This year, dozens of young women gathered at the This Girl Can Expo in Calgary on Sept. 14 to become young entrepreneurs, selling everything from homemade headbands to robots. But, out of all the young talent, expo co-founder Robyn Miskic will never forget one girl due to the negative responses she’s had pursuing her art.

“‘Everybody keeps telling my daughter that that’s great you want to pursue art but you’re going to be a starving artist,’” says Miskic, recalling a mother’s response.

“[This show] gives her a platform and an opportunity to create something that she could sell.”

Many girls face similar pushback when it comes to following their passions. That alone can hinder girls’ confidence in themselves and their abilities.

But mothers Miskic and Kristina Hockenhull, were inspired by their daughters to change that by creating the This Girl Can Expo.

One of the reasons young girls have trouble developing positive self-esteem is that they compare themselves to others.

Miskic believes this happens more now than it has ever before. Co-founder Hockenhull blames social media and the abundance of accessible technology.

“There’s just more pressure and more expectation because a lot of what you see is the best of people and so it’s like, ‘Well, how do I get to be the best? How do I get there?’” Hockenhull says.

Tasha Belix, a registered psychologist who participated in this year’s event, is a mother of three teen girls herself and agrees those expectations are becoming an increasing problem.

“The pressure to feel like you fit in is really evident. And fit in in a way that you’re not only managing your life, your family, your siblings, your friends and your school community but you’re also trying to manage your online profile,” says Belix.

This need to fit in and compare themselves to others can stop kids from exploring new things, Miskic explains.

She believes a girl’s self-confidence directly impacts the activities she participates in.

When girls don’t think they can do something, they never try it and thus are limited in their experiences.

It was through starting conversation about these challenges that hooked in Miskic and Huckenhull who became interested in taking action themselves.

Both had kids entering their teens and wanted to be prepared for challenges, such as low self-esteem, that their children might experience.

However, they were at a loss and frustrated by how difficult it was to find programs designed to help parents.

“Programs and resources — those are the two things that parents want to know about and how do you find those, where are they, how to access them?” Miskic says.

Fueled by these questions, the co-founders gathered contacts within multiple organizations so that parents, including themselves, could find those programs and resources more quickly. This is how they came up with the This Girl Can Expo.

“After researching to see if something like [This Girl Can] was out there and there wasn’t — that’s when [I thought], ‘Let’s just do it,’” says Miskic.

The expo brought representatives of the programs and resources they had identified together in a casual environment where parents and children could more easily talk to them.

“[Having] a place that is safe and comfortable for people to approach a program or resource that they might not just reach out to on their own [is the point of the expo],” Miskic says.

Hockenhull has found this to be true with her own daughter, who has started trying new things and exploring her interests since participating in the expo.

“We formed [This Girl Can] essentially for our daughters,” says Hockenhull.

One of the first steps of creating the This Girl Can Expo was launching a website. Hockenhull took on this challenge even though, in her words, she could barely log in to her email.

“When I published [the website] my daughter was there and I said, ‘If I can make a web page, you can literally do anything,’” says Hockenhull.

Creating the website didn’t mean the hard work was bound to stop.

Planning for the event gave Hockenhull and Miskic the chance to show their kids what they do and all the behind-the-scenes work needed to make the expo happen.

“They see the super fun times like today and they see us working all the time to make this happen. So, they realize that work does go beyond having a good day,” Hockenhull said on the day of the expo.

Watching their mothers every step of the way, both Hockenhull and Miskic’s children became involved with the event.

They were especially involved in the expo’s kids’ market, which Hockenhull’s daughter helped oversee and facilitate.

Meanwhile, Miskic’s three girls were busy selling handmade scrunchies made from recycled fabric.

They were fully accountable for their booth, planning it out themselves with little to no help from their parents.

“They made a schedule and followed it and they’ve worked so hard to make this happen,” Miskic says.

Seeing the benefits of their work helped the children feel good about themselves and their abilities. This teaches the girls that, through hard work and perseverance, they can reach their goals.

Hockenhull and Miskic hope to not only help kids, but parents too so that they can help their own children.

With booths on everything from therapists to dance classes, kids can explore and find programs they are interested in that will help them tackle challenges.

With all the resources that are available, the message Hockenhull and Miskic hope participants take away is one of possibilities and empowerment.

“You can literally do anything you want. And it sounds so cliché to say that, but you literally can. We are in a phase of life that you can absolutely do anything you want,” says Hockenhull.

Editors Note: This story is part of the Calgary Journal’s November-December print issue. You can find a digital version here, or grab a copy at news stands across the city.

Editor: Dan Khavkin| 

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