Aysha Emmerson founded Self.I.E. (Self Inspiration and Empowerment) Camps to help girls in their pre-teen years. Read on to find out what inspired Aysha to become an advocate for empowerment and learn more about the camps that bring girls together at such an important time in their lives.
What inspired you to create Self.I.E. Camps?
My fervent belief in the powerful strides girls can take when they support one another drove me to create Self.I.E Camps. I experienced this support from inspiring young women double my age when I was hospitalized with anorexia as an eight-year-old. I battled with this life-threatening disorder from ages seven to twelve. The unkind words and actions that were all too common in middle school only made my struggle worse. I watched my peers’ attempts to conform, while wearing my own feelings of not being “good enough.” In high school, as I found my niche and grew a stronger voice, things began to change for me. I realized that I was not alone in my experience of insecurity and isolation. Believing that no other girl should have to hurt like I did—I heard my call to action. I could not find a pre-existing venue to help inspire and empower younger girls using the approach that I felt was needed, so I decided to create my own.
Tell us about how your camps empower girls and young women & why that’s important to you.
I believe that our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful and I have experienced the pain that comes from struggling to change the body we are born into. I no longer want to live in a culture that perpetuates an unattainable image of beauty. I no longer want to see girls’ and boys’ true selves be degraded by their own low self-esteem, which can lead to any number of serious issues that inhibit an individual’s capacity to reach their potential. I no longer want to feel helpless to a situation that I can help improve. I want everyone to embrace themselves and each other.
Self.I.E (Self Inspiration and Empowerment) is a day-camp for girls entering grades 5 and 6. Led by high-school students, the camp includes activities and reflections designed to build a strong sense of self and skills to navigate the pre-teen world. Each day of the camp centers around one of five themes: self-care, self-acceptance, self-expression, self-defence, and self-to-others. The goal is to help participants at a vulnerable age develop a rich appreciation and understanding of themselves, allowing them to build resilience and flourish, while also enabling them to support other girls and give back to their communities. It creates a safe space where girls entering middle school can come to see the value in being themselves and can be given love and support from their peers and positive teen role models, who were in their shoes just a few years earlier. In addition, sharing and role modelling Self.I.E’s five themes helps the camp counselors to better embody these lessons in our own lives, while strengthening their confidence as leaders.
What would you tell your ten-year-old self?
To my ten-year-old self: you deserve kindness. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and who accept you as you are—and if you can’t find them just yet, hold on a little longer—they do exist. Treat yourself as you would treat others. Be kind, be patient, be accepting, and know that it is okay to be confident in who you are. Stop focusing on others’ opinions and focus on what you think of yourself. In the end, that’s all that matters.
What advice do you have for someone who is struggling?
Find trust. Trust the resilience of life’s little joys. Trust that there are people who care about you and who can help you. Trust what your own body is telling you. Trust that you can and will get through this. Like when you are on the last stretch of a run and all you want to do is quit, physically override any negative thoughts with each step you take—no matter how small. Trust that you and others have crossed a finish line before and can do it again.
What makes you #AerieREAL?
I am #AerieREAL because I believe our real selves are our best selves. I live each day with the intention of lifting others up and building their self-confidence. I see the world through an accepting lens, recognizing the beauty in everyone and everything. I focus on the things I do control—who I am and how I treat others—rather than the way I look or what others think of me. I recognize that I will always have my flaws and challenges but that these are an important part of the real me and the person I am becoming. By using my voice and personal story I hope to inspire and support others, while helping to bring about social change.