Jessie Paege launched her YouTube channel to begin building a community. She also sought a sense of belonging. “I started my platform because I had something called selective mutism and I was incredibly shy,” she recalls. “I saw another creator, her name is Bethany Mota, she talked about how creating a YouTube channel helped her overcome her shyness. I decided I wanted to do that because I felt like I didn’t have a voice and had so much to say but couldn’t really say it. My platform has helped me beyond just being able to talk to a camera, I’ve also been able to get over my selective mutism in my day to day life. Not only am I able to speak now, but I’m able to speak about things I thought I would never be able to talk about like my LGBTQ+ journey and mental health, all things I never thought I would be able to talk about so confidently.” Having an audience gave her comfort as she struggled through the ups and downs of an eating disorder. “It has been very important for me to share every step of my eating disorder because it’s one thing to educate about mental health, but it’s another thing to speak through something that you’ve actually experienced. So many people followed me before my recovery journey and thought it would be incredibly magical to see me come out the other side because so many people followed me while I was struggling on and off for so many years. I think my audience knew what I was going through, so I would hope that being able to see me come out the other side would inspire other people to do the same. It’s sometimes difficult to draw the line with what you can discuss and can’t discuss because recovering from an eating disorder is a very delicate thing and you don’t want to do anything that might harm your progress. But overall it’s been a really positive experience and even when I do experience hate, seeing the amount of people that support my recovery and are inspired by it is what I try to focus on more than hate comments.” Her channel has provided an alternative vantage point through which to understand her increasingly realized self. “I think so much of my YouTube journey has been finding different ways to reclaim myself and feel ownership over myself. Whether it’s my mental health, my body, or my voice. Through that healing process I was able to show a different side of myself, a healed version of myself. I used to post a lot of things from the perspective of someone who is actively struggling and it’s nice to be able to post from a different perspective where I am currently healed. I have my bad moments but it’s nice to change perspective in a positive direction.”
She is overjoyed to share her story both as a bisexual woman and an autistic woman. Jessie relishes using her platform to build a diverse coalition. “There is so much stigma for both of these groups. Seeing someone be proud of these labels is extremely impactful and important. What’s special to me about sharing these parts of my identity is that I’m building an audience of people that can find one thing they relate to, whether they follow me for my LGBTQ+ content or my neurodivergent content, there’s one part of myself that I share that can hopefully help one group of people. It’s being able to touch all these different groups and hopefully have something that everyone can relate to, even if it’s for my fashion content. It’s so great to find all these like-minded people on my page and to constantly see their responses and to build a community that feels super safe.” We must recognize that there’s no universal autistic journey. Each autistic person’s experience is valid. “It’s a spectrum and everyone’s experience is completely unique. It’s so easy to think that if you see and know someone’s experience online, people will take that and try to diminish other people’s diagnosis or experience. People also don’t realize that you can have ADHD and autism. I was diagnosed when I was young and as an adult, I noticed I have more ADHD symptoms. There is a lot of stigma and overlapping of symptoms and overall we’re still learning but there’s there’s so much stigma, to a point where we see someone’s experience and we automatically assume that because they seem high functioning, because it seems like life is easy for them, we like to tell people that their experiences are more difficult than others, but it’s not a competition.”
Jessie tackled another important social issue in her recent song, “I Killed Peter Pan.” The track addresses the entertainment industry’s fetishization of youth and blatant ageism. “My producer and I were talking about how we’ve heard lots of love songs and we’ve heard lots of breakup songs. We wanted to talk about a societal issue that’s a lot bigger than just my own personal life. Specifically in entertainment and specifically as a woman, there’s a lot of romanticization of youth, staying young and needing to feel guilty for aging. I was talking about how every birthday since I turned 20 years old I’ve cried because I feel like I’m not doing enough, because I don’t know where my time is going because I feel out of control with time passing. There’s so much weight on forever feeling young. It’s okay to let go of that and as a society we need to embrace aging. It’s not the worst thing that can happen to someone.” The song reflects a cathartic release for Jessie’s personal anxieties and feelings of inadequacy. “It means a lot to me. When I see people that instantly understand the message and the meaning behind the song, I almost feel empathy for them because they have felt the same feelings I felt. It’s a very specific topic but I hope someone can feel less guilty that they are crying on their birthday because they are getting older, or if they are terrified of getting their driver’s license, or terrified that they won’t age gracefully. I hope that we can all come together over this shared feeling and hopefully feel a little less guilty about the things that we are told to feel guilty about even though we shouldn’t feel any guilt about it.“
She wants her future to focus on celebrating her progress and giving herself the freedom to become anything she wants to be. “As a person and a creator, I would love to continue to talk about these topics that are important like my mental health, my eating disorder or even my journey with them accepting my LGBTQ+ identity. I want to explore even more parts of myself because there’s so much more to me than just the things I’ve been through or a label I have accepted. I really want people to see me thrive after I’ve been through these things and I don’t want to be tied down by one label or by one thing I’ve been through. I think I will always be willing to talk about my experiences and be open and honest and authentic online. But I also really hope that everyone that follows me wants to just see me thrive and become a person that isn’t just tied down by one thing. My hope is to discover the parts of myself that aren’t these things because there is so much more to me as a person.” Resisting the siren song of conformity can lead to life’s greatest rewards.