FearlesslyGIRL: Putting a stop to bullying and building self-esteem in girls

Monday, Aug 6

There’s nothing like knowing your idol is human, too. That she has the same type of angst and concerns as anyone else.

This is what Kate Whitfield, founder of anti-bullying organization FearlesslyGIRL, stays focused on. On Monday morning, she was at Rogers Cup to take part in a summit and lead group discussions with girls ages 11 to 18.

Canadian tennis star Rebecca Marino was also on hand to share her own experience of being bullied online, though she admits she is still not completely comfortable with discussing the events publicly.

“For me it’s a super personal thing. To be in front of a big group or even in terms of the media putting things out there, it can be a little difficult to navigate,” admitted Marino. “But I think it’s really important that young girls see athletes being a little bit vulnerable and showing who they authentically, so they can feel they’re not alone in growing up.”

Born in British Columbia, Kate Whitfield now makes her home in Toronto. While in high school, she decided to become a public speaker to touch upon topics including self-esteem and empowerment for girls. Since then, she has connected with over 250 000 teenagers across the continent. Thanks to World No.13 Madison Keys, who champions the cause as an ambassador, FearlesslyGIRL has significantly increased its visibility and opened the doors to the tennis world to Whitfield.

“I started FearlesslyGIRL in Canada about seven years ago and have just been going across the country,” said Kate Whitfield. “And Madison Keys found out about it and wanted to be involved. So, I started getting way more involved in the tennis world. We’ve done the Miami Open with Madison a few times, and we’ve got the US Open coming up in New York. We’ve also done things in her hometown. “

“The tennis community has been so incredibly supportive and welcoming,” she added. “They bend over backwards to bring FearlesslyGIRL to different tournaments. They’ve just opened their doors to FearlesslyGIRL, and it’s so cool.”

Athletes are adored for their superhuman performances and physical fitness. But with social media, professionals in all sports come under pressure and end up under a microscope. They are judged for their results and—sometimes more severely—for their physical appearance. This is the epidemic Whitfield is working to put an end to.

“I think there’s a bad side, and pressure and unrealistic expectations are everywhere you go,” Whitfield explained. “With what I’ve learned, girls in tennis feel like they don’t just have to do well on the court, they also have to look a certain. There’s pressure to look and achieve.”

When she opens up about her experiences, Rebecca Marino does not claim to have all the answers and does not necessarily want to take on the role of being a model for others. She simply aims to share her story and hopes it will resonate for some: “I’m just trying to live my life as best I can, and if people take aspects of my life that they find inspiring to help them get through theirs, then I’ve done my job in terms of just trying to be open.”