Counseling student wants to create a ‘healthier society of women and girls’
Demetria Ballard ‘22E wants to build a better world for women. Right now, she sees a lot of negative pressure positioned against women and girls from modern culture, especially media portrayals of “perfect” women. She sees the relentless societal demand for feminine perfection as an obstacle that women and girls must overcome to fully unlock their potential. Demetria wants a world in which every woman is empowered to be herself, and she’s pursuing that goal through a number of unorthodox means.
Born and raised in Omaha, Ballard says she’s always loved kids.
“I come from a very large extended family, and I was the first granddaughter,” she says. “I was the one who was always called on to babysit. Whatever I did, I know I wanted to be with children.”
Starting with studying Child psychology, Ballard eventually became an elementary school teacher, working in multiple schools in the Omaha area. She is a current student in Doane’s Master of Education in School Counseling program, though this won’t be her first master’s degree. Ballard is already highly educated, holding a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska Omaha (‘00) and a master’s degree in education administration from Concordia University, Nebraska (‘12). She came to Doane’s program because she’s ready for more from her life. Her driving goal is to promote positive mental health for women and girls, and she thinks the counseling techniques and professional skills offered by Doane’s Counseling master’s program can help her get there.
“There’s so much more I want to do,” she says. “I’ve decided I want to become a life coach. That’s my next step. I’m learning a lot of different things through the counseling program that apply to counseling and life coaching.”
Though she didn’t mention it, she’s also planning on becoming an author of children’s books. In fact, she already is one. Her first children’s book is set to be published this October, with a second title already in production.
Ballard’s debut book is titled “Demi Nicole: Little Miss Imperfect.” It tells the story of a young black girl, around fifth grade-age, who knows two sisters named Confidence and Insecurity. Insecurity is a very pretty, superficial, light-skinned African American girl who is always noticing Demi’s imperfections. Confidence is a latina girl with vitiligo, an otherwise harmless skin condition that results in white streaks randomly distributed on a person’s skin, resulting in a two-tone effect.
“She (Confidence) comes from a sixth grade student I taught in Bellevue,” Ballard says. “She has a defect, according to societal standards, but she accepts herself for what she is. She knows her weaknesses and her flaws, but she accepts herself.”
This emphasis on self-acceptance is central for Ballard, who sees Western culture’s ceaseless media representations of flawless women as a barrier to mental health for today’s women and girls.
“Media puts this pressure on us that we have to be perfect,” Ballard says. “Whether it’s advertisements or the Kardashinas, who have all these makeup and digital artists and nutritionists. That doesn’t exist (for most women), but there’s still that pressure to be perfect and look perfect.
“It’s unhealthy that we let society and the media do this to us; it’s not right,” she says. “That’s the message: stop trying to be perfect.”
Ballard included many of these themes in her book, in ways that will hopefully make sense to young girls and adult women alike.
“Insecurity talks about Demi, her hair, ‘you’re so ugly,’ and Demi listens,” Ballard says. “She covers up what she doesn’t like about herself. Colorism still exists within the African American community and other communities of color. Lighter skin has a problem with dark, and vice versa. I want to shed light on that issue.”
Ultimately the book ends with Demi Nicole and a group of other girls acknowledging that “Little Miss Perfect” does not and cannot exist, and accepting themselves for who they actually are. There are many lessons to learn along the way. There’s a lot to unpack over “Little Miss Imperfect’s” 32, fully illustrated pages.
“I want girls and women to accept themselves for what they are,” Ballard says. “That’s how you’re going to have a quality life, mentally.”
Along with her authorial and educational pursuits, both as a student and teacher, Ballard has been running an empowerment program for girls for the last several years. Starting as a nonprofit girls’ program in 2014, Ballard’s initiative for feminine youth development has grown into a new business: D. Nicole Girls Academy. It’s a life skills training program in Omaha for girls, Ballard says. Designed for girls to start any time from fourth grade through high school, the academy involves a full curriculum of life skills and confidence building including:
self esteem and confidence development
personal appearance and hygiene
body care and exercise
building healthy relationships
other life skills
The story of how Ballard got from a small nonprofit program to her own business is a whirlwind tale. It started when she first founded the program in 2014, but it really took off with a chance trip to T.J.Maxx in 2017. Ballard was shopping at the store one day when someone at the store asked her if she had a story to share.
“They (T.J.Maxx) had just started their Maxx You project, telling women to celebrate their individuality,” Ballard says. “The guy convinced me to do it with a $50 gift card, so I ended up sharing my story. I told them about my girls program and what I’m doing in Omaha. I ended up being one of three ‘hero women’ they chose.”
Being chosen meant everything was about to change. Ballard received $20,000 and got to meet personalities from the TV Show “Shark Tank,” including Barbara Corcoran and Laila Ali. Ballard and her husband were flown to Los Angeles for an interview on an affiliated podcast, and to participate in a commercial shoot. The package culminated in a trip to New York for a business consultation.
After all of that, D. Nicole Girls Academy was born, and the rest has been hard work on Ballard’s part. Between that and promoting her upcoming book, Ballard has her hands full. But it’s worth it to her if she can help girls grow into better, more confident, more successful women.
“I hope that girls see that the earlier the better it is to start accepting themselves,” Ballard says. “When girls suffer from low self esteem, the research is out there, they’re going to engage in risky behavior. I’m a testament to that. It affects everything you do.”
Ballard hopes that between her life coaching and her writing, she can help make an impact in the world of women in our community.
“My goal is for them to accept themselves for who they are,” she says. “We’re going to have a healthier society of girls and women.”