When Jessica Chatfield was four years old, her whole house was great. She could do anything good. She liked her school, her dad, her cousins, her mom, her hair, her pajamas, her stuff, her room... And if any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you watched her shout these exact words into her bathroom mirror in a YouTube video titled “Jessica’s ‘Daily Affirmation.’”
When the video went viral six years ago, Jessica seemed like the next big child star — part Shirley Temple, part motivational speaker. The only problem: That little girl wasn’t so adorable anymore. In fact, she’d never felt more awkward. “People were shocked when they found out I wasn’t four years old,” Jessica remembers. Her dad, David Chatfield, may have uploaded the video in the summer of 2009, but it had actually been filmed on a DiGi8 tape recorder back in 2001. So the most popular little kid on the internet was actually 12 years old and…well, you remember what that was like. “I think if I’d been older or younger, I would’ve had more fun with internet fame,” Jessica says. “But I was so shy back then and really caught off guard by the whole thing.” David originally started a YouTube account to share old home movies of his two daughters with family. When he unearthed the video of Jessica clowning around after bath time, he entered it into a Juicy Juice “Your Kids Did What?” video contest for a chance to win a $5,000 Amazon gift card.
“People were shocked when they found out I wasn’t four years old."
“In the video title, I put ‘daily affirmation’ in quotation marks because this wasn’t something Jessica actually did every day,” says David. “But I couldn’t watch it without smiling.” By the end of the contest, the video only had about 1,000 views and not enough votes to take home the grand prize. Everything changed in May 2010 — and the Chatfields still don’t know exactly how. At the beginning of the month, the video had fewer than 5,000 views. By May 26, it had two million and counting. Celebrities, including The Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels, Pretty Little Liars actress Troian Bellisario, and Chicken Soup for the Soul co-author Jack Canfield, tweeted the video. Then the clip made the media rounds on Good Morning America, Inside Edition, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Still, Jessica’s life felt pretty normal, until her last TV interview. “Honestly, it’s all Tosh.0’s fault,” Jessica says, laughing. She had never seen Daniel Tosh perform before filming an interview and bathroom skit with him in the home of one of the show’s producers. The day after it aired, it was all the boys in her middle school could talk about. “I was so excited when this guy I liked came up to me and said, ‘Oh, my God, I saw you on Tosh!’” Jessica says. “Then he said, ‘It sucks that he totally made fun of you.’” She couldn’t bear to watch the entire segment. Instead, her friends gave her a play-by-play, including the parts where Tosh corrected her math and joked, “Is this the new commercial for Yaz?”
Jessica never let the attention get to her head, in a positive or negative way. When she was recognized on a family trip to Disney World a year after the Tosh.0 episode, she shrugged and signed her first autograph. Then other home movies on David’s YouTube channel started getting attention. A video of Jessica comforting her younger sister Vanessa for the first time put both girls in the spotlight.
Jessica’s parents weren’t too worried about her safety after the videos went viral. Most news outlets only used her first name and didn’t share her location or other identifying details. “I was more concerned when she visited the comments section every now and then,” David says. “That can be overwhelming for anyone, and she was just a tween girl at the time.” The majority of the nearly 5,000 comments are glowing. People around the world call Jessica an inspiration, a champion, a pint-sized life coach. She’s inspired music videos and this church-ready hymn. One woman from Vietnam has sent fan letters over Facebook for years and most recently shared the news of her first child — a baby girl she named Jessica. “Another woman left a comment about watching the video nonstop while she was in labor,” Jessica says. “I can’t even imagine!” Of course, for every piece of unabashed joy and beauty on the internet, there are a few haters. Occasionally, a random know-it-all is absolutely appalled that Jessica’s negligent parents would let her stand on the bathroom sink. More often, viewers muse cynically that there’s no way Jessica’s still so positive all these years later.
A number of parody videos imagine Jessica chanting in the mirror into adulthood. In one, a fictional teenage Jessica mentions her mom, her dad, her hair, and her whole house again, except now she hates them. Then, as a frazzled adult, she mentions loving her subprime mortgage, distant husband, and pharmaceutical drugs. Womp womp. “I can’t tell you how many times people have said I should re-create the video now that I’ve had time for life to suck the happiness out of me,” Jessica says. “That’s just not realistic for me. I don’t stand on the bathroom counter these days, but that video’s still a good representation of who I am.” Today Jessica prefers being called Jess. She’s a sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a Tri Delta sorority sister, and she plans to double-major in business management and political science. Jess’s friends consider her the “mom” of the group, because she checks in with everyone each night before going to sleep. When she stresses about school, they sometimes remind her, “You can do anything good!”
Alas, we regret to inform you that those bouncy blonde curls didn’t fare well in the Texas humidity and are now long gone, thanks to Brazilian hair straightening. But overall, life is good. When asked to do another daily affirmation, Jess is ready. “I like my friends and family,” she says. “I like my school. I like my clothes. I like my shoes — oh no, this sounds so vapid! I like my books. I like my house. I like my sorority. I like my hair…” She likes her whole life.