Cassandra Bankson is an American model, online personality and student from San Francisco, California. Having battled severe acne since childhood, Cassandra is best known for her ‘DiamondsAndHeels14’ video blog make-up tutorials (one of which has had 22 million views). She featured in a recent campaign for Dermablend’s Professional corrective cosmetics, where she talks movingly about the challenges she’s faced, recalling heartbreaking tales of childhood bullying. Beyond the campaign she helps others with similar conditions in order to build their confidence and self esteem.
“…at certain shoots when makeup artists would remove my foundation they couldn’t re-cover my acne – I would end up losing that job…”
Thank-you for taking time out to speak to us. Please can you start off by telling us about your career path to date?
It’s my absolute pleasure! To date it has been a whirlwind of growth, adventure, and a journey of finding love, not only for others but for myself.
Coming from a place where I was bullied and told by both students and teachers that I could never be successful because of who I was, particularly my skin, it is such a difficult concept to grasp where I am today. Overcoming that fear of failure and becoming a model despite having acne was completely unexpected.
Being able to share my experience, tips, tricks and journey with the rest of the world through videos and posts has been unreal.
You’ve challenged the stereotypes and totally re-written the conventionally assumed ‘rules’ around who can enter the modelling profession. Was it a conscious choice and how did you go about it?
Not at all; when I started modelling nobody knew that I had acne. I believe that the only reason I was able to book work was because people didn’t know about my skin.
When it came to modelling I would always arrive with a full face of foundation, and at certain shoots when make-up artists would remove my foundation they couldn’t re-cover my acne – I would end up losing that job.
I was terrified when I posted the video foundation video, not only because of what I thought people would say, but for the fear of people in my potential future finding out about my acne.
When it comes to the industry I do believe it has been evolving – in my experience designers are looking for a canvas paints their ideas on, and even if that canvas has acne or another ‘issue’; as long as a designer can make that canvas look the way they want it to, the show can still go on.
When it comes to modelling, most people still don’t know about my acne, and when it is requested to come without make-up I usually come with foundation, and talk privately with the make-up artist. He / she is usually very understanding and accommodating.
Since being honored by certain morning shows and magazines and through a few of my own projects and lines, I have actually been able to book work with my acne.
My favourite modelling campaign so far has been the Dermablend Pro ad. I love it because of its revolutionary approach – it showcases who I truly am with and without make-up, overcoming an insecurity many other people share.
What made you decide to start making your own video blogs?
When I first started getting curious about make-up I didn’t have anyone to turn to advice. My mom is a fun-loving tom boy and I really had no friends, let alone acquaintances who knew anything about make-up.
By the time I started experimenting with make-up, I had switched schools due to bullying, and most of my projects and papers were self-researched. For my labs and projects I used local references, the library, and the internet to get my work done.
When I wanted to learn about covering my skin and trying different eyeshadow colours or cosmetic looks, I started using the tools I did for school – I researched things in books, by speaking with people in cosmetic stores and online.
At that point I also knew how it was to be a teenager with no money and buying a product per a recommendation that ended up being rubbish.
Other people’s YouTube videos taught me how to apply make-up, and saved me my hard earned money through great product reviews. When I started my video blog, it was my way of ‘giving back’ to the online beauty community who had taught me.
What was the process for getting started? What equipment and knowledge did you need?
When I first started posting videos I was studying skincare in aesthetics school and had a laptop with a webcam. I started simply by sharing my opinions and tips sitting in my bedroom or on my family room floor.
22 million views is quite some level of interest! How did this make you feel?
It’s still unbelievable to me! I try not to think about the numbers too much because I know I can’t put it into perspective – it makes my head hurt!!
I’m honestly so honoured anyone would lay attention to what I have to say, and so unbelievably blessed that I’m able to help others by sharing my journey.
Were you fearful about the sort of reaction you would receive?
Fearful would be an understatement – I was absolutely terrified. When you hear on a daily basis that you are ugly, worthless, and should kill yourself because of the way you look, you may eventually start to believe it.
Even children who have an ‘innocent mindset’ would stare at me in the grocery store and ask mother what was wrong with my face. When I was first posting the video, I was expecting people would say the exact same thing that I got from people in my day-to-day life.
I ended up not looking at the video, or my entire channel for months after I posted it – purely out of fear of reading what people would say.
