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Inside YouTuber Laura Lee's Battle to Adopt Her Niece—and Fight Against Cancel Culture

To millions of YouTube subscribers, Laura Lee is a longtime makeup guru. But to her teenage niece, she's been a lifeline. In an exclusive interview, the influencer talks guardianship, scandal & more.

By Samantha Schnurr, Amanda Williams Jul 28, 2021 8:20 PMTags
Watch: YouTuber Laura Lee Talks Adopting Niece & Cancel Culture

After weathering many storms, YouTube star Laura Lee has found some peace. 

"I'm honestly in a really happy, happy place," the 32-year-old influencer told E! News in an exclusive interview. "My followers—it's like crazy—they tell me all the time, like, 'Wow, you seem way happier now,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, I actually am focused on me, my family, my brand and focused on minding my business.'"

If you're one of her more than 4 million subscribers on YouTube, you may have tuned in for updates on a major development in Laura's personal life: getting legal guardianship in January 2019 of her teenage niece Eryn after a tumultuous battle. "I started the process of gaining her in my guardianship back in 2018," she said. "Anyone who has done this, it is a very long, strenuous, heart-wrenching process."

Laura's sister, who gave birth to Eryn at 17 years old, struggled with drug addiction while she and Eryn lived with Laura's mom. In a 2019 YouTube video, Laura detailed Eryn's problematic upbringing, noting the teen was skipping school, failing her classes and lacking parenting from Laura's sister and mom, who was 61 at the time. The circumstances spurred the makeup guru to seek guardianship. "My sister was unfortunately not doing very well. She was probably the worst I had ever seen her," Laura recalled to E! News. "I think when a kid is growing in those years, it's like the most important years and it was just a toxic environment, so I did everything I could to pull her out of that."

Today, she can take a sigh of relief having Eryn with her in California. "Her living in Alabama, that environment, I was always like in panic mode," she said. "As soon as I got her under my roof, I was like, 'We're gonna be OK.'"

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That's not to say it was a completely seamless transition for her and her niece. "Eryn had a lot of issues," Laura admitted, "a lot of self-confidence issues, a lot of anxiety and she's a completely different person now." For example, she recalled the apprehensive teen's initial hesitancy about learning how to drive. But now, "We cant keep her home," Laura said. "She has all these friends. She has a little summer job. She is online. She lives her best life."

The same goes for the Internet star. "I'm super happy," she raved. "I mean, it definitely shifted my priorities as you can imagine, going from living in la la land and in your 20s to going, 'Oh no, now you have a teenager you have to raise'—that definitely changed my life for the better."

Still, Eryn is just one part of Laura's life today, which now also includes a new brand and a project with friend and fellow YouTube star Manny MUA. Plus, she's repaired her relationship with her sister and has newfound perspective on cancel culture since facing her own controversy in 2018. 

Laura tackled it all with E! News below—all you have to do is keep scrolling! 

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On her relationship with her sister today: 

"We did not have a relationship because of her substance abuse," Laura said. "We obviously were not on speaking terms because I was trying to take her kid away from her and it was very ugly."

However, her sister's incarceration in 2020 and the death of their mother from COVID-19, which Laura detailed in a January video, have actually since brought the women together. "We're so much closer and we talk like every week," Laura said. "She is clean off drugs, she's back to being my sister and she's in a really great program in prison."

On encouraging Eryn to have a relationship with her mom: 

"I always tell Eryn," she said, "'Don't close the door on that because that's always gonna be your mom. I know you're a teenager right now. That teenager age—those things aren't always as important, but when you get a little older, you're gonna probably want to have a relationship with her,' so I always encourage her to always say hello and don't close off that relationship."

On having kids of her own: 

"I've always been really, really weary of having my own kids. I never really wanted them, so I did wonder if having Eryn will make me want to have kids, and to be honest, not really," she shared. "Y'all think babies are cute—try raising a teenager."

She explained that since her husband Tyler Williams was adopted, they've thought about pursuing that route. "I'm not opposed to that. There's also 'Should I have a kid?'" she noted. "I'm 32, so I feel like I'm sitting in limbo. I do have a clock that's ticking, so it does put pressure on me for sure, but I just don't know. I know if I did have a kid, I wouldn't regret it."

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On what she took away from her 2018 scandal:

In August 2018, Laura came under fire for racist and offensive tweets that had resurfaced. After her tearful apology video was also criticized, she deleted it and subsequently issued a new one, explaining that she came off "more as a victim" in that video. "I take full responsibility for the things that I re-tweeted and the things that I tweeted six-and-a-half years ago," she told viewers in that second video. "I am truly sorry. I have changed so much as a human being in the past six and half years, I have grown so much and have gained so much knowledge and respect. I know that prejudice and stereotypes are not funny ever, in any way fashion or form."

Speaking with E! News, she said, "The biggest lesson I learned is that I'm not the victim. It really wasn't about me, and I did make a big mistake, but I'm not the victim here and aside from that, I learned that there was a ton of work that I needed to do on myself, which is hard to realize."

"I also needed to really acknowledge the people I was putting in my life, the people I was putting myself around and how that was affecting me and the drama that was going on in my life," she continued, "so I definitely learned a lot." 

On whether she would have done anything differently back then knowing what she does now:

"Yes and no. Every single thing that happens in our life happens for a reason and I feel like I wouldn't be where I'm at today or learn those hard lessons that I did need to learn if something did happen differently," she said. "Do I wish I could have learned and known more back then? Absolutely."  

As for whether she's gone back and rewatched her apology video? That's a hard no. Still, she said, "If anyone wonders, I have not forgotten, but definitely would have handled this situation differently, more maturely, but I'm so happy I took the time to learn from that and to grow from that."

On how her experience shaped her feelings on cancel culture:  

"I don't support it whatsoever," she declared. "I actually hate it and the reason I hate it so bad is because it does not allow people the opportunity to grow, to change, to any of that. It's just like being cut off. You're dead to me."

"We are all human. We all make mistakes. I'm going to continue to make mistakes," she elaborated. "There's just no mercy behind cancel culture. It seems like from my time to now, it has gotten so big and so much more aggressive than I could ever imagine it to get, so in my head, I'm like, 'Where does it go from here?' It does worry me for the safety of another human being. From my end of things, I know what's going on in their head and how hard it is, so it worries me."

On starting her online clothing boutique after her cosmetics company: 

In 2017, Laura launched her eponymous makeup brand, but by the end of 2020, she revealed she had another business up her sleeve in an effort to cast a wider entrepreneurial net. "I felt very limited with the cosmetics brand because it was only makeup that I could really come out with under the umbrella of Laura Lee Los Angeles to make it make sense," she explained. "Online, I'm just a beauty guru and I want so much more because in my real life, I have my niece I'm raising. I have a family. I'm a real person. I'm not just a walking robot that talks about beauty."

With that in mind, she shifted gears to include more lifestyle content. "Then I really felt compelled, like, I need to do something more because I love creating. I love owning a business and I just felt really limited...I was like, 'Let's start a clothing boutique,'" she recalled. "It's curated by me, but I feel like with Nudie Patootie, I can do so much more. There's so many things I can come out with under that umbrella and create."

On the dynamic between her and FOOL Coverage podcast co-host Manny MUA: 

"We have just been best friends through thick and thin of it. Bad days, good days, we're still best friends, and if anything we're closer than ever," she said. "Even if we agree or disagree on things, we love to have conversation about it, so that's kind of a plan with the podcast. Hear us argue things out as best friends, hear our opinions on things as best friends."

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