess here, but I think it’s fair to say that many of you probably have a pretty good sense of what you are, and what you’re not. So you might be a man, or a woman, or non-binary. You might be a daughter or a son, a mother or a father. A student or a social worker. Someone who likes marmite or someone who hates it.

And if you take a moment to reflect on what your own identity is, I’m sure you’ll agree with me, that each of these aspects of who we are grounds us; gives us a sense of belonging; gives us the strength to tackle the struggles that come our way. Right?

But now I’d like you to imagine a different scenario. What if your identity is not what you thought it was? What if your identity is a lie? What if your identity changes so radically that you don’t know who you are anymore? What if your identity is attacked? And what if the person attacking your identity wasn’t someone else, but you?

What I’m describing to you is what often happens to someone who is struggling with their mental health. And I know that, because I have struggled with my own.

My name is Dr Eve Hepburn and I’m the founder of Fearless Femme. On the face of it, I’m an accomplished, successful woman. I’ve got a PhD, I’ve written nine books, I speak three languages, I’ve taught and mentored hundreds of students, I’ve set up two companies, I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and love in my family.

But that’s the thing about mental health. You can’t see when someone is struggling.

If you just looked at me, you probably wouldn’t guess that

  • I had an eating disorder when I was a teenager;
  • That, when I was 19, my boyfriend died in my arms of a sudden heart attack when we were lying in bed together. The shock and grief were so much that I became suicidal, questioning the very meaning of life, and I nearly carried out my plans to die;
  • That throughout my life I’ve been sexually harassed, abused and attacked, making me feel anxious, body-conscious and vulnerable;
  • That I had a breakdown two years ago after being bullied, and I developed anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. Those were the days when I wasn’t even strong enough to leave the house, and my self-esteem was on the floor. That was when I first had the idea for Fearless Femme;
  • And then just over a year ago, my step-brother, my little brother who I adored, took his own life. He had been suffering from anxiety and make a decision to end it all. And we have all been left wondering: could we have done more?

These traumatic events have undoubtedly scarred me and my mental health. Like many other people who are struggling, I know what it feels like to have my identity smashed to smithereens, to feel that that I’m not enough, to feel there is no point to life.

But I also know what it feels like to be given a second chance, to have hope where before there was none, and to be grateful for the breath circulating in my body. And so now that I’m strong enough, I want to help pull other people up, like my family and friends helped me.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that, when you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and so on, your identity – the core of who you are, your armour against the world – feels like it’s constantly under attack.

You have to glue yourself together each morning just to get out of bed. And you have to live with your deepest insecurities every moment of the day, because there’s nothing between you and them. You have no defence against fear and self-judgement.

And in our modern world, while anyone can be affected by mental health challenges – from corporate executives to farmers, there are some groups that are far more vulnerable than others. And the group that has the highest risk for mental ill-health in the UK today is young women.

Research has shown that 46% of young women in the UK aged 17-21 have needed help with their mental health. That means almost half the teenage girls and young women in this country are struggling to glue themselves together on a daily basis. And the problem is: we don’t fully understand why young women are so vulnerable to mental health issues, and we don’t entirely know how to help them all. It’s pretty shocking isn’t it?

Just imagine – what kind of world are we going to have in 10, 20 years if those girls grow up into women who – instead of breaking glass ceilings as they should be doing – they are just exhausted by the sheer struggle of having to patch up their identity and survive?

Doctors have called this crisis in the mental of young women an epidemic. Rates of self-harm and suicide among young women and femmes are soaring. People are dying. And I’m speaking to you because I believe we have a duty to help these women. I’ve founded a social enterprise called Fearless Femme that has one simple aim: to empower young women and femmes, who are dealing with stress and mental ill-health, to feel better about themselves.

What we’re going to do is something that’s never been tried before.

We’re launching an online magazine that’s written by young women, femmes and non-binary people – who are all affected by the same issues – to spread help, love and support around mental health.

Our aim is to empower young women and femmes to become more resilient to life’s challenges, and to develop the tools and vocabulary to build a better mental place for themselves… they get to choose what they talk about; our role is to facilitate that space.

