Claudia Sulewski is a self-starter in all senses of the word. After creating a YouTube channel in middle school, she funneled her creativity into lifestyle and beauty videos that have proven to have a lasting effect on their viewers: Claudia has 1.9 million subscribers, a collaboration with Central 23, and an ever-expanding community of people eager to keep up with her day-to-day happenings. Last month, Lithium editor Olivia Ferrucci and photographer Gabby Agustin met Claudia at a coffee shop in DTLA to discuss the intersection of social media and self-love, her passion for acting, and maintaining authenticity in an increasingly transparent digital world.
Lithium Magazine: As someone who documents a lot of their life between Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, how has living such a transparent life impacted your self-image and self-love?
Claudia Sulewski: It’s been both a blessing and a curse! I started making YouTube videos when I was 13, so the internet watched me go through puberty and high school and young adulthood. Naturally, through all those stages, your confidence is through the roof one day and then down [on] the ground the other. And I’ve accepted that. It’s just human nature, and so for the past year or two, I’ve been trying to change my mindset about self-image and self-perception. As far as going through all of this publicly online, I think the most important thing to remember is that everyone is going through the same bullshit. As far as hate goes, it’s so much easier to point out other people’s flaws to deflect your own insecurities. I feel like the things [people] resist to accept about themselves or the things they don’t like about themselves [are what they’ll hate on in other people]. It’s always just a reflection of what you’re internally going through, and so when you’re going through all of this and also being under such [an intense] microscope, it’s—I say it’s a blessing, just because it’s really given me a tough skin and made me so confident in social settings.
Lithium: I think it’s easy really to manipulate how you’re perceived online by only displaying the most photographic, happiest moments. Do you consciously make an effort to maintain a sense of authenticity online?
Claudia: Yes. I feel like you [have to] find that balance, and since my social media presence is such a big part of my job—it literally is my job—of course there is a professionalism that I have to keep as far as being brand-friendly, and I do generally want to post positive things. But I think there is a way to do all of that [and] still be authentic. Like, when it comes to Snapchat stories and vlogs, I’m not wearing makeup, [and] I share if I’m going through a funk or if there’s something up. I don’t think showing any of that is bad. I think it’s great, because the reason why social media has become so big and [why] people love it so much is because [people want] to find someone to relate to. So… if you’re able to speak what you’re going through, it just comes off so much more authentic because it is. You know what I mean? I think it’s just balance.
Lithium: Since social media became part of everyone’s day-to-day life, there’s been a lot of debate as to whether it’s more helpful or harmful. Where do you stand on that argument?
Claudia: I struggle with this so much, ‘cause my mindset changes all the time! I mean, we all go through those black holes of, “Oh my god, I’ve been on social media way too much today!” But the way that I’m really trying to look at the internet and our iPhones is like, at the end of the day it’s a tool. It all just comes down to how you’re willing to use that tool. There are so many amazing things about social media and the internet, like being able to receive news, for example. Staying up to date with things that are happening. But also, I remember in high school, when I started growing really strong relationships with all of my YouTube friends, like, that was all through social media. I gained such a sense of myself and so much community just through [the internet]. I think it just comes down to how you’re willing to use it and [whether you’re] able to also kind of step out and realize, like, “Okay, yes, this is a part of life and whatnot, but at the end of the day [I’m] just looking at a chunk of metal.”
Lithium: So you think it’s more about what an individual puts into it rather than what other people are putting into social media overall?
Claudia: Yes! Totally. And being aware of who you’re following and what type of stuff you’re letting yourself be exposed to every day. Because that’s the crazy thing that I think about. There are so many people that I’ve never met but I know what they’re doing every single day because I watch their stories. And so you’ve gotta be really picky with who you’re choosing to follow, what you’re choosing to read or listen to, whatever. And I think that’s [important]—you do ultimately have that power.
Lithium: How do you personally maintain self-love despite the somewhat hypercritical, unrealistic nature of social media?
Claudia: I think it’s definitely something that I am just becoming way more comfortable with as I grow older, because I feel like when you’re super young you get so wrapped up in what everyone else thinks is beautiful or attractive. And now with social media, it’s even more heightened and more intense. You slowly just start to realize, like, this is the body that I was born in. This is what I have, at least for this lifetime. And I think the sooner you’re able to come to terms with [the idea that] who you are and what you look like is so valid and so beautiful, [the better]. I think it’s [crucial] to remember that beauty can mean so many different things, it’s not just like, having a symmetrical face and big lips. It’s who you are as a person and how you make others feel and the little freckle that you have right here. It’s all perception.
