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the truth about vlogging with michelle phan

In celebration of YouTube’s 10th anniversary, we are delving into the weird and wonderful world of internet vlogging. Meet the voices of the digi generation, who have been redefining fashion and beauty, one shopping haul at a time.

by Tish Weinstock
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Mar 16 2015, 2:20pm

27-year-old makeup artist Michelle Phan first started vlogging eight years ago. When she realized that the beauty of makeup was best seen in motion, then-blogger Michelle switched on the web cam of her school laptop, filmed her own make-up tutorial and uploaded it to YouTube. Fast-forward to today and the American vlogger has over 7.5 million subscribers to her channel, while her homemade videos have been viewed more than 1 billion times (yes, that's right, 1 billion), making her one of the most watched personalities on the web. Personality, of course, being key here. Unlike your supermodels, polished to perfection, or your painfully edgy, but deeply affected actresses and musicians, this new breed of internet superstars isn't trying to be anything other than themselves.

Bored of the Photoshopped world of fashion, its unrealistic ideals, and its overall sense of exclusivity, young girls and boys are increasingly turning to kids their own age for advice on what to wear and how to wear it. Michelle treats her fans as if she were their older sister. She's warm, authentic, and accessible, qualities which have led to her winning the first ever Streamy ICON award, being named to Forbes' '30 Under 30' list, launching her own line of cosmetics with L'Oreal, and most recently releasing her very own book called Make Up: Your Life Guide to Beauty, Style, and Success — Online and Off. However, where there are fans there will always be haters and, for some reason, vloggers seem to attract quite a lot, particularly those who see them as potential threats to high fashion. Why shouldn't fashion be opened up to more voices? Why shouldn't anyone with a webcam be able to weigh in on something that is so subjective? To answer these questions and more, we caught up with the vlogging superstar to talk trolls, fans, and female empowerment.

What was your first vlogging experience like?
I'm not going to lie, my first video was AWKWARD — editing myself was so embarrassing! But I got over it and posted it to YouTube and didn't look back. To my shock, the next day it had over 10,000 views and surpassed 40,000 by the end of the week! It was incredible to read the comments and have people all over the world thanking me, asking me how to do a smokey eye, how to do an acne cover-ups, etc.

What's the best thing about vlogging?
Every time I upload a new video, it feels like a reward for me. When I see how my videos impact people's lives, it makes me feel very good about the work I do and inspires me to keep creating things people love.

Can anyone be a vlogger?
Yes. But it won't happen overnight. It takes time, effort and patience. I've seen overnight sensations come and go, but if you want to avoid becoming a one hit wonder then you'll need to commit to delivering quality content consistently.

What makes you stand out from all other vloggers?
I don't want to do the same thing everyone else is doing, I want to create a story and almost bring a more theatrical element to my videos. I've been doing this for eight years...that's a long time! I have to constantly evolve. If you're always putting out the same videos, people get bored, and they move on.

Do you find that your personality is the same on screen and off or is there a certain level of performance involved?
We are multifaceted people, so of course how we project ourselves to others changes from person to person. For example, how I am around my mother is different than how I am around my best friends. That doesn't make me fake, it just means that I have to adjust my comfort level around certain people. I have a wonderful relationship with my online family, so I don't feel the need to put on an act. They really are like my online friends. I have not met most of them, however if a serendipitous moment happens and I meet one, it's like I'm meeting an old friend.

Does vlogging empower you as a woman?
The message behind all of my videos and my work is to empower young women. I want to inspire them to be brave and remind them that they have the freedom to dream. By empowering other women, I empower myself as well.

What would you say to critics who argue that vlogging has removed a certain sense of artistry and exclusivity when it comes to fashion?
I believe the Internet has widened the marketplace for the beauty and fashion space. Seven years ago, the niche market was considered small, however the world has grown smaller because of accessible online access. Now people have access to authentic, artistic and exclusive content. We are living in an era where people want to share, so of course there will be a growing need for more diversity and ideas.

Should fashion be democratic?
There are people who wear clothes and there are people who wear fashion. Fashion is like art; it's another form of self-expression. No rules, no boundaries. Only infinite possibilities. We should dress to express, not impress.

How do you deal with online trolls?
It comes with the territory. Where there is light, there is darkness. So that is why I focus on the light. I'd rather build a community with those who support me. Empower the positive rather than negative ones. Hopefully, the positivity will rub off and can spread good vibes.

How does it feel to have an entire community surrounding and supporting you?
It's really an artist's dream to create work that millions of people see. I have such a rare platform to share my vision and message.

www.michellephan.com

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Text Tish Weinstock