Real Talk with Aysha Emmerson

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.

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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.

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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.5 Days_Themes

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Real Talk With Kristin Wong

For her Make-A-Wish experience, Kristin Wong wanted to join the #AerieREAL campaign. We were SO honored to welcome her, celebrate her and make her wish come true!

Your wish through The Make-A-Wish Foundation was to join the #AerieREAL campaign. Why did you choose Aerie? And what do you hope comes from this experience?

I think I was able to use my Make-A-Wish in a way that most Wish Kids aren’t able to because I’m a lot older than most of them. The demographic of Make-A-Wish Kids are usually much younger, hence why most of the wishes are to go to Disney World or on a trip to a different country. However, I recognized the significance of how my wish could provide me with a once in a lifetime opportunity and because of that, I wanted to do something that money truly couldn’t buy. I also wanted to do something that wouldn’t only make me happy and help me grow, but help the greater community as well. I remembered just a few months ago when YouthLine, the teen to teen suicide/ crisis hotline I volunteer at, talked about just how many people reach out to YouthLine. The teens that contact YouthLine call or text in because they feel they have no one else to talk to or feel that no one else will understand what they’re going through. In comparison to the 1000 contacts we had back in 2013, last year we had over 12000, which just goes to show how many teens have needed and still need this resource for emotional support and help with mental health.

I chose Aerie because I knew they were national partners with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), and eating disorders are a type of mental illness and something we deal with all the time on YouthLine. My wish was to use my wish to promote YouthLine to more teens across the nation, and I thought that because they already supported NEDA, there’d be no better company to better spread the word about YouthLine than Aerie. Furthermore, YouthLine and Aerie have a shared demographic and ultimately spread the same message: learn to love and take care of yourself. I can’t think of a better way to have used my wish, and I truly hope that more teens will learn about YouthLine through Aerie and call in for support.

Real Talk With Kristin Wong

How did you begin your journey with YouthLine?

Sophomore year, my health teacher briefly mentioned YouthLine during the Depression/Suicide unit and then never talked about it again, so I went into my counselor’s office to learn more about what the organization was. A few months later, I applied and went to training. I think I was most intrigued by the type of help you have to provide at YouthLine. It’s different from volunteering at a food bank or playing piano at a senior center — there’s literally a life and death risk with many of the contacts, and the service you provide is so much more intimate and personal. The person calling in trusts you with highly confidential information that they’re afraid to tell anyone else, so you’re truly held responsible for every aspect of your words and actions.

Another reason I was drawn to YouthLine was because I didn’t quite understand the concept of mental health and just how important it was. I used to be someone that prioritized physical health over mental health; I was a part of the stigma against speaking out about mental health issues. For many years, I actually believed that having a mental illness was a luxury; there are people in this world that are starving, yet you’re choosing to not eat?

Fortunately, now I’ve learned now that being able to care for your own mental health and focusing in on self-care goes hand in hand with taking care of your physical health. It’s clear to me now that these mental illnesses aren’t a choice, and I’m forever grateful to have had my experiences with YouthLine terminate the ignorance that I once had and that millions of people still have.

What advice do you have for someone struggling with something in their life?

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT. TALK ABOUT IT. You need to understand that it’s okay to talk about these things in the same way that it’s okay to talk about physical health. If you break your bone, you talk to your doctor, and though it may take some time, that bone will eventually heal. Mental health is the exact same way; YOU MUST talk about these things because even if it may not be physical, it is still a part of you that is injured and deserves attention.

Though the circumstances of what you may be going through seem impossible and that no one will understand, there are still so many people in this world that are willing to listen to what you have to tell them, whether it’s someone you know and love, or a complete stranger from across the nation.

Another thing to not forget is that in spite of all of this stress and pressure you’re feeling right now, you cannot forget to take care of yourself. Sometimes when you’re caught up in a myriad of emotions, the stress and fear builds up to a point where you forget to do things such as get adequate amounts of food, water, and rest. You stop doing the things that you love and that relax you; you can’t forget to do these things, whether it’s taking time out of your night to take a bubble bath, playing your guitar, coloring in an adult coloring book, or simply just watching your favorite TV show. You should always talk to someone about how you’re feeling when you’re going through a struggle, but don’t forget that it’s also okay to take a step back, distract yourself from the reality of what’s going on, and take care of yourself when these struggles become too much to properly and safely manage.

