Like many tweens and teens, Shawntan Howell wrestled with body image issues. She was taller than most of the girls in her class and remembers what it was like to ride in the backseat of a compact car, knees pressed into the seat ahead of her. As the person in front of her grumbled, and Shawntan tried to reposition her legs, she thought, “I just don’t fit.” The feeling that she didn’t fit was pervasive at times, but as she grew older, Shawntan learned to overcome negative thoughts about herself by using positive self-talk.
Then her young daughter, Jalyn, began to struggle with the same issues. Seeing Jalyn doubt herself was heartbreaking for Shawntan, and her motherly instincts kicked in. She wanted all girls to know their worth. So she printed messages of empowerment on T-shirts and wore them every chance she got—becoming a walking billboard for the cause. Not only did her daughter take notice, but others did too. An IT project manager by day and an entrepreneur at heart, Shawntan was inspired to start a part-time business and launched a line of apparel and accessories with her “Girls Are Powerful” messaging.
Shawntan sought guidance to grow her business concept and was told there just wasn’t a market for the apparel she had created. But she was determined to find a way to carry out her mission to help girls. She began speaking at community events and launched Girls Are Powerful as an organization dedicated to helping girls and young women build self-esteem.
Then something happened that shook her own confidence. Shawntan was laid off from the corporate job she’d held for a decade. When she was feeling her lowest and struggling to get out of bed, a local organization invited her to do a speaking gig. Shawntan knew she had to pull herself together. She had to believe in herself and her vision for the organization—not just to show herself, but to show all the girls she worked with what owning your power looked like.
Over the next year, Shawntan took the opportunity to work on Girls Are Powerful full-time. She got busy developing and delivering outreach programs for girls, providing them with tools to see and believe they are powerful, beautiful, smart, confident, unique and determined (what Shawntan calls “power words”). She began partnering with groups and organizations passionate about helping to deliver her message. As her programs gained momentum, she started receiving support from companies that appreciated the Girls Are Powerful mission, like the Ann Bancroft Foundation, Minnesota Timberwolves, Target and Wells Fargo.
Today, Girls Are Powerful has created a growing community of empowered girls through educational workshops and special events. Shawntan imagines a future where all those confident girls grow into powerful women who are changing the world. And she is living proof that when you own your power, amazing things can happen.
To learn more about Shawntan’s business, visit GirlsArePowerful.com.
Photo: My Founder Story
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.