Tackling tough topics for teen girls & their moms
By Kristine Meldrum Denholm
Nicole Naples of Gainesville has always coached people how to get strong and fit. After studying kinesiology at Penn State and training athletes there, she’s taught exercise classes and has worked as a personal trainer in the area for the past two decades. An expert navigator of Wegmans produce aisle, the staunch nutrition advocate makes healthy, balanced meals for her family. She preaches the gospel of good clean eating to clients: lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Her advice is all, well, what you’d expect from a fitness and nutrition expert.
Until the infamous brownie Incident with her daughter—live-streamed to hundreds of friends—and friends of friends. That’s when things got real. Yet her own embarrassing moment turned into her game-changer–and Gainesville’s gain.
“You didn’t see it?” she laughs. “It was horrifying.” She shakes her head, her eyes lit as she shares the story. She’d been building a brand offering nutrition and fitness coaching online, steadily gaining followers. She was live-streaming health and nutrition tips from her Lake Manassas kitchen, like how to fix healthy recipes, often with her daughter Gianna, now 13. With her jovial, energetic way, mother and daughter (with cameos by high-school-sweetheart-turned husband Paul, and son Anthony, now 15, and dog Gino, 3, a maltichon) epitomized eating right. They were the faces of health.
Then one day someone asked her daughter on a Facebook Live: “What’s your favorite after school snack?”
Nicole wondered which of her healthy snacks she made she’d pick. “A box of brownies,” Gianna answered, as the rosy glow drained from her mom’s face. It wasn’t something she allowed in the home. Stunned, she watched her girl march to the dining room where she’d hid a stash of contraband: the processed, preservative-laden brownies we all may or may not enjoy.* Her daughter then ate them on-air. Nicole laughs: “It was a brilliant hiding spot; who goes to the dining room after Christmas?”
It went viral, viewed over 2500 times. And when Gianna became recognized as “the brownie girl” in Dick’s Sporting Goods, Naples realized what people were craving, even from a health coach: real. She began to think differently about her business.
“People crave real-life parenting scenarios. People want to look in and see there’s chaos in other houses too. They’re looking for real.”
“People responded,” she says. “When you admit your failing, it encourages someone else to do the same. It’s like author Brene Brown says, ‘this is how we help each other.’”
Meanwhile, she was struggling with some difficult relationships, and she and her daughter were struggling to communicate.
“I wanted a change in my life,” she recalls of a crossroad. “I wanted to be a mom who listened more, a person who communicated more, a wife who loved more, a friend who is there more. I could do better.”
The motivator of others needed motivation; the inspiring person needed inspiration. She looked at her [late] mom’s picture and asked for a sign. Shortly thereafter, seeing the Rachel Hollis documentary, “Made for More,” gave her one.
“I didn’t know how to help Gianna and me, but I said to my daughter, ‘We gotta do something bigger.’ More.’”
The duo put out a Facebook call for other moms and daughters to meet at a cafe in January 2019. To their surprise, 45 mothers and daughters, ranging from middle to high school, showed up, half of whom they didn’t know. Talking about “The Fab 5,” the people you surround yourself with, she asked the group: “What are your qualifications for your friends? Who do you want to be? Then we turned it around: would someone pick us as their Fab 5?”
As the group grew, and was kicked out of its meeting location for lack of space, Nicole retooled the idea, changing its name from Girl Code to Girl Link. The difference in this support group? It’s for both moms and daughters, what she saw as the missing link.
In August 2019, Naples organized a “Courage Conference” at Evolution in Gainesville. Complete with workbooks and dinner, 75 people listened to guest speakers talking about peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, and creating an “X Plan.” “We’re just trying to break down communication barriers between moms and daughters,” she says.
Turns out, bridging this gap between moms and girls isn’t a unique need to Gainesville. She’s gotten calls from as far as California. Hundreds have joined her free group online, and she also leads a membership-only group ( $29.99/month) where experts talk tough topics. A human trafficking expert spoke, a trooper led a cybersafety talk about “the 6 clicks” of information people can find on you, and a domestic violence counselor spoke on teen dating violence and setting boundaries. A gynecologist will soon speak on breast self-exams.
“How many times have you tried to bring up an uncomfortable topic and your daughter rolls her eyes, says, ‘Mom I don’t want to hear this!’ and bolts to her room? What if we can take the pressure off you, yet you’re there? The topics are discussed live, but it’s also recorded so you can watch the subject anytime with your daughter. It becomes ‘let’s see what the expert says’ and opens up that door for discussion together.”
What do mothers most want for their daughters? Confidence, she says.
“That can’t be given by everyone wearing t-shirts; you can’t bottle it and drink it. It’s won by educating people, sharing resources, strategies, moms telling their life stories, other girls like Gianna sharing what they’re going through.”
Though she hopes to plan weekend retreats, right now Naples admits she’s challenged by developing the business, technology, and “keeping in front of the need,” but it’s been fulfilling.
“We as parents always wait until there’s a problem, whether it be health, school, bullying, and then we find a solution. Why not arm our girls before?”
*Hypothetically, should one run into Nicole in Wegman’s produce aisle, and should your cart hold said brownies, cookies, bread and cheese, writer suggests ducking into organic aisle next aisle over.