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Sarah Palmyra on the Transformative Tenderness of Self-Love

Sarah Palmyra first became enraptured with makeup from observing her grandmother’s routine. “I always remember her having this really beautiful vanity. She had this ritual of always taking care of her skin,” she says. “I remember just even being as young as five and watching her in fascination, applying her makeup and taking off her makeup. She had all these beautiful creams laid out on her vanity, and I just loved it. I thought it was so amazing. I remember her giving me lipstick when I was just 10 years old. It was from Clarin’s. I think I still have it actually. My passion for self-care started young.” As she grew older, she avidly consumed online makeup tutorials. “I would watch beauty YouTube videos at the end of my school day, just for total relaxation and fun. I think a lot of us learned how to do makeup from YouTube, especially early YouTube.” Working at Sephora gave her access to an entirely new skill set and opened her mind to the nuanced benefits of beauty. “I learned so much from people who were actual makeup artists who went to cosmetology school. I ended up working in the skincare consultant portion of Sephora. Then I learned how to do all the hydrafacials and the perk facials that you can get if you spend a certain amount of money. That was so much fun.” The beauty community represents a place of comfort and self-actualization for so many. “Really, what I took away from my time at Sephora was just how powerful and impactful beauty can be on people. I would witness it every single day when I was working there. Whether a guy walked in and said, ‘Look, I really need to have a concealer to hide my dark circles,’ and showing him how to apply that or whether it was someone who just felt really stressed out at work and then seeing the joy of them choosing a new favorite lipstick and finding that and loving the lip color. I would watch people’s faces light up when they were talking about something that they loved or wanted to try or when they wore that blush color for the first time or that lipstick for the first time. I would see how it can really empower people to feel so good about themselves. That was really what I loved about it and what I wanted to bring to people online when I was making my own videos.” To care for oneself is the highest form of compassion. “It is a tenderness and it’s a necessity of self-love. You need to take that time for yourself and give yourself a little bit of love before you can spread it around to others. Like taking those five minutes in the morning to put on your lipstick or taking off your makeup at the end of a hard day and spending a little extra time doing that. It’s just those moments that really I think make such a difference, especially when you’re going through something difficult.”

The pandemic closed some doors for Sarah. “It showed me just how important it is to be willing to pivot into new industries or try new things. At the time, I was working at Sephora, which I loved, and I was also pursuing my master’s in opera singing. I had big plans to potentially do that, although I was feeling really nervous about singing full-time. When I graduated, it wasn’t really safe to sing in live performance spaces, so it definitely affected a lot of people and their ability to step into the career immediately after graduating and certainly affected me. With the safety or the lack thereof that came with singing in front of a live audience, those opportunities just weren’t there anymore for a certain period of time. And then I got let go from Sephora because we had a lot of store shutdowns in response to the pandemic.” Unbeknownst to her, an even shinier door was about to open.  “I ended up moving back home with my family and truly had nothing going on, so I decided on a whim to make videos to connect with people online and rebuild that sense of community that I enjoyed so much working at Sephora. That changed the trajectory of my life. I could have never imagined that I’d be doing social media full-time. It’s such a dream and it’s what I feel like I was supposed to be doing. All her past hesitations were suddenly washed away in a sea of micellar water and Internet fame. “The pandemic just taught me how quickly life can change and how you really need to be owning the things that make you happy. For a really long time, I was denying myself being fully into the beauty industry because I just wasn’t sure. I was very doubtful in terms of questioning my own career path. The pandemic allowed me the strength to step into my most authentic self and say, ‘No, I absolutely love doing this. And not only do I love doing this, but I want to share it online with other people. That’s what I love doing.’ It taught me the power of stepping into your authentic self and doing what makes you happy.” 

