Altering the school system to include more beneficial life related skills is something I have always wondered about. Although I feel I have learned quite a bit while I was in school, I still feel curriculums should be looked at and acknowledged tremendously to include more life related skills that would essentially help young students navigate their way through the “real world” upon graduation. From learning how to manage their own money, to nurturing relationships, to buying their first car or home and learning how to file their own taxes, these are all fundamentals that sooner or later all human beings need to learn how to deal with.
What about just going back to the basics? What about the strong need to learn to love yourself, to trust yourself and to live the life that YOU want because you know you CAN and because you have learned to shut out the outside noise? What about instilling that strong foundation of self love in the younger generation early on so that they have the tools to overcome any hardships they may come across that can badly damage their own self esteem when they’re older?
I had the honour of interviewing Taylor Hui, founder of the BeaYOUtiful Organization in Vancouver, BC. With a heart of gold and the will to influence the younger female generation, instilling self love in young girls is something she prides herself in for various reasons.
Hi Taylor, thanks so much for joining me today! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how your organization came to be?
Thanks so much for meeting with me! I was born and raised in Vancouver BC. I worked in Asia for the last 4 years on and off in fashion and recently relocated back home, which has been great!
I started BeaYOUtiful when I was 16 years old. I was in highschool and I had a lot of friends suffering with eating disorders and I was often bullied, mostly online. Cyber bullying was something that I had happened quite often in my life growing up. I just saw this cycle of negativity regarding the need for a young woman to pull others down in order to feel better about herself or to rise above and I always felt there was more competition between girls over collaboration and I never understood why. I very much and have always preached the opposite.
There was always this hierarchical feeling and women needing to bring other women down to raise their own self esteem. I thought that was such a vicious cycle and a mentality that I really wanted to change so I created BeaYOUtiful. The organization provides 6 week classes for young girls in elementary schools focused on building confidence, self esteem, nuturition, learning about self respect and self worth. I just think that these are such fundamental tools that are not taught in elementary schools or even high schools for that matter. It’s really shocking to this day that these topics are rarely touched upon in the education system and so I thought it was essential to bring about a class that would provide and teach those values and introduce these characteristics to young girls so they’re better equipped as they grow into their teenage years and then adulthood.
My friend and I did a pilot test that lasted about six months and it ended up being amazing and we just kept expanding… five years later, we’re still continuing today and are participating in quite a few districts across British Columbia. It’s been quite the adventure. I really do feel my personal experience has played into that, but it’s been the most empowering and moving experience I’ve ever gone through. It will always be a part of me and I say that because if it doesnt turn out to be my full time career, it’s definitely my passion project. I feel like I’ve grown so much from it and the girls are a reminder to me of what the meaning of life is and what to value. It’s been such a life changing experience for myself and for our volunteers. The people on my team are incredible and they’ve grown so much from it so it’s not only the mentors that inspire our students, the students have inspired us as well.
That must be so rewarding and to be able to see their growth too. How many students do you usually have in each class?
Yes, they’ll walk in the first week being timid and feeling so vulnerable. You can tell the self confidence isn’t quite there and a lot of the times, they don’t even know what it means to have self confidence and how to work towards it without having this idea that being confident is being egotistic or being bossy because a lot of the times, young girls get confused by the terms. With all the social standards in place, it’s just so important for young girls to realize that they have a voice, they have self worth and it’s about applying all the values we teach and making sure it’s with the right intentions.
In terms of numbers, it depends and usually the minimum we have is six girls. My favorite number is eight. I love having eight girls in a class, but we’ve done up to twenty three girls. Ideally we aim for eight to twelve. A smaller group allows the mentors to build a closer connection with each student. When you have much more than that, you’re not really given the opportunity to have those much needed one on one moments with the students.
With that being said, it’s not a one-on-one mentorship program. They get that one on one time to build relationships, but we ensure that they build relationships with each other as well because that’s who they’re going to be spending their everyday with. They’re going to be attending high school and university with other girls and they need to learn how to respect and understand each other. So while I believe that one-on-one time is important, what’s even more essential is that they’re building connections with their peers.
Do you have a vision for your organization or stretch goals for later down the road? Would you want to perhaps go global?
Our goal is to just impact as many young girls and women as possible. Going global would be a dream of course! We are definitely looking at expanding onto Bowen Island right now and interested in Toronto and even Calgary, but it is quite difficult because we do use a lot of guest speakers, a lot of artistic therapists come in too and we just have such dynamic classes of different topics. We’d have to find the right people to help facilitate the program. I am so lucky that we have such a strong team here and so many resources and I’m not saying these wouldnt be available in other cities, but it would definitely take time to find and create the right connections and build that network.
