Assembly Speaker, 7 September 2019 – Women's hour producer Lucinda Montefiore
Montefiore was quick to establish what she would not be speaking about. She told us she wouldn’t be speaking to us about her ‘successes’ in life such as her entrance into a career in journalism or her stellar job as a producer on a renowned radio show. Instead she talked transparently about the most vulnerable moments in her life as well as giving us advice on what to do if ever we were to find ourselves in such situations.
She began by speaking to us about her life as a teenager including her miserable experiences whilst starting at a boarding school. She recounted feeling particularly isolated and lonely at a school where everyone seemed so much better than her from her perspective. She described her hasty decision to change her appearance in an attempt to conform. For example, she grew out her hair to match the style of all the popular girls at her school and cottoned on to all the fashion trends at the time. Montefiore remembers feeling satisfied but in hindsight she realises that this was an attempt to suppress her true feelings. She described this as a bad mental habit which she felt contributed to her chronic depression which would revisit her at key times in her life.
On what seemed like a lighter note, she continued by speaking about another experience she had as a teenager. She told us about a holiday she took to Greece with friends when she was a young adult. However, it became apparent that despite being with friends in such an idyllic destination she completely ‘self-sabotaged’ the experience. She said her holiday was ruined as she couldn’t stop comparing herself to her ‘gorgeous’ friend, who in her eyes was nothing short of the pinnacle of beauty whilst she felt ugly. She says she looks back at photos of that holiday wondering what on earth she was thinking when she clearly looked ‘gorgeous’!
Her stories seemed eerily relatable to the modern teenage experience and despite the age difference between her and her audience I think everyone can relate in varying degrees to the feelings described in her personal stories. I couldn’t think of anyone in our community who isn’t guilty of using fashion as a way to conform (normally taking the form of wearing Evisu trousers) and whether we’ll really care about how we look now in 10 years, let alone 30 years’ time. The way in which Montefiore compared herself to her friends really resonated with me because it bore an undeniable resemblance to the negative effects of social media. I asked her whether or not she felt that social media had exacerbated feelings of insecurity in teenagers today. She responded by saying that whilst she did think social media has contributed to making us feel less secure, she felt that comparing ourselves to others and low self-esteem are simply part of the human condition.
Towards the end of her speech she offered very valuable advice to us. She said that a feeling (good or bad) only lasts 2 minutes unless we feed it with our brains, which we often do when we obsess about a feeling, which can then often negatively impact our mental health. Her solution followed the lessons in the poem the ‘Guest House’ by 13th century Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi which she read to us: whether you experience ‘A joy, a depression’ or ‘a meanness’ simply greet them and acknowledge them mentally and allow the feeling to take its course. This advice couldn’t have been more relevant for the nervous new year 12s and A-level fearing year 13s.
An inspirational speaker!
Cassius - Head Boy Sixth Form