What Success & Authenticity Mean to YouTube Star Ingrid Nilsen

In the world of YouTube there are those considered to be “top of their game.” Beauty blogger Ingrid Nilsen is one such name. Her charm and smile are infectious. As is her honesty. "First of all," she says in a recent "July Favorites" upload, "I just have to say that I am on my period." 

“I don’t see myself at the top as much as I see myself as successful,” she tells us when we chat a few weeks later. “Those are two different things for me. I think that my success is rooted in the intention of helping other people and moving in the direction of love. Everything that I do in my life revolves around those two intentions.”

Ingrid has followed that intention from the very beginning of her jump into YouTube. Now 27, she uploaded her first video over seven years ago. It hasn’t always been smooth vlogging. The wwwaves are rough and first videos can be choppy. Ingrid’s first upload has been described as painfully awkward, something that makes her laugh now, but in and of itself is a success, having started video blogging as a way to get over a fear of public speaking.

“That,” she says, “has kept me rooted and has made me feel truly successful. You can have millions of subscribers, you can, numbers wise be at the top, but you can also feel really unhappy being there too. That’s why I don’t equate being at the top with my success. I felt really successful from the beginning.”

“Reflecting on that, recognizing and accepting that,” she says of the initial video, “will carry you through difficult times you’re bound to encounter.”

She’s had her share. She first got into makeup to deal with the passing of her father. It became a way to express what was happening inside of her. “Experimenting with makeup was a way for me to navigate my grief from losing my father when I was a teenager,” she says. It’s also why she doesn’t agree with the idea that you can’t be a makeup blogger and authentic.  “I think behind every person wearing mascara, lipstick, foundation… is a story that’s waiting to be told.”

"I don’t equate being at the top with my success. I felt really successful from the beginning.”

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“I talk a lot about being comfortable with yourself,” she says when we talk beauty standards and authenticity. She comes up against a fairly standard argument, those who say that the two are mutually exclusive. “I think beauty standards in general are harsh and I wish our standards were simply acceptance and love-- the world would look very different, but people think makeup is used as a mask,” she says, “and it can be. But for so many makeup is used as a tool to navigate something internal. And if this is the tool that helps someone navigate something inside of themselves, let them have it. Let them have this outlet. It’s so important.”

She does acknowledge that there is much more pressure for young girls. "There is definitely a lot more," she says, "because there’s more information and access,”  

"When you become completely consumed by these images-- which, is not to put anyone consuming the content at fault because there is just so much and you come across it without even trying to look for it-- it has an effect on young people. It makes them feel like life is a competition and love is a competition, and that beauty is a competition. It’s not. I think that digging into and trying to find a deeper awareness of yourself is really important to navigate this world we live in. This stuff,” she adds, “isn’t going to go away.”

Though she's a "beauty" blogger, dishing on winged eyeliner and lipstick hacks, Ingrid feels "the most beautiful when I’m crying." She tells us. "I may not feel that way the entire time, but I'll remind myself, this is the moment when I feel the most beautiful because I’m completely exposed.”

“Everyday, whether it’s a good day or a bad day I look in the mirror and see myself. I’m not always thrilled, but I see myself , I'm grateful for that. That has not always been the case.”

Still from "Something I Want You to Know."

Still from "Something I Want You to Know."

In her coming out video titled, “Something I Want You to Know,” Ingrid told her subscribers the she was gay. The video has over 15 million views to date. "I'm gay," she tells the camera, laughing and crying, "it feels so good to say that." 

Though it felt “natural and important" to her, it was also "a big step in bringing my audience closer and letting them in. I didn’t want to hide. I didn’t want to shut them out."

"YouTube has been a space where people can be themselves, and be themselves in whatever light that is that day and receive acceptance," she says. "I think that’s why it’s why it’s so accepting of the LGBQT community. It’s rooted in authenticity and acceptance at its core."

Receiving acceptance is a huge part of why she keeps doing the work and sharing herself with the world. “I give a lot, but I also receive so much from the people I meet and the comments I receive online. I am fueled by the people in my community who care and accept me.” 

Even with success she’s not immune to impostor syndrome. “I’ve felt this so many times, but those feelings are coming from a place of fear. Everything I have and love in my life right now are all things that once completely terrified me. So I think the way I work through those feelings of, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ or ‘why are people following me?’ stems from my willingness to surrender to my mediocrity. I’m not going to be good at everything. Getting to that level of humility takes work."

“A lot of times of what you really want is on the other side of fear,” she notes. You have to go straight through, there’s no shortcut.

"I am fueled by the people in my community who care and accept me.” 

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When it comes to her work, she's found, not a shortcut, but a bit more balance. In the beginning she was shooting, editing, and posting the same day-- a grind that wore her fine. “When you’re doing that for years,” she says, “it can really take a toll on your general well being.” Now she does a quarterly brainstorm with Eileen, who manages her day-today. They "brain dump" ideas and then really hone in on the forthcoming season, events, and holidays.  When possible she likes to shoot a month in advance.

“I think that there is always a balance,” she says about creating content. “Content that your audience wants but doesn’t require you to lose your authenticity. There’s always a sweet spot and I try to find that sweet spot."

She was “a lot more stressed out,” in the beginning. “I was pumping out as much content as I could, whenever I could, and the turnaround was much faster.” But she knows that the work she put in at the start, what she calls an “I will not stop mentality,” is what got her where she is today. “Having the experience of a one-day turnaround was essential to my growth.” 

Today she is committed to being her most authentic self. "You have to know where you stand and what you feel comfortable with." So how does Ingrid know what she’s comfortable with? “Sometimes what I’m comfortable with is being uncomfortable," she says, "especially if it means that I’m moving in the direction of emotional bravery."

She doesn’t know exactly what’s in her future, but she does know that "it will be exciting." She credits this to moving "in the direction of truth and helping other people. I would love to figure out a way to make something that’s tangible-- a product, book, or something that I can put into people’s hands and have them feel the energy that I put into my work and my life every single day.”

Ingrid will be joining us on panel at #CreateCultivateATL-- there are just a couple of ticket left!