Why This Beauty Influencer With Cerebral Palsy Says 'Makeup Doesn't Have to Hide Your Flaws'

When Rebeca Gonzalez posted her first makeup video four years ago, she never expected to become a beauty influencer, let alone an inspiration to millions.

This-is-Me-Rebeca-Gonzalez-Courtesy-Rebeca-Gonzalez
Photo: Courtesy of Rebeca Gonzalez

When Rebeca Gonzalez, a 26 year old with cerebral palsy, posted a live Facebook video of herself putting onher own makeup four years ago, she never expected it would kick-start her career as a beauty influencer. It was actually one of her first times ever applying her own makeup, as she previously thought her disability—which meant she could only apply makeup with one hand—made it too difficult for her to do it herself.

At the time, she was surprised that the video garnered so much positive feedback—even receiving 1,000 views. Seeing that, she decided to continue playing with makeup and posting videos of herself doing that along the way.

"I never started doing makeup to get anywhere in life or to become a makeup artist. I just did it to simply pass time and meet new people," Gonzalez, who lives in Denver, tells Health. "But as time went on and brands started to reach out to work with me, I started to think, 'Well, OK, maybe this could turn into something.'"

Now, Gonzalez has more than 577,000 followers on TikTok and more than 47,000 on Instagram who watch her makeup videos that show her applying anything from everyday looks to elaborate Halloween-inspired designs. Her content is more than makeup tutorials, though—it also encourages others, especially those with disabilities, to follow their dreams.

"I share my story on social media through makeup because you don't see many people with cerebral palsy doing what they love because they are afraid that the world will judge them or not give them a chance," Gonzalez says. "I want to show people that cerebral palsy shouldn't stop them from doing anything or that they're not good enough [due to their disability]."

Living with cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that impacts someone's ability to move and maintain proper posture and balance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It's caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the brain during or after birth. It is the most common motor disability among children, affecting one in 345 children, the CDC says. While the condition is non-progressive—meaning it won't worsen over time—there is no cure.

Gonzalez was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was nine months old, after her mother noticed she wasn't achieving certain developmental milestones, like being able to sit on her own. Gonzalez likely developed the condition before she was born; doctors noticed she was losing oxygen in the womb, prompting them to perform an emergency C-section. When she was born, it was a few hours before she was hooked up to oxygen and, as a result, the right side of her brain was damaged.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary from stiff muscles to poor balance. It also occurs on a spectrum, meaning some people may require specialized equipment to walk while others may not be able to walk at all. For Gonzalez, the condition mostly afflicts movement on her right side. As a result, she uses her left limbs to complete activities. She also relies on an electric wheelchair to help her move from place to place, though she can cover short distances on her without it.

Cerebral palsy can also cause uncontrollable facial expressions and hand movements, most of which Gonzales doesn't even realize she's doing. "Sometimes people comment about them and tell me to 'stop doing that,' to 'please control [yourself],' because I'm making them uncomfortable," Gonzalez says.

Her biggest challenge living with cerebral palsy is communication. "My speech isn't that understandable to some people," she says, which is why our interview was conducted via email. "They either have to be patient with me, or I'll just type what I want to say on my phone so they can read it."

Building her self-confidence with makeup

While living with cerebral palsy makes certain tasks more challenging, Gonzalez says she's able to complete most of them by taking them one step at a time. For example, while most people can slip both arms into their shirt simultaneously, Gonzalez has to go arm-by-arm. Even so, Gonzalez says some people treat her differently or leave her out of certain activities.

"That bothers me a lot just because my mom raised me with a mindset that I'm no different than anyone my age," she says. "People tend to underestimate a person's abilities just because they have a disability."

In fact, there was a time when Gonzalez underestimated herself, too. "When I was a teenager, I used to be very quiet and embarrassed of myself," she says. "I used to question God, 'Why me? Why do I have this life with this disability?' I used to think I would never get to be someone in life."

That's why makeup is so important to Gonzalez. For her, it's not about hiding your flaws or making yourself more "beautiful"—it's about experimentation and creativity, which empower her. Whereas she used to doubt her ability to do makeup with cerebral palsy, she now realizes her self-doubt is her only limiting force. Even though it may take her a bit longer to do elaborate looks since she can only apply products with one hand, she's still able to achieve them with persistence.

"When I sit in front of my vanity—whether it's for a video, for a brand, or just doing my makeup for myself—I get a break from whatever is going on in my life or in the world," Gonzalez says. "It has become my safe place, and doing makeup is something I feel like I'm actually good at."

Since she started posting to social media, Gonzalez says her confidence and courage have improved tremendously: While she used to avoid going out in public simply because she was embarrassed by people seeing her, she's now comfortable with millions watching her face onscreen.

Overcoming negativity on social media and in the beauty industry

While Gonzalez is more confident in herself than she was four years ago, her social media journey doesn't always progress in a linear upward trajectory. For one, she's struggled to find companies that genuinely want to build a relationship with her.

"Some brands honestly just contact me because they see I get a lot of views and think that I can give them a lot of sales," Gonzalez says. "I promote what I get sent, but I never will make my supporters buy something. A lot of brands drop me because they saw I'm not making sales like they thought I would, or they'll just use me to get more followers."

She also points out that while the beauty industry is trying to become more inclusive, it's not quite there. Sending products or reaching out to people with disabilities is just one piece of the puzzle. "I would like to see people with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities model and be a part of an ad or shoot for [brands] just like any other person," Gonzalez says.

Like most content creators, Gonzalez also faces a daily slew of negative and hurtful comments, some of which accuse her of faking her disability for attention. At first, these comments made her cry, but now she sees them as motivators.

"If I give up by the first negative comment I see, I would just be letting myself down," Gonzalez says, noting that most of the backlash likely comes from a place of jealousy or insecurity. "I see the haters as fans, and those fans, along with my true supporters, just make me want to work harder and get to the top [of beauty influencers]."

And so far, that attitude has paid off. In early December, Gonzalez launched her first palette collaboration with makeup brand Spoiled Lips Cosmetics, and it sold out in less than 30 minutes. The palette features four shades of highlighter: a blush pink, a shimmering white, a luminous gold, and a subtle champagne. She named one of the shades, Rosita, after her mother and another, Ángeles, after her grandpa and aunt who she lost to COVID in 2020.

"Selling out in just 30 minutes was mind-blowing," Gonzalez says. "You truly see how much [strong] support you have created for yourself."

While she has high hopes for another, even bigger collaboration in the future, her main goal is to continue inspiring others and showing the world that those with cerebral palsy can be successful, too. "No matter who you are, if you have a disability or not, if people support you or not, you will and can achieve your dreams," Gonzalez says. "Learn how to make the world yours."

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