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00:01 Jay Ruderman: When she was only nine years old, Shalom Blac became a burn victim, leaving her face permanently scarred. Today, she’s a world famous beauty vlogger with nearly 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube.

00:16 Speaker 2: All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation, and social justice, with Jay Ruderman.

00:23 JR: Hi. I’m Jay Ruderman, and this is All Inclusive. On today’s show, Shalom Blac will tell us the amazing story of how she turned a childhood tragedy into a career that has inspired so many. Shalom, welcome to All Inclusive.

00:38 Shalom Blac: Hi. How are you guys?

00:40 JR: So, tell me about your life as you remember it as a child in Nigeria before the accident happened.

00:48 SB: Honestly, I would say I was probably a happy kid. I didn’t grow up with a family that was rich or anything like that, but I just remember just being happy, going to my mom’s store, helping her after school. And yeah, I think I was a good child. I don’t wanna say that, but I think I was a okay child. I wasn’t that bad, but yeah.

01:10 JR: At nine years old, your parents owned a restaurant and they served snacks to the students nearby by frying snacks in hot oil. You and your sister were sleeping under a table when this vat of hot oil dropped on the floor and severely burned you and your sister.

01:31 SB: Yeah.

01:31 JR: Tell me how your family reacted. Was there tremendous amount of guilt on the behalf of your parents?

01:37 SB: Yeah, definitely. I think my parents had a lot of guilt, especially my mom, being that it was her store and that’s where she worked and was selling stuff. There was rumors going around basically saying that she fried up her kids just to make money, so I can’t imagine how she felt. But I remember just seeing pictures of her at the hospital with us. I was unconscious so not to know exactly what was going on, but I saw pictures on how much she literally got so skinny because she was depressed. My dad, on the other side, I think his guilt that he had was the fact that he was in prison. So yeah, I think that change of the whole family dynamic ’cause we were treated different, our parents have to be cautious and be a little bit overprotective just so that we don’t get picked on at. And also, I felt like maybe a little bit overprotective where it came to the point where I felt like my dad was trying to hide my scars more than I was trying to hide it, which made me even more insecure about it ’cause I’m like, “Oh, woah, he’s telling me that I have to cover up all the time.” So even moving to the States and stuff, I started having to cover up, I didn’t want anybody to see it.

03:02 JR: Tell me about going to the US. You had an aunt that really, really worked hard to get you guys visas to come and get the proper medical treatment. Where did you end up in the United

States?

03:15 SB: We ended up in Maryland. That’s where she basically raised her kids.

03:20 JR: So if my math is correct, you were in middle school around 2009. Tell me about the bullying. Can you just describe what that was like and what type of names people were calling you?

03:33 SB: Yeah. So I was called [chuckle] all the names. So Scarface was one of them, or Two-Face, The Burnt B, the B word, and so many other names, or just people just being disgusted, saying, “Eww,” they do not wanna touch the same thing that I’ve touched. Or if I’d say something in class, people would just turn around and look at me in a disgusting way, so I just learned to not speak at all. I never raised my hand to answer any question ’cause I was trying to avoid getting attention from any of my classmates, so I was just cooped up. I think I didn’t really speak to my family about the whole issue. I would just go home and be sad. And then of course, I started skipping school as much as I can just so I don’t have to deal with those people at school.

04:26 JR: And you talked about being suicidal. When did that come on? Was that when you were in middle school that you felt suicidal, or was it later in high school?

04:37 SB: I think it was throughout. I’ve never harmed myself, but the thought was there. There were moments where I will go into the bathroom with a knife and basically look in the mirror and be like, “Maybe I should just end it up right here, right now.” So the thoughts were there. I never actually went through with it. I think mostly I was afraid that what if I don’t die, I’m gonna be in the hospital and my parents are gonna be well disappointed at me for trying to do such things. So, that is definitely…

05:17 JR: But you were able to pull yourself out of that period?

05:20 SB: Yeah. I remember my mom always just telling me, “You have a purpose.” And I wanted to see what that purpose is ’cause I didn’t understand why I will have to go through the things I’ve been through and for that to be considered a purpose. So I know we don’t really talk about religion, and so I honestly feel like it’s God that had pulled me out of the thought. And I think I sometimes I… I wouldn’t say I have suicidal thought, but there will be moment where you’re just like, “Okay, what is the purpose of life?” And you just sort of feel worthless. So when those moments come, I’m like, “Okay, girl, you need to snap out of it.” And I do try to be around people that do make me feel good, like my friends that have accepted me for who I am. I feel like it kinda helped me a lot.

06:13 JR: Well, I think whether we talk about formalized religion or spirituality, I think there’s something that’s coursing through humankind, and sometimes we don’t know our purpose, and sometimes it takes a while to find it, and I think you have to have that faith that it’s gonna come about. I think for you, from what I understand, it came about through make-up, you were in the hospital and you were taught how to use make-up, and that was really a transformative time in your life. Can you talk a little bit about that?

