For TikTok phenom Mikayla Nogueira, 2022 had no shortage of highlight reel moments.
Two years ago, COVID forced the makeup wunderkind to swerve off her carefully laid out career path (bye-bye, practical HR job at the bank!) and into the vast unknown of the world's fastest-growing social media platform. She emerged with a following of more than 14 million thanks to her unflinchingly honest makeup reviews and f-bomb-laced candor. The came the array of deals, like the collab she dropped in March with cult-favorite skincare brand Glow Recipe and the sunglasses collection she released with Dime Optics in August.
This year also saw the 24-year-old shell out two years' worth of savings for a four-bedroom, six-bathroom Cape Cod near the Boston Harbor and find a little bit of love with Rihanna when tapped to interview the pop star at a March Fenty Beauty event in L.A. The resulting videos racked upwards of 110 million views and created a core memory for her inner fangirl.
"I'm just a girl from a really small town in the middle of nowhere and no one knew who I was just less than three years ago," the Bryant University grad marveled to E! News in an exclusive interview. "And the fact that I was invited to speak to her is unreal to me."
And, yet, among the many blessings that 2022 brought, Mikayla's favorite might just be that it ended.
Struggling with both her mental health and an eating disorder she labeled as "out of control" this past July, "last year was actually really, really hard for me," she admitted. "My platform does know I struggle with my mental health quite a bit and it definitely took a plummet last year."
At times she's wrestled with conveying those hardships, a resurfaced 2021 video that saw her discuss the downsides of life as an influencer getting her dinged last fall for appearing ungrateful and out of touch.
But it's not as if she's unaware of her immense privilege.
She sees it every day in the reported $2.5 million house that TikTok built. Growing up in the south of Boston "seeing a lot of homelessness," Mikayla detailed, "I always had this internal fear of not having a roof over my head." So despite saving "every single penny" in anticipation of her first major expenditure, "buying a house, especially a house of the size that I purchased and the cost and everything, at the age of 23 is truly unbelievable, unreal to me," she said. "It's wild."
She also shakes off disbelief each time she's invited to attend an event for a beauty brand she grew up admiring or interview the likes of Rihanna or Rare Beauty founder Selena Gomez. Joked Mikayla, "I'm like, 'Are you sure? This isn't an accidental email?'"
But sometimes a girl just wants to shuffle off to the grocery store without worrying her every move is being surveilled.
"I get recognized absolutely everywhere I go now," she explained. "It's unavoidable in a way, specifically because I do have such a strong Massachusetts fanbase. So when I go out, I cannot be camouflaged. That has been really, really tough for me."
Social anxiety has always been a bit of a struggle for her, she noted. "But then you add on the people coming up and it's been really, really difficult for me to adjust. Especially because when I meet my supporters, I want to give them the best interaction possible. But sometimes I just shut down and I don't know what to say. And I can be really awkward and shy."
And for those already reaching for their tiny violins, she gets why it appears as if she's living the dream. Because, in a lot of ways, she is, always taking the time to acknowledge how much she freaking loves her job.
"I mean, if you're not in my position and someone says to you, 'All right, I'm going to give you millions and millions of followers, money, a house,'" she allowed. "I mean, meeting Rihanna? They'd be like, 'Hell yeah, I'll take it!' But they don't necessarily see the bad that can come with it. Like the media attention and the negativity and there's eyes on me 24/7. I feel like I have to be so careful about everything I do and say. So there is a lot of pressure."
The weight of it all threatened to bring her down last October when, at fiancé Cody's urging, she made the decision to sign out of social media for nearly two months, practically an eternity in TikTok terms where new viral video-making stars are born every hour.
"Cody said to me, 'Mikayla, you need to, like, get it together,'" she recalled. "Because I was letting social media absolutely consume me, if I'm being honest."
Struggling to separate online Mikayla from the IRL version, "I just became so consumed by my career," she explained of forgetting to eat meals, drink water or communicate with friends and family. "And that just goes along with the pressure to perform and the pressure to grow and be the best creator you can be. It's unreal, that feeling. So I stepped away so I could figure out who the offline Mikayla was."
She returned in late November with a renewed passion and a whole toolbox worth of strategies she amassed while trading social media for actually living ("I didn't even use my phone unless I needed to make a phone call or answer an email that was urgent"), and also tackling her social anxiety with the help of a psychiatrist and medication.
"It was the best decision I could have ever made," Mikayla noted. "And I found myself again. And since then, I've been able to separate that social media world from the real world."
Not that she doesn't find herself slipping, particularly when it comes to sifting through the roughly 1,000 comments she receives for each video she posts.
"I will get consumed by comments and I'll just scroll and scroll and scroll," she admitted. Though ignoring them entirely isn't really an option in a job that requires actively cultivating a connection with fans, she gives herself just one hour to peruse and respond to the many queries and remarks. Then she does her best to cut herself off: "You shouldn't be looking at the comments five hours later and reading all the new ones that come in."
The risk, of course, is coming across that one hateful zinger in a sea of praise. "You could see 999 really sweet, nice comments," Mikayla noted. "And then that one comment, it can just throw you off."
Because she's all about feeling the love these days, embracing her figure for the first time in what feels like forever and declaring in a Jan. 3 post "I actually love my body." She credits a bit of crafty marketing from her go-to denim retailers American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch ("Their jeans, rather than them saying, these are plus-size, they call them curvy," she explained, "and when I put them on, I'm like, 'Ooh, I'm curvy'"), as well as her decision to embrace form-fitting garb and being "with someone who loves my body."
That would be the aforementioned Cody, the man she knew was her forever the instant they met in 2020.
Set to wed this July, the pair are deeply entrenched in the planning process, often taking Mikayla's followers along for the ride. "Tomorrow we're going to go get Cody's tuxedo," she detailed, ticking off the to-do list. "And then this Saturday, I'm getting my wedding dress. And then next week, we're going to go do the food tasting and pick out our menu. And then we're going to go do the cake tasting."
And, yes, her crew will be invited into the big day. "I did hire a videographer who's going to make cool TikTok videos for me," Mikayla noted, "so that I can take my audience with me on the experience."
Nearly three years in, she's grateful for everyone who's held on for each part of the ride and she intends to keep it moving through each rise, fall and loop the loop.
"I'd say the biggest lessons I've learned is that there are going to be obstacles along the way where I may get knocked down," she shared, reflecting on the past year. "But at the end of the day, I always got back up because my passion remains makeup. And if you have a passion that you so badly want to fulfill and it makes you happy and you feel whole when you get to pursue it, it's important to stick with that, even with those obstacles."
Her best advice, she continued, speaking to herself as much as anyone else: "Just stay in your lane. You're going to hit roadblocks, but just keep going. Even if you break down and it takes three hours for AAA to come, I promise you'll get back on the road eventually."