In this series I’m chatting with some of my favourite entrepeneurs, chefs, bloggers, business owners to talk all things, photography, entrepreneurship, lifestyle, wellness just about anything and well food of course! During this period of social distancing, our need for community and connection is stronger than ever. I hope you can draw inspiration from these incredibly talented humans and their super inspiring and interesting conversations.
This week I’m chatting to Stephanie Elswood. At just 24 years of age, Stephanie has taken the social media world by storm. She´s a Professional dancer, Body confidence and wellness advocate. Director of incredible badass workshops ‘Stay Sassy’. Author of two incredible ‘Plant to Plate’ ebooks and most recently founder of ‘Sasstainable’ a brand focusing on providing sustainable, environmentally friendly products that not only better serve her customers but also care for the environment. Not to mention her incredible work has seen her featured in the likes of Hello! Magazine, Women´s Health, Grazia. Super excited to share this incredible lady with you today.
Steph! You inspire hundreds of people daily to feel confident in their own skin and own their best self. You run incredible workshops (which we will touch on later), built your own sustainable product line, trained as a professional dancer in one of London’s leading dance schools, and built a community of over 245k thousand people. But for those who maybe don’t know you. Who is Steph Elswood?
My name is Stephanie Elswood and I am 24 years old. I am a dancer, social media influencer, I run a charity and events series called ’Stay Sassy’ and have a range of sustainable products called ’Sasstainable’.
We are currently facing some very unsettling times. How have you been spending your time during quarantine? Reading and cooking anything good?
I have been fighting to create some kind of routine with my days. Trying to start every day the same. I wake up and meditate, journal, move my body with some form of exercise and then write my to-do list. With the extra time on my hands I’ve been teaching myself the guitar and baking lots of vegan treats!
With so many things on your plate how do you balance your time from wanting to do it all, to prioritizing your own self-care and mental health.
I think I’ve learnt over time that the need to protect your mental well-being in this industry is top of my list. Setting clear boundaries and time frames around work. I ensure that the first hour-2 hours of the start and end of my day are for me. For example, I do not touch my phone in those hours. I meditate and train in the morning because that is a form of self care for me and I switch off with a book or series or stretch in the evening.
You have been very open with your journey with your struggles with Mental health, battling with anxiety and panic attacks. You´ve done incredible things helping to break the stigma with mental health issues. You’ve often mentioned that you first noticed you were suffering with these at quite a young age. Over the years what have you found to help settle these feelings of anxiety when they hit in your day to day?
I have been suffering with panic attacks since I was about 14. I have found that you have to keep up positive daily habits to maintain a level of good mental health. That way, when I have a wobble, it is easier to fix and ‘fill up my cup’. I find that that journalling daily and starting the day with positive affirmations help. Over time I have also taught myself to zoom out to the bigger picture. For example: Being present in the moment and asking myself ‘is the situation that is making me feel anxious and overwhelmed going to matter in 5 years time?’
Let’s dive into “Stay Sassy”. You run these incredible workshops and events. What inspired you to start these and how did the idea come about?
I trained as a dancer my entire childhood/early adulthood. It was my fast love and passion. I had a huge confidence knock in my late teens and I hung my dancing shoes up for a short while. During this time my Nan moved into our family home as she was poorly. My mum became her full time career and her and I became best friends. She believed that as a generation we used the term ‘I love you’ too much and felt that it was losing it’s meaning. So instead, she used to say ‘Stay Sassy’. It was my Nan that encouraged me to start dancing again so I started going back to classes and posting videos on my instagram page. People were asking me to put on workshops but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to. When my Nan passed away I wanted to raise money for the hospice that looked after her during the time she was struggling. I decided to put on a one-off event and we raised £500! The event was so special and we helped so many young girls with their confidence in just a few hours that I wanted to continue to put on the events. We grew from 20 people to 50 and now we get 60-80 women at every event raising money for different charities every time. Stay Sassy isn’t just a dance class to me, it is a community and a family that I adore so much.
Another aspect you’ve been very open about on your channels in your struggles with self-love and eating disorders. How prevalent do you find eating disorders to be in the dance community and social media? And what would be your top piece of advice to a young woman trying to shine today?
I struggled with an eating disorder for about 5 years on and off and it was probably the darkest time in my life. I felt like I wasn’t worthy or enough. The problem is, in the dance industry we’re told we have to look a certain way, be a certain shape. It was toxic and consumed my mind for years. I feel like social media is very similar but the industry is far more forward thinking than the performing industry. People are using their platforms to share positive messages about body image. I think that would be my first piece of advice I would share with a younger woman. You become the result of your environment, so choose what online space you follow wisely. You have the power to mute or unfollow anyone that makes you question your self worth.
How important is it to you that you follow a plant based diet? When and Why did you transition to this lifestyle?
I have been vegan now for 2 and a half years and I love it. It was a slow transition from vegetarian to veganism and I don’t think i’ll ever look back. I am not a preacher and I’m not here to force anyone else to become plant-based, but I would love to encourage people to try one of my recipes or consider reducing their intake of animal products. Eating plant-based fits seamlessly into my lifestyle and I love the food that I eat. I watched the documentary ‘cowspiracy’ and cried through the entire film. I thought that if the scenes effected me so badly, then I should try to make a difference in my diet. That was when I went vegetarian. The following January, I participated in ‘Veganuary’ and felt amazing for it. I felt lighter, more energised, fresh and alert. And have been vegan ever since! I feel like I’m making a conscious effort at least 3 times a day to save an animals life. The food I eat is far healthier than before, I love getting creative in the kitchen and I feel at peace knowing that I’m doing my bit to contribute positively to the planet.
You recently launched Sasstainable. What gave you the passion to start the brand?
I think sustainability and veganism go hand in hand. The more I learnt about being plant-based, the more I wanted to adapt other parts of my lifestyle. I started to cut back on single use plastic, reading labels of skincare ingredients, reducing the amount of new clothes that I bought. It was a minefield and I didn’t really know where to start! I wanted to create a brand that could educate consumers and that I had full control over ensuring that it was ethically sourced, produced and distributed from start to finish. The name ‘Sasstainable’ came effortlessly and we’ve been officially trading for 6 months now! The brand is still very much in it’s infancy, but I love it and I have such big dreams for where I want to take it!
If you could only pick three ingredients to take with you to a deserted island what would these be? Oh god this is a hard question! Probably rice, coconut cream and tempeh haha!
What food cravings are you feeling today? The sun is out and I’m craving fresh fruit! Mango, pineapple, watermelon YUM!
What are you binge-watching? I just finished watching ‘Unbelievable’ and ‘The Stranger’ on netflix.. Definitely worth the watch!