How many of us have gotten caught up in seeking validation from others? Whether it is at school, work, or online, we crave the feeling of being seen… maybe even to the point of wanting to go viral. Artist and content creator Jo Steel found themselves going viral and realized it was better to pull back and be authentic than to be someone they aren't.
Million Stories Faceplant Jo Steel Interview
Season 2 of Million Stories video documentary series Faceplant is back. This online collection of stories highlights some familiar faces and their careers and the life struggles they faced and overcame, coming back stronger than ever. The show's goal is to inspire its audience as they hear how these people took the lemons life gave them and turned it into lemonade. One of the featured artists this time around is Jo Steel. Steel, specializing in body art, gained a following from their use of illusion makeup techniques. But when celebrities like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shared their work, their career was suddenly pushed forward at an incredible speed. Exciting at first, the dark side of going viral soon showed itself.
Facing intense social media scrutiny, Steel found themself questioning their identity– altering their appearance and content to “fit in” and conform to this online circus of attention. That struggle led to a period of severe depression and an eating disorder. During all of this, Steel came to realize that authenticity was more important than superficial validation. This renewed vision marked a turning point in their life, art, and career.
Despite so much progress, there is still a stigma around mental health, so I want to thank you for sharing your story. Can you share a little bit about how you became involved with the second season of Faceplant?
Steel: I agree there’s still so much more to be done in regards to destigmatizing topics around mental health—which is why I thought it was an amazing opportunity to tell my story on Faceplant. Over the years, I’ve shared a lot about my mental health journey, so when I was approached to do Faceplant, I knew it was the right platform to share. They took so much time and put so much care into telling everyone’s stories.
You mentioned that a mother reached out to you with a story about her child finding hope in you sharing your journey. How does it feel to know that your art is reaching others in their dark places and making a difference?
Steel: Knowing I have an impact on those around me is my biggest motivating factor for creating art. I think it’s so important to share the hard part of our journey, especially considering how curated social media can be. It gives the wrong impression that everyone is living this perfect life, when in reality everybody struggles at some point or another.
Your art is incredible. What inspired you to start creating these body art masterpieces?
Steel: Thank you! I started drawing on myself in college, and it naturally evolved into doing special effects makeup. I’ve been creating art my whole life and using myself as a canvas just happened to be where I found the most joy.
What is the hardest piece you have worked on whether that means technically difficult or mentally taxing?
Steel: The ones that are the most technically difficult are probably the likeness pieces, but they’re also the most rewarding. I recently became Jeff Ward’s Captain Buggy and people thought I actually was him so that was awesome. The ones that are the most mentally taxing are the illusion pieces (which are usually the ones I do about mental health). It’s very challenging to create an illusion and for it to actually convey the message I want it to.
What is your advice for others on how to find themselves/stay true to themselves as they navigate the toxicity that can be found online? Especially young teens.
Steel: One thing I think is super important is being able to distinguish when someone is purposefully trolling or trying to create conflict, and knowing it’s best to ignore them. I do read comments and sometimes they’re upsetting, but I’ve learned that those people are probably hurting themselves and are unhappy with their own circumstances. Having “thick skin” is necessary in today’s online landscape. And that being said, it’s also important to remain true to yourself. You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s fine.