To follow Celeste Barber on Instagram — as 6.8 million people including Gwyneth Paltrow and Tom Ford currently do — is to love her. The Australian comedian, actor, and writer is best known for her ongoing photo/video series, #celestechallengeaccepted, in which she recreates fashion photos and sexy celebrity thirst traps (think Emily Ratajkowski in lingerie, or Izabel Goulart making jumping rope in a bikini look easy), but if you’ve been reading the headlines lately, you’ll see she’s so much more than her memes. Leveraging her massive social media platform, Barber has single-handedly raised more than $32 million for Australian wildlife relief — with donations from 1.2 million people, including some of her celeb pals whom she parodies on her personal channel, the fund is the most money EVER raised in Facebook’s fundraising history.
“Being a comedian, I wanted to make people laugh, and I saw Instagram as a platform,” Celeste tells Refinery29 global editor-in-chief Christene Barberich on this week’s episode of the UnStyled podcast. “I got sick of seeing bullshit served as every day, and as an attainable lifestyle, and as what is the norm and what is expected especially as women.”
It’s that persistent spirit and celebration of all aspects of womanhood that have made her comedy and acting work so appealing. In lieu of glossy and perfect, Celeste takes a raw lense to everything in her life, including her lack of athleticism and a sense of relatable discomfort in front of the camera. It’s genuinely funny and body-positive at the same time, a hard balance to strike. Unfortunately, though, Instagram isn’t always onboard with Barber’s brand of funny.
“The general idea is, if you are rich, hot, or famous, you are allowed to post whatever you want,” Celeste explains. “If you are not so rich, hot, or famous, all of a sudden, fucking terms and conditions kick in, and your stuff can get pulled down and blocked, and your account can be disabled because of it.”
Celeste, who does concede that she is currently more rich, hot, and famous than the average person, started the series to illustrate Instagram’s nudity double standard. But it also serves to inject a much-needed sense of reality onto a platform that’s famous for touting anything but. When she’s not pulling on a skin-tight bodysuit and posing like Kim Kardashian, Celeste does stand-up (she recently released a special on Showtime), acts (perhaps you’ve seen her as the very wonderful Barb on ABC’s The Letdown), and podcasts (Celeste and Her Best features she and her BFF, Thomas, talking about all things fame and Hollywood). In 2018, she published Challenge Accepted!, which is part memoir, part guide to life, and has been compared to Tina Fey’s Bossypants.
While she celebrates her career successes, Celeste is also refreshingly open about imposter syndrome and the strangeness of her sudden notoriety. There’s an irony to the fact that she became famous on Instagram for… making fun of Instagram that, as a comedian, certainly isn’t lost on her. “I'm like, ‘It could end.’ I've been in this industry for so long, and I've had the highs and lows, [it’s] feast or famine like nothing else,” she tells Barberich. “I’m very proactive in my career, always have been. Just keep going...just make it work.”
Hear the rest of Barber and Barberich’s conversation by listening to UnStyled and subscribing via Apple Podcasts today. And, of course, thanks for listening.