It’s a cold and blustery afternoon, and I meet YouTube sensation and presenter, Grace Francesca over a diet coke and candle light.
Sweeping into the Dean Street Town house, straight from some very important meetings at the BBC, she is, as you have undoubtedly seen on her channel, The Ugly Face of Beauty, refreshingly honest and open about literally everything and anything and revels in the idea that she is one of the founding members of a generation that put everything out there online to see and hear.
Discussing her almost meteoric rise to fame – 2016 has definitely been the year that Grace put herself rmly on the map – she describes herself as the ‘underdog’ and cites her reasons for starting a vlog as simply because, ‘I couldn’t be bothered to write basically’ – which is followed essentially by what becomes a signature cackle throughout the interview.
“It was too much effort to write,” states Grace, in the most matter of fact way. But what may have originally had tones of apathy quickly switched when Grace realised she had cottoned on to a winner.
“When I first started watching YouTube videos there was no one like me; who was common, from a poor background, who didn’t have all this fancy stuff and a massive house. So I just thought I’m going to ll that space that is missing, and it just went from there.”
And fill that gap she did. Teaching herself to video edit and workout a schedule of content in her bible of ideas, Grace soon realised that the hobby she had undertaken to escape from the boredom of her 9-5 could actually become a career.
“As I realised it would become my job eventually I wanted to be a bit more professional so I launched my blog, which was really, really small and I didn’t really care about it that much and then, since then, I’ve doubled my page views every month and doubled my engagement, because now I talk about vagina waxing, sex, boobs – all the stuff that women want to talk about. Now I have my blog and I write.”
It is this sort of street smarts, as it were, that has kept Grace relevant but has also projected her to a somewhat iconic status amongst the YouTube watching fraternity. While Grace is happy to discuss her online presence as a business and not shy away from this, there is a consistent notion that still ultimately it is about honesty and remaining real. Something that Grace had to learn at the beginning and is likely the very reason for her incredible success.
“I started (doing) YouTube videos 5 years ago. I mainly did beauty, fashion. (I) Touched on a bit of lifestyle stuff like travel vlogs and I kept getting these comments of…
‘Oh you’re so inspirational’ & ‘I love you’. I thought, you have no idea what is going on. Because at the time I had depression, I was self-harming, I had an eating disorder. I was very, very unwell. So I did a video called… “Pressure to be perfect”.
I kind of just outed myself and said this is what is going on, and then from that moment it got like half a million views, went viral, got loads of comments. And that was kind of where it all started for me.”
While some balk at the idea of a life online, it is clear that Grace thrives on being creative but also sharing. She loves to talk, but most importantly she likes to talk honestly and share; and in an era of perfect pictures and media constructs, it’s clear that Grace is carving out a niche for herself where everything isn’t picturesque. In a time where we discuss representation and diversity at length, Grace’s foray into YouTube is a reflection of how the next generation is forming the vision they want to see when traditional media outlets don’t offer it to them.
“There was no one that was talking about mental health at the time. There was no one that was curvy, who had curly hair, who was a bit common like I am. I was the first person in that community, in the urban scene I guess, talking about mental health – and it kind of went on from there”.
Since opening up, Grace has enjoyed what the next generation of YouTubers and bloggers are currently dreaming of. From working in a children’s home and doing her videos on the side, Grace went on to win a coveted Cosmo blog award in 2014. In that same week she signed a management deal and the rest, as they say, is history. Grace was picked up by the BBC to lm an IPlayer fashion documentary. One of three that season, with the other two docs made by fashion insiders, Susie Bubble and Abby Clancy, and Grace – a relative unknown in the scene.
Of her time at fashion week, Grace, candid for once, simply describes the experience as ‘Not for me’ and while Grace loved presenting for the BBC at LFW, she is a self-confessed high-street girl through and through. Talking of the experience in more detail, Grace, who enjoyed the excitement of the big shows told us.
“It was nice to see where our high street trends come from but I think in terms of fashion week, it’s just not for me. I think, the issue with the lack of diversity is my main issue and, issue 2, I just don’t like the vibe there. It is more for fashion designers and those that work in fashion, I don’t think LFW is for me really. Filming for BBC IPlayer was amazing and obviously that was my door into doing other things and documentaries”.