Lithium: Did you have plans to pursue acting even before you got on YouTube and social media?
Claudia: Yes. I have always had like such a fascination with acting and movies and just entertainment in general. And just—I guess not really growing up in that [environment], acting always had felt like this unattainable, intimidating thing that like—who am I to do that, you know? So it’s cool, I kind of like to believe that I subconsciously started this hobby—YouTube—which eventually led me to the city that I always dreamed of living in, and being able to do the opportunities that I would’ve always dreamed of. I think everything happens for a reason. Moving out here, I kind of came out here [wanting to be] open to everything and try everything. I love being challenged and making myself uncomfortable. I think it’s a great way to grow. So when I first moved out here, I jumped into hosting. I did a lot of interviewing and loose, improv-y scripted stuff. After tackling that, I guess I just kind of shifted my mindset. At that point I was like, “Okay, if I was able to do that, which I never thought I would, why the hell not go out for some auditions?” I called up my manager at the time and was like, “I don’t know how this works, but if there [are] any auditions that ever come my way, I would love to dive into that.” I booked Tagged, and I was very lucky to get that. It taught me so much. Over the past few years, I’ve just started doing more and more, and every single time I’m just growing more confident and more in love with it.
Lithium: So do you think YouTube is the most effective gateway for teens who are looking to get into the entertainment industry?
Claudia: That’s hard to say now, because there [are] so many different platforms, like Instagram with IGTV. And so it’s hard to say what’s gonna be the next ‘thing’ that could lead you to there. Like I said before with the social media thing, it’s a tool and you use it how you want to. It all just depends on what kind of content you’re making and what ultimately is your goal. But YouTube is definitely an amazing place to have freedom in the content you’re making and have anyone in the world see it. You posting whatever you want is amazing. I mean, you can feel that with your online magazine, right?
Lithium: Yeah! Absolutely.
Claudia: And it’s the best.
Lithium: So on that note, then, what would your advice be to teens looking to make a name for themselves through the internet?
Claudia: Be you. Oh my god. That’s so cheesy to say, but—and also, I’m gonna throw another cheesy one, but they always say, “Why be the second best version of someone when you can just be the number-one version of yourself?” And I think it’s so true. I mean, when it comes to gaining exposure, whatever, of course there are trends that can help you to dive in, whether that’s mukbangs or collabing, but at the end of the day, what’s going to stand out is the most is your individuality, your personality.
Lithium: What’s next for you?
Claudia: Lots of random things! I love just putting on different hats… Maintaining my relationship and connection with my audience is definitely a huge priority through all of it, because that is where I started and that is what will always continue to push me forward. Oh! Some tangible things—some collaborations coming, and also some writing. I’m doing this really cute collab with Central 23, they’re notebooks. We designed notebooks! I’m all about manifesting, so… we have this one, “Manifesting the following,” “Here to save my future ass,” and then “Vomit Journal” and that’s, like, me puking.
Lithium: Those are really cool.
Claudia: They’re just fun. I love doing little things like that. But I am also dipping into writing and creating bigger stories than just YouTube videos. I love kind of seeing where the wind blows [me] and just being flexible. [That’s] what I’ve been doing and what’s worked best for me.
Lithium: The last thing we’re going to do is a favorites segment, so what’s your favorite restaurant in LA?
Claudia: Okay. I looked at all these and they were so hard! Well, recently I went to Gjelina on Abbot Kinney—so good. I would say that.
Lithium: Favorite accessory?
Claudia: Can I say statement jacket? Jacket’s not an accessory though. Chokers, necklaces—I like to stack a lot of necklaces. That’s that.
Lithium: Favorite summer movie?
Claudia: I just recently watched Flower with Zoey Deutch. Oh my god, it’s so good, the way it was shot, it’s so pretty and so funny… What comes to mind is Almost Famous. That’s a classic. It’s a great summer movie.
Lithium: Favorite vacation you’ve taken?
Claudia: Ooh! Bora Bora. I recently went to Bora Bora with my best friend, Steffan Argus, and that was incredible. We just played husband and wife for a week.
Lithium: Who’s your favorite vlogger?
Claudia: I am on a David Dobrik kick right now.
Lithium: Favorite music album?
Claudia: I would say either CTRL by SZA or The Mistress [by] Yellow Ostrich. It’s a very big vibe. It’s a good summer album.
Annie Walton Doyle