Nineteen-year-old Bethany Mota created her YouTube channel, Macbarbie07, in 2009, to share opinions on fashion and beauty—and to fend off loneliness after an experience with cyber-bullies left her isolated from her peer group. Six years later, the California teen has racked up 600 million views, and counts her 8.8 million subscribers (and seven million Twitter and Insta followers) as her friends. She’s not just popular for her shopping hauls and hair tutorials, either: fans look to her for advice on overcoming social anxiety and low self-esteem. We sat down with Mota to talk confidence, creativity, and what her life would have been like without YouTube.
You have almost nine million YouTube subscribers, seven million Twitter and Instagram followers; how do you wrap your mind around those numbers?
When I hit a million subscribers, it was surreal; having over eight million is incredible. What makes me happiest is how engaged my audience is—they’re much more than viewers, they’re like my friends. I’ve really opened up to them, and I always incorporate bloopers and silly moments from my life into my videos that they can relate to. I think that’s what builds that connection.
You get to meet your fans face to face at events like YouTube FanFest in Singapore, Australia, India and recently Canada; what’s that like?
It’s amazing when someone comes up to me and tells me my videos have inspired them to be more confident. My channel is lifestyle but at the end of the day I want to inspire my viewers to be positive and to love themselves.
What are your best tips for becoming more confident?
No. 1: stop comparing yourself to other people. You’re not supposed to be like anyone else; we’re all unique and we should embrace that. It’s natural to see someone and think, Oh, she’s so much skinnier than I am, or I wish my hair was that long or She has perfect skin, and that becomes a habit, so instead you have to get in the habit of focusing on the things you love about yourself. It’s hard in the beginning, but if you keep doing that it will become second nature. Going from no confidence to a little bit of confidence is the hardest part, but then it just keeps growing.
Another thing I’ve learned is to stop worrying about how society tells us we should look like or act. I feel like there’s even trends for attitudes now: it’s trendy to be negative, and I felt like I had to follow this trend to be accepted for the longest time, and then I realized I wasn’t happy. I’m so much happier when I just stay true to what I believe and not what I’m being pressured to believe.
Related: A Cringe-Free Guide to Confidence
When you encourage people to love themselves, it’s obviously meaningful coming from you because you’re someone who has overcome bullying and low self-esteem. At the same time, someone might look at a beautiful, young, successful woman like you and think: That’s easy for you to say. How would you respond to that?
I used to look at other people and think, Oh, she has everything. She’s so perfect. And then I realized that those people you think are perfect don’t feel that way. Everyone is insecure, no matter who they are. I don’t believe there is a person in this world who has never had an insecure moment. We’ve all been there.
You make content about fashion and beauty products, and you also encourage people to ignore pressure to conform to conventional beauty standards. Is there ever a tension between these two things, can they be difficult to reconcile?
No, because I constantly try to incorporate things into my videos that inspire my viewers to love themselves and to embrace their inner beauty. Fashion, hair and makeup are all ways of expressing your personality and creativity. And I don’t follow trends; I see so many things that are like, “This is what you should wear this season!” and I’m just like, “No, I’m going to wear what makes me feel good!” It comes down to whatever makes you feel comfortable and feel like yourself.
A lot of creative people worry that one day they’re going to wake up and just run out of ideas. Do you ever have that fear? Where do your ideas come from?
There have been times I was so discouraged, I wouldn’t want to make a video for weeks because I just felt like nothing was going to be good enough. I see myself as my competition, so I always want to do better than I’ve done before. To think of something that no one has thought of before can be really hard. I just try to make my videos much more than fashion videos—I don’t just want to give you tips, I want to make you feel something, as if it’s a little movie almost. When I hit a video block, I go to my audience and ask them what they want to see. They always have tons of ideas.
YouTube has only been around for 10 years; do you ever think about what your life would have been like if you’d been born a decade earlier, if you hadn’t grown up with YouTube?
I don’t think I would have been the same person without YouTube. When I was growing up I was extremely shy, and YouTube helped me come out of my shell and really grow as a person. Plus I’ve done lots of events where I’m speaking in front of brands and a bunch of people, which is very different from what I’m used to, filming videos in my room, and it’s definitely helped me open up.
Have you ever put anything online that you regret?
I don’t think so—although when I look back at some of my old videos, like my first video, I’m not going to lie, I cringe. But I think it’s important that everyone can see all of my videos from the past six years—I’ve literally grown up on YouTube, so you can see how my style has changed and how I’ve grown. I think that’s so cool.