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In one corner of TikTok, Tejano songs like Bobby Pulido’s “Desvelado” are the soundtrack to video tours of Mexican families’ houses. The TikToks highlight cozy, messy living rooms and the familiar din of chatter.
The clips have racked up thousands of views, garnered support in the comments, and inspired others to show their homes.
“Cozy, lived in with good food, beats aesthetic any day,” one user commented.
Melissa Tovar, a 28-year-old Latina from Atlanta, felt like she could be an influencer on TikTok after seeing house tours and other videos from Latinx creators sharing their daily lives. The houses look like the one where she grew up, and the people going viral for sharing them look like her.
“TikTok is not known for aesthetics; it’s known for your everyday real life,” Tovar told the Daily Dot. “It is very true that people of color, we have a different way of life. Everything is not pretty, like you go to my mom’s house and it’s very Hispanic—like La Virgen Maria.”
People of color, and particularly middle-aged Latina women, are finally breaking onto TikTok’s For You Page and making content creation their full-time job.
Influencing’s beginning wasn’t nearly as diverse.
“In the early days, it was mommy bloggers, it was primarily, you know, Caucasian housewives, who really started the influencer marketing movement,” said Ted Murphy, CEO and founder of IZEA, a company that connects influence to marketers.
In 2009, YouTube birthed vloggers and internet stars like Jenna Marbles who opened the door to influencing as a career. However, it wasn’t always a door just anyone could walk through.
“I think that the word ‘influencer,’ when I first started even five years ago, it was almost like an ‘influencer? That’s impossible.’ Unless you have this life, you can’t be an influencer,” Skyelar Garcia, a social media coach and manager, told the Daily Dot.
Garcia built her social media marketing business Managed by Skye to help clients, both big businesses and small creators, come up with strategies to grow their platforms. She said that YouTube and influencing often came with a glitzy lifestyle that made influencing seem out of reach.
“I think the authenticity was a huge shift in the influencing community. I think that that’s what made it more attainable for everybody because they’re like, ‘Oh, wow, there’s somebody out there like me or similar to me that makes money off of influencing, and I could be that, too,’” Garcia said.
A few years ago, Tovar tried her hand at becoming an influencer on Instagram. The influencing space there wasn’t as welcoming to her as TikTok. She said it was a very small community where people didn’t want to share their successes.
She explained that she felt like Instagram was all about aesthetics or looking a certain way.
“On Instagram, everything had to look pretty, it has to be white and just cute and IKEA [style] and organized,” Tovar said. “I didn’t have a lot to share on Instagram because I couldn’t create aesthetic content.”
But, she said, TikTok allows chaos.
Creators on the app don’t have to look a certain way to go viral. Instead, people can be themselves.
“It wasn’t until I got to TikTok where I was like, ‘Oh, aesthetics don’t matter.’ I can literally just create a nice video in my bathroom and just move forward with that,” Tovar said.
This shift toward authenticity has helped TikTok not only become a popular place to browse videos but also a social site where people want to forge careers. According to a study published by IZEA, about 44% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 want to become an influencer—or are already one.
Tovar and other Latina creators told the Daily Dot that despite some of the challenges that come with becoming a full-time influencer, TikTok’s flexibility and accessibility helped them find opportunities outside of their day jobs and propelled them into new positions of success.
TikTok as the right job
Tovar said a “more traditional” job was never for her. Although she said she loved teaching middle schoolers and had other jobs before committing to content creation, she craved a role where she’d be able to be her own boss, work her own hours, and take control of her salary.
Tovar still teaches, but now it’s to her 273,300 followers. She’s built a following sharing the ins and outs of skincare, how to do French manicures more affordably at home, and influencing tips.
Tovar said like many other types of jobs, influencing can lead to long hours and burnout. She explained how editing videos, answering emails, filming content, and watching her analytics keep her from clocking out of her job sometimes.
But still, she said, people don’t really see what she does as a job.
“I think the main reason why people don’t see it as a full-time job is because they assume that the content creation process is very quick,” Tovar said. “But what they’re not seeing is how much time you’re actually spending invested on the videos.”
Despite the long hours and the inconsistent schedules of this job, Tovar said it’s been a “life changer” for her.
“I would not be where I am today if it was not for TikTok and I’ve made videos on this on how like, I truly feel like TikTok changed my life in so many ways beyond just having a following on social media,” Tovar said.
Besides growing a steady following, Tovar landed opportunities like traveling to New York City for the Jingle Ball Concert as a content creator. Another big change has been her salary, which Tovar has been honest about in her videos. She said after connecting with brands and sponsors, she saw her $43,000 teacher salary bloom to six figures.
“I’ve probably like, I don’t know, probably not even tripled my income. It’s probably like six times what I was making as a teacher. I work a lot, but I’m also seeing so much the results,” Tovar said.
