She’s struggled with anxiety, eating disorders, and confidence; now she’s one of the most positive influences in the YouTube community. Melanie Murphy talks to TenEighty about turning her life around, experiencing her own fangirl moments, and dealing with negativity online.
“I thought my life was just going to be ‘marriage, kids, settle down, teach, quiet Irish town’, and that would be it,” says Melanie Murphy. “I had no real drive for anything. So I feel like old me was a completely different person.”
It’s true. At 26, Melanie is distinctive from her teenage self. She’s confident, outgoing, full of life, and has an infectious laugh. And she can muster up a positive outlook in the hardest of times.
But at 19, she was depressed, and had eating disorders, panic attacks, and anxiety. “I felt like I was a waste of space with no talents, at the time,” she says. “I hated myself. When you tell yourself that, it’s almost impossible to improve.”
“I found it hard to accept that by putting something online, anybody can say what they like about me…”
Melanie recounts what she considers the worst year of her life. Her grandmother died, a four-year relationship ended badly, and she had a miscarriage. Most of her friends abandoned her due to that break-up, and she didn’t know how to make new ones. She lost her job. She didn’t get the qualifications to pursue the teaching degree she wanted. She gained a lot of weight. And she wasn’t on speaking terms with her mum.
Most days were spent indoors, sleeping all day and playing World of Warcraft through the night. “I was trying to distract myself from dealing with the fact I was 19, and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” recalls Melanie.
“Everyone has a moment where they hit their lowest point, where you’re at the bottom of the barrel,” she adds. “You realise that it can’t get any worse than it is, that the only way is up.”
A turning point came when her aunt lent her a copy of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. “It sounds cheesy, and it is,” admits Melanie. “I took a message from that book that flipped how I viewed the world to be more ‘glass half full’. That’s how I slowly made changes to my life.”
With this new outlook, Melanie started trying to lose weight, looked into how she could manage her anxiety, and started a course to gain the points she needed to go to university.
However, she still struggled with public speaking, and that made college presentations difficult. “That was the one area I always stumbled,” says Melanie. “I would get a red rash all over my chest and I would shake, I couldn’t project my voice.
“One of the girls I watched on YouTube said that making videos brought out her confidence,” she recalls. “I saw YouTube as a way to bring that out of myself.” So she gave it a shot.
This was an important step for Melanie, because it forced her to deal with her fear of judgement – something that, up until then, had affected every aspect of her life. “I found it hard to accept that by putting something online, anybody can say what they like about me,” she says.
Melanie began uploading in July 2013, and like most YouTubers, her very early videos were a bit hit-and-miss. “Everything was makeshift,” laughs Melanie, recalling her Nikon CoolPix camera and the pile of books she used as a tripod. “I don’t want to delete those videos, because it shows my progression, growth, and evolution.”
But it wasn’t long until her channel took off. A September 2013 upload about covering up acne and scars went viral in January 2014. That led to a rush of subscribers and other media opportunities. Now it has more than 17 million views, and is her most watched video.
“I wanted people who had acne to see this video, because every other acne video was a girl with one pimple,” she says. “I guess my video shows that ‘content’ doesn’t need to be pristine and professional to resonate with people.”
“I don’t want to think of my viewers as these blind followers or morons…”
Nonetheless, all this was happening to the girl who had struggled with anxiety most of her life. “[The video’s success] slowly drowned out the anxious voice,” she says. “The more people watched it, the more I had to accept that there was no point being insecure about my acne in the first place.”
Melanie is also grateful for the video’s success as it helped bring in the type of audience she was trying to reach. “I wanted my audience to be girls like me a few years ago, because I felt they were the people I’d benefit,” she says. “I had a lot of advice for younger versions of me.”
After all, it was advice from YouTubers that helped Melanie through some of her biggest issues. “I only talked to a doctor about my eating problems because Anna Saccone-Joly talked about bulimia in a video,” reveals Melanie.
“Imagine if I hadn’t seen that?” she exclaims. “[The influence of YouTubers] is much more important than some people realise.”
Throughout 2014, Melanie’s channel kept growing, and invites were rolling in: TV shows, radio interviews, newspaper articles, photoshoots. “I think I was anxious then because I was writing my thesis,” she recalls. “But I was on a buzz because people were responding to what I made.
“Every time I hit a new number of views or subs, I would write it down,” admits Melanie. “Me and my dad were freaking out!’”