People’s opinions seem to be incredibly polarised about the Internet and social media. It’s been described as the democratisation of the media, but it’s also left many people fearful of ‘trolls’ and online bullies. How do we take the best from the Internet whilst protecting ourselves from the downsides?
I definitely believe there are positives and negatives. Everyone who I have spoken to has told me they’ve grown very thick skin. Personally, I am still very sensitive and really always have been.
I’m the type of person that wants to be friends with everyone, even if they don’t want to be friends with me.
Because of this I do get extremely hurt from reading certain things – I found the best way to deal with that is by avoiding it completely. It’s hard, especially being curious about what other people have to say about you, but I know that for me avoiding reading those things is the only way that I can deal with it at this point.
The Dermablend Camo Confessions campaign has created a significant debate in the media about the way common perceptions of the notion of ‘beauty’ are closely related with self-esteem. Is it socially acceptable to put forward the idea that using make up to build self esteem and confidence can be a positive thing?
I definitely believe so. If it weren’t for using make-up, I would never be able to feel confident with my skin without make-up. Although make-up was a way for me to cover, it was moreover a lesson in learning to love myself.
Once I found that confidence, and inner beauty within myself, I was able to start loving who I truly am regardless of what is, or is not on my skin. If I didn’t find a way to love the way I look, or feel beautiful about myself, I don’t know if I ever would’ve had the chance to love myself on the inside.
I believe that if other women use cosmetics as a way to find inner beauty through seeing themselves in a new perspective, then in that case make-up has done much more than its intended purpose.
In the campaign you talk about finding your passion and purpose in life by helping others. You also talk about the notion of defining your own success. Please could you tell us more about this?
I have always enjoyed doing things that benefit others; spending more afternoons volunteering with the Girl Scouts, or weekends at senior centres or animal shelters. Some of my favourite memories involve creating care packs for the homeless or children during the holiday season.
As I got older, I started to wonder what I lived for, what purpose I had living in this world. During some of the hardest periods of my life it didn’t seem worth it because of the feedback I got from classmates or strangers about my skin.
What got me through the toughest times was love. Love for God, love for my family, and finding love through helping others. When you help someone who is in need, their gratitude is like nothing else that could ever be explained. It’s not hard to get addicted to that feeling – it’s an overwhelming sense of joy, inner fulfilment, and purpose.
I realised that the reason I live is for that feeling, and to show others the beauty that life can truly have. I do believe that I had to hit a low of low in order to appreciate the beauty in everyday life.
As terrible and as miserable as it was, I would’ve never found my purpose without having had had acne. People measure success in different ways, but for me the only thing that gives me true fulfilment is helping others. It is how I define myself, and it’s a beautiful gift the universe has me that continues to keep giving.
You also refer to a misconception that ‘perfection’ exists. Society prescribes that in order to be ‘successful’ we have to be a certain way. Please could you explain what you mean here?
I believe that society has taught us that just about everything is a flaw. If you have a large nose you’re considered weird. If you get plastic surgery to change it you considered fake. If you are overweight you are considered out of control. If you are underweight you’re considered an obsessive freak.
I believe that society is also a business plan. If you measure success by monetary items, beauty, or by wealth, industries can continue growing and earning a profit. If you measure success by helping others, self-love, or non-tactile ideas or beliefs, there is no profit and those industries would not grow as profitable as quickly.
I think that the idea of success needs to be change from something you can physically own into something you can mentally or internally possess. I know it takes an overwhelming amount of factors to change an entire society’s mindset, but I also think that certain movements are off to the right start.
It’s about continuing with that positive momentum and showing others how contagious feeling good contribute be.
What has been the reaction to the campaign in different countries?
Different countries and different cultures are different societies which have different beliefs. I’ve noticed each culture, and each country reacts differently to things depending on what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘current’ to their views and beliefs.
I have found it very interesting, some countries are more interested in the emotional aspects, some are more interested in the physical aspect, and some are more interested in the progressive aspect of the campaign.
However, across-the-board, one message seems to prevail. I continually get feedback that this ad has ‘inspired’ others, and in many cases come to terms with their own insecurities. Doing that – inspiring self-love, confidence, or inner beauty for one person is all I have ever hoped to do.
Having an opportunity to do that for more than one person, perhaps millions, has been a dream campaign come true.
Where is your audience based?
Although many of my videos do you have subtitles in different languages, they are spoken in English, the primarily English-speaking countries such as the United States, Europe, and Australia.
