She may have almost 200,000 Instagram followers, but beauty blogger Tess Daly would rather be considered a role model than an influencer — especially for people with disabilities who don't often see themselves represented in the beauty industry. Daly, who hails from Sheffield, has gained a following sharing her intricate makeup looks and tutorials across YouTube and Instagram, and says she views beauty as a way to express her creativity. Here, she opens up about how she uses her platform to inspire both herself and others.
My name is Tess Daly, and I’m a beauty and fashion "influencer" (sorry, that word still makes me cringe to this day — I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable saying it!) mainly on Instagram, but I also dabble in the world of YouTube every now and again. Although I really am just your average makeup-obsessed, shopping-addicted, 30-year-old woman, I do have one noticeable difference, and it is that I'm an electric wheelchair user. I have a condition called spinal muscular atrophy type 2, which means I am completely unable to walk and rely on a team of personal assistants to help me around the clock.
If you follow me on Instagram, you could definitely be forgiven for thinking I spend every day of my life dressed up and wearing full glam; however, in reality, I am the absolute opposite! Due to the schedule that my PAs work, I only have certain days when I'm able to do my makeup, as they help me with the parts I cannot do. I am able to do my own eyebrows, eye makeup, and lipstick, but I don’t have the reach or strength to do my foundation, so that’s where they come in. As a result, I would say I definitely spend four or five days out of the week totally au naturel (and looking scruffy in my PJs, but hey, who’s judging!?).
I’m actually thankful for these occasions, as it's really encouraged me to look after my skin properly and let it breathe when I’m not caking on the makeup. I cleanse, tone, and moisturise religiously, making sure I have a good base for when I do go all out.
When I am able to get glammed up, I really come alive. I have always been a creative person; however, as my disability has progressed over the years, I lost the ability to do a lot of things that I love, including drawing and art. Around three years ago, by persevering with different ways of sitting in my wheelchair and finding different ways of holding a brush, I taught myself how to do a few elements of my own makeup again. As somebody who relies on other people to do almost everything for them, this felt so liberating and gave me a small piece of my freedom back. Makeup to me is a form of expression: It isn’t about covering yourself up or making yourself into somebody different, it’s about showing who you are on the inside. Some people sing, some dance, some draw — doing a really colourful and intricate cut crease eyeshadow look is my way of pushing myself to challenge what I can do, and keep pushing myself harder to do the things I couldn’t the month before.
So many people with disabilities tell me that I have given them the confidence not only to embrace their disability, but that I have inspired them to actively pursue their own love for makeup.
When I first started being able to do my makeup myself again, I looked to a lot of other influencers for inspiration, and there were so many styles that I would see and think "Nope, I’ll never be able to do that!" So I would just stick to what I already knew. Now, I’m constantly motivated by the community that I have surrounding me, and I just love throwing myself in at the deep end and giving new techniques a bash.
As I am always trying to "one up myself," it is the support from the people that follow me and leave comments on all my looks that has given me the confidence to push my boundaries and try new things. All in, doing my makeup and getting pictures done can take up to six hours. It really is a combined effort between myself and my PA to carry out my routine. However, seeing the final outcome and feeling a real sense of achievement once everything is done makes it all worth it — not to mention, seeing all the feedback once it's posted!
I know firsthand that growing up, I never had a role model who was "just like me" to show me that makeup and fancy clothes are for everyone, not just those that can do it all by themselves or can walk around on catwalks.
I am incredibly lucky to have great engagement with the people who follow me, and with that comes insight into how a lot of people feel about their own experiences with beauty. So many people with disabilities tell me that I have given them the confidence not only to embrace their disability, but that I have inspired them to actively pursue their own love of makeup. When I reflect on this, I realise that this is largely due to the huge underrepresentation of disabled people within the beauty community.
Although my disability is a footnote when it comes to my content on Instagram, I would be naive to think it isn’t my USP that sets me apart from other influencers doing similar content to me. Because of this, I do have lots of followers who love fashion and beauty, but also just so happen to have a disability. I know firsthand that growing up, I never had a role model who was "just like me" to show me that makeup and fancy clothes are for everyone, not just those who can do it all by themselves or can walk around on catwalks. Now, by some twist of fate, it seems I’ve become one of those role models.
Luckily, I do believe the fashion and beauty industry is slowly changing and becoming more inclusive of those with a disability. I am honoured to have worked with some of my favourite brands (which still blows my mind to think about) and every day, I notice another person with a disability being shared by big social media accounts or featured in campaigns. The pessimist in me, however, can’t help but wonder whether this is just good PR in following the current trend of being inclusive — but only time will tell!
I am often asked how I am so confident, and my response to that is I wasn’t always like this! Growing up, I knew I was different to everyone around me, so I acted (what I thought was) accordingly: I covered up the most "disabled"-looking parts of me, I wasn’t very outgoing as I didn’t think I could be (good old disabled stereotypes!), and I didn’t really wear makeup as I wasn’t physically able to do it myself. Then one day — I literally cannot put my finger on when or even why — I just thought, "Screw this."
I started wearing peep-toe heels after years of refusing to show my very twisted toes (I actually get trolled for my toes on Instagram, would you believe! Toes, man! Toes!). I dyed my hair every colour under the sun. I dressed like it was 30 degrees on a night out in December. I made myself visible for the first time. Yeah, I got stares, but I’m in a wheelchair, that’s nothing new really, is it?! And yep, I got comments — I still do, all over good old Instagram! But the difference is, now I don’t care. I’ve got one life and I intend to live it how I want, no matter what anybody else says or how society thinks I should live it!