A few years ago, Michelle Phan vanished without a trace.
The YouTube star had spent more than a decade posting hundreds of makeup tutorials and accumulating millions of subscribers. Then, suddenly, she went silent on the social network.
Phan's whereabouts also remained a mystery outside of the social sphere. According to The Cut, even her colleagues at her beauty brands—Ipsy and Em Cosmetics—didn't know where she had gone.
In 2017, about a year after her digital disappearance, Phan resurfaced and posted a video called "Why I Left," which earned more than 13.5 million views. In the 11-minute clip, Phan explained how she always wanted to be successful and recalled her rise to YouTube stardom. But as the video continued, she spoke about how the "taste of success was like a drug" and detailed the costs of fame.
"Who I was on-camera and who I was in real life began to feel like strangers," she said at one point. "Money can bring out the worst in people, and I was no exception. My insecurities got the worst of me. I became imprisoned by my own vanity and was never satisfied with how I looked. The life I led online was picture-perfect, but in reality, I was carefully curating the life I wanted, not had."
She also spoke about the reason for her disappearance.
"Years would go by and I found myself becoming more isolated and disconnected from my family, friends and you, my viewers. I'm sorry," she continued. "I didn't know what to do or who to talk to. I felt so alone, and I had too much pride to let you see me at my weakest. I felt so depressed, and I didn't know why. I wanted to be forgotten. So, I started posting less online."
As the video continued, she opened up about how she left this digital world behind and took some time to disconnect—allowing her to find herself again.
Still, it would be two more years before she returned to YouTube. In September 2019—just last week to be exact—she posted another video titled "Hello :)." The video gave a glimpse into her life. Viewers saw her cat, learned about her job and more. Underneath the video, she wrote "I missed you."
"As a creator, I'm always filming and documenting the world around me," she told The Cut about her return. "I film a lot of personal vlogs for myself that I never share, but I decided to post this one for fun. After two years of reflecting and recharging, it felt like a good time to create and share again."
So, what is she up to today? According to The Cut, Phan spent a lot of last year slowly hiring a team for her makeup brand Em. She's also purchased shares in Bitcoin and became an investor in Quarters.
What's more, she's now ready to look back at her early YouTube days—and did so in a video published Friday. She rewatched a few videos she posted between 2007 and 2009 and reacted to the clips. From revisiting her Lady Gaga "Poker Face" tutorial, which earned nearly 35 million YouTube views alone, to rewatching her paper bag hair curling tutorial, Phan covered a lot of the classics. She even played back the first video she ever made.
While she admitted some of these initial clips were "awkward," she also recognized their significance.
"That video alone made the biggest impact in my life," she said in regard to her first video. "I remember—that was during a time when I was going through a lot in my personal life. I was in college. I needed a job because I wanted to pay my student loan debt. It was really hard getting a job back then."
In fact, the social star said her first tutorial was created out of "pure boredom."
"I would say that was probably one of the most important moments of life—uploading that video—because if I didn't upload that video, I wouldn't be here today," she said. "I wouldn't be talking to you here in my office, and I wouldn't have such an amazing life. So, it's just really amazing, you know? YouTube has really changed my life."
Still, she acknowledged taking the trip down memory lane wasn't easy.
"Honestly, it's really hard to watch yourself because, I'm sure most of you guys can relate, you're not the same person as you were last year, two years ago, three years ago, 10 years ago, 12 years ago," she said.
Nevertheless, she admitted there was "something really endearing about watching these old videos."
"I really didn't know what I was doing. I was just having fun," she said. "I was having fun; I wanted to share and, in a way, these videos that I've made in the past they've brought me here and this was my way of communicating with you guys. This was my way of connecting with you guys. So, I'm getting a little emotional, but just watching these videos really brought me back. I'm really proud. I'm just grateful. I'm really grateful for this whole experience and had a lot of fun watching this with you guys."
Welcome back, Michelle!