Why TikTok’s makeup guru Mikayla Nogueira is sharing her eating-disorder recovery journey

Mikayla Nogueira discusses the balance of beauty and body image. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)
Mikayla Nogueira discusses the balance of beauty and body image. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Mikayla Nogueira staked her claim in the beauty space on TikTok by grabbing the attention of viewers through her incredible makeup skills, her vivacious energy and, of course, her Boston accent. But the creator, who has 15 million followers on the short form video app alone, points out that her platform isn't all about a beautiful aesthetic.

"Presently, beauty is mind. So when I feel good in my mind, that is beautiful to me. That I feel mentally well, that I'm taking care of myself," she tells Yahoo Life. "Beauty to me is making sure I drink water every day, making sure I go on a walk. Beauty to me is when I go in my kitchen and I get to cook a homemade meal."

It's a surprisingly holistic perspective for someone who initially gained viral attention for her transformational glam. However, it perfectly aligns Nogueira with partner KVD Beauty's latest "F the Rules" campaign, which encourages people to either follow beauty rules or forget about them as they please. "I look at the f*** rules side and that's me. Like that is who I am to my core," she says.

That spirit has led Nogueira to continue using what she labels as "2016" beauty techniques — like a bold brow, strong contour and striped highlighter — even as more natural makeup looks have been trending. It's also encouraged her to be bold in the conversations that she brings to her followers; most notably, those outside of the realm of makeup that lean into topics of mental health.

"It was one video I did maybe two and a half years ago where I was unboxing makeup, and it just had some music and had text that said, 'Hey, guys. Sorry I haven't been posting much, I'm not mentally doing the greatest,'" she recalls. "That was the first time I really ever addressed it, and the support was like, unbelievable."

Then she felt compelled to talk about her struggles with body image and an eating disorder.

"Im [sic] terrified to post this but — I'm going to take you on my journey of taking care of myself both inside and out," she captioned a video posted on Jan. 12, 2022. In it, she went through the details of her years-long battle with bulimia (which she had briefly mentioned in videos beforehand), realizing how many of her millions of followers could likely relate.

"I don't think we really truly understand the gravity of how many people also struggle with body image or eating disorders or just self-esteem insecurity in general. So that's why I talk about body image, in hopes that it just reaches people," she says. "If I can impact one person to [change their perspective on] body image or eating disorders or mental health, then I feel like I've made an impact."

And it's most important to her that that impact is a positive one.

"I'm still in an active eating disorder, it's very easy for me to say the wrong thing," she says, explaining that she's recently teamed up with the National Alliance for Eating Disorders to ensure that she's using her platform responsibly. "They've helped me learn how to speak about eating disorders in a way that is productive and healthy. And that is good for me."

While her own relationship with food and her body is a work in progress, she finds hope in the promise that people find on her account.

"Mikayla, I just I have to tell you that my daughter is alive today because of you. She struggles with eating disorders. You've been very open about them, and it made her feel comfortable to disclose it to her family. And she's now getting help and she is alive today because of you," Nogueira tearfully recalls a father of a fan telling her during a meet and greet.

"Mikayla, you saved me. And you're the reason why I can come to this fair and have food and enjoy myself," another woman told her during a run-in at a state fair.

"That is why I talk about this stuff, as difficult as it is," says Nogueira.

And to anybody who thinks it isn't her place as an internet personality best known for dramatic eyeshadow looks paired with bold eyeliner and a voluminous lash, she begs to differ.

"I mean, that's the thing about beauty, right? For me, it's so much more than just makeup," she says. "Makeup saved my life. Like actually, I am here today because of makeup. Any time throughout my life where I felt lost, where I felt alone, I felt depressed, anxious, anything, makeup was just always there. To some people makeup it's just makeup. And to me, it's it's everything. It's my creative expression, it’s the way I can show who I am. It’s all connected."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder please visit the National Eating Disorders (NEDA) website at nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.