Outgoing. Energetic. Charming. That's what comes to mind when YouTube sensation Bethany Mota bursts on screen to deliver the goods — in the form of style tips and DIY projects — to her 9.4 million subscribers. However, believe it or not, it's her shyness that got her there.
"What encouraged me to start making videos was because I went through a time when I wasn't very confident," Mota, 19, told Yahoo Celebrity during an interview promoting her Omaze campaign benefiting UNICEF. "I also was very shy. Nowadays, I'm doing public speaking in front of different branding people, but I never would have been able to do that because I was so shy."
Going Her Own Way
Mota — who has since competed on Dancing With the Stars, released a single, created a fashion line, and even interviewed the President of the United States — was just 13 and coming off a bad experience with cyber-bullying when she started posting "haul videos" (showing off fashion purchases) on YouTube, a decision her friends thought was, well, weird.
"It was before YouTube was really relevant. It wasn't a cool thing to do," said Mota, who now gets paid (handsomely) by the company to make videos, which are much more produced and polished than your typical offerings on the user-generated content site. "When I tried to tell my friends or other people about it, they almost looked down on it. It wasn't something that anyone — besides my family — really supported. People were just kind of like: What are you doing? You're filming videos and posting them on the Internet? Normally people would be freaked out by that. I had to completely trust in myself regardless of what anyone else thought of it."
Now she's a social media phenomenon with more Instagram followers than Oscar winners (Reese Witherspoon), TV megastars (Sofia Vergara), and divas (Mariah Carey). Not bad for a kid who started out recording videos in her bedroom.
"What I wish I could tell my younger self is not to seek approval from anyone or feel like you have to do what's popular," the California native said. "In society, especially for younger kids, there are so many trends that you feel you need to be into. Not just what to wear, but trendy attitudes, too. I feel like it's trendy to be rude sometimes. That's not going to change if someone isn't willing to be different and express themselves regardless of what anyone else is saying. Someone who's just like: This is what I love to do regardless of if it's cool or not. That is going to encourage other kids to do what they love. It may not be YouTube, it may be a sport, a hobby, or something else, but it's important to allow yourself to have the courage to do it because it feels good regardless of what everyone else is saying about it."
Mota attended traditional school until eighth grade, when her mother started homeschooling her and her sister, Brittany. The brunette said that personalized schooling made her a better entrepreneur.
"I think [it] helped a lot because when you are homeschooled it requires a lot of self-discipline — getting yourself to do the work and really pay attention," she explained. "It's easy to get distracted and go off-schedule. I learned self-discipline and self-motivation at a young age. It helped me in my career because what I do now is similar in that it also requires a lot of self-discipline. There's no one over me telling me: 'You need to upload this on this day.' It's a very unique job that requires me to be my own boss, which is something I learned through homeschooling."
Giving Back (to School)
Mota graduated from high school three years ago, but offers an array of back-to-school tips to her young viewers, including things like "cute and comfy outfits," "DIY school supplies," and "after-school snack ideas."
"I looked forward to back-to-school time every year," said Mota, who's partnering with Omaze for a contest (winner gets lunch with her, among other things) that funds UNICEF's efforts to provide school supplies to children in need.
"When I heard about their school campaign, I got really excited because there are so many kids out there in need who may never get an education," she noted. "What I'm doing is raising awareness for that. I really love the whole concept of kids helping other kids because a lot of my audience is a lot younger. Growing up, I know I would have loved to find a way or donate or help out in any way that I can."
Why Her Own Back to School Days Aren't Over Yet
While Mota isn't headed back to school this year, she does have plans to attend college someday.
"I never really had a huge interest in going to college when I was younger, but now I really would love to go," Mota shared. "For me, it's a matter of when I have time. I am constantly traveling and on the go, working on things I never thought would happen, but there will definitely come a point where it's better timing to go. I definitely plan on going to college because I think it would be great for me and I'm always open to learning new things and challenging myself. That's another challenge I'd like to take on."
And another challenge she'll likely conquer. Yup, that shy and insecure young girl is long gone.