By Emily-Anne Rigal
I was bullied. At the time, I felt like I was the only one, but the truth is that two out of three teens endure verbal or physical harassment every year and each one has their own story... This is mine:
In elementary school, my classmates tormented me for being overweight. Each morning I crossed my fingers in hopes that it would not be a day when the teacher would let my class pick our own partners because I rarely had someone to pair up with. Not having a partner was mortifying, but even worse was the daily loneliness I endured. It got so bad that I eventually switched schools.
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 last year when I was 16. WeStopHate is a non-profit program changing the way teens view themselves by collectively helping ourselves and each other accept, embrace, and love who we are.
At age 19, 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.
When creating WeStopHate, I knew others could relate to what I had gone through, so I choose to lead by example and make videos sharing my personal stories. I subjected myself to ridicule by exposing my innermost thoughts and feelings because I believe honesty is the most effective way to generate a sincere response. It was as if there was a piece of me in each viewer, and instead of criticizing me, teen viewers respected my authenticity.
Still, I believed growing WeStopHate depended on the power of teens coming together and that direct teen involvement was essential for WeStopHate to thrive. For this reason, I organized a team of teen volunteers across the country to begin extending WeStopHate message.
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. WeStopHate reminds teens that stopping hate isn't something to do once, but it's a practice and approach to live by each day.
Our reason for focusing on teen-esteem 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.
What makes WeStopHate special is that we address bullying in a teen-centered way. We know peer pressure is typically a source for negativity, but seeing that teens have the power to help other teens leads us to believe that peer pressure can also be a source for good.
Furthermore, 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.
We are not yet close to ending all forms of bullying, but in a little over a year, WeStopHate has made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of teens and we are eager to make an even greater impact. Our goal is to continue creating a platform that will allow each teen across the globe who dreams of a world without the pain of bullying the opportunity to do something about stopping the hate.