EXCLUSIVE: YouTube Star Maya Washington On Overcoming Insecurities And Being "Shameless"
Without us realizing it, our perceived weaknesses are actually our greatest strengths in disguise.
And for Maya Washington—or Shameless Maya as she's better known by her 117,000+ Facebook followers, 54,000+ Twitter followers, and 266,000+ Instagram followers, and 1.1 million+ YouTube subscribers—her Filipino-Canadian, African-American heritage and challenge-filled childhood that were once her biggest insecurities turned out to be the hidden aces up her sleeves, proving that inner struggles can uplift, rather than hinder, with the right state of mind.
Born in Toronto, Canada and raised by a single Filipino mom, Maya grew up in a household that had its share of bumps in the road. Money didn't come easy, as she candidly shared, and she and her brother were exposed to adult concerns at an early age despite their mom's best efforts to give them a happy childhood.
"...having been raised with limited resources forced me to get a job at 12 years old. Although my mom never wanted me to, I wanted to help out any way I could, even if that [meant] financially being able to take care of myself and one less expense to worry about," Maya tells Metro.Style in an exclusive interview.
As difficult as that already was for Maya, the test didn't end there; a much, much more personal and intrinsic struggle came in the form of her grappling with her racial identity that others—including close family members—were quick to use against her.
Looking back at the time gone by, Maya shares, "I struggled with insecurities like any other teen growing up. My main struggles were [with] identity. Being a kid who was a Black Filipina was confusing. Although my family [loved] me, as a kid, you’re constantly looking for acceptance and validation, and cousins and siblings as children can be mean. I was made fun of for being dark and having 'kinky' hair, but ultimately, I needed the struggle to eventually embrace who I am today."
Studying Maya's words, one would never expect her, or anyone, at that, to refer to a struggle as something they "needed."
But that's exactly the message that this woman of strength and substance wants to send: it's the tough times that you use to shape or break you, and who you become when the storm has passed is guaranteed to make you a better, more capable, and more positive version of the person you used to be.
Photos from @mayasworld
The struggle is only the first half of Maya's story, what comes next is what you should be paying attention to, taking note of how her transformation unfolded and all the lessons you can learn from her experience.
In her youth, when things were at their roughest, she sought out outlets that let her express herself constructively and allowed her to be among people who respected her and afforded her opportunities for growth.
Dabbling in the performing arts outside of her regular routine as a student, Maya found the confidence in herself to be who she truly was: a proudly biracial woman who wouldn't let the bad define her but rather, embrace the uniqueness inherent in who she was.
"...I took dance classes which started to give me confidence to meet new people outside of school and my comfort zone. It wasn’t until my last year of high school when I transferred to a musical theatre program that I really started to come out of my shy shell and continue towards my path of being shameless," she explains.
And with a clearer mind came a better appreciation of her situation; though money matters were occasional rain clouds in her formative years, they emphasized—and potentially strengthened—the bond she had with her mother and her brother.
"Growing up, we didn’t have much but family and each other," she says.
Most importantly, Maya found pride in her heritage and discovered the power it held, the realization leading her to become a beacon of inspiration for men and women hoping to find a role model in someone with experiences like theirs.
Her newfound purpose led her to move to and find empowerment in cosmopolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles, eventually gaining traction as an artist-turned-established influencer on social media.
"My YouTube channel and social experiment, which started in 2012 while living in NYC as an artist, has evolved into a lifestyle. It was a 365-day challenge that was only [supposed] to last a year, and it’s been completely life-altering. I am constantly looking to push myself out of my comfort zone. I am always looking for ways to evolve and grow," she declares.
In case you were wondering, the experiment was all about Maya literally promoting herself for a whole year. Her social media content would be all about her dreams, aspirations, accomplishments, fears, and hopes, and in the end, the project's results were something she could have never anticipated.
As shown on her website, her mission, post-experiment, now reads, "To inspire people to abandon fear and live out their dreams shamelessly"—something Maya herself achieved by focusing on what could become of a situation, regardless of how dire things might have seemed, and living this out, day by day.
And with that, Maya Washington evolved into Shameless Maya.
Today, she continues to inspire with her work as a YouTube sensation, creative director and consultant, producer, and professional writer in the works. Having mastered the world of vlogging, she hopes to elevate her career by expanding her theater background and learning the ropes of scripted comedy writing.
Her work has also allowed her to forge friendships with fellow YouTubers Bretman Rock and Patrick Starr and shine the spotlight on other Filipinos in the international scene who are leaving their own mark like her cousin, Jeigh Madjus, a singer, actor, and dancer opening the first New York Broadway production of Moulin Rouge, New York-based photographer and director photographer and director Christelle de Castro, and makeup artist Mila Victoria.
Grateful is one word Maya would use to describe what she feels today after coursing through her life's many peaks and valleys.
"Being a YouTuber has connected me to more opportunities than I could ever imagine—being able to work with the top Fortune 500 companies on their digital ad campaigns as a creative talent and consultant, and being able to work with legends like Prince on his album cover. All [are] opportunities I doubt I would have access to if I have remained shy and offline."
"As a kid, I was shy outside my home but loud and outgoing with my family. It was when I traveled to the Philippines as a kid that I saw drag queens for the first time and was in awe [at] their fierce confidence, which really resonated with me," she reminisces.
One could say that all in all, Maya has proven herself to be resilient, a fighter, and a true lover of life—beautifully, consistently, and of course, shamelessly.
Photographs by Paul Sunga