Get Mota-vated: How Bethany Mota learned to let the real Beth shine
With millions of fans constantly clicking on her every post, YouTube star Bethany Mota has one of the most widely recognized faces on the internet—and IRL. Here, the 21-year-old vlogger, entrepreneur and soon-to-be author shares how, despite bouts of shyness and self-doubt, she built an empire by facing her fears...and letting the *real* Bethany shine.
It was bullying that led Bethany Mota to post her first video on YouTube in 2009. “I was looking for a way to express myself,” she says. Sharing her voice on YouTube felt safer, somehow, than opening up in real life, where “friends” had been cruel. That first video, a simple beauty haul, put Bethany on a path to more than 20 million social media followers, a clothing collaboration with Aéropostale, a spot on Dancing with the Stars (she made the finals), two hit music singles, an interview with former President Barack Obama, a line of school supplies with Target and a spot on Time’s most in uential teens list—twice.
Now, in June, she’ll step into bookstores around the world with her first release, Make Your Mind Up: My Guide to Finding Your Own Style, Life, and Motavation! (Gallery Books, $25)—a collection of Bethany’s thoughts and advice on everything from fashion to beauty to DIY-you-name-it. We caught up with Bethany to chat about how the book came to be, plus her journey from shy girl to social media icon.
GL: Your bullying experience sounds intense. What exactly happened?
Bethany Mota: When I was around 12, some kids at my school created a page online where they posted photos of me with mean captions talking about my weight, my appearance, things that really had nothing to do with who I was as a person. I hadn’t dealt with anything like that before and took everything to heart. I thought something was wrong with me—I blamed myself.
How did you react?
I just kind of shut down and didn’t talk about it, but I felt very negative inside. I always had issues expressing emotion, even with friends and family, and the bullying made me even more scared to be myself because I was afraid of people disapproving of me. But now I feel grateful that it happened.
Because I got sick of feeling afraid! I was looking for a way to express myself, and I loved watching videos on YouTube. I really wanted to try making my own, but I never gave myself permission to do so until the summer of 2009 when I discovered beauty videos. I remember begging my mom to buy me a few items from MAC Cosmetics. I thought, “I finally have something to make videos about!” And after posting, I got this amazing rush because I was able to say what I felt without feeling judged for it.
Did it cross your mind that YouTube could just end up being another space where people would put you down?
I got a few hate comments and I was frustrated, like, “Why don’t people like me?! They don’t even know me!” And I think it’s easy to go into that questioning—why, why, why don’t they like me? What can I do to make them like me? But then I realized that especially with online stuff, people write things from behind a computer that they’d never say to your face.
There was one person who constantly posted negative comments. So I shouted out to that person and said, “Hey I really don’t like your posts. I hope you have a good day. You know, no hard feelings.” And this person then responded to me and said, “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry. I’ve been going through stuff in my life that has been making me very unhappy. So I just have been taking it out on random people.” This person completely changed their attitude toward me, and it really blew my mind.
It’s amazing you made that connection!
Yeah. I learned that most of the time bullying is coming from a person battling something in their own lives, causing them to lash out. I think that negativity and hate can actually be a cry for help—I look at it as an opportunity to see what’s going on in someone’s life that’s making them feel negative. So now, if people bully me, I don’t let it bother me. I know it has nothing to do with me.
A lot of your success on YouTube has been because you are so genuine, but you grew up not knowing how to be yourself. How did you break out of your shell?
If you watch my first video I was super shy, and very uncomfortable and awkward on camera. I was still figuring things out—who I was, what my style was, what I liked. But I’ve always been real with my audience, and because of that I feel like we have a very strong connection. They are the reason I’m creative. So it isn’t just a viewer and a creator—it’s like an actual friendship. Whatever I do they’re very supportive of it, and they always have my back.
That strong bond must boost your confidence. But even so, are you ever scared to share something super real?
In the beginning I didn’t really want to talk about the bullying. And then I realized that when I opened up about it, so many people had been through similar things. The comments were just flooded with people sharing their stories and responding to each other. It became a forum where everyone was opening up.
I think people love to see things that are raw, not just all good, because they can relate and see a part of themselves in the video. YouTube is one of the most powerful platforms because there’s a real emotional connection between creators and viewers.
And now you’ve got a new platform—your book! Did you enjoy writing it?
I had so much fun pouring my heart out into the book—writing is something I really love to do. I have a folder on my computer called “Beth Thoughts” and it’s just piles of words. It’s best for me when I open up my computer or a notebook and just start writing without trying to craft it.
In the book, I was able to open up more than I ever have. For example, I’ve done a video about working out and I’ll add in a sentence about self-love or body image, but in the book I’m really able to talk about it in depth. Actually there’s a lot of stuff about self-love because it’s so important to me.
There’s also style and beauty in it, but it’s not based on trends. This book is about the way I do things and what I’ve learned. I knew I wanted advice and motivation to be a really big part of whatever I wrote, while still incorporating what you’d see on my channel.
You’ve always had your own style regardless of trends. Do you ever look back and realize you had a fashion fail?
Oh yeah, I got my first pair of high heels when I was 11. I just felt so grown up and woman-like, so I wanted to wear my heels everywhere with every outfit. They were white with blue stripes, and one night I wore them to youth group with plaid pajama pants! No one said anything, though, so I rocked it.
Confidence is key! With all of your accomplishments, do you ever doubt yourself anymore?
I still have a lot of self-doubt. When I have a new idea, I sometimes think, “What if people don’t like this? What if they’re not going to want to watch my videos anymore?” But when I get into those thoughts about what might go wrong, the what-ifs, I try to think, “What if it’s amazing? What if this changes everything and is incredible?”
You turn your worries into motivation.
Most of my fears are just keeping me from being my true self. So I ask myself, “What do you really want? What do you want to achieve? What fears are keeping you from that and how can you conquer them?”
There are little things that scare us every day, and really keep us from doing what we want to do. What I’ve found is that when I face one fear, I get into the habit of doing things that scare me... and I get a little closer to the person I want to be.
That’s a great technique. Do you have any more ideas for girls who are feeling like you did at 13—looking for their passion but afraid to express themselves?
You have to go with what you enjoy, regardless of what others around you think you should be doing. I know people who have gotten into YouTube and then stopped because they have friends who thought it was weird. Don’t be afraid to be different. It’s safer to do what everyone else is doing, but it pays off way more to be yourself.
This article was originally featured in the April May 2017 issue of Girls' Life.