“Our goal is to just impact as many young girls and women as possible.”
Right now, we are looking at hosting more conference type events and that is our next one-year goal. Being able to host conferences in different cities which consist of a 6-8 week program compressed into one or two days would be a dream! It’s a super-high stretch goal for me, but it is something that’s in the works right now and our test trial would be done in Vancouver. Depending on how that goes, I’d love to then go nationwide (like in New York or Los Angeles!) as well as difference cities across the world. But yes, baby steps!
With technology these days, we have access to and are heavily influenced by so much information that we see online. With Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube etc. do you personally feel that social media plays a huge role in how young girls see themselves today?
Oh absolutely and it’s undeniable that it has a long lasting effect. I grew up with a cell phone, but not until I was in Grade 8 or Grade 9. My 6-year-old cousin already has a cell phone and it’s insane! It’s normal for her age now. These girls we’ve all spoken to in Grades 4, 5 and 6 all have iPads, or some sort of technological device to keep them entertained. The amount of information and knowledge they have access to is incredible, but it’s also very scary and can be very toxic.
In our programs, we actually dedicate a week to talking about social media, addressing how advertising manipulates young woman and what beauty standards are. I think the earlier you introduce this to a young girl, the better. They don’t even realize half the time that the ads they see are often photoshopped and edited and the world of commercialisation is quite manipulative (if i can say that). It’s making young women aware that things they see online aren’t always what they seem.
It’s also about educating these young girls that if you post something, then erase it, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. It doesn’t mean that those feelings associated with it disappear. I always make sure I touch upon my experience with cyber bullying and how that affected me growing up. I share how to this day, I still remember how it felt to receive those messages. Just because something isn’t said to your face, doesn’t mean it won’t have the same effect on your wellbeing. What’s important is to look at media in general as a pedagogy. It’s a huge platform that you can learn from and it can be used in so many amazing ways. It’s just harnessing those tools and ensuring you’re providing positive information to its users.
“What’s important I think is to just look at media in general as a pedagogy.”
There are proper ways to offer criticism and everyone has their own opinion. Freedom of speech is so important, and I encourage it. But it is about taking responsibility at the end of the day and at BeaYOUtiful we call them “acts of kindness” – ensuring there is a good purpose in whatever is said or done, whether it is in person, or online. It’s about education, awareness and taking responsibility, NOT discouraging people to use social media as a whole. I want them to be able to contribute, but in a way that’s inspiring and positive. If people can strive to integrate the two, social media is such an amazing tool that we’re so privileged to have.
“If people can strive to integrate inspiration and positivity, social media is such an amazing tool that we’re so privileged to have.”
What type of harmful messages did you receive when you were younger that really affected you?
There would be a lot of swear words targeted towards me and a lot of negative content. They made me feel worthless, and a lot of the times I was excluded from the “cool” activities and I didn’t get invited to parties that other girls hosted. At that age, no one wants to feel excluded, especially if you feel like you’ve done nothing wrong. I was quite the tomboy growing up and not in the way I dressed or acted – it was the activities I did. I enjoyed playing sports and playing in the mud as a child, and I was always on the track team. I grew up in a family where everyone played hockey and I loved that!
Cyberbullying is still an issue and something I feel should still be talked about. People are able to say a lot more on social media than they would to your face.
Absolutely. It’s so terrible because it encourages a chain reaction where one person posts a negative remark, someone else likes that person’s comment, and then another person posts a new negative comment. People end up encouraging the behavior and then it snowballs and it can be quite vicious.
We have one week of our program called “Heart to Heart” week and it’s literally us in our pyjamas, with pillows, chocolate and a box of kleenex. We have conversations and connect and showing that there is so much beauty in vulnerability. There’s so much confusion and misconceptions about being vulnerable, but to be able to open your heart up and cry and talk about what’s bothering you and to just be aware of what’s happening in your life… it really changes your opinion on others and how you treat others.
When you have a group of young girls and even women crying after sharing their most vulnerable selves, it is the most empowering thing. We show that we embrace being human to each other. We acknowledge that we have feelings. We share that we’ve all been through ups and downs. That’s just part of life. To be able to hear that and comprehend that at a young age is just so important.
