How Bethany Mota Went From Bullied Kid To YouTube Superstar

SuperWoman_LandingPage_BethanyMota_1 (1)Photographer: Elizabeth Weinberg; Designer: Gabriela Alford.
More than 7 million YouTube subscribers. Almost 500 million video views. Two million Twitter followers. Nearly 1.5 million Facebook fans. Almost 4 million Instagram followers. There's no arguing with those numbers. Bethany Mota, an 18-year-old girl who found fame making YouTube videos, clearly dominates social media, in a way that many fully staffed social media departments at very well-established brands and publications can only dream of. How? By keeping it real, according to her. But, there's a bit more to it, if you look closely.
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Turning to YouTube at the age of 13, after feeling isolated IRL due to some bullying incidents, Mota found success posting videos under the moniker of Macbarbie07 in 2009. She caveats that she's "not really a girly girl," but landed on making haul videos (which show off your style "haul," one purchase at a time, after a shopping trip) and beauty DIY videos, because those were the easiest entry points to content creation at the time. And, now, five years, multiple magazine covers, a clothing line, a stint on Dancing With The Stars , and an undisclosed but substantial number of revenue dollars later, that's still her primary motivation. Says Mota, "I just want to keep creating things. I love to think of things that haven’t been done and then bring them to life, whether it be with makeup or any form of content."
And, ultimately, that's what's so special about Mota. She's not a teen girl who's looking for a shortcut to fame. She's not even a teen girl who's limited by an obsession with makeup or shopping. She's a brand-builder. But, even before that, she's a community builder. She's the kind of girl who spies another teen girl in a sweater she designed for her Aéropostale line, and stalks her across the mall. She tells us, "Last year I saw a girl in the mall wearing a sweater that I thought could have been from my line so I followed her around for a little while — it was so sneaky, but it was my sweater! And, then, she realized I was following her and then she started following me. It was crazy! But, it turned out to be great because she’s a fan and I got to meet her."
That infectious enthusiasm for the community on the other end of her videos (along with the promise that she'd probably never give up YouTube for television) guarantees Mota's success with a generation that has a sharply honed BS-detector — and, if YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki has anything to do with it, a much larger audience, as well. Ahead, our conversation with Mota, and an up-close look at what it takes to turn Internet fame into something much more substantial.
Styled by Sarah Schussheim; Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
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001_I3A9184Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
What's a typical day like for you?
"Recently I’ve been rehearsing a lot for DWTS, so I’ll wake up in the morning, and eat breakfast. I’ve been trying to eat really healthy lately but I’ll usually have egg whites with spinach and watermelon. Then I’ll shower and do my hair and makeup and go online to check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. After that I’ll either go to rehearsal or go to interviews for the show — rehearsals tend to be four to six hours. When I come home, I’ll work on videos, so I’ll edit or film. I’m also in the process of redecorating my room, so that will take up some time. Then I’ll go to bed and do it all over again. I’m usually a night owl and stay awake until 3 a.m., but because of all the dancing, now I’m tired by 10 p.m."
Equipment Shane Scholarly Plaid Sweater; Equipment Colleen Jewel Collar shirt; Aeropostale Destroyed Dark Wash Jegging; EF Collection Black Diamond Double Spiral ring; EF Collection Double Diamond Stack Ring with Chain; EF Collection Diamond Double Stack Bangle.
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002_IMG_6548Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
You've found so much success at such a young age. What's been the biggest challenge?
"I started YouTube when I was very young. The hardest thing in the beginning was adjusting to the feedback you get online as opposed to feedback you’d get in person. When people are behind a computer they feel like they have more freedom to say whatever they want because they can be anonymous. After my second or third video I started to get some hate-comments. I was kind of excited after the first one, but as more came in, they did affect me. I didn’t understand how people who didn’t know me could leave such nasty comments."
"The biggest adjustment was learning to not take any of that personally. You can’t take anything online personally, especially if it is negative. You can have 10 positive comments, but the one negative comment will get to you. I learned you have to stay focused on the people who love and support you."
It must have been particularly hard since you turned to YouTube to escape bullying. What did you actually do to deal with the anonymous online negativity?
"In the beginning I naturally wanted to respond to them. We are human beings; we want to fight back against a person trying to harm us. Usually I ignore it, but if I do respond I will be kind. For example, there was one person who would leave negative comments on all of my videos. One day I messaged them and said I am sorry they don’t like me, but thank you for watching my videos. I tried to be really sweet. After that, she wrote me back and apologized for the comments and said she didn’t mean them. She was having a hard time in her life and wanted to hurt someone. Then, this person who would always bash me started to defend me against other hate comments."
"Remember that hate comments can be a cry for help or attention. I recommend not responding at all, but if you do, be kind."
What about the super fans? Some of the Mota-vator videos can be pretty intense. Are you ever scared or intimidated by them?