With her new-found fame, she attended Summer in the City for the first time. “Technically I went as a YouTuber, but really I was there as a fangirl,” laughs Melanie.
There’s a moment in her Summer in the City 2014 vlog where Melanie meets Hazel Hayes, and later Bry. “At the time, it was never even in my mind that I would ever do videos with those people,” she says. “We later became friends authentically.”
“I put this jingle music over the video to make it sound less awkward. It always works, that good old jingly ukulele crap!”
Melanie makes no secret that she’s prone to getting over-excited when meeting creators she’s watched online. “My pinnacle fangirl moment was at VidCon , when I vlogged with Casey Neistat and he took my camera and filmed,” she says.
“I’m standing there, and you can see that I’m trying to be cool,” she continues. “The second he left, Niki and Sammy [Albon] walked me down a hallway and I had to lean against a wall, shaking and sweating.”
As a self-proclaimed ‘fangirl’, it must be strange for Melanie when people have these moments about her. “It’s weird for me because I know what it’s like, yet I can’t understand why they do that for me. I am so normal,” she says.
“I know that everyone is just a human being,” says Melanie. “But that instance when you see [the YouTuber/creator], everything else goes foggy. Panting and crying. It’s so funny!”
But she appreciates how fans feel about her, and has no qualms with being considered a role model – an issue that some YouTubers have expressed is difficult for them. “I think viewers need to be given a bit more credit,” says Melanie. “They know we’re editing ourselves to an extent, that we’re only showing a certain version of ourselves.
“But at the same time, we can’t get annoyed at them for getting attached to that and looking up to it,” she concludes. “I don’t want to think of my viewers as these blind followers or morons.”
Then came 2015: the year of collabs for Melanie, with videos featuring Hazel, Bry, Kiera Rose, Theodora Lee, and a whole lotta Riyadh Khalaf. But undoubtedly one of the biggest moments for Melanie was vlogging with Shakira. “I had posters of her over my bed!” she recalls. “I really tried to compose myself while we filmed it. I put this jingle music over the video to make it sound less awkward. It always works, that good old jingly ukulele crap!
“I mentioned that I had a crush on her for a long time. Her husband was in the room and I was like, ‘Oh no’,” laughs Melanie.
It was also around that time that Melanie started talking more openly on her channel about her sexuality, which she admits she repressed for a lot of her life. “[My ex-boyfriend] knew, because we both fancied the same girl when we met!” she says. “He never made me feel bad about it, but I felt it would be disrespectful to talk about it online while I was with him.”
My Sexuality & How To Come Out featured Riyadh and James Mitchell, and was made in support of Ireland’s 2015 same-sex marriage referendum. The premise was to encourage people to feel comfortable enough to come out, and so in the first minute of the video, Melanie revealed that she’s bisexual.
“At the time there weren’t that many people talking about it, especially within the UK and Ireland,” she says. “Since then, a lot of people have come out as gay or lesbian, but bisexuality… There’s a lot of bisexual erasure, a lot of people who say it doesn’t exist.”
Because of this, Melanie feels it’s important to keep the conversation going (which is something she has been doing throughout 2016). “When you say you’re bisexual, the response is usually that you’re greedy, you’re going through a phase, or you’re just a lesbian and you don’t want to admit it,” she says. “There’s so much misunderstanding around it.”
By the end of 2015, Melanie was making plans to move to London with Riyadh, but after attending Buffer Festival, something changed. “I met this guy at a party, and someone was like, ‘That guy has 15 million subscribers’, after we’d been flirty all night,” says Melanie. “I was like [retches] vom all over my dress!”
That guy was Toby Turner. The two really clicked and a romance blossomed. “I had this big conversation with Riyadh: ‘He wants everything in life that I want, we’re on the same page, he wants me to move to LA, he thinks it’ll help my career and we’ll have a lot of fun together’,” she says. “It was such a whirlwind. Riyadh was like: ‘Do it, do it!’
“I dated a YouTuber before and that wasn’t public – because once you do, you’re really committing,” continues Melanie. “I wasn’t sure about that yet, but I had this overwhelming gut instinct to follow my heart.
“If any of my friends told me they were doing that, I would’ve said, ‘Are you crazy?’,” laughs Melanie.
“Sometimes you’ll follow your gut, then your gut will say ‘You made a mistake, run!’”
“When your heart and emotions get tangled with impulsivity, it can be very conflicting and you can do things that you usually wouldn’t,” she continues. “I feel like the more I become comfortable [with myself], the more mad things I need to do to hit the same feeling.”
