About 7 years ago I was at an event where a couple who were “YouTube famous” were explaining the “secrets” to viral YouTube success.
And not just views, but dollars. They went from $0 to a couple million in three years (selling products).
I still have the notes.
They emphasized the importance of consistency, the dangers of being over-produced, and the vital power of communicating authenticity and “providing value.”
They were lovely humans, tbh. I really wanted to dislike them, but I couldn’t find a reason to - they were delightful. Understated and generous.
There was none of that influencer “LOOK AT ME!!” vibe to them. The opposite, actually, they seemed to embody an almost gentle humility. They were overwhelmingly grateful for their success as influencers and sincere in wanting to share as much of their hard-won knowledge (“secrets”) with others.
But there was one GLARING oversight.
And I was too busy drinking the Kool-Aid to call it out. I desperately wanted to believe that everything they said was true.
Show up as your real self! Connect with your audience! Be authentic! You do you! “The more you give the more you receive,” I believe they said at one point.
Lucky for my Kool-Aid-drunk-ass-self, someone else at the event was sober and willing to touch the third rail.
“I mean no disrespect,” he began, “but how much of your success on this platform do you attribute to your both being extremely good looking?”
He continued, “I mean, it’s a visual medium and you’re selling beauty products. You don’t think that’s related?”
Without flinching both said, “It’s not that.”
They, again, emphasized their hard work and the importance of authentic, consistent, value-adding content and moved on with their presentation.
These two were STUNNING. Like can’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-them real-humans-don’t-look-like-this STUNNING.
And they dressed the part, donning fedoras and somehow pulling off linen pants? It was a dude and a girl and they claimed these things were just “natural expressions of who we are.”
I believe that they believed that this was true. Like I said, they were lovely. No douche-bro-ness, no mean-girl vibes, no assholery, no “I’m better than you” stuff.
They appeared genuinely hard working. There is no question they earned their keep.
But ALSO - they were hot.
And it is not insignificant.
My guess is they needed to downplay that aspect because to suggest people make themselves better looking to succeed is an awful message that feels contradictory to the “be authentic and real” cornerstone of their platform.
It just so happened they were blessed with genes that made their “real and authentic” selves look like Scar-Jo had a baby with Brad Pitt.
THEY WERE FUN TO LOOK AT! THIS IS NOT INSIGNIFICANT.
I don’t think they were consciously deceiving people. I think they had a blindspot that was rooted in shame. We all have blindspots. Mine is also that I am unreasonably good looking and just have no idea.(I KID.)
Humility is a wonderful trait, but blindspots in the “advice giving” category are dangerous. Be weary of any advice that rests on good ole perseverance and hard work, without explicitly stating (or actively downplays) advantages.
My suspicion is those two were ashamed or embarrassed at how great a factor their beauty was in their success, in the same way that many of us with privileges feel shame about not having earned them.
But denying that privileges doesn’t eradicate the shame, it just makes you a liar. Even if the person you’re lying to is yourself.
These two were born stunning. People want to look at them. There is no denying that this was an enormous factor in their success in addition to consistency and adding value and creating content people are looking for.
A better way forward would have been to embrace the unearned advantage and trust that it doesn’t discount your hard work.
Both can be true. You can be stunning and work extremely hard.
Their presentation, in retrospect, was a defense mechanism protecting a fragile ego. The question they were avoiding deep down was could I have done this without my beauty?
Which is a coded question for: Am I enough?
Which is hiding the real source of shame, which is this: I am not enough. I could not have done this without my advantages. So I will pretend they’re not there. <—
That is the story that keeps people from owning their advantages. Fear that without them, they are nothing.
Perhaps these two could have succeeded without their beauty, perhaps they could not. There is no way to know.
All I know was had they stood up and said, “Hey, so, we know how we look. We understand this is appealing to certain Western audiences. And we see this as an asset and a gift,” it would have been a refreshingly honest presentation that would have gone viral.
No Kool-Aid needed.
We need more truth tellers in this world. Go be one of them.