"I don't think bullies are having this great life and intentionally hurting someone. They have their own issues to work out."
Emily-Anne Rigal, the incredible 18 year old founder of WeStopHate, believes that the way to stop bullying is to raise self-esteem in teens. Why? Because teens who are happy with themselves won't put others down. WeStopHate is a Realize Inc. non-profit program dedicated to raising self-esteem in teens (teen-esteem) through various social media platforms that engage teens to help each other gain confidence. WeStopHate is more than just an anti-bullying program... it's a call-to-action to stop hate: stop hating on yourself, stop hating on others, stop letting others hate on you.
A few months ago I got in touch with the young, bright founder of the organization to interview her for my Focus On column. The Dormify team was so inspired by her movement that we decided to partner with Emily-Anne and her organization by designing a series of posters to help give back to her cause. The posters are designed in a way to remind you how awesome you truly are. 50% of the proceeds from these posters will go towards WeStopHate's campaign to raise self-esteem in teens with the goal of ultimately putting an end to bullying and the lifelong, painful consequences each bullied victim suffers – which in turn creates a better world for us all.
I chatted with Emily-Anne so that all of you could step into her world and be inspired be her dedication to her cause, her enthusiasm, and determination to make a difference in the lives of teens.
Stephanie Hayman: You were bullied in elementary school and the experience had a profound impact on you. How did it influence your decision to found WeStopHate?
Emily-Anne: Throughout middle and high school, my self-confidence gradually increased. The more I accepted myself, the less disconnected I felt from my peers and the happier I became.
Overcoming my personal struggle with bullying and loneliness inspired me to create WeStopHate when I was sixteen. At age eighteen, I now know the benefits of accepting myself for who I am. But memories are made to last – even the painful ones have a purpose. So my heart goes out to those struggling with self-acceptance. I believe it is my life’s work to help others turn self-hatred into self-love.
Stephanie Hayman: What is “teen esteem” exactly? How will it become the solution for bullying?
Emily-Anne: Our reason for focusing on teen-esteem (self-esteem in teens) is simple: Only when we see a rise in self-esteem, will we see a decline in bullying. This is because people who are happy with themselves won’t put others down. Stopping bullying means putting an end to the lifelong, painful consequences each victim suffers… and that creates a better world for us all.
Stephanie Hayman: Using YouTube is an innovative and effective way to deal with bullying, especially when so much “cyberbullying” occurs today. Why did you choose YouTube as the outlet for WeStopHate and how have other social media platforms influenced the success of the movement?
Emily-Anne: WeStopHate has found a unique way to engage with teens openly by creating a place of honest communication online. We contribute much of our success to our social media strategy because since we are teens, not only is WeStopHate the voice of teens, but we exist where teens live: online. We understand how to use the power of digital media for good by allowing it to shape the way we see ourselves and how others see us, consequently pre-empting bullies.
Stephanie Hayman: What was the best response on YouTube have ever received from a follower or “bopper” and why was it so inspirational?
Emily-Anne: We receive so many that I am unable to chose just one!
GreenGirl107 who says, “So many rumors have been spread about me lately, and this channel has helped me pull through.”
JackRiley1995 says, “You [WeStopHate] changed me. Your channel gave me the confidence to talk to people, do more clubs at school, and meet new people. I went from the creepy weird kid who sat in the corner to the kid who had friends, went out shopping on the weekends, and talked to people on Facebook. Now I am happy to be ME.”
Stephanie Hayman: You received a TeenNick HALO Award last year. Congrats! What was it like to be nominated and then to win?
Emily-Anne: Receiving a TeenNick HALO Award was a complete dream come true! The entire HALO experience was something I could have never imagined – it was surprise, after surprise, after surprise. To this day, I feel so blessed to have been selected. The best part was the response WeStopHate received after the show aired. We gained thousands of new fans, leading our impact to grow tremendously.
Stephanie Hayman: You also got the chance to meet Lady Gaga, who called YOU her hero! Details please.
Emily-Anne: Lady Gaga was so down-to-earth and kind. She did all she could to make the day we spent together great, and to say she succeeded would be an understatement! We have kept in contact and a few months after HALO, she invited me to attend the launch event for her Born This Way Foundation at Harvard University.
Stephanie Hayman: What’s next for WeStopHate as you, the founder, start your first year at college? Do you plan on continuing to raise awareness of bullying and helping raise self esteem in teens?
Emily-Anne: We have brought on board an official WeStopHate team now that I am off to college. I will still oversee and continue my work with WeStopHate, but we now have a group of amazing teens to help in specific areas: graphic design and website building, our Love, Yourself initiative, merchandising, and managing our social media community. I plan on still being very involved.
Stephanie Hayman: What other college aged (or post college) entrepreneurs do you look up to? Will you reach out to them for advice?
Emily-Anne: I look up to so many college aged entrepreneurs, including Kendall Ciesmier, Alex Wirth, all my fellow Three Dot Dash-ers, Allison Wu, and Rebecca Kantar. I feel so fortunate to have a dream team of fellow entrepreneurs that I frequently go to when I need help solving a problem.
Stephanie Hayman: College is usually a time to start fresh and make new friends, which can be nerve-wracking. If you could give one piece of advice to other rising college freshmen, what would it be?
Emily-Anne: Focus on finding friends who are genuine. People who you can bond with, not people who you’re trying to impress. Meeting new friends by joining clubs and activities that you’re passionate about is a great place to start!
Stephanie Hayman: Do you think your living space and your self-esteem are directly correlated? What can a teen/college freshman do to make sure his or her room helps with her self esteem?
Emily-Anne: Totally! I think finding pieces in your room that you really resonate with are key. It’s so important to spend time in a place that reflects your likes and interests. When shopping for your dorm, I think it’s essential that the ultimate decisions on what to buy come from you, not your parents, siblings, or friends.
Stephanie Hayman: Your dorm room may be the first impression that you give off when making new friends in college? What will new people find in your dorm room that reflects who you are?
Emily-Anne: I will definitely make sure that there is pink in my room! Also, I love items that represent something meaningful that occurred in my life, like photos from family vacations, a pillow of the logo of one of my favorite WeStopHate partnerships, and also my red heart pillow that I sleep with every night. And a Dormify for WeStopHate poster!
Stephanie Hayman: Which Dormify for We Stop Hate poster is your fave?
Emily-Anne: I love the Lady Gaga design with the quote about being yourself. It’s so true!
Check out our series of Dormify for WeStopHate posters. Give back to WeStopHate and remember that you are awesome.