FRANCE / USA – Lizzy Howell posted a video of herself doing a pirouette on her Instagram page five years ago. Since then, the video has received nearly half a million views, as well as support from celebrities such as model Tess Holliday and a promising dance career.
Ms Howell’s talent and dedication to dance have led to her being asked to perform in a music video with Shawn Mendes and Khalid, being featured in clothing campaigns for Target and American Eagle and modelling with Ashley Graham since she went viral. She has more than 250,000 Instagram followers and 460,000 TikTok followers, as well as 15.3 million TikTok likes.
She performed as a dancer alongside French singer Bilal Hassani at Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel, where she was one of three Americans to perform alongside Madonna and Quavo. Despite her success, Ms Howell, 20, had no intention of going viral on social media or aspiring to be a social media celebrity.
“It was overwhelming and shocking because I didn’t understand why people kept sharing it,” Ms Howell said of her initial video. “I was just being myself — I didn’t see anything special with it. It also happened fast.”
Dancing too, Ms. Howell said, has a longer shelf life than social media.
“Dance is everywhere. It’s on TV, it’s in movies, it’s at award shows,” Ms. Howell said. “I don’t think dance is going anywhere. I’ll ride the social media while I can, but it’s not necessarily what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
When Howell first uploaded the viral video of herself dancing, she was 16 years old. Rather than a global audience, that video’s target audience was friends and family. There are benefits and drawbacks to becoming an internet sensation overnight. People often feel compelled to comment on Ms. Howell’s videos without knowing the full story behind each post, according to Ms. Howell.
“I had no idea what social media would turn out to be,” Ms Howell said. “At the time, you would follow your friends and they follow you. I didn’t see how people had careers through social media. Five years later and that’s what a lot of people are doing now. It gives me a lot of opportunities,” she said of going viral and being famous. “It’s also opened me up to a lot of criticism that I was not used to. I got bullied all the time when I was in school, but this was another level of like hundreds of thousands of people telling me I’m not good enough. It just elevated that self-doubt in me to the max.”
Ms. Howell has taken an active role in social justice issues as a result of her internet success. She was a member of a group called “TikToks for Biden” that worked directly with President Joe Biden’s campaign office during the 2020 presidential election.
After President Biden was elected, the group renamed itself #genz4change, with the goal of holding the president accountable for keeping campaign promises, according to Ms. Howell.
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