By Grace Wade, Health
When Rebeca Gonzalez, a 26 year old with cerebral palsy, posted a live Facebook video of herself putting on her own makeup four years ago, she never expected it would kick-start her career as a beauty influencer. It was actually one of her first times ever applying her own makeup, as she previously thought her disability—which meant she could only apply makeup with one hand—made it too difficult for her to do it herself.
At the time, she was surprised that the video garnered so much positive feedback—even receiving 1,000 views. Seeing that, she decided to continue playing with makeup and posting videos of herself doing that along the way.
“I never started doing makeup to get anywhere in life or to become a makeup artist. I just did it to simply pass time and meet new people,” Gonzalez, who lives in Denver, tells Health. “But as time went on and brands started to reach out to work with me, I started to think, ‘Well, OK, maybe this could turn into something.'”
Now, Gonzalez has more than 577,000 followers on TikTok and more than 47,000 on Instagram who watch her makeup videos that show her applying anything from everyday looks to elaborate Halloween-inspired designs. Her content is more than makeup tutorials, though—it also encourages others, especially those with disabilities, to follow their dreams.
“I share my story on social media through makeup because you don’t see many people with cerebral palsy doing what they love because they are afraid that the world will judge them or not give them a chance,” Gonzalez says. “I want to show people that cerebral palsy shouldn’t stop them from doing anything or that they’re not good enough [due to their disability].”
Living with cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that impacts someone’s ability to move and maintain proper posture and balance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the brain during or after birth. It is the most common motor disability among children, affecting one in 345 children, the CDC says. While the condition is non-progressive—meaning it won’t worsen over time—there is no cure.
Gonzalez was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was nine months old, after her mother noticed she wasn’t achieving certain developmental milestones, like being able to sit on her own. Gonzalez likely developed the condition before she was born; doctors noticed she was losing oxygen in the womb, prompting them to perform an emergency C-section. When she was born, it was a few hours before she was hooked up to oxygen and, as a result, the right side of her brain was damaged.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary from stiff muscles to poor balance. It also occurs on a spectrum, meaning some people may require specialized equipment to walk while others may not be able to walk at all. For Gonzalez, the condition mostly afflicts movement on her right side. As a result, she uses her left limbs to complete activities. She also relies on an electric wheelchair to help her move from place to place, though she can cover short distances on her without it.
Cerebral palsy can also cause uncontrollable facial expressions and hand movements, most of which Gonzales doesn’t even realize she’s doing. “Sometimes people comment about them and tell me to ‘stop doing that,’ to ‘please control [yourself],’ because I’m making them uncomfortable,” Gonzalez says.
Her biggest challenge living with cerebral palsy is communication. “My speech isn’t that understandable to some people,” she says, which is why our interview was conducted via email. “They either have to be patient with me, or I’ll just type what I want to say on my phone so they can read it.”
Building her self-confidence with makeup
While living with cerebral palsy makes certain tasks more challenging, Gonzalez says she’s able to complete most of them by taking them one step at a time. For example, while most people can slip both arms into their shirt simultaneously, Gonzalez has to go arm-by-arm. Even so, Gonzalez says some people treat her differently or leave her out of certain activities.
“That bothers me a lot just because my mom raised me with a mindset that I’m no different than anyone my age,” she says. “People tend to underestimate a person’s abilities just because they have a disability.”
In fact, there was a time when Gonzalez underestimated herself, too. “When I was a teenager, I used to be very quiet and embarrassed of myself,” she says. “I used to question God, ‘Why me? Why do I have this life with this disability?’ I used to think I would never get to be someone in life.”
That’s why makeup is so important to Gonzalez. For her, it’s not about hiding your flaws or making yourself more “beautiful”—it’s about experimentation and creativity, which empower her. Whereas she used to doubt her ability to do makeup with cerebral palsy, she now realizes her self-doubt is her only limiting force. Even though it may take her a bit longer to do elaborate looks since she can only apply products with one hand, she’s still able to achieve them with persistence.
“When I sit in front of my vanity—whether it’s for a video, for a brand, or just doing my makeup for myself—I get a break from whatever is going on in my life or in the world,” Gonzalez says. “It has become my safe place, and doing makeup is something I feel like I’m actually good at.”
Since she started posting to social media, Gonzalez says her confidence and courage have improved tremendously: While she used to avoid going out in public simply because she was embarrassed by people seeing her, she’s now comfortable with millions watching her face onscreen.
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