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NikkieTutorials’ documentary offers you an honest look behind the screen


TextAlex Peters

NikkieTutorials: Layers Of Me is an intimate glimpse into an eventful few years for the beauty influencer as she has navigated success, death, and coming out

Over the past few years, viewers’ appetites for the private lives of their entertainers has grown endless and insatiable and those people willing to grant access have reaped the rewards. 

The power of the social media influencer has always rested in their ability to make followers feel close to them, to feel as if they are friends, to give just enough of a glimpse into their lives that you feel as if you are a part of it. And the more of a glimpse the audience gets, the more it demands. Multi-part documentaries on the lives of social media stars like Jake Paul, Tana Mongeau, and Jeffree Star get views in the hundred millions, while old-school YouTubers who came up on sketches and tutorials have had to pivot their content to vlogs to survive.   

Make-up artist NikkieTutorials AKA Nikkie de Jager has been one of the few holdouts in this shift. While she has openly discussed many aspects of her life, sharing information about her family, fiancé, and more recently being robbed at gunpoint, in the past she has kept the happenings of her day-to-day relatively under wraps. But now, a new documentary series has lifted the lid. 

Filmed over two and half years, the four-part YouTube series NikkieTutorials: Layers Of Me promises a “peek behind the curtain” into de Jager's world. We get to find out what life looks like when you are one of the biggest beauty influencers on the planet, following de Jager on her glamorous daily schedule of Marc Jacobs Beauty meetings, photoshoots, filming videos with Lauren Conrad, attending a cringey Benefit launch for Bad Gal Bang mascara (sorry Benefit, Hoola’s quite good), and developing products with Ofra.  

The documentary also offers some insight into the hellscape of what it must be like to have a career that relies so heavily on the whims and fickle favour of social media. Some of the standout moments of the series come as we watch de Jager alone in hotel rooms anxiously monitoring the numbers of various posts and videos. We learn the standards by which she measures herself, the process for deciding if something can be deemed a success and, if it can’t, the strategy of how to compensate. “I think it’s everyone’s biggest fear, that one day it’s all over,” she says.

“We learn that behind the curtain, the wizard is just a person after all, with the same worries, fears, and insecurities as the rest of us. There’s the crushing scene where we watch as her self-esteem drops lower and lower during a photoshoot where the clothes are all too small”

We learn that behind the curtain, the wizard is just a person after all, with the same worries, fears, and insecurities as the rest of us. Shortly after Drew Barrymore says she can tell de Jager possesses “a great confidence,” we see de Jager undergo cosmetic surgery to remove the fat around her jawline to the sadness of her friends and family. Then there’s the crushing scene where we watch as her self-esteem drops lower and lower during a photoshoot where the clothes are all too small. 

For me, this was one of the hardest moments to watch because it’s one which so many of us will sadly find all too relatable. Who among us hasn’t struggled with the feeling that they aren’t good enough, aren’t worthy enough. Hasn’t unfavorably compared themselves to an impossible standard, to unrealistic beauty ideals. In that moment I knew her devastation because I’ve felt it. I felt it again, viscerally, as I watched her face drop. Millions of fans, staggering success and yet all it took was one rack of mis-sized clothing, one stylist who couldn’t do their job properly, to derail her confidence.

With de Jager’s best friend, director Linda Hakeboom, at the helm, the camera slips comfortably and easily into these private moments. The viewer gets to share in the intimacy that exists between the two, become a part of their natural, lived-in relationship, and the documentary benefits from de Jager’s un-self conscious comfort around her friend, particularly when it comes to the series’s pivotal moments. Because as well as following the day-to-day occurrences of de Jager’s life, the documentary also spans the period of two major events – losing her 14-year-old brother Mikai to cancer in 2018 and coming out to the world as being transgender. 

Last January, de Jager announced she was transgender in an emotional 17-minute video. The news was received with an outpouring of love and support from the beauty community, however the timing hadn’t been her choice and she had been pressured into coming out not only to the public but also to many closest to her including her fiancé and Hakeboom. The fourth and final episode of the series is dedicated to delving into the events around her coming out with de Jager opening up about her journey and explaining why she made the decision not to share it until now, sure in her choice even as she clearly still grapples with it. 

The viewer is given permission to witness the moments of quiet as she steels herself to start filming the coming out video and those moments immediately following as she comes to terms with the simultaneous feelings of relief and fear. She discusses that worry which will be familiar to everyone who has experienced a coming out: that nothing will ever be the same again. That the people closest to you will look at you differently, that it will change how they feel about you. I teared up in that moment, the words hitting home as they brought up memories of my own similar fears. The documentary’s rawest moments are the conversations de Jager and Hakeboom have on camera in real time about how even Hakeboom hadn’t been aware of her past. Watching de Jager’s relief after finding out that her friend never felt any anger or distrust after being told the news, you realise that you, too, have been holding your breath for the answer. You exhale alongside de Jager. 

For long-time NikkieTutorials fans, nothing in the documentary will come as a surprise. De Jager has previously shared with followers everything that is covered in the episodes – the death of her brother, the bullying she experienced growing up, her insecurities, her coming out. You won’t find out much you don’t already know – as she says, she has no more secrets left. But while it may not give you a wider range of knowledge of the star, it will give you a deeper understanding. Having Hakeboom behind the camera gives a level of access and intimacy not usually extended to followers and interviews with de Jager’s mum and manager offer further insight into her life. 

Compared to other influencer documentaries, it is also relatively short and compact. Shane Dawson’s multi-part look at Jeffree Star spans over 10 hours. Layers of Me, meanwhile, sits at just over one hour. This is very much a curated glimpse into de Jager’s life rather than a fly-on-the-wall prolonged stare. It’s a traditional documentary format with talking head interviews and a story-telling arc, rather than a sprawling long-form vlog. If fans are looking to follow de Jager minute-by-minute through her every move they will undoubtedly be disappointed. You won’t find a full 30 minute meeting on camera here. But, to me, it’s the better for it. Who wants to sit in on a 30 minute meeting that isn’t even their own? 

“This is also not the documentary for those looking for a juicy exposé, for influencer beef, or beauty community tea. What you do get is an affectionate, touching, enlightening peek into de Jager’s world, an honest look at some of her most vulnerable moments”

This is also not the documentary for those looking for a juicy exposé, for influencer beef, or beauty community tea. Here, there is no fabricated melodrama or unnecessary stirring of the pot. Hakeboom’s style is more subtle than that, more refined. What you do get is an affectionate, touching, enlightening peek into de Jager’s world, an honest look at some of her most vulnerable moments. You see the real-life reality – at times mundane, at times unbearably painful – behind the glossy veneer, the slick videos and the polished selfies. 

Towards the end of the documentary de Jager shares that the fear she had over revealing she was transgender has in fact come to pass. “That one thing that I was so afraid of – being known for what I am as opposed to what I do – still happened because now I’m known for being transgender,” she says. “But I also get to help people with it so that balances it out.” As we watch fans share their love and joy for her as the credits roll, we know it’s true. 

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