Legobane with some of the learners at Bordeaux Primary School in Randburg. Pictures: Supplied
Growing up, my generation never had much in terms of role models. The people I looked up to were on the covers of glossy magazines, selling an unattainable dream.

The reality was that many girls my age aspired to be as skinny; as pretty; and as famous as the Cindy Crawfords of the world. Fast-forward a few decades later, and mindsets are slowly starting to reboot and change.

People know now that pop culture breeds self-contempt, low self- esteem and body confidence issues. 

For instance, did you know that eight out of 10 girls with low body confidence will opt out of important activities such as raising their hands in class to voice their opinion, and that seven out of 10 girls with low body esteem, will stop themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk by not seeing a doctor?

Something needs to change, and it starts with us - parents, siblings, teachers and mentors.

Plus-size model and photographer Lesego “Thick Leeyonce” Legobane is one of many local celebrities heading the call. Now she’s lent her voice and her star power to the Dove Self-Esteem Project (DSEP).

To date, the initiative has helped more than 35 million young people across the globe to develop a positive relationship with the way they look, by encouraging conversations with women and young girls, addressing issues of beauty, confidence and self-esteem.

Lesego “Thick Leeyonce” Legobane and Mmanaka Kelobonye sharing advice with the students about feeling confident and using their influence for good.

Legobane is using her platform to educate young girls on the importance of self-love and self-acceptance. “I’m hoping this will change how young girls view themselves, especially in the era of digital media and the pressures to fit into societal beauty standards,” says the body positive activist.

“I hope they know that they don’t have to look beautiful like the next person. They just have to look beautiful like themselves.”

For Legobane, joining the campaign is not only a personal crusade but one that she whole-heartedly identifies with. “I was never insecure about my body or looks as a kid. I didn’t even care about how I looked. But when I hit puberty, around 15 to 18, I became so self-conscious. But there was always a little voice inside my head that would tell me I’m beautiful, and I’m glad I eventually chose to listen to that voice,” she adds.

Affectionately known as Thick Leeyonce to her more than 470 000 Instagram followers, Legobane says she dealt with her insecurities by embracing her strengths, which at the time were her academics and her creative side (photography).

“I focused on the things that made me feel good about myself - things that I was good at! That helped me a lot.”

On International Day of the Girl Child, Dove and its influencer partners attended one of the hundreds of in-school DSEP programmes at Bordeaux Primary School in Randburg, where Grade 5 to 7 learners were immersed in discussions around self-esteem and body confidence.

Legobane attended the workshop. And while she commends Dove for the immense work the brand has put into its project, she still thinks schools aren’t doing enough to instil confidence and self-preservation among girls. “I think schools only care about traditional subjects. I often feel like if self-love was taught at school, so many kids would be kinder to each other,” she contemplates.

This is where the work of big brands and NGOs come into play; to reach out and stem the tide from grassroots level. “As a brand with real purpose, the Dove Self-Esteem Project is an initiative at the core of what Dove believes in, with a mission of ensuring that the next generation grows up to enjoy a positive relationship with the way they look, in order to help them to reach their full potential,” emphasises Sphelele Mjadu - senior public relations manager for Unilever Beauty and Personal Care for Africa.

To learn more about the Dove Self-Esteem Project visit: www.dove.com/za/dove-self-esteem-project.html.