If you’re a teenager who feels lost and has no support from the people you’re surrounded by, please go to oregonyouthline.org. Call 877-978-8491. Text “teen2teen,” to 839863. Reach out, and I guarantee that the volunteers at YouthLine will listen and support you so that you feel heard.

Real Talk With Kristin WongHow are you a role model to others?

I hope that I appear as a role model to others through my perseverance. When I first had cancer, the doctors told me that most kids take an extra year off of school and have to graduate a year late because it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of school work, especially for high school students. However, in spite of doing chemo and facing all of the side effects, I still worked hard to finish all of my work in time to graduate with the Class of 2018. During my time in treatment, I also continued to go to YouthLine as often as possible because when you have something that you’re genuinely passionate about, there really is nothing that can prevent you from doing it.

Passions and perseverance aside, I think all it takes to be a good role model is to remember that everyone is human– you need to treat everyone in the same way you would want to be treated. I try my best to not to exclude anyone, and I always find ways to show others that I care and that I’m thinking of them. I emphasize how important it is to take care of yourself and not be ashamed of who you are. I hope people perceive me as altruistic, ambitious, and vigilant because I consciously make all of my decisions so that they can inspire someone else to do something similar and treat others the same way. I want to be a part of the origin for a young mind to begin the process of loving themselves, allowing them to be unafraid to accept who they truly are, and letting it shine to the rest of world.

A role model leads, but also listens. A role model has strong opinions, but is not ignorant to new and different perspectives. A role model is unafraid to be independent and empowering, but is not so far out of reach that those that aspire to be like her find her unapproachable or intimidating. A role model leads by example to not only inspire others, but to inspirit herself as well.

Real Talk With Kristin Wong

#AerieREAL is about standing together and feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin. How do you personally identify with that message?

            One thing that I’ll never forget is back in 2014, I was told by another girl that she hated me because I was “too Asian,” as if embracing the race I was born in to was something to be ashamed of. This was especially shocking to hear because the girl that told me this was Asian as well. A few months later, this same exact girl told me that she wished she was white because being Asian automatically meant that you could never be beautiful.

The most frightening thing was that I understood the shame that came with being Asian American. I live in a primarily white city, and I go to a school where I don’t have a single teacher (besides the Chinese language teacher) that looks like me. Some teachers I’ve had in the past have told me that they have higher expectations for me because they know my parents are stricter (in spite of never having met my parents), and in 7th grade, a boy asked me if I was “a real Asian” because I didn’t have monolids. An even more repulsive experience was just a few months ago, I was being interviewed for a college by a white cis male who took not more than ten seconds to look over my resume and said, “I hate to break it to you, but you really aren’t helping yourself stick out from the rest of your people.”

Although there’s never been a point in my life where I’ve been embarrassed to be Asian and Chinese, there have been times where I’ve felt insecure about it, especially in public situations. For example, I’ve had people at school laugh because every photo I open on Snapchat is from an Asian friend (even though it’s completely ridiculous because they only receives photos from other white students). Other times, I’ll tell my family to be quiet in restaurants because of the stereotype that the Chinese are ill-behaved in public places and as tourists.

Up until last year, at the point where I was halfway through chemotherapy, I was relatively ashamed to be Asian, and this contempt seemed to be innate. All of these years, because of all of the stereotypes and blanketed racism I’ve faced, I wasn’t 100% proud to be who I am or what I look like. The wake up call for me was that during chemo, I realized that in a world where there are millions of problems that are unavoidable (such as getting life threatening diseases), you can’t oppress yourself even more by being discontent with what you are born with.

I think a lot of this acceptance of racism and widely familiar shame among people of color, specifically Asians in this case, is unquestionably due to the lack of Asian representation politics and media. What we see in media greatly determines how we establish our sense of self and our value of self, and when we don’t see ourselves in what the media displays, we feel that there is something wrong with us that causes there to be underrepresentation of people that are like us. The girl that I mentioned at the start is a perfect example of someone that, because of the stigma surrounding who she is, is so insecure that she openly admits to hating someone that truly embraces who they know they’re meant to be. She was afraid of the fact that she couldn’t see herself in me; even though we looked comparable on the outside, she didn’t feel the same confidence or pride in herself to the same degree that I did. Because of this, she aggressively acted out, perhaps because the resentment towards her self-identity was so substantial that she couldn’t understand how anyone else could be proud of what she was also supposed to be.