“We have one week of our program called “Heart to Heart”…having conversations and connecting and showing that there is so much beauty in vulnerability.”
I love the whole idea of being more comfortable with being vulnerable because there’s such a stigma about being vulnerable and how it’s a weak characteristic when in actuality, it’s a strength.
Yes! The earlier we can teach vulnerability to younger girls, the better. It’s something that is not taught or spoken about in school. When we first started this organisation, I got a lot of backlash saying schools aren’t places that we have these types of conversations and discussions. Schools have said that they are not there to teach those values, because parents do that. That frustrated me more than ever. The administrators didn’t understand that people may not have the luxury of a safe space at home. I’m thinking to myself, as facilitators who are with students 6-8 hours a day, how can you not be teaching values of kindness and expression, or basic life skills or the fundamentals useful to us when we are sent out into the “real world”?
Something we’re also looking to incorporate into our program soon, for highschoolers in particular, is what kind of financial aid do you have available to you? How do you write a resume? If you don’t have any experience, how can you still own the room during an interview? Skills like that! If I could rewrite the syllabus of what’s taught in schools today, I totally would. But then again, this is why our programs exist; to really offer that alternative form of education and learning.
“Schools have said that they are not there to teach those values because parents do that. That frustrated me more than ever.”
Going back to the title of your organization, BeaYOUtiful, did you play around with that a little bit? How did that come about?
My slogan is, “I want every girl to look in the mirror and feel beautiful”. I started it in elementary schools because I feel that when you’re in high school, you may already have a negative view of yourself or your image, so why not introduce it earlier to prevent them from feeling that way once they reach that point? It’s simple and it sells itself. We cater to a younger demographic, and it’s easy to remember.
It’s super cute when you hear the girls say, “I am in the BeaYOUtiful Program”. They sound so confident, too!
Did you feel like you had all the skills necessary to build your organisation?
It honestly was so organic. I sat down with my girlfriend who helped me bring it to life. Once we graduated we went our separate ways, but she always encouraged me to keep at it. I just had this idea and saw a need for it and I see it now more than ever that I’ve always had a love for entreprenurship. I’m such a passionate person and when I feel so deeply about something and want to help, I take action and I believe that’s what a lot of young girls feel like they can’t do. They feel they don’t have the right tools or resources, but for me, I thought, How can I take what I’ve learned in my life – from my mom especially, as she taught me so many values – and apply it to different modules?
My family dynamic is so strong and we celebrate life. I am always working on my acts of kindness and volunteering, and being able to travel opened my mind and way of thinking. I took all of these life lessons and arranged them into a lesson format. The first class we ever did, which spanned six weeks, is not much different to what we do now. I didn’t feel the need to alter much of it because after that first pilot course, we saw how well it worked and how it affected these girls. The girls were just so much more full of life, they built new friendships, and were confident. It wasn’t necessarily what we did, but more of the space we built for them. They felt safe and secure. It was a place of connection, and vulnerability was really celebrated.
“I’m such a passionate person and when I feel so deeply about something and want to help, I take action and I believe that’s what a lot of young girls feel like they can’t do.”
What has been your biggest hurdle throughout this entire journey? How did it affect you and how did you handle it?
The hardest thing was – and still is, sometimes – having that credibility. I’m not a teacher or a therapist. I had no degree or higher level of training when I started this. I was a student trying to do something positive and facilitate a class for young girls with zero certification, and that was hard to sell. I’m still working on my degree and even when I complete it, it’s actually not in psychology nor education, it’s in Communications.
“Why do you feel like you’re qualified?” I do feel like that’s always been the pressing question. We’ve definitely built our reputation up over the years, but for the first year, we were denied at several schools and couldn’t teach our course in the school we hoped to get in to.
We were told we didn’t have the prerequisites to teach and weren’t qualified. We were always asked, “How do you know what you’re teaching is valuable?” It took so much convincing. On our end, it took a lot of passion and dedication. I funded it all out of my own pocket for the first two years because I believed in what I was doing. It didn’t come easy, but the program itself developed through experience as well as the mentors’ experiences, and what I would’ve wanted to learn in school. I took all of that and applied it to the program.
We just want others to know that we aren’t trying to be therapists or teachers. We want to be sisters, because you cannot teach experience. At the end of the day, we’re teaching kindness, we’re teaching how to be expressive, and we encourage self love. I never learned that by going to university or college. I learned all of that by going through what I’ve gone through. That was the selling point, because they began to see that we weren’t out there to propose a teaching style similar to institutions that have been conducting classes since the 1950s. We were trying to change the learning experience altogether. I won’t lie, it’s an ongoing battle, but now that we’ve been running for a few years we’re in a better position.
