Hashtag Famous: The Life of an Instagram Star

Words by Grant Gordon

Video by Karla Benitez

Graphics by Ashika Sethi


David Sternberg is a 21-year-old journalism major at the University of Texas at Austin who uses social media to realize his passion and influence society around him.

Sternberg has been interested in makeup since his senior year of high school, when he wanted his lips to be as pink as those of an actor in a movie he watched. When he didn’t have the courage to buy the lipstick himself, his friend stole it for him.

“When I wear makeup out and about I feel very powerful and strong,” Sternberg said. “I can influence other people. Whether you mean to or not, you still do, and that’s exciting.”

Sternberg created an Instagram profile in late 2015 to showcase his dazzling makeup designs to the world. He called his profile “Ultraviolent makeup,” based off the term coined in Clockwork Orange, which means violence simply for violence’s sake. Sternberg said he identified with the saying from an art perspective.

“I’ve always liked that (term) for art, saying … you just do art for the sake of art,” Sternberg said. “You don’t really have a message behind it; you’re just creating because you have to. I’ve always felt that way about myself; it’s just that I’ve never been good at any creative mediums.”

While Sternberg said he was unsuccessful in his previous attempts at music and painting, he finally found a way to express himself through makeup. His Instagram page has almost 100 thousand followers.

“I think getting some validation from social media that I might not be terrible at makeup is why I’ve stuck with this,” Sternberg said. “I’ve always wanted to do art – it’s just now this is the art that I’m doing.”

After one year, Sternberg’s Instagram page had only 8,000 followers, but started gaining more as he posted higher quality content. He said he switched from recording his videos with an iPhone to a DSLR camera and started being more creative.

His big payoff came during a “31 days of makeup” campaign he participated in last October, where he posted a new Halloween themed makeup design every day of the month. He gained 50,000 followers that month alone.

Now, Sternberg receives free makeup in exchange for sponsored david1Instagram posts. He said he used to spend about $100 every three months on makeup, but because of these sponsorships, he hasn’t purchased any makeup in a year.

Robert Quigley is a social media journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He said the way to create a great following on social media is to put out great content, pay attention to your production value, and understand the platform you’re using. After that, Quigley said, entrepreneurs can monetize their craft.

“There’s a way to make money for sure if you’re enterprising enough and you understand how to use social media well enough,” Quigley said.

Sternberg contributes much of his creative improvement, and the level of comfort he now feels with his artistic medium, to social media.

“I started off doing it by myself in my room completely alone,” he said. “Without strangers encouraging me to do what I do, I probably would not have gotten this far. Honestly, I probably would have quit a while ago, or just done bad makeup forever.”

Sternberg says the highlights of his career are the emails and messages he receives from men who say that Sternberg inspired them to wear makeup. Even with more and more men wearing makeup, Sternberg said most peoples’ negative attitudes toward the practice are not changing. However, he believes social media will force these negative sentiments to change in the future.

“Boys in makeup are a commodity for social media right now, and if a company wants to be young and hip then they need to include boys (in makeup),” Sternberg said. “So whether the people viewing that accept them or not, they’re still going to be viewing it regardless. So it doesn’t really matter how they feel, it’s still getting out there.”

david2While Sternberg said that people will eventually become accustomed to men wearing makeup, he knows we are not yet at that level as a society. He said the greatest challenge of running his Instagram page are the hate comments he receives.

“You want to say they don’t affect you, but they do,” Sternberg said. “It’s just something you have to deal with, constantly.”

While many people would simply delete the negative comment, Sternberg takes a different route.

“I try to educate the person intelligently, because I don’t think that hate comes from a place of knowledge,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg said he doesn’t see the hate comments as a negative.

“Even if someone is leaving you hate and it hurts your feelings, you’re exposing that person to knowledge,” he said. “Because they are now seeing something that they are not used to, which is where hate comes from.”

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