Rather than tearing each other down, we should be standing together as a collective to battle against this stigma (and blatant racism) that so many of us face. It’s important to be your own, self-made version of success. If you’re not proud or confident in who you are and what you do, that means you’re spending all of your energy being someone you’re really not, which is tremendously tiresome and unsatisfying. Not understanding how imperative self-love and self-care is is detrimental to your mental health, which in turn, destroys your physical health as well. Just like how it’s important to talk about these racial issues, it’s important to talk about your mental health as well. These two issues overlap in demographics, where many mental health issues derive from discontent with self-image.

Share your experiences with others and don’t be afraid to criticize or call others out for being disrespectful to who you are meant to be. No one should feel ashamed to be the way that they are. Embracing who you are is #AerieREAL; being #AerieREAL is unapologetically being yourself.

Real Talk With Kristin Wong

 

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Real Talk with Hannah Skvarla from The Little Market

Hannah Skvarla co-founded The Little Market to empower women and support brighter futures for the artisans around the world. We talked with this #AerieREAL Role Model about her non-profit, the positive impact she’s making on the world and what it means to be #AerieREAL. Read all about it below!

Real Talk with Hannah Skvarla from The Little Market

You are Co-Founder of The Little Market. What inspired you to start a non-profit?

Lauren and I have always felt a responsibility to help others. We love traveling and have had the opportunity to meet incredible women who are surviving and thriving because of the help of nonprofits. When we travel, we love to visit local marketplaces and support local artisans.  We realized that if we could bring these handmade products to a wider audience, then the artisans would be able to support themselves and their families while making their beautiful goods.

In 2013, we founded The Little Market, a nonprofit, fair trade shop with a collection of artisan-made goods from around the world. We ethically source products from 60 artisan groups in 28 countries. By bringing these beautiful artisan-made goods to customers, women can support themselves and their families while preserving cultural techniques that have been passed down for generations. Through The Little Market, we can empower women around the world, without a limit by geography.

We work with artisan groups from marginalized, rural communities to share their beautiful products with a wider audience. We seek out partnerships with artisan groups that follow fair trade practices and empower women. Many of the artisan co-ops and social enterprises provide much-needed resources such as job and skills training, access to education, and family healthcare. Every purchase of fair trade goods creates sustainable jobs and a positive, long-lasting impact. By shopping fair trade, our collective efforts generate meaningful opportunities and help to combat poverty, empower artisans, and create social justice.

Being a nonprofit was a clear decision for us because we started it to help others, not to personally gain. As a nonprofit, all profits are dedicated to expanding operations and reaching more artisan groups.

The Little Market is fair trade. Why was this business decision so important to you?

Every purchase of fair trade goods creates sustainable jobs and a positive, long-lasting impact for artisans and their communities. Fair trade ensures that marginalized producers earn a fair, sustainable wage, work in safe and supportive environments, implement environmentally conscious and sustainable practices, and preserve their cultural identity. Through fair trade and equitable trading partnerships, artisans and other small-scale producers have a platform to sell their goods for a sustainable price. It is very important for us to ensure our products are made while following fair trade principles.

We love hearing concrete examples of the positive impact fair trade has on the artisan groups we work with. Earning a fair income means that artisans do not have to keep their children home from school to work to supplement the family income — this allows the children to go to school, often becoming the first in their family to attend middle or high school. Many artisans can purchase more nutritious and healthier food, which leads to fewer medical problems like worms.

Personally, when thinking about the importance of shopping with purpose, I love the quote by Anna Lappé that says, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” With each purchase, a vote is casted. When purchasing items that are fair trade and ethically made, you are valuing the well-being and story of the individual behind a product. As conscious shoppers, we can make a positive impact through fair trade, ethically sourced goods and show respect for human rights.

Real Talk with Hannah Skvarla from The Little Market

What makes you an #AerieREAL Role Model?

I believe in the power behind empowering women, using our voices to lift each other up, and speaking up against injustices. I love the message and mission behind #AerieREAL — it is incredibly important for women to support each other. Women are one of the most underserved populations. For instance, with the current pay gap, women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men in the United States; this is greater for women of color. Women face a greater risk of experiencing domestic violence. And we are underrepresented in government. Knowing the disparities and inequalities women face around the world, we founded The Little Market to empower women in marginalized communities. When we have opportunities to earn a sustainable income, we can work toward a brighter future for themselves and their families. I am honored to be an #AerieREAL Role Model and to support authentic beauty and women empowerment.

#AerieREAL is about standing together and feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin. How do you personally identify with that message?