“BeaYOUtiful’s purpose is to change the learning experience all together.”
Girls want to be able to ask their questions without feeling scared. If someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, no offense, I dont think they want to talk to a 60 year old counsellor whom they met once at an assembly. They want someone they can sit with and feel comfortable with. Someone they can relate to. For us, it really is about making that space and if topics come up, we have mandates and protocols in place if we need to get schools, teachers or parents involved. Right now, these girls need a safe place where they can go.
How do you define success?
To me, the definition of success is happiness. If you’re constantly wanting to be better and striving for more, I think that’s an amazing quality. For myself, I always feel like it’s never enough. I accomplish one thing and immediately I’m like, now what? Sometimes, I need to take a step back, look at what I’ve accomplished, and celebrate that. If happiness for you is working a full time job with an apartment and a dog, whether married or single, then celebrate that!
I have so many friends who are globe trotters that don’t have a permanent address. That was me for a while, where I jumped back and forth, and that at the time was happiness to me. That was my own definition of success, being able to travel, learn and engage. Being truly happy and at peace with where you are doesn’t have to mean you don’t have goals you’re not working towards. If you can celebrate your health and who you have in your life, that’s success. I don’t see success in the form of money or hierarchy. You can have those goals for sure, but if you have your health and family and good people you’re constantly surrounded by, you’re doing just great!
“I don’t see success in the form of money or hierarchy. If you have good health, family and good people you’re constantly surrounded by, you’re doing just great!”
What are some sacrifices you needed to make to get to where you are right now and at the end of the day, what truly motivates you?
What truly motivates me? It’s the grind!
I’m a full time student. I realised that if I wanted to run a business, I had to ask myself what I was willing to give up? And at this point, it’s time with friends. I’ve had to say no to going out so I can get work done. Setting up meetings takes away from family time. It’s all about balance, but for me, it’s being okay with working the extra job or going the extra mile to finish school so I can make my business flourish.
So I think the biggest sacrifice was accepting that I had to give up certain luxuries in order to have this business, but for me it was always worth it because I loved doing it. And that’s the thing, if you love whatever you’re working on, it doesn’t feel like work. I’m so focused, and excited to get things done. It’s a no-brainer. I do love to go out and have fun, but had to accept that it wasn’t going to be every single weekend any more.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have been honest with me and said things like, “Your passion isn’t a career in this world that makes a lot of money.” And that’s the reality.
I always think at the end of the day, can you see yourself being happy doing anything else? If the answer is no, then you’re in the right place at the right time of your life. You just have to sacrifice going on that extra vacation or by living in the suburbs as opposed to the city, or by picking up more shifts at the restaurant you work at.
My rule is to keep pursuing this project as long as I’m loving it and as soon as I fall out of love, move on. Life goes on. I just know that right now, I’m super happy.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Oh that’s such an easy question, my Mom. It’s so funny because I get asked this all the time. I can cry in a second when talking about her! She is my world. Everything I’ve learned and everything I want to be, it’s due to her perspective. I feel like everything I’m saying here has come from my Mom. Growing up, that’s what I’d hear. “You are so fortunate. You are so blessed to be healthy. How grateful we are to be living this life. Appreciate it everyday.”
Just the other night we went for dinner and she said to me, “You’re in this new chapter of your own life, and I’m so happy for you. My heart is so full to see where you are.” I feel the same way about her. I’ve seen my parents transition into a new chapter where their kids are getting older and moving out. They’re the hardest working people I know, yet the “youngest” people I’ve ever met. They work crazy hours, but they love their jobs, and they celebrate! They really know how to balance life.
Family is everything for us. My mom is behind me on everything and has pushed me to elevate myself. She really believes in what I do.
Leaders In Heels is all about nurturing, inspiring and empowering female leaders. In your own opinion and off the top of your head, what are three qualities you think a Leader In Heels would naturally possess?
Number one, she is passionate. Two, she is fearless. She is not afraid to succeed nor fail. Three, she is a hard worker, but still stays true to herself.
For more information on Taylor and BeaYOUtiful, feel free to check out www.foreverbeayoutiful.com or follow their instagram: @beayoutiful_org or Taylor’s instagram: @taylorlinhui