06:47 SB: Yeah, so I think my first time being introduced to make-up was after my surgery at the Shriners, and they decided to do something special for me by creating a wig, and also gifted me make-up and showed me how to use some of it. It was a bit of a struggle learning how to actually do it when I got back home, and then of course coming across YouTube videos, tutorials and stuff, I

started learning and picking from there. So that’s kind of how it came about. And at that time, I say many times when I was doing it, I was more so focused on covering my scars than sort of embracing them and showing people like, “Okay, yes, I do have the scars, but I enjoy doing make-up,” but it was more so to cover and show myself.

07:34 JR: So you did not intend to become a YouTuber, it sort of just happened. You began to get more and more attention and realized that this was a path for you. When did you first realize that you had gone viral? What was that experience like?

07:51 SB: I think the first time I realized I went viral was when I had to go on my settings on my phone and turn off my notification because I was getting so much notification at once, and this was around the time that I did The Power of Makeup, whereby you basically do half of your face and then half without make-up. And so people saw that video, but my initial thought on getting on YouTube was to just put make-up, but I also just thought it was cool watching other people put make-up. I didn’t realize that I was trying to be a YouTuber. I didn’t know that was what it was called, but I thought, “Oh wow, it’s so cool seeing all these people wearing make-up,” but I also didn’t see anybody that looks like me, so I’m watching girls that had beautiful skin, flawless skin, but I was like, “Well, I don’t see anyone that looks like me,” so I’m like, “Well, let me be the person putting on make-up, and hopefully I get better at doing my makeup, whereby other burn survivors can learn from me,” because it’s definitely hard and different putting make-up on a regular skin versus scarred skin.

09:01 JR: So you end all your videos with the phrase, “You’re your own kind of beautiful.” Do you wanna talk a little bit about where that comes from or why that resonates with you so strongly?

09:13 SB: That’s actually funny. So I thought I was the one that started saying, “Be your own kind of beautiful,” but then I went on Google to actually check and I found out that it was like a Marilyn Monroe quote. I was like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know that.” But I think I started that because, again, I felt so different from any other beauty content creators on the platform. So for me, I think my way of celebrating the difference and finding my own beauty and being happy within myself, so be your own kind of beautiful, define what it is to you and be that.

[music]

09:49 S2: You’re listening to All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman. You can learn more, view the show notes and transcripts at rudermanfoundation.org/all-inclusive.

10:01 JR: Please remember to subscribe, rate and review us wherever you are listening.

10:08 JR: So you’re a role model for many people who are burn victims and who have scars and learn from your videos about how to apply make-up. I’ve even seen a few videos where you have applied make-up to other burn victims. How does that feel? Is it a heavy burden to say like, “Okay, I’m one person that was the victim of a terrible accident, but now I have this oversized role where I’m sort of an icon for so many people?” Does it ever feel too much to you?

10:36 SB: I wouldn’t call it a burden. I do feel like there are times that people kind of expect you to constantly be positive, but I think as humans, we don’t always feel good 24/7. I was just talking to one of my burn survivor friend, and she was like, “Yeah, I want to be posting and stuff, but I feel

like posting on social media, people expect me to be constantly motivational and positive, but that’s not how I feel every single day.” And I’m like yeah, I could definitely relate to that. But I feel like I found a way to balance where I’m like, okay, if I’m not feeling good, I’m either just offline and not forcing myself to seem like, “Oh, I’m the most positive person, I’m always happy about life, ’cause it’s not always like that.” So I wouldn’t call it a burden, but there’s that pressure of feeling the need to be constantly in a good mood.

11:37 JR: So how was it for you to go out in public without your make-up, without a wig? I know you talked about, first it was terrifying to go across the street to 7-11, but then you went to Walmart, and then you posted videos of yourself without a wig which you didn’t intend to become viral. Where did that courage come from, for all of a sudden to say, “Okay, I’m taking off the make-up, I’m taking off the wig, and I’m showing myself who I am, and I’m proud of that?”

12:08 SB: I think I just sort of believe in taking chances in life. I read this thing, I remember coming across a saying, “You lose 100% of the chances you do not take.” So that was like my push, I’m like, “Well, let me do this. What is the worst that can happen? If I can go one step forward, I could definitely go another 10 steps forward.” So I was like, “Let me just take this chance and go out to Walmart.” And I feel like that was sort of like the starting for me. I think also the thing that pushed me to constantly keep going was the overwhelming respond that I’ve received from other people coming to me, people that I thought were perfect coming to me and basically saying, “Wow you inspired me. You inspired me to go out without long pants today.” So I was like, “Okay, maybe I should really start challenging myself more and more.” But it’s not something that happened overnight, it’s definitely like sometimes and more challenges that I just personally wanted to conquer myself.

13:23 JR: And do you still receive bullying or different types of looks? And if you do how you deal with that?

