Mika Simmons is the founder of health charity The Lady Garden Foundation which has gone on to become one of the World’s leading gynaecological charities, as well as director and host of The Happy Vagina Podcast. She has become a true mental health advocator with the aim of opening up about the fundamental issues around women’s experiences, female sexuality and gynaecological health.
Aside from her entrepreneurial spirit, of course, Mika is also an award-winning British Filmmaker, Actress, and Director. She’s worked on a range of work, including BAFTA-winning ‘Falling Apart’; Film London’s ‘Balcony’ & BIF nominated ‘Us Among the Stones’. As you might tell, we were very excited to connect with Mika to chat with her about her phenomenal career and her journey into the entrepreneurial world.
You founded the Lady Garden Foundation in honour of your mother who died of ovarian cancer. What was your vision for the charity?
Ovarian Cancer had taken my Mother, Rosemary Brennan, from us far too young, aged just 54. Known as the ‘silent killer’ due to its confusing symptoms and the lack of research into testing and treatment, it is often diagnosed far too late. As there are so few survivors of Ovarian Cancer, I think for a while I’d understood, at a very deep level, that any change would need to be led by those that survived them.
Then in 2013, in an extraordinary twist of fate, my next-door neighbour, Dr Susanna Banerjee, became the Research Lead for the Gynaecology Unit at The Royal Marsden Hospital. Susie asked me to do some fundraising to support research into the now licensed Olaparib, I said yes, I would absolutely help her, but only if I could also do an awareness campaign too. Because really - what is the point of better treatment - if women still don’t know their bodies or what the symptoms are? 6 years on I feel the Lady Garden Foundation has been fundamental in a significant change, both nationally and internationally, in women’s health and their relationships to their bodies. The vision has become a reality.
Your involvement with the Lady Garden has progressed to you launching the Happy Vagina Podcast series which focuses on gynaecological health. Tell us a little bit about the series.
Last year, on International Women’s Day I hosted a panel called ‘How To Make Your Vagina Happy’. The response was electric and, when I was asked to do more, I felt it was important to reach as many women as possible. Podcasts are super accessible and, as such, a great leveller and so - The Happy Vagina was born. In Season One I speak with women, from all demographics, about their life experiences and gynaecological health. I absolutely loved recording it - which is apparent in the laughter - it’s really entertaining. But at its heart its also incredibly enlightening, with heartfelt honest sharing regarding fundamental female health issues like - FGM with Hibo Wardere, Menopause with Andrea McClean and Cervical Cancer with my Lady Garden co-founder Chloe Delevingne.
I’m in the middle of recording Season 2 but, in response to the current lockdown, I felt compelled to do something to help so we’ve just released a brilliant little 3 part mini-series which focuses on romance, intimacy and sex - whether you are single, in a relationship, together or apart, sex expert Kate Moyle and I discuss - how to do it, how to do it safely and why it’s so important.
What did you find was the most challenging part of starting a charity and launching a podcast series?
I come from a family of change-makers, so I am a campaigner at heart and love helping people to grow and live their very best life. With both, I had a very strong intuition that they were needed and an affirming response from those around me. Once I get that ‘green-light’ feeling about a project, I tend to really put my heart and soul into it. They have been an extraordinary amount of work and worth every single bit of it.
Vaginas have always been considered taboo. How do you think this has changed over the years?
It’s definitely changing! There is absolutely no way I could’ve launched a podcast called The Happy Vagina, back when I started Lady Garden in 2013. And, when Netflix’s devotes a whole episode of Goop Labs to female self-pleasure - I think we can be excited about the future. Although I can’t tell you how many of my The Happy Vagina podcast emails still get sent to junk! I think maybe the internet needs to update its anatomical dictionary?
Even though it’s getting better, there’s still a huge stigma around female sexuality. How can we, as a society, become more acceptable towards this?
Education, education, education! I think we need to completely overhaul the way we speak to children and young people - boys and girls - about health and sexuality. At school level and in the home. True acceptance can only happen when we stop shaming. Shaming comes from deep-rooted fears of difference or something we don’t understand. I believe this fear of difference stems from a lack of education and good communication skills.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give to women?
Get a female mentor.
Free yourself from shame.
Choose your friends and collaborators extremely wisely.
And, without a doubt, we’ve got to talk about the old Coronavirus - had it had an impact on your professional and personal life? Is so, how?
Honestly - it’s been devastating in so many ways. I’ve lost friends, work and, at times, my mind. I’ve been forced to grieve at a very fundamental level. But my faith in human beings keeps me strong and, as much as possible in my life, I try to work with deep acceptance of what is and to stay grateful for what remains.
Name one woman in business that you truly admire.
Gwyneth Paltrow. Could’ve got married, had kids and - behaved like her outsides look. Instead, has joined the revolution in Women’s health and sexuality, often in the face of severing and completely unjust criticism.
What makes you feel powerfully beautiful?