"I’ve never felt intimidated by my viewers before. That is what keeps me going. I got into YouTube during a period of my life when I wasn’t every confident, but I’ve gained so much confidence because of my viewers. When they say that I’ve been able to help them, it’s a great feeling, because they’ve done that for me, as well."
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003_I3A9190Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
You mention that you're not really a girly girl. How did you initially get into making beauty and haul videos?
"In the beginning, I was just looking for something to make videos [about], but once I got into them I started to really enjoy makeup and fashion. In the beginning, my dad didn’t know I was doing videos and was so confused about his daughter suddenly buying a ton of makeup."
There can be something really empowering about finding the right makeup and clothes, though. Do you agree?
"Definitely. Fashion, makeup, and hairstyles are all about expressing yourself. I think the best thing about them is the opportunity to make them your own. I tell my viewers to never feel like they have to wear makeup; they should do it because they find it fun, not because they need to fit in. It’s all a form of creativity."
Equipment Shane Scholarly Plaid Sweater; Equipment Colleen Jewel Collar shirt; Aeropostale Destroyed Dark Wash Jegging; EF Collection Black Diamond Double Spiral Ring; EF Collection Double Diamond Stack Ring with Chain; EF Collection Diamond Double Stack Bangle.
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004I_IMG_6568Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
How much time do you spend on social media?
"I try to stay as active as I can on social media. Recently it’s been difficult to upload videos as much as I want to, but that is going to change very soon when I get back on my normal schedule."
"Even when I don't upload videos, I always have my phone on me, so I’ll check Twitter as often as I can. It definitely annoys my friends and family. I love to do follow sprees and I try to stay as active as I can on all platforms. As soon as I upload a video, I’ll check the comments right away and respond to them."
Are there times when you feel like you need to pull away from it?
"Finding that perfect balance is important. Literally, what I do is on social media, so I need to maintain it and respond to it. There are certainly times when it is a little too much and I’ll realize I’ve been on my phone all day and that I need to get up and go do something. It’s a little difficult to find that balance though, because the interaction is such a big part of what I do. When people ask me how to maintain a successful YouTube channel, I tell them that a big part is to upload as much as you can, but the interaction is so important, too. You need to build that relationship and friendship with your audience. I try to find the balance between my friends and family in real life and my friends on the Internet."
What do you do to unplug?
"I love music, so I’ll listen to my down-time playlist. I also love to draw, so I’ll listen to music and sketch. It’s also important to just sit in your room alone and relax — it’s soothing, and a nice way to be thankful."
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005_IMG_6630Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
How long does it take you to edit a video?
"It depends on the video. If it’s a vlog where I film my day, those only take an hour or two to edit. When I do hairstyle, fashion, or routine videos on my main channel, it’s more complex — especially since I switched to using Final Cut Pro X. Now that I am trying to add in more professional effects and music, I am a lot happier with the end result, but it takes a lot longer. Since I do all of the editing myself, it can take three or four days. I am also a slow editor, because I’ll analyze every little detail of the video."
Would you consider hiring someone to edit for you in order to save time?
"I have help in areas where I feel like I really need it and in the areas where I’m willing to accept help. But, I am very protective of my edits. I have help filming, but right now I am very comfortable editing myself."
Do you look at what you do as a business?
"I always wanted to create content. I can say that this is my job, but I don’t see it that way. I always think about what I can create for my audience, not what they can do for me. Because, wanting to be famous on YouTube is already the wrong mindset. Going in wanting something for yourself is going to make it feel like a chore."
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006_I3A9593Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
Would you ever give up YouTube for another medium? Say, television?
"I think TV work would be fun, but I can never see myself choosing TV over YouTube. I have creative freedom on YouTube that I wouldn’t have on TV. There is no script or director; I am all of those things. I see myself on YouTube for as long as possible."
That's an incredible amount of freedom to have at 18. Does it ever feel daunting?
"I think it’s so rare. When I was 13 I felt like I didn’t have a voice, but because of YouTube and my audience, I've now had the opportunity to talk to people around the world."
You're very young, but also very articulate and professional. How did you learn that?
"It's funny, because growing up, people thought I couldn’t speak. I would never say anything to anyone besides my family, and I was always afraid of what people would say about me. Being behind the camera is still intimate because it doesn’t feel like you are speaking to a large group. But, this year, as I’ve traveled and done Q&As and meetups, I’ve naturally gotten used to being confident in my opinions and thoughts. Without YouTube, I don’t think I would have ever had the courage to go out there and speak to a group of people on the other side of the world."
Alice and Olivia Ribbon Bow Sweater; Topshop Badge Zip Front Pel Met Skirt; Maje Jacket; EF Collection Black Diamond Double Spiral Ring; EF Collection Double Diamond Stack Ring with Chain; EF Collection Diamond Double Stack Bangle.
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007_I3A9618Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
What advice do you have for other girls and women who are afraid of public speaking, or can't present themselves as professionally as they might like?
"You have to be confident in yourself. You can’t compare yourself to others or second-guess yourself. I used to overthink everything, but I learned to let it go and be present. You have to focus on what’s happening now, not what’s in the future."
