How Coming Out Has Given YouTube Star Ingrid Nilsen the Chance to Be Her True Self
YouTube star Ingrid Nilsen is obsessed with hair right now. Part of that has to do with the book she's currently reading: Me, Myself, and My Hair: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession, which is a collection of essays about the complex and telling relationships women have with their hair. But it also has to do with the fact that she just chopped most of hers off.
“It’s fascinating and really cool to read all these stories and get a little taste of where each person has come from and how far they’ve gone in their lives, just based on their hair story,” she tells WomensHealthMag.com over the phone. “Your hair is something that can represent what's going on politically in the world and what you’re feeling personally. Your hair can represent your sexuality, it can represent your religion, it can represent so many things.”
If hair is symbolic of one’s journey, Ingrid’s hair, which, post-chop, is now a short, graduated bob that barely grazes her chin—and more importantly, reveals every inch of her face—signifies freedom.
“My long hair was my security blanket for a while,” she says. “And then I started to come out of my shell, and I was like, 'You know what? This is my hair. I can do whatever I want with it.' I don’t need the security blanket anymore."
The evolution of Ingrid Nilsen. Photograph courtesy of Ingrid Nilsen/Instagram
At 26 years old, some might say it's time for Ingrid to do away with security blankets altogether. However, holding onto something that made her feel comfortable and safe might have been exactly what Ingrid needed in order to take the risks that have made her who she is today: a young woman with a vibrant career doing who is doing what she loves, has a partner who respects and understands her, and has a support network that includes millions of dedicated fans. So we find no shame in that blankie game.
The Uploads That Changed Everything Ingrid has been wanting to come out of her shell for a long time now. In fact, her shyness is what inspired her to start her YouTube channel in the first place. In 2009, as a college student, she decided to tackle her fear of public speaking with her newfound appreciation for makeup. In a poorly lit room, she recorded her first YouTube videos, including the now-painfully-awkward-to-watch “How To: Flawless Red Lips."
This random middle-of-the-night idea was the start of what would become a small beauty-blogging empire. Ingrid now boasts 3.8+ million subscribers to her main channel, one million subscribers to her second, less-beauty-focused channel, TheGridMonster, 939,000 followers on Twitter, and 1.5 million followers on Instagram. Oh, and several companies have also signed Ingrid for sponsorship campaigns, bringing her yearly income well into the six figures (at least reportedly).
Of course, as Ingrid will tell you, none of that matters if you're not happy...which brings us to June 9, 2015.
The video she posted on that day starts—just as "How To: Flawless Red Lips" did—with a very nervous Ingrid in front of the camera. Only this time, she's about to delve into something very different than a lipstick tutorial. In her video, “Something I Want You To Know (Coming Out),” Ingrid opens up, sheds some happy tears, and says with piercing honesty that she has decided to come out as gay because she feels she “deserves her best chance at happiness.” This video is just as painful to watch as "Red Lips," but for a very different reason—it's a touching reminder of how necessary it is to be ourselves and live authentically.
Prior to coming out, Ingrid struggled with what she describes as the “in-limbo place.” Some of her closest friends knew she was gay, but her fans and people involved in her business had no idea. She struggled with feeling ambivalent about taking the leap and announcing her sexuality. Some days, she felt completely ready, and other days, she was content keeping her sexual orientation to herself.
“I didn’t want to be worried about keeping this secret, like, 'What if somebody saw me walking down the street holding hands with a girl?’” she says. “I really wanted to be able to tell people myself before somebody else said something about it.”
Ingrid's coming out video now has almost 13 million views, and it’s the top result when you Google her, despite the fact that she was also a cast member on the Project Runway spin-off, Project Runway: Threads, and that she was the first YouTube star to be an official CoverGirl ambassador. That said, she didn't actually consider how her coming out might impact her involvement with the brands she works with.