The influencer wage wasn’t always so lucrative. Murphy said when he first started his company back in 2006, the focus was on monetizing blog posts and Myspace pages. He said the average cost of a blog post was between $5 and $7.50, meaning bloggers were “in many cases making less than minimum wage.”
However, with the rise of TikTok, there’s been an increase in money.
“It has been amazing for me to see what has happened over the past 16 years. Now for a TikTok post, the average that we saw in 2021 was about $3,500; the average for Instagram photos about $1,100,” Murphy said.
Data from IZEA also found that over the last four years, creators of color like Tovar have seen an increase in pay.
“People of color are outearning their Caucasian counterparts, you know, in some cases, pretty significantly,” Murphy said. “We actually saw some of the biggest jumps and gaps between Caucasian and people of color in 2021.”
As a Latina and a daughter of immigrants, reaching this level of wealth was something Tovar never expected to see. She said in a TikTok video that she remembers working alongside her mother cleaning houses when she was little.
“I used to get so jealous because these houses were full of beautiful clothes, toys in the playroom and makeup on the counters and brands that I couldn’t afford at the time,” Tovar said. “I thought to myself, ‘it must be so nice to be this rich, I’ll probably never know what it’s like to feel like this.’”
She said that she’s been able to build a retirement plan for her family, something she previously didn’t know she would be able to do. She recently helped her mom redo her kitchen with the pay from a brand deal.
“It makes me so happy to be where I am in a spot where I can do that,” Tovar said.
‘Everybody has a chance to grow’
For 30-year-old Melina Vega, TikTok became a job when she needed it the most.
Vega first picked up content creation while she was working as a secretary at her children’s school. At first, she said it wasn’t to make it big or to become a full-time influencer. Instead, she said it was just a fun way to express herself outside of work.
Most of her content is about fashion, life as a mom, makeup, and showing off her Latina roots. Her videos begin with her catchphrase, “Hola mis hermosas,” which translates to, “Hello beautiful women.”
But when her husband, who was the primary breadwinner of their family, lost his job early in the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed that influencing became a lifeline that kept her family of four afloat.
“I started hustling a lot more on TikTok, and he came in on the page, and he started helping me and supporting me with that,” Vega said. “With both of our hard work, we started making money off of TikTok.”
At first, she was managing both jobs. From 9am to 5pm she filed paperwork and handled phone calls; at night, she filmed multiple videos, edited, and kept up with comments.
“I don’t know how I used to do it. I don’t remember juggling both because for TikTok, you do have to post multiple times a day, every day of the week. It’s very consuming,” Vega said.
With her TikTok account slowly growing, she quickly realized she was building a second career that would bring both long hours and professional growth.
“I believe a lot of people glamorize content creators, and they think they have the easiest job in the world,” Vega said. “And truly, it’s a job at the end of the day. And you have to treat it as such.”
When her husband had to leave Houston for work, she decided to leave her day job. Although it was scary to leave behind a second source of income, she said TikTok gave her a way to keep going.
“I still needed to come up with money. I didn’t have the privilege just to be a stay-at-home mom,” Vega said.
After she started dedicating her days to TikTok, her account took off, and her following grew to over 180,000 followers. These days, TikTok keeps her on the clock, she said.
“Everything is content in your life now,” Vega explained. “It’s cool, but it is tiring. It’s overstimulating.”
Although it’s been tricky for Vega to navigate the ins and outs, she said she’s been able to feel and see personal growth.
“I feel like I have a voice. Whereas before, I [was] never considered somebody that would have a voice. I would be shy to give my point of view, I felt like my point of view was never valid, or I never had the validation to speak,” Vega said.
She also said influencing has allowed her to network with other creators of color. Vega said she was recently accepted into @casatiktok, a house on TikTok dedicated to providing resources to Latinx creators on the app.
“I felt like I have a place inside the app now, where I can reach out to somebody, meet other people in the app, have mutuals with the same kind of insights, and also ask them questions,” Vega said.
Vega’s house membership also helped her feel more comfortable as a Latina in the social media world. She feels no need to hide her Spanglish or Latin roots online.
“We can all be welcomed in a platform, specifically TikTok. Everybody has a chance to grow on there, and I think that’s so beautiful,” Vega said.
It’s been a little over a year since Vega turned in her resignation letter and became a full-time content creator. She said in that time, she’s been able to gain opportunities she never saw for herself.
Now that TikTok has created more stability in her life, Vega said she wants to grow even more. She hopes to one day be able to hire people to help her expand her job and her business as a TikToker.
“Something like that would be my ultimate goal. Have my people work for me, my family, my brother, my sister be in my team if they would like to, or at least give him that chance,” Vega said. “So that they could also kind of grow with me, and we can all just kind of take off together.”