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Kiwi social media sensation Kylee Fleek: from bullied teen to beauty queen

He was taunted for loving makeup as a kid, but Kiwi social media star Kylee Fleek is now a big shot in the cosmetics world.

By Cloe Willetts
Social media sensation Kylee Fleek was mercilessly bullied when he first experimented with makeup at age 10. Luckily, the queer Ma¯ori influencer didn't give up on his passion because he now works with global beauty brands, including Maybelline and L'Oréal, and has more than 500,000 online fans who flock to his hilarious makeup tutorials.
Kylee, 21, grew up in Gisborne and realised early on he didn't like the same things as most other boys. When he started intermediate, he began experimenting with nail polish and wigs, inspired by his hairdresser mum Jo, 44, who has always been his biggest supporter. He was taunted at his all-boys college and felt rejected by other family members, who didn't understand his passion.
"I look back and wish I would've been able to walk outside in high heels, or been encouraged to leave the house in makeup and a pink wig if I wanted," he says. "That's how I wanted to express myself."
Fortunately, Kylee found the online beauty community at 12 and fell in love, starting a YouTube channel where he posted vlogs about anything he felt passionate about, including makeup.
'I don't know what my bullies are doing now, but I'm doing just fine!'
"Everyone in the community looked like they were having so much fun," says the star, who recently changed his birth name of Kyle De Thier to Kylee De Thier. "They were hilarious and so nice, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to become famous!"
The first beauty vlogger from New Zealand that Kylee saw was Palmerston North YouTuber Shaaanxo, aka Shannon Harris. Having also been born in Palmy, Kylee told himself that if she could do it, he could too.
"Then came Kris Fox, a lovely woman from Auckland, who shaped the way for queer people of colour like me," he enthuses. "Watching vlogs was my escape after school. I'd come home, chuck on the videos and laugh my arse off, then go film my own just to feel part of it."
When kids at school found out about Kylee's channel, the bullying got worse and even more isolating, but it didn't stop him creating content.
"At 17, a woman told me her daughter, who was once a male, found my YouTube channel and it was a big help for them with coming out as transgender," he recalls. "That was a huge moment for me."
Kylee's first time wearing makeup.
A year later, Kylee's big break came when influencer Nix Adams, winner of TV Personality of the Year at the NZTV Awards in 2021, invited him to do her makeup live on Facebook. Afterwards, his Instagram followers shot up from around 6000 to 10,000.
Kylee moved to Auckland in 2020 and immediately found his tribe. That same year, he placed runner-up on the TVNZ+ reality show Glow Up NZ, which saw nine makeup artists battle it out in creative challenges.
"Back then, TikTok was exploding and I decided to film a contour tutorial, which blew up immediately and now has over nine million views," he tells. "That got me my first 100,000 followers on TikTok within the first couple of days of me starting the app."
With his family (from left) Jayden, Storm, dad Lee and mum Jo.
Kylee's humorous and informative "Beginners Makeup 101" series has more than 11.2 million hits on TikTok, and when he put the viral videos up on Instagram as reels, a contour tutorial pushed his follower number from 17,000 to 180,000 in less than a week.
In 2021, after Kylee started a digital marketing degree at university, L'Oréal reached out with a sponsorship deal, then a talent agency signed him up, securing collabs with big brands like Sephora and Maybelline, which flew Kylee to Australia to attend events. Other brands he has worked with include Colgate, YouTube and Anastasia Beverly Hills.
With fellow Glow Up contestant Lara Tilley.
Recently, Kylee – who now gets paid up to $5000 for a social media post – supported his friend Nix by appearing in a campaign shoot for her new CWK Nix Nude Eyeshadow palette, which she launched with Kiwi makeup brand TIA Products.
The torment he suffered in the past is fuel for Kylee, whose goal is to continue working with makeup while helping other young people, especially queer and Ma¯ori kids from small towns who don't have supportive family and friends.
"I don't know what my bullies are doing now, but I'm doing just fine!" laughs Kylee. "I've worked so hard over the years and my goal is to break that glass ceiling for indigenous queer people. I want to show that no matter where you're from, or what race or sexuality you are, you can make it."
  • undefined: Cloe Willetts (1)

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