Hear from the pretty inspirational founder of Pretty Foundation about why investing in girls is her number one priority. (5:26 min read)

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When you read, hear or participate in discussions about achieving gender equality ­– whether it’s in the workplace or financial markets – it’s not often the conversation centres around girls who are 6 years of age and under.

But that’s exactly where the Pretty Foundation focuses their efforts and attention; inspiring young girls to recognise their value in who they are, not what they look like.

We had the great pleasure of interviewing founder Merissa Forsyth for our Women & Investing Series as she explained what early childhood education, body image and young girls have to do with creating a more sustainable future for us all.

“If we can get the next generation to start developing a gender parity mindset when they are young, we will only accelerate the mission for gender equality.”

Get informed, inspired and empowered by reading the rest of the Q&A below.


Why did you found Pretty Foundation and decide to tackle body image in early childhood?

A study was undertaken in Australia that found that 38% of 4-year-old girls were dissatisfied with their bodies. Unfortunately, this stat is far from a one-off, and is consistent with many other studies undertaken around the world.

I remember being teased for my skin colour when I was younger, and it robbed me of confidence and stopped me from being the person I was meant to be. It was only in adulthood that I was able to realise my true worth and live out of a place of confidence.

I founded the Pretty Foundation as I had a vision for a world where girls were comfortable in their bodies, confident in themselves and conquering in all their endeavours.

We want to build resilience in young girls and prevent the issues surrounding negative body image, rather than having to treat them when they are older.

When girls aren’t held back from body image issues, they are far more likely to step into their potential and thrive.


When did you know it was time to switch from corporate life to startup founder?

Prior to starting Pretty Foundation, I was running a campaign that sought to help women realise their true value in who they are and not what they look like.

The campaign drew a lot of attention and participation, but when I looked at the body image statistics in our society, I found the issues were getting worse.

I had to question whether running a campaign once a year was really going to do anything. So, I dug deep into the research, spoke to experts in the field and what I found was that the foundations for body image are laid in early childhood.

What was also interesting was there were no focused initiatives for developing body confidence through early education, as everything else primarily focused on teenagers and adults.

So, I took the plunge and started the Pretty Foundation, which focuses on 2-6-year-old girls.

We have already started seeing some incredible results with children’s body image, and it’s encouraged us to keep going and grow the foundation.


Any nuggets of career wisdom that proved useful throughout your career?

Get accountable.

Throughout my not-for-profit journey, I’ve always ensured that I’ve had a board that I report into. If you don’t legally need a board, I’d still encourage everyone who’s starting up a business to get a panel of experts from different fields to act as a board for you. This has proven to be crucial to the success of the movements and NFPs I’ve started.

Not only does a board give you accountability, but they also provide support, wisdom, guidance and the skills and expertise that you may not have.


What are some nuggets you’ve picked up yourself along the way?

People often ask me advice on how to start up a charity or business.

I tell them straight out that I had no experience in startups, but the thing that helped a lot was being clear about my vision and sharing that vision with as many people as possible.

I was surprised by how many people were keen to offer their support and expertise because they believed in the better future I’d shared with them.


What do you think needs to be done in order to narrow/close the gender gap (salary, investing etc.)?

There’s still so much to be done to close the gender gap – where does one start? One thing we are focusing on at Pretty Foundation is the celebration of girls.

Instilling the right messages in children from a young age is critical.

International Women’s Day encourages gender parity by celebrating the success of women around the world.

We see an opportunity to start celebrating girls from a young age so that we can instil a gender equality mindset within the next generation. We also want to teach girls they are not valuable for what they look like but rather for who they are.

It led us to launch Pretty Inspirational; our award series that celebrates the achievements and success of girls under the age of 18.


Best/worst investment decision made to date + lessons learned?

Quitting my job in the corporate sphere and choosing to invest in empowering young girls was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t the best financial decision for myself, but it’s been extremely rewarding to see the impact we’ve been able to make in a short amount of time.

When we invest in women and girls and move towards a balanced and equal society, we move towards a better world for everyone.

There is an incredible amount of untapped potential that lies within women and girls globally.

One can only imagine what that potential, once invested in, can go on to do – it has the power to change the world.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received or can share to help women and girls kick goals across any facet of life?

Don’t give voice to your negative inner voice.

Most of us have had negative thoughts about ourselves but we need to reject these thoughts and stop them from lingering within us.

It may seem crazy, but when I feel like I’m lacking confidence or when negativity is getting me down, I speak out positive things about myself.

Having a confidence mantra is such a useful thing to go back to and say when negativity rises within.


If you’re looking for ways to build confidence and resilience in the pretty awesome girls in your life, it’s worth checking out Charlies Tales – a series of books and resources developed by Pretty Foundation’s body image experts.  


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About Jade Ong

Jade Ong is a Co-Founder of AtlasTrend, an investment platform that makes it easy for anyone to learn and invest in trends impacting our world. Jade has over 17 years experience in financial markets including roles at Macquarie and IAG Asset Management.