And unlike fashion, beauty and diet magazines, which often make readers feel worse about their bodies, Fearless Femme will celebrate the innate strengths of young women and femmes.

  • We will focus on issues such as how to boost one’s self-esteem, tackle anxiety and depression, develop a positive body image, and manage academic, financial and work pressures.
  • We’ll conduct research into the main causes of stress and mental ill-health among young women and femmes, so we can amplify their voices and try to effect policy change.
  • We’ll also feature articles, podcasts and videos saying that it’s okay to have problems with your mental health; in fact, our vulnerabilities are what make us human.

And so instead of focusing on the negatives, we are going to focus on the positives, like:

  • how having a mental health issue breeds determination and courage;
  • that our struggles to figure out our identity allows us to know ourselves better;
  • that our sensitivity means we have superpowers of empathy and compassion;
  • that hitting rock bottom means that you can only go up;
  • and that knowing the darkest parts of our souls means we can truly appreciate the light.

And as well as all these lofty goals to shine a light on mental health, we’re also going to have fun! We’re going to test out all of the ways researchers have suggested you can develop positive mental health and try to inject some humour into our magazine along the way.

But we can’t do anything without you. Fearless Femme needs Rebelles.

Fearless Femme needs you.

All that we ask from you is that – if you are struggling with your mental health – then you start to Rebelle against yourself. Against the voices in your head that tell you you’re nothing, that you won’t ever beat this, that you’ll never get anywhere. We need women, femmes and non-binaries to start creating and speaking up about their mental health.

We need you to take part, to submit your voices, to build our community and from that we can proliferate a wealth of art, poetry, narrative and knowledge that we aim to use to make policy change. Cause we want to change the lives of thousands of young Rebelles across the world for the better.

When my brother died last year, I made the decision that I needed – not just wanted, but needed – to establish Fearless Femme. I needed to stop people from killing themselves. I needed people – like my 19 year old self, reeling from grief from the death of her boyfriend – to know that they weren’t alone, that they were enough, and they were going to get through it.

The Japanese have known this for a while, and they have a term called “kintsukuroi”, which means ‘to repair with gold’. So when you break a piece of pottery, like a vase, you repair it with beautiful seams of gold.

I think this is a good motto for Fearless Femme – because it signifies that nothing is ever truly broken, and that we are even more beautiful for our scars.

Thank you for watching. Now, join the Fearless Femme Rebelleon!”


Eve Hepburn

Founder & Chief Executive

Eve Hepburn is a native Edinburger who left home aged 17 to travel the world (living in Canada, Italy, Germany, Poland, Trinidad, London and the USA) before realizing where her heart lay. She is a passionate advocate of social justice and equality, and has held research and teaching positions at several universities, including the European University Institute (Italy), McGill University (Canada), Humboldt University (Germany), and was latterly Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Edinburgh. She has published several books, and has advised several governments on devolution, immigration and nationalism.

Eve is the Founder, Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of Fearless Femme CIC. After having suffered from her own array of mental health issues in the past, Eve is passionate about helping others build a stronger and more resilient mental place for themselves. Eve loves chilling out with her family; trail running through the Cairngorms; reading as many books as she can; dancing in her pyjamas; using her power-drill to do DIY jobs around the house; and walking her dog. You can contact her at eve@fearlessfemme.co.uk.


Cinzia DuBois

Digital Media & Sales Manager

Cinzia is a passionate bibliophage, writer and literary researcher from Scotland whose socially awkward mannerisms can be attributed to bibliophilic nurturing. As the Digital Media and Sales Manager she is mainly responsible for creating all the content you see on our social media platforms, including the production of our Youtube and podcast content. If you’ve interacted with us online you’ve likely spoken to her. She’s like a digital version of that familiar voice whose face you never see: like the person who tells you to ‘mind the gap’ or reminds you to ‘please take your change’ from self checkout counters.

She studied her Masters in Literature at the University of Edinburgh, and her BA in Classics and Literature at the University of Birmingham. When not at Fearless Femme she does exactly what she does for Fearless Femme: producing her own podcasts, videos and writing essays. Oh, and she reads a lot, obviously. But that would be like adding at the end ‘she also spends a lot of her free time breathing.’ You can contact her at cinzia@fearlessfemme.co.uk.

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