Any tricks to finding that kind of confidence?
"I think a lot of young girls and guys will do things and wear things because they think that it will help them be accepted, even if it means not feeling confident in what they do or wear. You have to express your own opinions and not worry so much about what is going on in other people’s minds. You will be happier that way."
Alice and Olivia Ribbon Bow Sweater; Maje Jacket.
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008_I3A9750Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten from someone?
"A friend of mine told me something that really stuck with me. It was: “Decide you want something more than it scares you.” There are so many things that scare us every day, but it’s so important that we just go for it. It doesn’t matter what happens in the end; it matters that we tried. I was considering not doing Dancing With The Stars because it was so scary, but I decided to just go for it — otherwise I would spend time wondering what could have happened."
What about the worst advice you've ever gotten?
"I’ve gotten so much bad advice that I’ve been able to completely block out. But, there have been people who told me to be rude to those who leave negative comments on my videos, and that is a piece of advice I will never follow."
Nanette Lepore Ottoman Dress; Astr Sidesplit Woven Top; Aldo Saya Boots; Stella and Bow Louise Necklace; Graziela Gems White Daisy Ring; EF Collection Black Diamond Double Spiral Ring; EF Collection Double Diamond Stack Ring with Chain; EF Collection Diamond Double Stack Bangle.
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009_I3A9847Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
How does Dancing With The Stars feel different from being on-camera on YouTube?
"It’s a completely different world. As a YouTuber, everything is pre-filmed. We can edit out bloopers. So, transitioning to live TV has been the biggest adjustment for me. Obviously the rehearsals aren’t live, but on show day the audience and cameras can definitely add to the nerves. So, it's something new that scared me."
How do you overcome that fear?
"Recently, I’ve been reminding myself that this is supposed to be fun. The first week, I was really nervous. I had so many questions and I kind of let my nerves control me. But, the second week, I tried to remember that this is a fun, cool experience that I can look back on when I’m older. I’m not focusing on winning; I’m not a professional dancer, and this isn’t what I do. This is just a cool thing to try."
How competitive are you when it comes to winning the show?
"In the beginning of any game, I am usually super-chill. But, as it goes on, I definitely get a little competitive. I think my competitive side will be coming out pretty soon. Each week, I watch the performances online and check what I could have done better. So, I’m in a competition with myself, really."
Nanette Lepore Ottoman Dress; Astr Sidesplit Woven Top; Stella and Bow Louise Necklace; Graziela Gems White Daisy Ring; EF Collection Black Diamond Double Spiral Ring; EF Collection Double Diamond Stack Ring with Chain; EF Collection Diamond Double Stack Bangle.
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010_I3A9392Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
You've been getting a ton of celeb support lately. How does that feel?
"It is so cool. I was watching the show [DWTS] on TV while I was on Twitter, and a tweet from Taylor Swift popped up saying she loved [my dance to her song "Shake It Off"]. It was insane; I never thought Taylor Swift would see my performance or would go out of her way to tweet about it. I found out later she mentioned it in an interview, too, and said she was a fan of my YouTube videos. It’s just cool, because I’ve been a fan of hers for years."
Have you had a truly starstruck moment yet — the way your fans do when they meet you?
"I met Ansel Elgort recently at the Teen Choice Awards, and it was so exciting. I saw him walk by casually on the carpet. Me and my friend got the courage to go up to him and ask for a selfie. I had to control my inner fan girl with that one."
Bethany Mota for Aeropostale Burgundy Velvet Skater Dress; Bethany Mota for Aeropostale Knit Cardigan; Raina Belt; Bethany Mota for Aeropostale Black Lace-Up Bootie; Melinda Maria Maxwell Necklace; EF Collection Black Diamond Double Spiral Ring; EF Collection Double Diamond Stack Ring with Chain; EF Collection Diamond Double Stack Bangle.
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011_I3A9370Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
We hear a lot of complaints about the social media generation, and how it's ridiculous that you can find fame and make significant money doing what you do. What do you say to those people?
"I think a lot of people don’t understand this because it’s so different than what was happening, say, 10 years ago. My sister and mom were never into makeup, but by going online I was able to learn great tips. And, the best part is that it’s advice coming from people who genuinely want to help you. That doesn’t apply to just makeup videos — there are tons of advice and daily routine videos, too. They are all so raw and organic. I feel lucky to just be a part of it."
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about teens today?
"That’s a tough one. A lot of people say teenagers rebel a lot, but I think it’s important to remember that we are just trying to figure things out and discover what we are passionate about. We’re young and we’re fearless and we just want to figure out who we are."
Bethany Mota for Aeropostale Burgundy Velvet Skater Dress; Bethany Mota for Aeropostale Knit Cardigan; Raina Belt; Melinda Maria Maxwell Necklace; EF Collection Black Diamond Double Spiral Ring; EF Collection Double Diamond Stack Ring with Chain; EF Collection Diamond Double Stack Bangle.
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