And that is definitely the direction that Grace is headed in. With a number of hush hush projects on the burner for 2017, 2016 was all about her industry shaking documentary, ‘Clean Eating, Dirty Secrets’. An industry obsessed with ‘wellness’ so much so that it is making people ill, Grace, used her first major documentary to tackle the terrifying craze, fuelled by social media and celebrities. If you haven’t checked out the documentary, you need too. Throughout, Grace tries out different ‘clean eating trends’ and gets certified as a nutritionist with a little help from Groupon, as well as delving into some of the big names and big myths behind the clean eating headlines. All in all, it was an eye opening experience, with the hope that some of Grace’s many followers start to challenge the marketing trends that are sold to them as wellness ideals; and while Grace’s view points on ‘clean eating’ are quite clear from the start, she has taken away some positives from the experience.
“The positive thing that came out of that is that I am healthy – that was number one. I did a pee test and a blood test. I think that people think that if you’re over-weight then you’re really unhealthy and I have never had an issue with (physical) health in my whole life but when people on the internet tell you you’re really unhealthy you start questioning yourself. But doing that documentary, and being tested, I was absolutely in perfect health. It made me realise, what the community talks about, that health doesn’t equate to your weight all the time, is actual truth, is actual fact; so I loved learning that. And I also loved learning more about food as a whole. Like, there is sugar in your ham and things like that. Which I never knew of. I checked my ham and there was brown sugar in my ham and I thought, OMG, so I just learnt to be more aware of the ingredients.”
But while Grace has taken away some positives, she hasn’t let the new found revelations really change her…
“I think if you become too aware you become a bit obsessive and I don’t want
to do that. The issue is that we are getting so much advice from newspapers and magazines and bloggers; it’s too much. We are being over fed (information) and we need to go back to basics. See a dietician, who knows what she/he is talking about, and obviously your doctor and people you trust. Whatever happened to just five a day – now it’s all about… Why don’t you have the healthier option? Or the healthier option after that? That is partially why some people have eating disorders because we are over thinking food too much and we should all learn to eat intuitively. I don’t think about what I’m eating ever.
I think that is where the issue is; people need to learn how to eat properly. You can have a Snickers but you also need to have some vegetables. You think it is that easy, but obviously it’s not.”
And with a desire to do more documentaries focussed on mental health, it is obvious that Grace takes her role as ‘the internet’s big sister’ very seriously. While most ‘stars’ consistently moan about the idea that they now have fame and role model responsibilities, it feels like the idea of being a role model has in many ways been the making of Grace. Her sisterly role to young women has given her a sense of purpose and belonging, and teamed with her head for business, it is a winning combination. Grace knows how to keep her readers engaged whilst still appealing to brands.
“I’ve always (just) been myself, but when I rst took on the role of being a full time vlogger I stopped swearing so I was more commercial for brands. I was clever with it, because it is a business at the end of the day and I’m not stupid. I’m not scared to make mistakes. I’m not scared to say my opinions, and people value that. I think a role model isn’t someone who is perfect – and they do mess up – someone who doesn’t look perfect, someone who is just themselves. I feel like that is me and if I had a child I’d want them to have a role model like me. Someone who is very open and talking about stuff that really matters to young people, and that is why I do what I do. I want to use my voice, I don’t want to be that blogger or vlogger who just talks about lipsticks all the time and has the perfect bubble of a life; that’s not me.
I have shit days sometime and that’s what I share with people. And likewise when I have a really good day and I’m achieving stuff (I share that too). So I’m just real, I’m just authentic.”
Being real, authentic and honest is very much part of brand Grace, but I can’t imagine it has been easy to continuously toe this line. Grace was part of the original generation of YouTubers who have helped the platform become what it is today.
Part of the elite group that started when YouTube was just a hobby and not, as it
is for many now, a multi-million-dollar industry. Whilst vlogging and blogging never used to be seen as a viable career option, a recent survey stated that 24% of 18-25 years olds surveyed by www.VoucherCodesPro.co.uk stated blogging as their top career choice – ahead of a sports star 18%, citing good pay and not too much work as their reasons for the choice. But I wondered what it was like for Grace who started in a less saturated era.