Encouraging women to stand together and to feel confident and comfortable is very important to me. Growing up, I remember feeling like I would never look like the women I would see in magazines or on TV. The images and messaging that I was exposed to through media made me feel like women were valued based on their looks. As a mother to a little girl, it is more important to me than ever to tell girls and women that they are beautiful just as they are. Each of us is different and that’s what makes each of us uniquely beautiful.

Who is your role model and why?

I have always been fascinated by Jane Goodall. Jane has always done things that prior to her work people believed were impossible. She worked jobs that no woman had ever worked before. Before her years of research, scientists did not believe that animals had emotions. She discovered the complex social behaviors and personalities of chimpanzees during her 50 years of observing them. For instance, her research uncovered that chimps can not only use tools, but they can make them as well. Observations like these led to rethinking our connections with humans and animals. She has been dedicated to activism from animal rights to environmental causes.

As an animal rights activist, she speaks up for those without a voice. I have always believed that it is our responsibility to use our voice to speak for those who don’t have one. Many women around the world are treated as if their voices do not matter. We have learned that when a woman has her own income, this can change. Several of the inspiring artisans we work with have shared with us that now that they have a way to make money, domestic violence has decreased and men treat them more equally.

Jane Goodall has not only made breakthrough discoveries through her research, but she has also taught us the power of using our voices to make a difference. She found causes she was passionate about at a young age, bravely set out to pursue her research, and reshaped our understanding of the connection between humans and animals. We can all learn the power of following our passions, using our voices, and showing compassion for others from Jane Goodall.

 

What makes you an #AerieREAL Role Model? Join the movement and share your story!

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Get To Know #AerieREAL Role Model Rachel Platten

“It’s not going to be perfect, and it’s ok. Be kind to yourself.”

Rachel Platten is #AerieREAL!

This singer-songwriter and wave maker has fought hard to follow her dreams, and she uses her voice to uplift herself and those around her. When she’s not touring and sharing her songs with the world, she plays a first-hand role in the healing power of music by singing to patients at local hospitals.

With years in the music business, Rachel knows first-hand how hard it can be to reach your goals, and she also knows how amazing it is when you realize what YOU can do.

We asked Rachel to describe her personal style in 3 words. Her response? She can’t! “My personal style is whatever I wake up feeling like that day. I can’t pin it down for anyone.” Shop Rachel’s faves and see more from all of our #AerieREAL Role Models here.

Get To Know #AerieREAL Role Model Rachel Platten

Rachel’s words to live by? “Everything comes from a place of fear or love. Choose <3.”

 

Get To Know #AerieREAL Role Model Rachel Platten

Join the #AerieREAL movement! Share what makes YOU an #AerieREAL Role Model with us.

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Get To Know #AerieREAL Role Model Yara Shahidi

“I love supporting movements that help perpetuate this idea of rising together.”

Yara Shahidi is #AerieREAL!

Yara is an actress and thought leader. In her gap year before attending college, Yara is furthering her own creative projects and using her strong voice to support movements that matter, from increasing voter turnout in the 2018 midterms to empowering young people to get involved in social causes focused on human well-being.

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Living and acting with purpose and following the examples of the amazing role models in her own family are some of the drivers that motivate this #AerieREAL Role Model to keep pushing forward each and every day.

With such a strong voice, it’s no surprise that to Yara, personal style is all about standing strong and feeling good in what she wears. “When I can own what I’m in, I feel much more comfortable when I take on the world around me.” Shop Yara’s faves and see more from all of our #AerieREAL Role Models here.

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Yara’s words to live by? “So it goes.”

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Join the #AerieREAL movement! Share what makes YOU an #AerieREAL Role Model with us.

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Get To Know #AerieREAL Role Model Aly Raisman

“We’ve all been through something that in the end, will make you a stronger person.”

Aly Raisman is #AerieREAL!

Aly is a gold medal gymnast and fierce survivor. She has competed in and won world-class gymnastics competitions, but it’s her bravery and strength in sharing her own story and advocating for her fellow athletes that makes Aly a true role model for every single girl.

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As a gold medal winner, Aly knows how it feels to win, but this #AerieREAL Role Model believes that your true character shows through when you’re forced to deal with the losses in your life.

“It’s really empowering to be in your bra and underwear and it’s just the real you. It’s no retouching.” Aly is all about pieces that make her feel comfortable and confident. Shop her faves and see more from all of our #AerieREAL Role Models here.

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Aly’s words to live by? “Fierce. Kind. Humble. Love.”

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Join the #AerieREAL movement! Share what makes YOU an #AerieREAL Role Model with us.

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