Sarah went viral with her “Sephora Secrets” video. “That was so fun because I had absolutely no idea that that would blow up as much as it did. When I saw that CNN and the New Yorker had picked up my video, my first thought was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to get in trouble from work,’ but I didn’t work there anymore. This trend was happening called, ‘Five Things I Would Never Do As A ______.’ We had some really cool experts weighing in on TikTok. There’d be surgeons saying, ‘five things I’d never do as a surgeon’ and lawyers saying, ‘five things I would avoid as a lawyer.’ And I just thought to myself, ‘Well, I can speak as a beauty Sephora advisor because it’s true.” She had an invaluable insider’s perspective. “The way that I view the store and the shopping experience has changed because inevitably I’ve seen what it’s like behind the scenes. I wanted to provide not only some funny commentary that people wouldn’t really know unless they worked there, but also some general tips on how to best navigate Sephora. It’s a very overwhelming store, as fun as it is.  I’ve heard from friends and family that my secrets help make their shopping experiences a little bit easier. It was just a funny video that I made in the moment and I had no idea how many people would resonate with it.” There were also some realities that her audience would have preferred not to know. “I think people were most shocked about the dispensers and the cleanliness. We learn about sanitizing. All the testers and all the testers are sanitized. I do want to clarify that. Just keep in mind it’s a busy store. We don’t have time to clean the outside of the container that you’re using every day. We used to see people using it as a trash can sometimes or applying it directly to their face. Once you work behind the scenes, it makes you think twice before doing that. I think people just assume that it won’t be a big deal if they touch the mascara wand directly to their eye because they bet that they’re the only people doing that when I’ve watched 20 people do it that morning.”

In an era of FaceTune and Instagram skin, Sarah made the bold decision to showcase her real skin. She didn’t want to contribute to the mountains of anxiety today’s youth face from constant social media comparisons. “I have such a responsibility because I think about myself when I was consuming that kind of content and I was 14 years old and I did have a lot of insecurities growing up. That’s the hard truth about growing up, especially in a world where social media is so prevalent. Although YouTube was super comforting to me at the time, I also couldn’t help but compare myself with the images that I saw online. I can’t imagine what it’s like today because for me, I was in the era of Facebook and MySpace and YouTube and now that is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what today’s young people are inundated with. I feel a real responsibility to remind people that, not only am I curating my best moments here because I wanna make you feel happy at the end of a tough day. I’m going to put on my best smiling face and create a fun video for you. But I also want to remind people that I have real skin just like everybody else. I deal with a breakout now and again, or I sleep really poorly and I have dark circles or there’s texture on my face just like there should be on any other human being’s face, you know?” It was vital to her that her product reviews be as accurate as possible, potential unflattering close ups be damned. “I started with foundation reviews. I would zoom in with my DSLR as close as I could get to my face so that people could see, how does it wear under the eye? How does it sit on the face, not only to showcase real skin, but I thought, ‘How useless is this review if they can’t see how it’s sitting on my skin?’ I remember scrolling on YouTube and I was like, ‘I don’t see anyone zooming in close enough for me to see if it looks better than the foundation they talked about last week.’ So I also thought it would be a pretty useless review if people couldn’t actually see how it was performing in different lighting and zoomed up close to my skin. And then I got positive feedback about that and people were saying, ‘Oh my goodness, I love that you zoom in so close to the face.’ I ran with that and realized that that’s how I wanted to portray the rest of my videos, whether it was on TikTok or on YouTube.”

