Thobeka Zulu is twenty. She was born in Durban but raised in Cape Town. Thobeka is a trend-setter, make-up artist and fresh new YouTuber, who has battled with low self-esteem but now embraces her beauty with confidence. She is not your average make-up artist, but is also pursuing a career in civil engineering. This is her story.

Thobeka explains that she was raised to be an independent young woman, taking care of her family: “My parents taught me independence from a young age. At the age of 12 years old I could cook, I could clean and I had a brother to take care of. When my parents got home, I dished up, we ate, did the dishes and went sleep. That was my daily routine. I never had time to play, weekends I did washing for everyone. But when I did play, I made the most of it. My childhood was good.”

She continues: “We were a big family in one house. In terms of finances we were definitely not well off, but we had what we needed. This is one of the reasons why I pursued tertiary education, to break the poverty cycle.”
Thobeka, although a trend-setter now, was bullied even by own friends at primary school, because of her appearance and her lifestyle.

“I was that shy girl that sat in the corner. My friends always made fun of me. I was never outspoken so I never stood up for myself. They’d make fun of my bushy hair. It brought my self-esteem down. I was also one of those kids who lived under a rock. I would go home, clean and play. I never knew what the latest trends were. I felt hurt by the way I was treated by my own friends, but it’s over now.”

Although that caused bruises to her soul – as they say, ‘words hurt’ – she is now in a much better place, concerning her self-image.

“My self-esteem is in a way better place now. I won’t say I have a very high self-esteem but it’s not low anymore. I do consider myself beautiful.”

Thobeka says she was never one to make friends easily and has always battled to speak out.

“I remember going to high school, so excited yet so nervous. I even asked my mommy to stay because I didn’t have any friends,” she says laughing.

“I was always the quiet one, never spoke, always shy. Then in Grade 10 I met my best friend, Amber. For some reasons I couldn’t stop talking to her, she would even tell me, ‘shut-up’ because I spoke so much. We’ve always clicked and are best friends til this day,” she says, smiling.

Regarding school subjects, she was never sure what she wanted to do with her life; but deep down, she had always dreamed of becoming a pilot.

“I never chose my subjects in Grade 10 I was just told I’m doing Maths and Physics. In Grade 11 they told us to go to Maths Lit, I put on such a fight to stay in pure Maths, I did not regret it. I passed matric with Bachelor’s Pass.”

Although she conquered the matric year, which came with its challenges, she still did not know what she wanted to study which resulted in her not applying to universities.

“I didn’t have the motivation to apply at university, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I ended up taking a gap year and doing work in sales, promotions and even working in a factory.”

Thobeka decided to apply for a position in nursing, but was accepted to train to be a dental assistant.

“I always wanted to be in the hospital industry, I got accepted to train to be a dental assistant. It turns out I’m not a hospital person, I’m glad it was just a one year course, because it would have been a waste in between, but lesson learnt.”

During her time at university she got used to life in res and started admiring the way people wore their make-up. Although, she was never one to wear make-up as she explains:

“I was one of those people who thought if you wear make-up you were a shallow person, or hiding something. I was stereotyping people who wore make-up.”

She then made it a habit to watch YouTube make-up tutorials. She explains that she could not find any South African YouTubers to relate to. This sparked the idea to start her own YouTube channel.

“I started watching YouTube tutorials. I only found two South African YouTubers doing make–up tutorials, maybe I did not search correctly. I started my own channel. There weren’t a lot of South African YouTubers and I struggled to find people I could relate to.”

She has even been asked to do make-up for others and has started charging for it.

“My business is actually doing well. I am getting more clients and doing photoshoots with models to build up my portfolio so people can see what I can and can’t do.”

Thobeka has to juggle her business with studying for her N3 in engineering.

“I decided to do civil engineering. I got accepted for marketing, but I’m in love with engineering.”

When asked what she says to anyone who is currently suffering from low self-esteem, she takes a moment and then answers: “Love yourself. God made you for who you are, he didn’t make a mistake. If you do not like your hair, others do. If you have low self-esteem because of your weight, who said beauty comes in one size? Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, all shades, all colours. And never change yourself for a guy. Do it for you.”

Thobeka ends off encouraging everyone to study.

“Education is important. Go and study. I’ve learned that life humbles you, nothing is going to fall into your lap, you have to go for what you want. Go and pursue those dreams of yours.”

You can check out Thobeka’s YouTube channel: MelissaT Zulu