“It felt like it changed overnight. I think for the old school vloggers, it was really hard to adjust to the different scene because before there were maybe 100, even less than that, beauty vloggers etc. We all went to the same events and got the same opportunities, and that’s how it was. Then out of nowhere all this money just went into blogging and YouTube and then there were hundreds and thousands of us. Today people always say I miss the old days and I think everyone just misses how it used to be, but you have to move with the times and I want to be successful and I want to have a really long and successful career.
It is difficult; people say ‘Oh you just can’t start and make money’, which you can’t. It took me ve years to get to where I am but it is a nice platform for anyone that is creative. It isn’t just beauty and fashion, there are gamers and mums doing parenting blogs; it is for everyone. I started because it is my passion but it is a business now and you have to move with it.
For me going on to TV is where I want to go. But YouTube is still my baby and it’s my channel that no one can take from me. I think of the ideas, I edit, so it is still my thing.”
And when it comes to cash, Grace isn’t blinded by the bling.
“I think when I started, the same for everyone, especially when you come from a background like me, where you don’t have any money and you’re always poor. When a brand says ‘we will pay you all this money to do this’ and you’re like, ‘Yeh, Yeh, Yeh’.
But you think that’s not really something
I want to show people. Now I’ve learnt and I’m in a position where I take on work that really fits me.
So stuff around tampon companies, or brands like Dove who do the real beauty campaigns. I’m very aware of how people see me and I only do stuff I believe in. Now I do stuff for MTV on my channel where I talk about ex boyfriends and talk about teen mums. Luckily, brands now get what I’m about. So all my paid work is usually around stuff that I care about.”
While Grace may have taken ve years to get to where she is now, she is certainly
on the up. But as more and more young people are online, is she making content for the generation of tomorrow or those that have been with her since day one?
As someone who started in the very early days, have they all just grown up together, like a group of virtual friends?
“I think it is a bit of both. Some comments are from people who say, ‘I have been with you since you had red hair’. And I think, OMG, you have been with me forever and other people have literally just joined up!
I try and make content that is kind of on trend, so like fashion hauls and things like that, but I also do old school videos just being myself and that shows people that
I am still the same person, as no one likes change. So even though I have grown, and I am more con dent with who I am, they have grown with me.
They get it, and before I may have just touched on topics like sex here and there, but now I will just do one massive video on it. But it is organic and I have organically grown with stuff. People love that.”
While Grace may have started the channel for herself, she is an audience pleaser,
and it is clear she loves making her more controversial discussion videos on sex.
She wants to nd the marriage between content she loves and that her viewers will love too. But for someone so adored by her legion of watchers, it took Grace a long time to love herself, despite making a name for herself in front of the camera. Part of this has been her foray into plus size fashion, hooking up with brands like Evans and immersing herself, not just in the fashion scene but the plus size fashion scene.
“Before I found my plus size blogger friends, like Callie, Danie, Chloe, George & Lottie (who are like the love of my life). I never realised you could be big and happy.
Before I met Callie, I was always on a diet, I was always trying to lose weight, trying to look a certain way and she said to me, ‘You can be your size, it’s ok’. That opened a whole world for me. Before (that), the term plus size, I used to hate. Because to me being fat wasn’t ok. (It signified) you’re lazy, you weren’t good enough and those are the issues I have from bullying and being told I can’t look good. So until I met those girls I never realised that if you take away the negative from the word fat it is just a word. That changed my whole view on my life and if I didn’t meet those girls then I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I think eventually as time has gone on and I have become more body positive, and I accept my stretch marks and my fat and my saggy boobs and all that, I think that the whole fashion thing and being in that market has just happened. Although I can fit into Topshop clothes and straight sizes I am bigger than the average blogger and the average woman I suppose. And it has just grown organically. If I didn’t meet those girls though, I probably wouldn’t be in that kind of market. They changed my whole way of thinking.”
To be honest this is refreshing to hear.