Her audience couldn’t be more appreciative of her authenticity. “I just have gotten so many messages from people saying, ‘I love being able to go on your page and see your real skin. I love that your skin fluctuates on your page like day to day. I can tell if you’re a little bit more tired, I can tell if you’re a little bit more awake. If I’m talking about skincare, I try not to wear any makeup at all because what’s the point of talking about how a skincare product has worked for me if I’m talking about the product and I’m wearing a full face of makeup?” The reaction has motivated her to provide even more unfiltered content. “I started doing this thing where I take a picture of my skin in front of natural light and then I turn around and take a picture of my skin and my face with a light behind me so that people can see how different that will look. And I was overwhelmed by the amount of DMs of people saying, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t even know how much of a difference lighting makes.’ Because a lot of time when we’re filming, we want the lighting to be really good so that the camera looks really crisp, obviously. But with that, the lighting is almost like a filter in of itself because it just blurs away the imperfections. So I like to try to remind people as well that my skin can look really good on camera and then if I turn around suddenly you can see the pores and the texture on my skin. Those have been important conversations to have with my audience just so that they’re aware that it’s not real life. You’re not sitting in front of me in real life. As much as I try to accurately portray things, you’re still not going to see certain things on camera that you would in real life.” Her videos are a source of soothing joy for her followers. “I just want people to feel good after watching my videos. I do a lot of informational videos and little tips and hacks and tricks, but I also like to make them really fun. I like to make them really easy to understand. My favorite compliment that I’ve gotten has been when people tell me, ‘Oh my gosh, your content is my favorite to watch after a really long, hard day.’ The fact that I can be that for somebody else is such a cool and amazing thing. It takes me back to the days where I would watch people’s content to relax and to feel good. My intention is to just have fun and make people feel relaxed, happy, and good about themselves when they’re watching my videos. That’s ultimately my goal, to bring that level of entertainment and information.”

As a creator, brand partnerships are her lifeblood. The brands she selects are ones that she incorporates in her own life. “My content is a hundred percent free. I think that a lot of time, we don’t understand that in order to make the free content that I make, 100% or 95% of my income comes from brand sponsorships. But the brand sponsorships that you’re going to see on my channel are brands that I know that I’ve talked about so many times. If it’s a product I haven’t talked about yet, I’ve tested it for a minimum of six to eight weeks. And that’s minimum. I have a very rigorous testing process when I agree to take on brand partnerships because it’s really important to me that I know the product well and this is usually skincare. You can’t just test skincare for a day and decide whether or not you like it. That’s how I go about taking on sponsorships and it’s worked really well so far. I always try to provide tips that people can use in my brand deals that they can benefit from, whether or not they buy the product. Most of our income really does come from those sponsorships, so I’m super grateful that I’m able to do that.” She’s careful to limit the flow of products to her audience, being mindful of their mental bandwidth as well as their wallets. “I’ve taken a really big step back from accepting PR. A lot of brands like to send me things in the hopes that I will review them and try them out. While that’s a really important job, because it’s such a privilege to get to try things out so that I can review things, I also just started thinking about how overwhelming it is. I’m overwhelmed by all of the launches happening, so surely the people who watch my videos are just as overwhelmed. I wanted to make my videos a little less product based and more tip based just because as we’re moving into a recession, everyone’s struggling so much right now. I don’t want to contribute to the overconsumption in the industry. I don’t want to contribute to the overwhelm. As someone who has ADHD myself and gets overwhelmed myself, I don’t want to pass that on to others. I don’t know if I’ll change my mind on that and start accepting more PR in the future, but I’ve decided that if I can’t authentically test it and take my time to test it and review it, and if I can’t make sure that my page is mostly tip based, then I’m not going to accept the majority of it. So far, brands have been really nice about my decision and for the most part, people who watch my videos in my comments are okay with that decision too.” 

She wants to return to the roots of her classic content this year. Community building is always her first priority. Her primary objective is to keep her spirits high and her content flowing. “I hope to step back into long form content on YouTube. I’ve been really focused on TikTok and Instagram and YouTube shorts (and you can find new content there daily). But I really want to get back into making long form videos because that’s such a great way to connect with people and to get them to know my personality. I think that for me the focus of the new year is to just continue being extremely happy, making the content that I’m making, making people feel happy online and hopefully just making even more content. My goal for 2023 is to be able to make more than one post per day without feeling any burnout. We’ll see how that goes. We’ll check in next year and see if I actually was successful!” Sarah’s network will only grow bigger and more vibrant as more people join her in the revelry of realizing their best selves. 

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Sarah Palmyra on the Transformative Tenderness of Self-Love. Photo Credit: Jonny Marlow.

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