YouTube Star Lilly Singh on Ending Girl-on-Girl Hate
Lilly Singh—superstar YouTuber and #GirlLove advocate—recently visited Kenya, where she admirably teamed up with local women to craft a bracelet that helps send girls to school. (As if we need another excuse to buy exceptionally cute jewelry.) We could rattle off statistics, or tell you about the impact that an education has on a girl…or you can just watch her video about it, since that’s what she does best. When she came back from Africa, we talked to Lilly about the importance of women's education and why girl-on-girl hate is hurting us all.
You have a goal to end girl-on-girl hate this year. What inspired this?
I’m a firm believer that all girls have been on the receiving end and the giving end. We’ve all been both part of the problem and part of the solution at some point in our lives. In high school, I remember experiencing girl-on-girl hate and thinking it was so normal. Like yeah, girls are catty but you get over it.
Being online was a big contributing factor as well. There’s a vast difference between the comments women get versus men. Women get pit against each other online. I kept getting compared to these other girls when I first started making videos. I remember thinking, "Oh, so I can’t be myself without being compared to other girls?" Now that I’ve seen some success, other girls have told me that they get compared to me on their videos. We need to stop making it cool for girls to hate on other girls.
How can girls teach or lead other girls to lift each other up?
The biggest way is the most difficult, and that is literally rewiring your brain. In a lot of the ways, girl-on-girl hate is taught to us. We grew up in this environment. Now I try to catch myself thinking about another girl negatively, figuring out why, and then changing that behavior. One of the things I always talk about is changing the emotion of jealousy into admiration. Usually when you’re jealous of someone it’s because you admire them. Turn that energy into a compliment instead of a negative, bitter attitude.
Parents—and every member of society—need to stop raising our daughters to believe they need to compete with other women, whether it’s for guys, grades, or careers. There can be more than one successful woman.
It’s especially hard as a girl in 2016, when you're comparing yourself to girls with more Instagram followers, Facebook friends, YouTube views, etc. How do you put that kind of competition into perspective?
That’s the thing about social media: Everyone is tempted to value themselves on double taps and retweets. It goes back to turning jealousy into admiration. I can get super competitive, since everything I do is based on statistics and subscribers. If there’s a girl who comes up who’s doing really, really well, there are moments when I get intimidated. And then I stop myself and I think, "You know what? You’re killing it and I’m so proud of you."
When you’re growing up, school sucks sometimes—but the importance of women’s education is something you witnessed during your trip to Kenya. How can we all remember not to take it for granted?
I was definitely one of those people in high school who was dreading going to school. I was like, “Oh my god, this is the worst, I hate my life.” I could try my best to explain my trip, but it was really surreal. I was at a total loss for words, the sense of reality of the girls I got to know was so different than mine.
I had a conversation with one of the student's mothers. We were in her mud hut, no electricity, and I finally worked up the courage to say, “Hey, what do you need in your life that you don’t have?” And she said, “All I ever wanted was a scholarship to go to school, and I got that.” And she was so happy. Of course education is important, because you learn things, but the confidence and self-esteem that they’re gaining when they’re getting the opportunity to go to school is so important, too. They’re well-spoken; they have opinions—that level of confidence is so important for women.
And how can we make a difference?
This is where I’m going to get real deep. I think a lot of issues around the world relating to women, whether it’s women’s education or women’s rights, are all rooted in the issue that girls and guys get treated differently. Whether it’s cultural practices or schools that need to be challenged, I do think women around the world need to proactively question the things they think are normal or are tradition but are actually senseless and put girls at a disadvantage. It’s going to require a global shift in mentality. It’s a very large problem that’s going to require everyone to be like “Hey, it’s 2016!"
You are fearless, and not just in the way that you’ve gone about advocating for women’s education. Have you always been that way?
I’ve always had this stubborn fearlessness in me. I started #GirlLove for very surface-level reasons. I thought, women are always getting compared online; it’d be great if girls didn’t hate each other; women should build each other up. But then once I dove in fully—went to Kenya, visited Singapore, spoke to Michelle Obama, started researching it—I got even more passionate about it. There are so many real, raw problems, and it’s stupid to realize girl-on-girl hate is one of them. We are literally creating this problem. Women around the world are suffering and we need to come together to help them.