By Colette Fitzpatrick
I introduced my bestie to Estée Lalonde (then known as Essie Button on the platform) around the time I first really got into Youtube, about five years ago. We both loved her beauty content and personality and immediately began to talk about her like she was a shared friend. Then, shortly after Bean was founded, earlier this year, Estée was coming to Dublin to be publically interviewed in a store. We soon discovered that other friends were also fans and a group of us went to see her talk and meet her.
On the day, I had the bright idea to ask her to do an interview for our fledgling magazine. Surprisingly, she said yes, without a moment’s pause, on the spot. After some working around of schedules, we got to chat on the phone a couple of weeks ago and it was very much that, a chat and not a formal interview. I decided to keep almost the whole conversation, in full, instead of editing much out or putting it in a more curated format, only omitting moments where we got very distracted and went off topic to entirely different things and a few things that were very personal for either of us.
What resulted was a fascinating insight into internet fame, living on the internet and the real humanity of a public figure that I had observed online for years. It is only when you get to talk to someone that you are really reminded that they are a real and nuanced person and not some entertaining commodity to be simply taken in and enjoyed. And I was reminded all over again why I subscribed in the first place, as Estée Lalonde very much is the person you see on her channel, if a good deal more complex….
Me: This is something I always think about, particularly with internet fame and fandom: what is it like? Because it’s a bizarre relationship. You have all these people you will probably never meet but who love you and know as much about you, if not more, as most acquaintances…it must be a hard thing to grasp.
Estée Lalonde: It is but…it’s weird…I started doing this when I was nineteen and it has, literally, been my entire twenties. It’s only starting to hit me lately how crazy it is because I think when I was younger it was just so exciting. Like, “Oh my God, this person watches my videos. This is crazy! It’s so cool.” It really wasn’t until I had this kind of transition in my life this year that I started to feel how unusual it was. And I do understand how it can seem one-sided because people know me but I don’t know them. But, in a way, when I meet someone who watches my videos, I feel like I do know them because they know so much about me. Do you know what I’m saying? I interact with them in a totally different way than I would a stranger. So, it’s not completely weird. I feel like my guard’s kind of down. It is more of like…I don’t wanna call it “friendship” because, obviously, I don’t know the person and they don’t know me…but there’s a feeling of safety there. And I think a lot of people do feel, from what they’ve said, that they get comfort from watching my videos over the years so, when they meet me, it always feels like a nice experience for me and them…I hope!
M: It is fascinating and I suppose, you were saying about this period of transition in your life, and when people have that kind of access to your life…that must be hard sometimes…
E: I’ve struggled a lot with my internet life versus real life this year. Only because, I feel like, more than anything, my personal life choices have been out there more than ever for people to judge. I don’t know, my life was kind of going, going, going like this and then it changed like this and now every decision I make is being watched and judged. And there has been a lot of negativity around it. That’s been really difficult for me and it’s made me want to pull back from the internet a bit because, like, I don’t care if you don’t think I should be going out on a Saturday night. I don’t care if you’re shocked that I drink coffee now. It’s like little things like that or people judging me for leaving my dog for a few weeks because Aslan and I look after Reggie (A/N: her dog) the exact same amount of time. A month and a month. He goes away and travels for a month and I go away or a stay here and do things for a month and no one ever tells him that he’s not watching Reggie enough. And I get that all the time. People are like, “You’re the worst dog-mom. You shouldn’t be allowed to have a dog. You don’t love your dog.” It’s like, we’re doing the best we can and we understand our situation better than anyone else. So, there can be that side but, equally, there was this other side. There was this huge support system this year. I got, literally, hundreds of emails from people being like, “I totally understand what you’re going through. You’re doing an amazing job. I just want you to know that I’m here supporting you.” And that was amazing. I wasn’t expecting that at all. There are positives and negatives and it’s all very crazy. I’m only now realising, through making new friends and stuff, that this life is not normal or average…
M: Yeah, I mean, I had a similar situation a few years ago where I thought my whole life was set and then everything changed and it made me call everything into question. And I changed in ways I didn’t expect and ways that made me happier than I knew I could be and people were confused by things and questioned my actions…but none of it was on the scale you’re dealing with and was from people who had the right to ask about my inner workings. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be watched like that…
E: It’s true, what you said about how you changed in ways you didn’t think you would, that’s exactly it. I didn’t know the ways I was going to change! You don’t know! It’s like, everyday you’re just going with the flow and doing what’s best for you but I can understand that, to bystanders, certain things might be surprising or shocking or people might feel like they’re out of the loop. But I have to set boundaries or else I’m going to feel like I don’t, you know, own myself.
M: For sure! And, I think you seem to have an audience that is very kind and genuinely cares about you and so that judgement might be coming from – you know it yourself, you’re talking to a friend about another girlfriend and you’re like, “Did you see what she was doing in her story? There’s totally something going on. Is she okay? Do we need to have an intervention?” And it’s not from a place of meanness-
E: Exactly! It’s like when your mom is telling you off. It’s like, “Okay, I know you want what’s best for me but, also: you need to stop!”
M: Totally, and those boundaries are hard. And the thing I thought was funny, you were talking about the situation with Reggie earlier and that is very like moms or women, in general, in the public eye can’t do enough and no matter how much effort you’re putting into your kids or career or whatever, as a woman in the public eye, you can never get it right.