It is odd that even in the body positivity and plus size arenas, it is quite rare to hear someone say that they hate the term fat or still struggle with weight and body image. All too often we are presented with the end of the journey but without the process.
“I met Callie at Evans and then we just became the best of friends and then I met Danie and the other girls. But I would say it has taken me about a year and a half to two years to get to where I am now. And
it is obviously still a battle, because I still suffer with anxiety and I have disordered eating still, so it is a long process for me. But I never used to love myself and now I am bigger than I was two years ago, (but) I love myself now. And I nd fashion more fun because I used to restrict myself. I’d say, ‘Oh, I can’t buy that size jeans, I don’t want to be that size. And now I just buy whatever I want. If it ts and I look good I’m going to wear it and that’s just happened.”
And when it comes to fashion Grace has her go to for style inspo and a strong opinion on how the plus size movement is going.
“I think it is a bit of a trend, the whole plus size movement. Not in terms of us, but in terms of brands and the media. They are just jumping on the whole trend of it and being body positive, like getting a girl who is a size 14 with big legs, big thighs and a big bum is being revolutionary and it is not. I think in terms of plus size fashion, it needs to be a bit cooler.
I go into a store that just does plus size clothes and I can’t see anything I want to wear because I want to wear, like, leather trousers or crop tops and things like that, which people and brands think big girls don’t want to wear, but we really do; just in our size. We have a long way to go in that sense but we are improving, although it feels like it is taking forever. I think bloggers are paving the way, especially bloggers like Danielle Vanier, who I think is, like, the most amazing plus size blogger in terms of fashion, and I think that she is leading the way for a lot of people. She is that girl that you go to if you’re big and you’re not sure what to wear or how to style it. I go to her blog; so bloggers help massively and eventually the same amount of money that has been given to the typical middle class white girl on YouTube I would love to happen for a plus size blogger, because you know they need to be up there with everyone else. So I think 2017, I think, is the year that plus size bloggers are gonna go boom.”
And what about Grace? 2017 is set to become her biggest year yet. With more BBC docs and a book in the works, The Ugly Face of Beauty is going to be someone you’re seeing a lot more of, we can guarantee.
Don’t look at the size. If it fits you, put it on & wear it. Don’t feel like you are just one size. Don’t think you have to shop at the same places all the time. Shop around & get out & try things on because sometimes I think, I can’t wear something, then I put it on & I love it. Be a bit more positive with what you want to wear & what you want to look like. Labels, Ditch the Labels.
It depends on what mood I’m in. If I’m really angry & due on, I’m ready to go. Or I just won’t say anything. It depends on the comment. If it is a comment about my weight or… I often get told I hate how you speak, like, shut up. So when stuff like that happens, I will ignore it. When it is about race or sexism then I will speak up because I think that is a massive issue. I think people need to be told you can’t say that. It is not ok to talk to someone like that, especially on the internet, when you’re behind a screen. It all depends on what they say & what mood I’m in. With advice it would be to ignore it if it is a really fly away stupid comment about your hair or whatever, but if it was a comment that really affected you then speak up on it. Reply cleverly. Don’t reply back swearing at them or calling them names but, ‘That’s not OK to speak to someone like that’. I feel like a lot of celebs & influencers are really scared to do something like that. But you’re a human being. You can defend yourself. I sometimes just have a break. Just get off the internet. I think people get so sucked into what’s going on, on there. As much as people can be real online, it isn’t real life, just get out in the real world and go and see a friend or see your mum, do something that makes you feel better. Because even if I’m having the best day, if someone says ‘I hate you, you’re fat and ugly’ – that does affect you.
Coconut oil is my life! To shower with,
to put in my hair as a mask. If you shave with coconut oil it will change your life. Coconut oil is the best. You will literally feel like a dolphin, you are that smooth.
– But my top tip for beauty starts before any product & it is water. Water, if you drink water. I have really really clear skin. And I promise you it is down to water. Water is my life, water before anything.
Keep up with Grace by following her blog GracieFrancesca.com, subscribing to her YouTube channel ’Ugly Face of Beauty” and following her on Twitter @GraceFVictory