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Michelle Phan was the world's first influencer. In 2016, she vanished without a trace.

Long before there was James Charles, Tati Westbrook or Kylie Jenner, there was Michelle Phan.

Way back in 2007 when YouTube wasn’t even really YouTube yet, the then-19-year-old began uploading makeup tutorial videos online.

No ads or #sponcon. Just a girl who loved cosmetics.

Credited as the original beauty influencer, Phan was the first person to really make money off posting beauty tutorials on YouTube. Her viral videos, like her Lady Gaga Poker Face and Daenerys Targaryen tutorials, saw her amass a fan base of 9 million people who couldn’t get enough of her calming, relatable content.

You can watch a snippet of one of Michelle Phan’s first ever videos below. Post continues after video.

Video via Michelle Phan

Every brand wanted to work with her. Every young girl wanted to be her friend.

Then, one day in 2016, Phan disappeared. From her YouTube channel, from her social media platforms and from her life. At the time, it was the biggest drama to hit the YouTube beauty community.

Over the last three years, Phan has only resurfaced once, in 2017. That is, until this month when she tweeted a video titled ‘Hello :)’ out of the blue. Earlier this week, Phan also shared a video titled ‘Watching My Old Videos’, giving her OG fans a look back at her first ever YouTube videos and what her life was like back then.

For now, it would seem Phan is back, but not as many would remember her. Let’s take a deep dive into the rise, fall and rebirth of Michelle Phan, the world’s first beauty blogger.

 

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I missed doing this :)

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Who is Michelle Phan?

Michelle Phan is an American beauty entrepreneur who is credited as being the world’s first influencer.

The 32-year-old’s family immigrated to the US from Vietnam, and Phan uploaded her first beauty video, a natural makeup tutorial, to YouTube in 2007.

From there, Phan built a beauty empire, becoming one of the first creators to make money from YouTube. The Cut estimates Phan’s channel alone was earning her more than $88K a month at its height, on top of other endorsements, including her $738 million dollar IPSY deal.

Where did Michelle Phan go?

On July 25, 2016, Phan uploaded a video about hair removal, Mastering the Art of Hair Removal.

“Hi beauties! Sorry I’ve been away from this channel. Miss you all so much,” she wrote in the description, apologising for the 24-day gap since her previous video upload.

“I’ve been traveling overseas discovering the beauty of the world and gathering lots of inspiration that I can’t wait to share when I get back.”

At the time, no one knew ‘when I get back’ would be years. Phan’s disappearance from the internet was as simple as going cold turkey. One day, she uploaded a video, and the next, she didn’t. Initially, not even colleagues at her two beauty companies, Ipsy and Em Cosmetics, knew where she’d gone, The Cut reports.

michelle phan
Michelle Phan was the world's first influencer. Image: Getty.
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Her nine million subscribers mourned the digital loss of their favourite YouTuber.

“I’ve been watching you since I was 14 and I really miss you! Feels like you were my best friend and now I have no idea what you’re up to."

"As much as I love you, I miss the old you. You're different."

"When you first left, I literally cried so freaking hard. I miss you, you're such an icon. You were my childhood hero."

Then, in 2017, a year after completely disappearing from her online life, Phan uploaded an 11-minute video to her YouTube channel.

The title? Why I Left.

In the self-illustrated video, Phan painted a picture of a story we've heard before, about how fame, money and success come at a price. She started doing beauty tutorials as a way to pay off her student loans and support her family, but over a 10-year period, she said she no longer recognised the woman in her videos.

You can watch Michelle Phan's video Why I Left below. Post continues after video.

"The early days of YouTube were magical, no one was really making videos for money. But the taste of success was like a drug, and I couldn't get enough," she said.

"Once I was a girl with dreams, who eventually became a product, smiling, selling and selling. Who I was on camera and who I was in real life began to feel like strangers. Money can bring out the worst in people, and I was no exception."

Although details have never been made public, Phan eluded to suffering anxiety and depression after a number of business deals, some of which ended in lawsuits. In her video, she spoke about having to fulfil commitments she'd 'signed on the dotted line', some of which we can assume were her cosmetics ranges with L'Oreal x Em Cosmetics and beauty subscription service IPSY.

So, Phan decided to simply stop uploading YouTube videos. She essentially vanished from the internet, leaving many of her fans, business partners and staff concerned for her safety.

"I wanted to be forgotten, so I began posting less online. My intuition told me it was time to leave, so I followed," Phan said in her video.

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Based on her video, Phan relocated from California to Switzerland, where she disconnected from the world in order to reconnect with herself.

Why is Michelle Phan back?


According to Phan, she's 'back', but not as her followers might remember her.

Her biggest priority is rebuilding her cosmetics company, Em Cosmetics, which she bought back from initial partner L’Oréal. Which means we likely won't see any celebrity makeup tutorials from her anytime soon.

"After two years of reflecting and recharging, it felt like a good time to create and share again," she told The Cut.

"I was burnt out. I was just tired. I accomplished everything I could ever want⁠ — even more so! I didn’t come onto YouTube to become a star. But I believed I was the shit, when I’m just another drop in the bucket in this existence.”

Now, Phan simply wants to show people the dark side of the internet.

“I realise I can’t save the world. But I can save myself, and when I show people how I saved myself, and I share how I did it, that can save them, too.”

You can read The Cut's full interview with Michelle Phan here.

Did you ever watch Michelle Phan on YouTube? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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