E: I know, it’s so irritating. But, you know what, I did try and start a conversation and I was like, “This does not happen to Aslan, I wonder why?” And I got so many messages from women, saying, “Don’t turn this into a feminist issue.” But it is a feminist issue.
M: Well, that’s actually one of my questions. I’ve noticed with your podcasts – and, of course, it’s a different medium so it works differently – but it does seem like a space where you were able to carve out room to talk about feminist issues in a more focused and in-depth way. I was just wondering if you were trying to make a set space, different to your Youtube videos, where you could have those discussions?
E: Absolutely. Especially with my first podcast (A/N:The Heart of It), that was the first time that I ever spoke about that kind of stuff online. And that show was too intense, production-wise, and I couldn’t keep up with it-
M: It was amazing though!
E: – yeah, I loved it too! So, yeah, I’m always looking for ways to diversify and try new topics but it just wasn’t working on my (Youtube) channel so a podcast seemed like a good way to give people who were interested in that type of thing a place to go. I mean, I am always growing and changing and, honestly, I’m getting a little bored talking about beauty and makeup stuff all the time…I don’t know if I should be saying this stuff, my agent’s going to be like, “Don’t say that!” but, like, I wanna do other things! I wanna have more of a voice and so, I’m trying to find ways to do that that are exciting and that won’t completely clash with what I’ve been doing for the past eight years.
M: I mean, it does seem hard. Nuance is something that the internet has a hard time with – people don’t want nuanced people, nuanced arguments, nuanced understanding. I mean, if, in real life, someone said, “You’re only interested in this thing, I only want to talk about that,” you’d be like, “No, dude, I have other things going on.”
E: Exactly, exactly. So, it’s tricky and I’ve been trying to figure it out…because I’ve been doing this since I was nineteen and I’m twenty-eight now…like, literally, I’m a different person. So, I’m just trying to figure out how I can incorporate everything.
M: So, has life on the internet made you feel better or worse about humanity?
E: Better. I think, ultimately, better. Sometimes worse, trust me but, I do think ultimately, the amount of information out there is only a positive thing and can kind of pick and choose how you want the internet to be for you. There are so many people using the internet for the greater good and I’m really trying to – I am such…I think I am a negative person in my soul, I really think I am – but I’m really trying to see the positive. It’s so hard when you’re shown, literally, the worst news, the worst comments, all the time. And when you get one negative comment in a sea of positive comments, you only focus on the negative for whatever reason. But I do think that there are a lot of positive things about the internet. My whole entire life is from the internet. Everything positive in my life has come from the internet. All of my friends are from the internet. Most of my relationships, my contacts, most of my inspiration…the internet was a place I went when I was younger because I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. That’s only a good thing and I think a lot of people are going through that. Especially teens today and, of course, there’s a whole negative side to that as well but I do wanna stay positive.
M: Then, as someone who lives on the internet, whose profession is on the internet, do you have any tips on plugging out and staying sane?
E: Well, I’m a big fan of baths-
M: (I burst out laughing as Estée’s passion for baths is well-known among those who follow her) I was wondering when it would come in!
E: I know, right? I know, it’s so annoying but it’s so true. I just think they’re really spiritual and healing. I’m also a big fan of yoga. And I love to get outside. Like, I have a dog so I have a reason to go outside but I’ll take Reggie and not bring my phone and even if it’s just twenty or thirty minutes – that feels like a long time without your phone, which is insane, I know – so, every time I do it I worry that something might happen but everyone around me has their phone and I try to remind myself of that. Also, I try to read books and it sounds so basic but reading a book is so hard to focus on these days. It’s like training. You have to relearn how to relax and just focus on one thing for fifteen minutes. I literally had to train myself to read again. Like five minutes here, ten minutes there. I used to be able to read for hours.
M: Yeah, it’s tough. Like, we’re so addicted to the comfort blankets of our phones and the chemical and hormonal kick of approval we get from people liking our stuff and messages and things. It’s a real addiction we have to get over. But, speaking of books what have you been reading lately?
E: I’m currently reading a few things but I’m reading, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I just started that and I also just started The Ultra Mind Solution: The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety, and Sharpen Your Mind and it’s basically about health and food because I eat like garbage and I was really depressed one night and I thought, “This will help!” So, we’ll see if I actually read it. Step one is to actually read the book! I also read a lot of magazines, I’m reading Weapons of Reason, it’s really cool, I think you’d like it. And I love to read The Happy Reader. I feel like right now…so I’ve been travelling a lot and I’m exhausted. My body’s tired, my mind’s tired. Everything about me is tired. So, I’m reading things that I feel like will help me get back on track. Not like, self-help books but I want to read things that get my mind twirling again in a positive way.
M: Okay, so let’s end on a positive note then, what’s giving you joy at the moment?
Having my dog back in my apartment! What else is giving me joy? I think, em, the fact that I know I’m not going to be on a plane for a month. That’s bringing me joy. I’m staying in London for Christmas and I’m really looking forward to parties and dinners and hanging out with my friends. And, honestly, I’m just feeling positive about the new year. So, that’s giving me a bit of joy and…oh, my jewellery collection (A/N: a collaboration with Daisy Jewellery) is giving me a lot of joy! Career-wise. Because that was something that I wasn’t sure how it was going to go and it’s doing really well. So, that gave me some career satisfaction!
And at that point, we started talking about my personal life, which I am not putting on public record. Soz.
For more interviews, check out our chat with Cynthia Bergstrom about working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a costume designer and Andrea Horan of Hunreal Issues about reproductive rights and women in politics.