I have a deep love for different cultures and international travel, so I am trying to learn and incorporate different languages and cultures into my video blogging. It’s definitely a work in progress, but definitely something I will continue to pursue.
My audience is quite across the board, including all sorts of different ages, races, men and women.
Although it includes all of these, it is primarily woman and girls. I talk about entire array of issues, but take a lot of people through the struggles and successes of my own life. I believe that woman, and younger girls can relate to the things I am experiencing in life, and use my blogs as a way to live through that with me.
You recently visited Ireland and held a meet-up in Dublin. How did this go?
It was absolutely amazing! My subscribers are not my ‘fans’ or my ‘followers’, they are my friends. They got me through one of the hardest parts of my life, and although it can be a little bit overwhelming at times I do my best to always give back to them.
It’s crazy to have been speaking with someone over the Internet for years and finally get the chance to meet them face-to-face, as well as meeting friends and family members, as well as new people who have so much passion for life.
It’s unreal to learn first-hand about the different trends, lifestyle and cultures- Ireland in particular was an amazing experience learning about the different sub cultures and how those directly affect things such as self-esteem and fashion trends.
Even after the main part of the meet-up was over, we ended up exploring the city together; just friends hanging out in Dublin, laughing, sipping on coffee, and walking down the river at night. Just like every other meet up, it was an absolute dream come true, and it’s these kind of experiences that I live for! I can only hope that those who attended had as much fun as I did!
What are your plans for the future?
The future for me is currently a very exciting place that I cannot wait to wake up to every morning.
I have some secret projects I’m working on that I can’t officially released, but I am currently working on my own non-profit charity as a way to give back to those who are in need, and help other people find purpose in their own lives through helping others the way I did.
It’s an amazing feeling that nobody should have to live through life without experiencing. Our charity focuses on issues that I have personally struggled with, or have a very close ties with.
Our basis is safety, health and happiness – safety concerning bullying in schools and domestic violence towards women and children at home, health concerning medical care food, water and basic necessities for those who can’t afford or don’t have access to it, and happiness – making every single person’s life worth living to the fullest on a daily basis.
I’ve worked on a project to help abused orphans in Lima, Peru. This particular organisation is Sagrada Familia and has saved the lives of hundreds of children.
As a model I’m always thrilled for the next fashion season. I do have personal goals and aspirations on what sort of editorials, campaigns and runways I would love to get the chance to walk within the next couple of years.
Two projects that are in the near future that I’m very excited to release is our new show with Allure Magazine TV called, “Cassandra to the Rescue”. It’s a show that I am so honoured to be a part of, speaking to other girls and women who’ve dealt with acne and giving them head to toe makeovers – not just make-up, hair, and a photo shoot, but talking about our insecurities and overcoming them through the course of the episodes.
I’m also blessed to be working with ELF cosmetics and exploremodeling.com for the ‘Beauty At All Ages’ Campaign, which takes real woman from their teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s plus and features them as the entire face of ELF’s cosmetic line. I think it’s beyond beautiful to show the world that campaigns are made up of real people, and inspire others by showing them the real potential that we as humans have every single day.
I’m super excited to be doing some more international work for the rest of this year. I have some big exciting projects that I cannot wait to be able to release! Thinking about it alone sends my excitement through the roof!
What are your tips for anyone who wants to start video blogging?
Go for it, and don’t be afraid to show who you truly are. I believe everyone has something different offer the world; we have all lived different experiences and learned different things along the way.
I believe that video blogging is an amazing way to share our experiences and to come together to create a more productive, more informed, happier world to be a part of!
If you could give your younger self advice for life, what would it be?
The advice I would give my younger self that I still need to work on practicing today is, “don’t be afraid to speak out”. When I was younger, if I would’ve spoken out about what I was going through instead of trying to hide, perhaps I would’ve found people who went to the exact same struggles years sooner.
Instead of letting counsellors and teachers pass off the bullying that I endured, I should’ve continued to tell people what was happening to me until they listened. Even now, I shouldn’t be so passive in situations that I need to stand up for myself, (especially concerning online bullying) and I still need to practice asking for help when I need it.
We were all given a voice for a reason; we not only need to use them for ourselves, but for others who may not have their voices heard. Those voices are what have the power to change a mindset, a society, and our universe. I suppose when you think about it that way, changing the world is really such a simple thing to do.