Christen Harper knows firsthand how easy it is for society to chip away at a woman’s confidence. When the Southern California native decided to start modeling at 20, she was told numerous times to lose weight. But she didn’t listen and decided to confidently proceed anyway. Of course, she’s had great success since then and now hopes to instill that same confidence in other young women. And she’s doing so by volunteering with Girls Inc., a nonprofit that encourages all girls to be “strong, smart and bold.” Here, Harper shares where she got her passion for volunteering and what changes she’d like to see when it comes to female empowerment and gender equity.
Why is nonprofit work so important to you?
“I think working as a model for most of my life gave me such amazing things; however, it also left me unfulfilled in so many ways. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything to help people, and everything often felt very shallow. So over the past few years, I turned my attention to spending more time giving back and getting involved in important organizations, and It really has given me so much. I wake up every day filled with gratitude and hope, knowing that maybe my small actions can make a difference for someone even for just a day or a moment.”
Is volunteering something you were exposed to regularly for you growing up?
“My mom has always instilled in me the idea of helping others. I think of the way she would donate items or make sure to stop and give money or help someone who was struggling. She always made it a point to teach us gratitude for having a roof over our heads and food on the table. Seeing these things as a young girl impacted me and made me want to get involved and help people. When I first started getting involved in the community and volunteering, I wouldn’t post it until I realized that kindness inspires more kindness. And each time I post volunteer work, I get an overwhelming response of people feeling inspired to help in their own community.”
What attracted you to Girls Inc.?
“Girls Inc. is an amazing nonprofit that aids and inspires girls to live their full potential through mentoring and research-based programming. The program aims to build confidence and equip girls to navigate gender, economic and social barriers. To then go on and make positive decisions regarding their health, academic and personal goals. So many young girls don’t have the opportunity to have a strong support system or a positive mentor in their lives. Girls Inc steps in to fill that role. I think it is so important to encourage and inspire girls to be confident and bold, to raise their hands, to speak up for what’s important.”
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What kinds of work have you done with them?
“The actual programming of Girls Inc. is always changing, but we meet weekly with the same group of girls after school for six weeks. During this time, we do our best to have fun, do self-esteem-building activities, inspire girls to become more confident, and get excited about things like STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). It’s so awesome to see girls excited about building robot prototypes out of popsicle sticks, and it makes me really excited knowing that they will feel like math and science is just as much a career opportunity for women as it is for men.”
What change do you hope to see in the world as it relates to female empowerment and gender equity?
“I think most importantly, I want girls to grow up feeling that they have agency in the world and an important place in it. I think inspiring confidence in young women is hugely important when it comes to the careers they go after. I hope this next generation of girls is told they are strong, smart and bold all before being told how pretty or nice they are.”
What advice would you give to young women struggling with confidence issues?
“I always say to talk to yourself and love yourself like you would a friend. You love your friends because of the way they make you feel, not the way they look. Once I started focusing internally on other parts of myself that I loved, I realized that my body was the least interesting thing about me. So I hope I can continue to inspire girls to find their own confidence and to love themselves every day.”
How has modeling helped your cause?
“Modeling has helped my cause because it has given me so much confidence. Through the hard times and the many 'nos' and not feeling good enough. Then, you start turning inward and realize your confidence lies with how much you love yourself for everything that has nothing to do with how you look.”
What’s next for you?
“"I hope to continue and further my involvement with amazing organizations like Girls Inc. and UNICEF. For the month of March, for Women’s History Month, I will be doing a fundraiser for Girls In.c on my Instagram account where 100% of the proceeds will go to Girls Inc.”