Photograph courtesy of Ingrid Nilsen/Instagram
"My job and business relationships were the very last thing I was thinking about because I knew, deep down in my heart, that people in my community would be supportive," says Ingrid. "If people I was working with had a problem with me being gay, I didn’t want to work with them anyway. My main concern was my community and the people in my personal life and also myself. "
Of course, Ingrid's coming out video didn't just make her life better; it also impacted her millions of fans. "Just this weekend, I had a girl come up to me and say that she felt she had never seen herself reflected in someone who was more of a public figure," says Ingrid. "It's so cool to see a community form around this video."
Her Best Shot at Happiness Coming out has given Ingrid the opportunity to not just publicly live her truth, but also to break down some stereotypes about how gay women look, dress, act, and feel. While still overtly femme, Ingrid is wearing less makeup than ever before and is instead focusing more on inner beauty, personal growth, and relevant social issues. In May, she launched a series called “Sense of Self,” in which she interviews her friends (usually other YouTube stars) about their most treasured personal items. She also posts videos about topics like periods, poop (including pooping her pants), the often fucked-up beauty expectations for women. And when Ingrid does post beauty or fashion tutorials these days, they're a far cry from the "Guy Approved Date Outfits"-type videos she used to churn out; her newer content is more like a backstage look at a vibrant, multi-dimensional young woman's evolving sense of style.
Take, for example, her skin story video, in which Ingrid explains how she cleared up her chronic acne—and also shares how pushing herself to not wear any makeup during really bad breakouts forced her to feel more comfortable in her own skin.
In a time when everyone is over-filtered and perfectly posed, Ingrid stands out because she looks perfectly real. Yes, she might be sporting flawlessly winged black eyeliner, but chances are she's paired it with a t-shirt and her favorite broken-in Vans.
With all of this change, it's hard not to wonder if Ingrid's older videos ring false to her now—like she was performing or pretending to be someone she's not. “For a while, I was little clouded and distracted," she admits. "But it wasn't that I was doing things I didn’t enjoy—I just have a lot more clarity now, and it’s like the fog has moved away."
Someone who helped Ingrid push some of that fog away is her girlfriend, fellow YouTube star Hannah Hart. You may recognize Hannah from her series, My Drunk Kitchen. Soon after Ingrid came out, her fans began to feverishly speculate whether the two were together (they even gifted them the nickname "Hangrid" and created numerous websites—like The Hangrid Blog, for example). It wasn't until September that the women announced they were officially together, but Ingrid takes all of the attention in stride.
"It’s really sweet that people love what we do," she says. "I think we’ve found a good balance where we’re not hiding anything, we’re proud to be together, we love each other...but it’s also nice to have those private moments, as well.”
Photograph courtesy of Ingrid Nilsen/Instagram
It being 2015, though, many of those “private moments” end up in tweets and Snapchats. It’s not uncommon for Ingrid to post a photo of, say, a sandwich she’s about to eat—and there, in the background, is a tiny bit of Hannah’s bleach-blonde hair. In many ways, it’s fitting: Hannah has really been there all along since the two have been friends for years, way before their romantic relationship began.
“Hannah had a very different coming out journey and experience,” says Ingrid. “But it’s still really nice to be able to talk to somebody who has been through it, even though it’s different.”
It's these kinds of close-knit friendships, as well as her own explorations into inner beauty, that have inspired Ingrid to try so many new things recently, whether it's cutting off her hair or challenging herself to a DIY project every other day in December. Beyond that, she's just keeping things simple, swearing by the no-brainer self-care routines of a lot of moisturizer while flying, and a strong whiskey while drinking.
Photograph courtesy of Ingrid Nilsen/Instagram
As for providing advice for other young women, Ingrid is quick to quote the style icon Iris Apfel: “I think of this quote every day: ‘The biggest fashion faux pas is looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself.’ And you know, that version of yourself is going to change and evolve, but as long as you’re looking in the mirror today and seeing yourself, that’s the best you can do.”
Caitlin Abber is the senior editor at WomensHealthMag.com. Follow her on Twitter.