At the age of 14 I uploaded my first YouTube video, a makeup tutorial for people who wore glasses. Little did I know that that silly webcam video would soon completely change the course of my life. Over the next couple of years I became part of the beauty vlogger community, obtaining a partnership with the multi-channel network StyleHaul and following fashion as if it were a sport. I religiously purchased new clothing and beauty items, and frequently received them for free. I even had the opportunity to fly with my network to attend the International Makeup Artist Trade Show in New York City with all expenses paid.
It was almost like I became a beauty guru by accident. Quite honestly, I didn’t like fashion or makeup all that much. For whatever reason, lookbook videos were my favorite to create. I’d film myself in different outfits, giving each outfit a distinct personality by adjusting the lighting, music, and special effects. As my popularity grew, I realized that girls looked up to me not because of my creative identity, but on a much more personal level. It made me sick to my stomach. I worried that my audience failed to recognize that the three-minute fashion videos I created were simply that—me practicing an art form. Living a life where I was admired for the brands I wore or the way my body looked felt extremely inauthentic to who I really was and what I wanted to stand for. The worst part was, I knew that I was putting myself in this position because of the content I was creating.
My change of heart came when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder during my sophomore year of high school. Although I’d struggled for years prior to my diagnosis, it wasn’t until that year that the physical effects of my eating disorder became apparent. A sweeping generalization made about anorexia is that everyone who has the disorder wants to be skinny. That was never my intention, though; to be honest, I’ve never been as ashamed of my appearance as when I was underweight. My eating disorder and subsequent weight loss were byproducts of vastly more complex personal challenges that I was going through, but you couldn’t see that through my videos.
Strangely (and sadly) enough, I found that a certain subcategory of my following was obsessed with my anorexia. The more that I was struggling physically, the more my popularity grew. My YouTube channel, which was once my safe space for creative expression, became a visual battleground of misunderstanding. As a beauty guru, it was kind of my job to look like I had it all together. I hated the fact that I couldn’t separate my physical appearance from my identity as a YouTuber. It broke my heart feeling like I was letting down the girls who looked up to me. Despite how much I loved the process of creating videos, I eventually stopped making them altogether.
Although I’m glad that I made the decision I did, it would be a lie to say that it was easy for me to leave the beauty guru scene. I often wonder where and who I would be had I continued to make videos. The accomplishments, opportunities, and popularity that I enjoyed as a high school student aren’t things many people can relate to. When I stopped making videos, it almost felt like I was giving up on myself completely; a big part of my identity had been built on YouTube.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that my passion for beauty stems from their means of self-expression. On YouTube, playing with trends gave me the ability to see myself in different ways. I’ve since recognized that the makeup and clothing items I spent thousands of dollars on never actually made me happy.
Now, I find myself reaching for the same select clothing items time and time again. I honestly don’t care what I look like. By letting go of trends, I can more clearly communicate who I am with the world. This has essentially dissolved any desire to negatively compare myself to others. There’s no need for competition when everyone is just being themselves. I know what makes me unique; I truly don’t care how much money my clothes cost or what brand they are. They’re quite simply just my clothes.
I used to be embarrassed to say that I liked fashion. I was afraid that people would misinterpret my love for self-expression as a vain attempt at showcasing my body or the name-brand items that my parents could afford. But I’ve discovered that it really is okay for me to appreciate aesthetics. Fashion and makeup are forms of art, and there’s nothing wrong with appreciating them.
Over the past few years, I’ve expanded on my passion for art and self-expression. Music is my favorite. I trace my love for it back to my YouTube days, when I would spend hours searching for small artists who’d give me permission to use their work in my videos. I became friends with some of them, and now have the opportunity to work as a staff music writer. Without my videos, I wouldn’t have found my passion for the industry or developed my identity as a music writer.
My career as a beauty guru brought me experiences and lessons that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I still appreciate fashion and makeup for what they are, and I can confidently say that my future doesn't belong to that industry. I know that the people in my life value me for who I am as a person; at the end of the day, the way I dress is simply a tool to help me do that.