Interview: Emily-Anne Rigal, 2011 HALO Award Winner
Emily-Anne Rigal and HALO Awards host Nick Cannon
Can you talk a little about what you're doing with what We Stop Hate?
We raise teen esteem as a way to stop bullying, because if you're happy with yourself, you don't put others down. We post one video a week where someone shares a story about an insecurity they overcame or their favorite confidence tip or trick. Sometimes we have celebrities. We basically make online videos as a way to promote raising self-esteem.
How did it all start?
So, I had been making Youtube videos since I was a freshman in high school. They were comedy videos. I taped my family doing funny things, and my friends and I. There was some vlogging, just talking about things I cared about, but it was very Emily-Anne based, as opposed to We Stop Hate, which is more about creating a platform for other people to share things. It was a hobby, and I ended up loving it so much that I would do it all the time, and some of the Youtubers became my closest friends, and we talked all the time and would video chat.
It was just a really great community, and I had about 5000 subscribers, but some of my friends had like, 100,000 subscribers. And I was like, "Why don't we spread some positive message, as opposed to all of us just making comedy videos?" And the reason I chose self-esteem is because I was bullied when I was younger. I ended up switching schools, and it was just a really bad experience. I had body image issues because of it, and at the time, I just felt so bad about myself. I changed schools and made a lot of friends, and then gradually, my self-confidence increased. By the time I was making videos on the internet, I wasn't having those same issues, but I realized that some kids at my school were. I was like, I want to help them, because I can relate to what they're going through. So that's how We Stop Hate came about.
Was there anything that you found really challenging as you were developing We Stop Hate?
I found it challenging at first to share my idea with others and have them come on board. Sometimes people can be hesitant, because self-esteem sounds like what your guidance counselor talks about, and I wanted to have cool Youtubers make videos. I had to really share my story and talk about why it is so important to do this, and get them on board. I was just really authentic, and I told them what I wanted to do, and one by one people turned around and we ended up making our own phrase, "teen esteem." I felt like people could identify with it, and make their own definition.
What has been your proudest moment? Is there one moment that stands out in your memory?
I was on a panel about teen activism two weeks ago. I remember looking at the kids who were sitting there, and I thought to myself as I was sitting down... two years ago -- almost to that day two years ago -- I was at an empowerment event in Washington, D.C. I hadn't thought of We Stop Hate, I wasn't doing self-esteem things. I was just a kid, just like them, who wanted to do something. And so the first thing I said on that panel was, "I just wanna make it clear that I was in your seats only two years ago, and I'm not better than you. In only two years, I went from sitting there with no idea for this to being on a panel doing this." That moment meant a lot to me, but like, I feel like I could write a novel, there have been so many moments.
Emily-Anne with HALO winners, Kyle, Shanoah, and James
I feel like that's a big part of self-esteem, because self-esteem is based on doing "esteemable acts." So when you're doing something that you care about, you're building your self-esteem. It just feels good to give back, and I wish more kids realized that and felt more empowered to do that.
What advice would you give someone who has never really volunteered or started getting involved in their community?
I would say to help one person, because I think that will give you the confidence to believe in helping more. So I think, find a person, and it can be someone at your school. It doesn't need to be wrapped up with a pretty bow -- just reach out to someone that you think needs to be reached out to.
What's one thing everyone who reads this could do today to help We Stop Hate?
Watch our videos. Check out our website and our Facebook, watch our videos, and share them.
What was the whole experience like of winning a HALO? How did they surprise you?
I was interning at Seventeen magazine this summer, and I was told that we were going to do a feature piece about We Stop Hate. I was editing a video with a bunch of the Seventeen editors helping me. I had watched the HALO Awards in the past, so when Nick Cannon came in, I knew exactly what it was, and I was just DYING. [Watch the show to find out what happens next!]
You were familiar with the HALO Awards? That's awesome! So how did it go from that to meeting Lady Gaga?
I didn't know Lady Gaga was the celebrity, and I went to lunch with one of the producers of the show, and I didn't even want to mention Lady Gaga, because I thought they would laugh at me... and then it was Lady Gaga. One of the camera people told me my facial expressions were like, "That looks like Lady Gaga, but that CAN'T be Lady Gaga... oh my god, that's LADY GAGA!" [Watch the show to find out what happens next!]
Aside from meeting her, did anything about Lady Gaga surprise you?
No! I expected her to be super-authentic, and she was. I did an interview with Nickelodeon before I won the HALO, and they were like "Who do you admire?" And I was like "Lady Gaga, because of what she stands for." I feel like she lived up to all of my expectations.
Anything last bits of advice for HALO viewers?
The message I really want to send is that making a difference is about doing what you can, with what you have, where you are. I think the beautiful thing about HALO is that it's regular kids, and anyone can do it.
Watch Emily-Anne helping and leading others on the 2011 TeenNick HALO Awards, premiering Sunday, Nov. 6th at 8pm on Nick@Nite. Follow @WeStopHate and @Schmiddlebopper on Twitter, and watch a few WeStopHate videos!
Emily-Anne Rigal and Lady Gaga!