Ingrid Nilsen joined YouTube back in 2009 when she started posting makeup tutorials filmed in her very own bedroom. Within two years, her channel began to grow, beyond her walls and beauty world, where she discovered that her relatable content could widely inspire her audience. Almost eight years after her first YouTube video, Nilsen has evolved as a person and an influencer, creating a greater impact than she could have ever imagined.
In June 2015, Nilsen sat down to film her most challenging video yet, where she came out as gay to her nearly 4 million subscribers. Now, two years later, she exclusively speaks with Yahoo Beauty to explain the remarkable ways that her life has changed since.
“I think the biggest change has been the depth of my relationships all around, both online and offline. I’m closer to my friends than I ever have been and I feel more connected to my community than ever before,” Nilsen says. “When you decide to open yourself up and share some of the vulnerable pieces inside of you, it binds you to people in ways you never could’ve imagined. It’s truly a beautiful thing.”
But it hasn’t always been beautiful or easy. As many people in the LGBTQ community have experienced, coming out is a difficult process, no matter the size of your audience. For Nilsen, it was something she had to both discover and come to terms with herself before opening up to her loyal subscribers.
In a recent video, Nilsen explains the exploratory process she went through in order to find herself, discovering her sexual identity along the way. With an upbringing like hers, where she never knew that being gay was even a possibility, the realization was met with immense confusion.
“I didn’t even know what a lesbian was until I was almost in high school,” she explains, “and even then, when I heard the word, the connotation was derogatory, so I always associated being gay with being bad. I didn’t want to be bad.”
Nilsen’s environment initially influenced her perception of what it means to be gay, as is the case for many people. But the shame that she began to feel as she discovered more about herself is the biggest thing she had to push past in order to be her happiest self.
“For me, coming out was acknowledging those things and consciously deciding that I was going to move forward in truth. I stopped apologizing for the things I never should’ve had to apologize for in the first place, and it freed me.”
The courage that Nilsen displayed in her coming-out video is something that’s still acknowledged today, as she encourages others to live their lives unapologetically — a message that was integrated into the “Be Your Best Self” kit that she collaborated on with bareMinerals this past February.
“The entire kit took months of back and forth, so it has been so exciting to see it finished and out in the world,” she says. “I wanted ‘Be Your Best Self’ on the kit bag because it’s something I tell myself every day. Whether I’m wearing makeup or not, the thing that makes me feel like my best self is honesty.”
As a biracial gay woman [she’s half Thai and half Norwegian], honesty is something that remains vital in Nilsen’s everyday life. Working with a major beauty brand, she makes sure to accurately represent gay women for the diversity that the community entails.
“When you look at the history of the beauty industry, the standard for what’s beautiful at a corporate level is extremely narrow. It’s a big reason why I was so confused and repressed in terms of my sexual identity. There were no examples of out feminine lesbians in the media and definitely not in the beauty industry. I hope that when [women] see someone who doesn’t fit the stereotype of ‘what a lesbian looks like,’ they find comfort and power within their own identities.”
Representing so many people does come with pressure. However, the opportunity to work with bareMinerals has allowed Nilsen to further illustrate the values that more beauty brands should stand for — including unwavering inclusivity.
“So often I’ll see a brand projecting an image, but behind the scenes nothing is really changing,” Nilsen says of LGBTQ representation in the beauty industry. “On one hand, I get it and it’s also really cool that LGBTQ+ community is getting more mainstream recognition. On the other hand, where were all of these brands when there was no one else standing up for us? When it wasn’t ‘cool’ to put up a fight? That’s why I love bareMinerals so much. They could’ve picked anyone to be their face, but they chose me, and that’s not a coincidence, it’s a reflection of their core values.”
Though Nilsen already has numerous ways to reach her fan base, she’s continued to create outlets where people can feel comfortable exploring any and all topics. With her best friend, Cat Valdes, she’s created a podcast called Ladies Who Lunch, where she believes no topic is off-limits. And in honor of Pride Month, they’ve dedicated time to marginalized voices.
“For the month of June, we’ve dedicated every episode to a different LGBTQ+ topic — being a gay woman, bisexuality, gender, and being a queer person of color,” Nilsen explains. “It’s been one of my favorite months because we’ve had so many amazing guests on the podcast. Everyone has a powerful and meaningful story to share, and I’m grateful that they shared it with us.”
Efforts that Nilsen has made to create an inclusive space have not gone unnoticed, by the people who adore her or the people who still don’t understand her cause. But in response to the negativity she encounters regularly, she recognizes that it’s up to her to remain self-assured.
“Feelings are transient, and there’s always a point where we can either choose to hold on or let go,” she says. “It’s a mindfulness practice that I have to work on daily, but it has made me more grounded in who I am.”
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