For Teens, By Teens: Using Social Media to Raise “Teen-Esteem”
By Emily-Anne Rigal
My name is Emily-Anne Rigal. I am 17 years old and I live in Williamsburg, Virginia. In addition to being a high school student, I am also an Internet Personality known as “Schmiddlebopper,” and the founder of WeStopHate, a nonprofit program raising “teen-esteem” (self-esteem in teens) through online videos and social media.
I am thrilled to share WeStopHate with you!
WeStopHate defines developing “teen-esteem” as giving teenagers the confidence to stand up for themselves, while also accepting who they are and not being afraid to show it. Within the last year, WeStopHate impacted the lives of over 100,000 young people and was recognized by Seventeen Magazine, which named me as “Body Peace Breakthrough” winner. WeStopHate has been featured on MTV, has received over 400,000 YouTube video views and is the 28th “Most Subscribed” YouTube Nonprofit Channel. This just goes to show that when you have a positive message, your voice can make a difference in the lives of your peers! Everyone—including you—can be part of the movement to raise teen-esteem.
I was inspired to create WeStopHate because in elementary school, I was teased for being overweight. Each morning, I crossed my fingers in hopes that it would not be a day when my teacher would let my class pick our own partners because I rarely had someone to pair up with. It was mortifying, leading me to eventually switch schools. Throughout middle and high school, my self-confidence gradually increased. The more I accepted myself, the happier I became.
At seventeen, I now know the benefits of embracing who I am, but memories are made to last—even the painful ones have a purpose. So my heart goes out to young people strug- gling with self-acceptance. I believe it is my life’s work to help others turn self-hatred into self-love.
To do this, I founded WeStopHate.org, which is now a grassroots movement changing the way teens view themselves. WeStopHate focuses on teen-esteem as a way to combat bullying because we believe teens who are happy with themselves won’t put others down. I spearheaded WeStopHate by creating videos telling my personal stories. By exposing my inner thoughts and feelings, I put myself out there, subject to ridicule. However, instead of criticizing me, teens respected my authenticity and responded to my honesty. It was as if there was a piece of me in each viewer. Having been the first to put myself out there, I led by example, and now many other teens have followed in my footsteps by creating videos of their own.
What I love about WeStopHate is that WeStopHate is for teens by teens. This has taught me that peer pressure—which is typically a source for negativity—can actually be a source for good because teens have the power to influence other teens. I’ve also learned that young people are willing to do what it takes to create change because they are tired of ignorance and hate. Nearly every teenager who has made a video for WeStopHate mentions having felt insecure at one time or another because of his or her body. Yet, each one also points out that they believe it is their so-called flaws or imperfections that make them who they are. This leads me to believe that rather than focusing on the images we see the media, we should spend more time appreciating the real images and people we see surrounding us in our daily lives—that is true beauty. In short, we can define what is considered ideal; being kind to our peers and true to our real, diverse and authentic selves.
You can make a difference. Join the movement of teens redefining what it means to be beautiful, working to combat bullying and supporting their peers to develop true teen- esteem! Check us out at www.WeStopHate.org. And if you are worried about a friend struggling with negative body image or an eating disorder, be sure to read "How to Help a Friend" to get tips on how you can lend your support.
Emily-Anne Rigal is the founder of WeStopHate, Lead Ruby Advisor at TheRubyBooks.org, assistant editor at AllyKatzz.com