On a cold Friday evening, I meet YouTube personality Bree Essrig in front of Bruin Cafe. As we walk to UCLA’s Bruin Plate for dinner, I hold my arms close to my body because they feel numb from the frigid temperature. She takes off her leather jacket and places it over my shoulder. “Here, you look cold,” Essrig says. It is a sweet gesture and I think to myself that she has put herself on the Internet for a reason—to make us feel loved in the comfort of our homes. Over brussel sprouts and soft serve, Essrig shares what motivated her to pursue acting.
While other young teens hit up the mall or movie theatre, Bree Essrig and her friend recorded videos of themselves improvising to dramatic scenarios in a tiny closet. Essrig’s desire to document everything started when she was a kid. Her parents captured her entire childhood on home videos, ranging from her first time riding a bike to the plays she performed in. Then one day, she picked up her father’s camera, and thus began her love for film. “I pretty much started ‘vlogging’ when I was nine,” Essrig says.
In 2009, Essrig uploaded her first YouTube video so she could put something in her acting reel, showing off her skills in sketch comedy. Instead, she discovered a whole other world of people to connect to.
Although she appreciates that people enjoy her work, she shares that even a five-minute video may take hours or even days to finish. Despite the hard work, however, she claims it is all worth it, because YouTube has opened new channels for her—opportunities she wouldn’t have had without the platform, such as her current co-host gig for TYT’s Pop Trigger show, which turns pop culture gossip into social and political issues. It’s a refreshing take from the TMZ approach of exploiting celebrities’ private lives in the quest for that money shot.
“Deeper conversations about celebrity gossip mean a lot more to us as hosts because there is so much crap where people poop all over each other,” Essrig says. “It’s awful that more people know about Kim Kardashian’s butt than who Malala Yousafzai is.”
The show touches upon social justice issues like sexism in the media, which Essrig has personally experienced as a female. She’s been called every name in the book, and thus knows how tough it is for women in the entertainment industry. Scroll below her videos and you will see hateful comments like this:
“It’s about people wanting a reaction from you and the power that they could attain over what you’re doing, saying or wearing,” Essrig says. She combats this negativity by not caring about the way she dresses. She focuses on how she feels at the time, and tries not to read the hurtful comments.
She thinks that it is not fair that men, such as the news anchor Karl Stefanovic who wore the same blue suit every day, don’t get called out for their appearance. “We have to deal with all kinds of shit just because we have boobs,” Essrig says.
Sexist comments can ruin body image and self confidence for many females. “People feel the need to cover themselves and try to look good at every angle,” Essrig says. She wants everyone to live in the moment instead of worrying about how they look. “You can’t choose what people say, but you can choose your reaction,” she says.
Essrig takes this to heart and chooses to be a megaphone for the issues that people would rather avoid than confront. She has opened up about her history of depression and sexual orientation in the past. She didn’t stop there. Two weeks ago, she shared her moving sexual assault story on YouTube because she knows that it affects so many people.
“Every single woman I know has been sexually assaulted in her life. People say that it’s a hot topic, but the truth is, this is something that has always happened,” Essrig says.
She had her reasons for not sharing her story right away, but she wants everyone to know that it is better to speak up when it happens. “I think that whatever happened to you, it’s not your fault, but it’s also a great opportunity to help other people who are about to go through this by speaking up,” Essrig says. “If we don’t take action against the people who do it to us, it’s going to happen to the next person that they are going to attack.”
However, Essrig does take into account that society builds a protective bubble around the perpetrator, making it difficult for survivors to share their stories. Some of the people in her life were guilty of victim blaming when she first told them about the multiple cases of sexual assault. She got responses such as ‘stop wearing provocative clothes’ and ‘why didn’t you run away.’
Just like many young kids, Essrig grew up with the idea that “boys will be boys,” and therefore, they can’t control themselves in sexual situations. She thinks that this idea is damaging for not only women but also for men. “It discredits boys because you’re calling them animals or infants,” Essrig says. “But the truth is, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re wearing—some people are just creeps.”
Along with the notion of “boys will be boys,” girls are also taught to please men from an early age. Gloss over the magazine section at a grocery store and you’ll see that Cosmopolitan’s headlines “have the 50 ways to please your man, but none of those 50 ways are on how to please yourself, or how to discover your own sexuality,” Essrig says.
Whether it is a comedy skit or a video on sexual assault, Essrig knows that her viewers have been listening to her for a reason. She cherishes the people who have stuck with her through the past five years, and never lets the view count on YouTube boost her ego. “The higher the number gets, the easier it is to lose sight of the fact that these are actually people,” Essrig says. It is important for her to personally respond to the people who support her and pay close attention to her.
Essrig also has a special relationship with the people who watch videos from her own channel. They are “the sweetest kids in the world.” In fact, she doesn’t even want to call them her fans. “When you do meet somebody in person, you hug them, and they feel more like your friends than fans,” Essrig says.
She reads most comments even though she may not reply to all of them. She also finds it remarkable that her kids give each other advice and tell each other to stay strong. She doesn’t even have to be involved in the comments section to engage others. “Despite my face and voice, whether it’s on mute or not, if you can scroll down below and have a decent conversation, then it was all worth it.”