Creator Estefania “Tefi” Pessoa (@hellotefi) has been busy this past year. She was widely celebrated as the TikTok host for InStyle, which recently received a Webby nomination for its 2022 social media presence. She was recognized by Variety as a top Miami-based entertainment star, and by People as a Latinx social media game changer. She wrapped up her run as host of MTV’s YouTube fashion show “Merch Masters,” and she’s been busy inking deals with brands like Milk Makeup, YSL Beauty, Sephora, Netflix, and Hulu. She attended events like the Oscar’s, the Golden Globes, the AMAs, and New York Fashion Week.
On top of it all, the 32-year-old Miami-native creator has been grinding to develop a book of personal essays delving into topics like body image and social media.
Since first joining TikTok in 2020, Tefi’s audience has grown to over 1.6 million followers. She’s become a staple for any pop culture lover, gaining viral traction for her celebrity breakdowns—think a 16-part series on Fleetwood Mac or an anthology on the drama surrounding the Don’t Worry Darling movie.
She’s also become cherished for her down-to-earth video series where she speaks openly about topics like self-empowerment, beauty standards, family, and relationships. Many of Tefi’s followers feel she fills the role of a wise “older sister” or “BFF,” helping them with relationship problems or the unique challenges of womanhood.
“You’re like the older sister i never had,” one fan tweeted to Tefi. “Tefi makes me LOVE being a woman,” another commented on TikTok.
Tefi credits her ability to connect with viewers by identifying experiences that make her unique and finding ways to make those topics interesting and relatable.
“Are you a middle child? That’s a unique experience,” Tefi said. “Do you drink coffee in the mornings? Yes or no? Why? How do you feel about people that do or do not? … There’s so much to talk about. All people want to do is have a conversation.”
How it started
Tefi has had a bit of a non-linear career path. She worked various jobs in the fashion, styling, art, and media world, prior to auditioning and landing her own live show with the television network Dreams in 2019. Tefi started the show on YouTube, branding it as a pop culture and celebrity news talk show called Tefi.
“I remember when I was doing a live show on YouTube that this third-party company produced, and I would go live, and I asked my producer, ‘How many people watched today?’ And they would look at me, and they would say, ‘Not counting your mom?’” Tefi recalled, noting the time it took her to reach her current level of social media prowess.
The Tefi show accumulated around 112,000 followers but ended in 2020. Tefi then made her move to TikTok, where her star power grew.
“We’re so used to people blowing up at such a rate. We’re only here hearing about them after the success. Especially with apps like TikTok, where somebody with no followers can get 5 million views because of the ways that the algorithm is,” Tefi noted.
How it’s going
Tefi has received lots of love and positive feedback as a creator. Other creators have praised Tefi for her ability to use her personal experiences to open up conversations and connect with her audience, without overfocusing on herself.
“What Tefi does so differently is it’s very clear that she doesn’t feel the need to make every single video about 100% her,” creator Nicky Reardon said in a TikTok praising Tefi. “I think we’re going to see a rise of creators who realize that, at the end of the day, it’s not really about them, it’s about the person who is watching their video.”
Although she deals with her fair share of trolls and haters. Tefi said she believes people with purpose—whether it be to become entertainers, artists, comedians, actors, or musicians—are the type of people who can become the most resilient to online critics.
“I think the only times that it really hurts people are when people are just doing it because they want to be famous,” Tefi said. “It’s those people that are so dependent on the up and down, the thumbs up thumbs down, … that are the most devastated.”
Tefi said she notices creators often struggle with comparison thoughts—being worried when they aren’t invited to certain brand trips, parties, panels, or dinners. “But you have to know that like, at the end of the day, it’s just business. And if you’re in it to, like, just meet people, that comparison game is going to fuck with you hard,” Tefi said.
Tefi also said she notices a lot of peer pressure in the creator community when attending events and awards shows. “You’re pressured to drink. I’m not a big drinker,” Tefi shared. “So that kind of fucks with you and your creativity.”
But beyond parties and events, Tefi said one of the biggest things creators secretly struggle with is body image and eating disorders.
“I know, many, many people were struggling with that very, very silently,” Tefi said. “The creators that you follow that you would never think of as [struggling] absolutely are struggling. Everybody that is on there trying to be somebody, we’re always adding extra pressure.”
Tefi told Passionfruit she is currently writing a book of essays touching on many of the issues she discusses with her fans—including her relationship with her body and beauty standards.
“A lot of that struggle comes from being someone Latina. … Growing up, especially in Y2K, there was a certain aesthetic … Being very, very, very thin, being blonde, being wealthy, almost, like, this obsession with a Regina George type,” Tefi said in a March video about body image. “It was very different from ‘the Latin woman,’ which was very much, like, Sofía Vergara, curvy, voluptuous.”
“There’s a really harsh criticism of the caricature of a Latin woman. I don’t have this body type that is so exaggerated that you see on TV,” Tefi continued. “It will always be in my ears, it’s just some days, it’s a little louder.”
Latina fans and fellow creators alike find Tefi a source of comfort and inspiration. “Being a fellow Latina, I really look up to you, and I think plenty of other Latinas look up to you as well,” entertainment reporter and creator Jess Lucero (@jessthereporter) said in a video about Tefi. “We’re constantly over here just cheering you on when we see all that you’re able to accomplish.”
“She’s managed to make a career for herself, by simply being herself,” Lucero told Passionfruit. “Where a lot of creators outgrow the ‘relatable’ tag that they are known for when they first blow up, she has managed to keep that side of her even as the numbers continue to roll in. She makes viewers care about the topics she talks about.”
Tefi said she looks to do five things in her content: be informative, relatable, entertaining, emotional, and insightful.
“You want to make sure that your content is hitting all those points, right? And you want to make sure that it’s something that people want to stay till the end, because that’s how TikTok shares stuff on the algorithm,” Tefi shared.
However, much of Tefi’s success has come from knowing when to buck trends and norms to follow her artistic instinct.
“But also, I’ll make a 24-part series. I’m not following the rules,” Tefi said, diving into some advice for her fellow creators. “Just make stuff that you like, and the rest of it is stupid. … We confuse technology with a sense of pride. It is completely random. The only thing that is not random is creating consistent content.”
As for advice she has for anyone trying to make it as an on-screen personality? “I look at my first TikToks, and I want to die,” she said. “But you have to start, and the earlier you start, the sooner you’ll get over being bad at it.”