13:30 SB: I think I do definitely still get the look in person, but I think I just don’t pay attention to it, or if you stare at me, I would just look back at you until one of us get tired of staring. But online bullying, I feel like most of the times I do ignore it. There are times where, of course, you would feel some type of way. I would be lying if I say I never felt some type of way about what somebody has said to me ever before, people would say, “Oh, you’re being deceitful by putting on make up, if you were with a guy and he wakes up the next morning and see your face he is going to be scared and probably wouldn’t wanna see you.” Now, I’m like this absolutely, not true, because it’s not true. But yeah.

14:17 JR: You’ve talked very openly about your love life and the challenges, is it much more difficult to date and to get to know people when you’re a public figure?

14:28 SB: Yeah, I do think so, because you just never know the reason why somebody is interested in you, I don’t know if it’s something that we just have in the back of our mind, if somebody’s just trying to use us for the fame. So I feel like it’s difficult, which sometimes it has happened before, where people will come into your life and act like they really, truly care about you, and then you find out that it was all front. So it’s been a bit difficult and I just sort of kinda learned to not speak on what I do because it’s easy to just put it up on YouTube, like search up the name and see, “Oh, this person has this many numbers, they must be making this much, or maybe they can make me a known person,” so I just like… If somebody does come into my life, I kinda don’t mention that

YouTube world to them. And, yeah.

15:25 JR: What would be your advice for someone that says, “I wanna become a YouTube star?”

15:30 SB: Just sign up, ’cause I feel like people come before they go ahead and sign up for the YouTube, “How do I do it?” Sign up, study other people, especially people that you like, and also figure out what your niche is, because there’s so many different themes that goes on in YouTube, you have the beauty community, you have the gamers, you have the commentary people, so it’s like there’s so much stuff that you can do. Find exactly what you like do, make sure that that’s what you want to do, so it doesn’t feel like a job. And also make sure when you’re coming on this platform as a beginner, do not focus on the numbers and the money because you might not be getting that at that time and that might discourage you, so just do it because you love it and be consistent. That’s definitely important. I’m not as consistent anymore, but starting off you definitely want to be consistent because YouTube just closed channels that aren’t constantly posting.

16:31 JR: Is this your full-time job, at this point in time?

16:35 SB: Yeah, this is the full-time job, and hopefully one day I can have my own brand. But, yeah.

16:41 JR: All right, so I was gonna ask you about that. Are you looking to release your own line of product?

16:47 SB: I would love that. I’ve been thinking about it for years now, but I think I’m just sort of like taking my time, I don’t wanna rush and just put anything out. But, yes. That is the plan for your future.

17:00 JR: And what about acting? Are you approached by any studios, are you asked to audition based on your celebrity, based on your talents of being very comfortable speaking in front of the camera.

17:14 SB: I personally want to get into acting, and I’ve been saying it for a while now, but I told myself I need to actually go and take some classes, I don’t think I have acting skills at all, but I did audition for one thing, which was like the Google commercial, so that was really fun to go ahead and do my first audition and I got it.

17:36 JR: Congratulations.

17:37 SB: Thank you.

17:38 JR: So you’ve also been very outspoken in terms of racial injustice and supporting black-owned companies, whether they be makeup companies or restaurants or other companies, and speaking out about the racial injustice in this country, and we’ve gone through a period of time right now where it’s really hit all of America. So do you wanna talk a little bit about where you are right now in terms of racial injustice and how you would address it?

18:11 SB: I think I would say the way that I pretty much address it again, is by showcasing, those black-owned businesses, because I have the platform, and that’s how I can use my voice. We are

living in the world where we are definitely treated slightly different than the rest of the world, and I think for us to get to a better place is by coming together and speaking out and also putting in the action. And so I feel like a lot of the social content creators here, it’s honestly by highlighting the businesses and also when we do see something that is not right, we put it out there, social media, it’s a very, very strong place to really start a conversation. Yeah, I do feel like it’s very important. I know it’s like, I’m a make-up girl, and I feel like people do expect… Some people would expect, okay, well, I’m not a politician and I don’t know much. But whatever it is that I can push forward, I would definitely do, ’cause I’m not all just make up, I’m more than that. Humanity is everything.

19:25 JR: Well, I think that even though you say, I’m not a politician, you are a leader and you’re a very strong person, you’re not just a beautiful face dealing with make-up, but you have very strong views, you’re not afraid to hide from them, and I think that the public has a innate aversion to injustice, and when you see injustice, you have the ability through your platform to really say something very important and influence people who are following it, so I give you a lot of credit for doing that because there are many people in your position who probably would just completely stay away from that.

20:10 SB: Thank you.

20:12 JR: Shalom, it’s been such a pleasure speaking to you, I’m really impressed by what you’ve built, and not only that, by your personality and how strong you are, and I believe that you’re gonna be a significant figure in our society. So thank you so much for joining us on All Inclusive Today. I really enjoyed having you as a guest.

20:38 SB: Thank you so much for having me. I had fun. [chuckle] [music]

20:42 S2: All Inclusive is a production of The Ruderman Family Foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/all-inclusive. Have an idea for a podcast? Be sure to tweet @jayruderman