Growing up, Tess Daly often felt self-conscious about her disability. Now, Tess is proud to stand out, having made a name for herself as one of the UK’s leading beauty bloggers
Applying makeup takes confidence, patience, and a steady hand – traits Tess Daly is the first to admit she doesn’t have in abundance.
In fact, it’s only through using a robotic arm that the disabled beauty blogger has been able to fine-tune her online makeup posts and tutorials that have seen her amass more than 200,000 Instagram followers.
Tess was born with spinal muscular atrophy – a neuromuscular disorder that means she has never been able to walk. Despite being in a wheelchair since the age of two, she grew up refusing to let her disability get in the way, having from an early age a determination to one day work in the creative world.
“I was always interested in fashion and beauty,” Tess tells me as we chat in her Sheffield home, where she relies upon a team of carers to help her with everyday tasks. “I had my heart set on becoming a fashion designer. I studied art in school, and spent every spare minute drawing clothing and shoe designs.
“Unfortunately, during my GCSEs, I rather inexplicably lost the use of my right hand, which meant I was unable to do lots of things, including my own makeup.”
In a bid to feel as normal as possible, Tess began paying makeup artists to do her face for a night out almost every weekend throughout her early 20s. “It was an expensive affair, trust me! But I always prided myself on looking good on the outside to make myself feel better inwardly.”
However, things changed a few years ago when a friend – who also has spinal muscular atrophy – shared a video of her applying eyeliner with the help of a piece of equipment called the ‘neater eater’. It’s attached to the wheelchair and functions as a bionic arm to manipulate the limb; although designed for helping to feed yourself, Tess found it worked just as well when applying makeup – and it changed her life.
With the use of what she nicknamed ‘the bionic arm’, Tess was able to teach herself to do certain things again, including her own makeup. “I found ways to make things work, and I have always preferred to talk about the things I can do, rather than stuff I can’t do, as there’s no point thinking of negatives.”
When I suggest that Tess is an ‘influencer’, she’s quick to point out she’s not. “I’d much rather be known as a ‘role-model’ – standing up for people with disabilities, who don’t often see themselves represented in the beauty industry.”
Having perfected the use of the bionic arm, Tess – who never used social media much – began posting pictures of her progress on Instagram, tagging the makeup brands she was using. After a few months, she gained more than 10,000 new followers after her work was shared by makeup guru to the stars, Anastasia Beverly Hills.
“The response that it got was nothing short of phenomenal,” Tess says.
I have a community around me that motivates and encourages me to tackle my insecurities head on
“Reading the comments made me realise how under-represented disabled people are within the beauty industry, and also how eager people were to see that change. Up until this point, posting pictures of my makeup had just been a hobby. Seeing this reaction, however, really pushed me to try to fill the gap in the industry. Growing up, I had never seen anybody like myself within either the beauty or fashion industry, and I wanted to help change this.
“I genuinely had no idea that my platform would escalate into what it is today. I never thought I would have the confidence to post photos, let alone videos. The way I think about myself has changed so drastically from when I first started, it’s strange to me now that I had such negative feelings in the beginning.”
Despite her sudden fame on social media – which has led to Tess being the face of numerous skin and makeup campaigns – she remains down to earth.
“I’m still blown away every single day by how kind and supportive my followers are. I have a community around me that motivates and encourages me to tackle my insecurities head on. It is down to my followers that I have not only posted videos of me applying my makeup, but I have posted bikini pictures.
“Every time I overcome one of these insecurity obstacles, I’m met by such love and kindness from my followers that any negativity pales into insignificance.”
By this, she means the online trolls who regularly post nasty comments about her appearance.
“As somebody who has been heavily trolled, my advice would be to completely rise above it. It is easier said than done, but the saying ‘don’t feed the troll’ exists for a reason. Unfortunately, people like this live to get a rise from the people they are attacking. Ignoring them is single-handedly the most annoying thing you could possibly do to them.”
When it comes to posting her makeup looks, it’s a long, incredibly tiring process, that can take up to four hours.
But Tess says: “The effort is worth it as, to me, makeup is freedom. There isn’t much I can do ‘independently’, but my makeup is something I can call my own and feel proud of.”
Unfortunately, Tess feels that there is still some stigma affecting disabled people within the beauty industry.
“There are still so many stereotypes that surround us, all of which are simply not true. It is still heavily believed that we don’t take pride in our appearance, therefore why should beauty products be aimed at a disabled audience?
“Fortunately, I am seeing a shift in how not only the wider community perceives disabled people but also how brands represent us. I was recently lucky enough to be selected to feature in Isle of Paradise’s self-tan campaign, and the response was phenomenal. Having a huge brand feature me alongside so many other beautifully diverse models helps to normalise disabled people within the industry, which really does have a ripple effect on the rest of the world.”
I’ve got one life and I intend to live it how I want, no matter what anybody else says, or how society thinks I should live it!
As for future projects, Tess is working with other brand campaigns in a bid to raise awareness of body positivity – something she believes strongly in, now more than ever.
“I used to be stared at a lot, and feel so unconfident – but I’m in a wheelchair, that’s nothing new really, is it? And yep, I got comments, I still do, all over good old Instagram! But the difference is, now I don’t care. I’ve got one life and I intend to live it how I want, no matter what anybody else says, or how society thinks I should live it!”
Tess is currently fronting a body acceptance campaign for the Isle of Paradise’s launch of Get Body Posi – a free download written by Jules Von Hep, which is a global commitment to making body acceptance top of the beauty agenda. The campaign includes all shapes, sizes, skin tones, and abilities, and is the first tanning brand to do so.
Follow Tess on Instagram @tess.daly