Melanie was unaware of the multiple allegations of sexual abuse and rape that were about to come out against Toby, but during her time living with him, things turned sour. “I saw this other side of him,” she says. “I couldn’t work, I couldn’t write my book, I couldn’t do anything. I was very much caught up in his personal struggles.
“Sometimes you’ll follow your gut, then your gut will say, ‘You made a mistake, run!’,” says Melanie.
Along with his difficult behaviour, Melanie discovered that Toby was lying about dating another woman, and things fell apart. Two weeks after things ended between Melanie and Toby, April Eff and Amelia Talon went public with their allegations. “When that happened, I wasn’t surprised because of certain behaviour I witnessed while living with him,” she says.
“I dealt with a lot of my problems with the situation and had cried my tears before the allegations came out,” Melanie continues. “When they did, it made me immediately detach from him.”
“If you don’t have your say, people will say your piece on your behalf…”
Melanie tried to stay out of the situation, but it was difficult, because by this point it was commonly known that she had been living with Toby. She waited until Toby had responded to the allegations before making a video herself. “Sometimes with YouTube, no matter how much you want to stay out of drama, if you don’t have your say, people will say your piece on your behalf,” says Melanie.
“I’m glad I made the video,” she says. “I was trying to defend the victims’ right not to be attacked, while trying to protect his right to not be assumed guilty, and also making it clear that he didn’t do anything like that to me.”
Melanie went on to become friends (and film videos) with the woman Toby lied to her about, Jaclyn Glenn. “A lot of girls would take hostility out on the other woman,” says Melanie. “We really wanted to show that it doesn’t have to be that way, so we saw the opportunity to turn it into a positive situation.”
Having survived one wave of negativity online, it was less than two weeks until Melanie was met with more. This time from a group of vegans, in response to her video Why I No Longer Eat A Vegan Diet. “The overwhelming majority of comments were very hostile, telling me I didn’t understand what veganism means, I was doing it wrong and I was irresponsible for promoting meat-eating to a younger audience, even though that’s not what I was doing,” she says.
“They told me I’m a horrible person and I deserve to die because I consume animal products,” continues Melanie. “I really don’t agree with judging what other people do. I believe in leading by example.”
For the most part, Melanie’s career has been positive, and then in the space of a month there were two waves of criticism. Nonetheless, she’s able to let it wash over her. “Sometimes you get into a messy discussion,” she says. “But I love debating… I think the etiquette of comments online is not very good, though. People need to realise that there’s a respectful way to talk to other people and debate. But it’s okay to disagree.”
Despite this, Melanie sees constructive criticism as a learning experience and believes it gives you an opportunity to change your beliefs. “That’s the great thing about YouTube. TV shows and movies don’t have comments, but YouTube videos do and they’re bloody brilliant,” she exclaims. “You definitely learn from your viewers.”
“I’m not preparing, expecting or anticipating anything.”
That ‘glass half full’ outlook has taken Melanie a long way. She’s found a way to thrive in some of the most high-pressure situations, which is testament to how far she is on her personal journey.
Nonetheless, even she is surprised that she hasn’t relapsed with eating disorders or anxiety. “I sometimes get social anxiety, but I’m so much better at handling it, so it doesn’t really affect my life,” she says.
Melanie doesn’t know what’s in the future for her, but she likes it that way. “My original goals were to lecture and be an author, and they still are,” she says. “But now I’m having all these experiences, I’m just gonna go with it.
“I’m not using this as a stepping stone into another industry,” Melanie continues. “So for me, it’s like this flash-in-the-pan, amazing, cool thing that can go anywhere.
“I’m not preparing, expecting or anticipating anything. If it ends tomorrow, I have a teaching degree and I’ll carry on writing… If it doesn’t end tomorrow, who knows what I might do?”
Photos by Olly Newport.
Want more from Melanie Murphy?
Check out these exclusive photosets:
- Melanie Murphy TenEighty August 2016 Cover
- Melanie Murphy TenEighty 2016 Shoot: Set 01
- Melanie Murphy TenEighty 2016 Shoot: Set 02
Alternatively, read some of our previous TenEighty interviews:
- Thomas Ridgewell: How To Lose Friends and Influence People
- Lex Croucher: Social Justice Worrier
- Suli Breaks: Not a Role Model
- Hazel Hayes: Kill Your Darlings