Michelle Phan, with almost 9 million subscribers globally, talks about the less glamorous side of making videos for the internet.
When I was a child, I remember an adult once asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The most common answers among us kids were: doctor, teacher, or even firefighter. But if you ask that same question now, you might get the answer: “A YouTuber.”
The idea is attractive and sounds simple: you make videos in your house of what you like. If you are good at it, you earn thousands of dollars (not counting a deluge of gifts, invitations to travel, and of course, fame).
But as with everything that looks good on the surface, you have to dig a little deeper… and you might find a big (and even unpleasant) surprise.
Michelle Phan is one of the world’s most famous beauty YouTubers, with almost 9 million subscribers on her channel. She began in 2007, when YouTube was not as well-known (or profitable) as it is now. She was a pioneer in make-up tutorials.
But almost a year ago, out of the blue, Phan stopped posting videos or sharing on her social networks. Her followers were so accustomed to her regular posts that they even thought she was dead and sent messages asking if she was okay.
The answer was no, but it wasn’t until June 1 that she decided to explain what happened to her in an animated video on her channel titled Why I left. The video has almost 8 million views.
Basically, Phan states she fell victim to vanity and greed. What began as a hobby that made her happy and also generated some income to help her family financially became a cold money machine that even separated her from her loved ones because she had to move to keep growing and please everyone except herself.
She reached the point where she did not recognize the woman she saw on the screen and cared only about selling, selling, selling. She felt more like a product than a person. In addition, her own self-esteem was affected, since she never liked her own image and felt more alone than ever. If you saw her online posts, her life seemed perfect, but behind the camera there was a perfectly made-up girl in an empty room.
As a child, she had heard many times that “money can buy happiness” (sounds familiar, right?), but she realized that what it bought her was comfort and more things. She says in the video that her money allowed her to buy time to think, and for several months she went to Switzerland to be alone with her thoughts and immersed in nature. She disconnected completely from social networks and reflected on how she wanted to re-direct her life, both personally and professionally.
I must say that Phan’s story touched me. We ourselves sometimes complain when someone we like stops posting online, and we do not stop to think that he or she may be going through a rough time. We only think of ourselves and not the other. We demand and do not consider.
We don’t need to be as popular as Phan for this to serve as an example of how we behave in our own social networks (whether we are an influencer or not). Are we really like this? Are we presenting a fake image to the world? If so, why do we do it? What do we want to convey? Do we live our lives through a screen? How is our relationship with family and friends? They are questions that are more than pertinent in this digital age that connects some who are separated by geography, but somehow disconnects others even more between the keys of a smartphone.
What I did not like about Phan’s video was the end, because after unmasking a world that most people would think is perfect, and after making a confession that was so personal and apparently genuine, she posted an advertisement on the launch of her new makeup line, claiming to have been focusing on it over the last few months. That is to say, she is going back on Youtube to sell and is using one of the most effective marketing strategies to do so: the appeal to emotion.
Her collection is titled Em. For those who follow her, it may sound familiar. This was the name of the collaboration she did months ago with the brand L’Oréal and which, by the way, did not have the expected success. She says in the video that she discovered that beyond wanting to make women look beautiful, she wants them to feel beautiful. I do not know how an eyeliner or lipstick (the two products that are currently on sale on her page) can achieve this alone. We will have to wait for the complete marketing strategy and see if she will return to YouTube with other types of videos and motivational messages.
But let’s keep learning from Michelle Phan’s viral story: money certainly does not buy happiness, greed and vanity are diseases for the soul, and we must always be faithful to ourselves.