Beauty From Ashes: Janina Vela Recreates Kindness Amidst Hostility
Recreating Kindness with Janina Vela
Just like most people in Janina Vela’s generation, their early education on all things under the sun—from pop culture, relationships, adulting and more—can be linked back to the boundless blackhole of YouTube. Through the years, the foremost purveyor of online video has transformed into a vehicle for business, wherein many unassuming creatives find themselves the subject of people’s praise and admiration and make an honorable living, too. But growing up in the public eye has provided a unique brand of struggle for content creators, where many individuals take advantage of their anonymity; after all, this offers them no “real” consequences.
Before the idea of vlogging was considered a sustainable career, if at all, Janina created her YouTube channel in 2013, now home to countless videos raking in millions of views. Her most viewed video, a simple night skincare routine from five years ago, has 1.7 million views. Through the years, the topics she’s covered have ranged from beauty & grooming to faith and, most recently, politics. This deliberate choice has made her the subject of intense scrutiny—even getting “cancelled” overnight because of a roundtable discussion she took part of in 2019 when she started speaking out about current issues.
Receiving this kind of hostility on a regular basis, especially during her more formative years and as a young woman, can feel limiting and, sometimes, even dehumanizing, but Janina hasn’t stopped it from finding her purpose—using her platforms to amplify necessary conversations and bring about change—and living it out fully.
The Power of Makeup
On the week of our cover shoot, her very first solo cover, Janina just enlisted in her classes—now completely online. Enlisting in classes is a completely distant memory I have from eons ago. To this point, I didn’t realize how much younger she was than me, and my naturally nurturing, almost motherly, instincts took over; I wanted to protect her at all costs.
Her energy is infectious. A completely endearing figure, she brought the same energy she carried from the start of the shoot past lunch time until late at night after our hour-long interview, all conducted via Zoom. She couldn’t have done it alone, of course, with her “mommyger” and her younger brother, who she acknowledges, “made the biggest difference.”
With our brief beauty direction and her limited products, she created “the look” with such expertise and enthusiasm. Even with, I’m assuming, a number of products delivered to her doorstep regularly, she actually still uses the same products. She’s a Maybelline Fit Me girl through and through, and she’s already hit pan on her well-loved ColourPop palette, a collaboration with another YouTuber, Kathleenlights, which she acknowledges is already past its expiration date. With witty comments like, “My contour contributes to my confidence” and “These cheeks aren’t going anywhere,” we were all so refreshed by her brand of humor. She explains, “I guess, some people don’t understand the power that makeup and dressing up has for a woman, and for anybody. It kind of makes you feel strong, it makes you feel confident, it makes you feel powerful.”
Heart for the People
In 2018, Janina took an abrupt hiatus for mental health reasons, taking a leave of absence from school to find time to be with herself—a topic she’s no longer shy to talk about. Having all this free time led her to consume knowledge by hungrily moving from one book to another. She narrates, “There’s just a part of me that’s always a learner. I didn’t want to be idle for so long, and so, instead of producing, I started consuming knowledge and information.” She points to her book shelf filled with political, psychological and spiritual titles, which opened her mind to the world, to history and, ultimately, opened her heart to the Filipino people.
In the process of her awakening, she discovered the true nature of being makabayan (nationalistic). She shares, “I realized how Filipinos deserve so much more than what we’re getting now. For me, not being able to present that to my people, to my communities, [is] unacceptable. I want to do everything that I can to give them what they deserve, to give them a life that’s not just about surviving or resilience, but a life that’s really worth living, a life of thriving.”
When she started to post about current issues after her hiatus in 2019—her first video being about the water shortage in March—many were supportive, lauding her “character development,” but some were confused, even outraged. In spite of her good intentions, she still received backlash. She recounts, “There were also a lot of people who were like ‘This is not what I subscribed to you for. I’m unsubscribing now’ or ‘Wala ka namang alam sa gobyerno, ‘wag ka na makisawsaw (You know nothing about the government, don’t meddle).’ There were a lot from the older generation trying to shush me because I was young and that happens often—present tense.”
She describes a huge turning point for her, in her first roundtable discussion with a group of activists and, at that point, she was, in her own words, “unlearned,” which made her say the wrong things and not communicate her thoughts clearly, and the media then misinterpreted her words. She experienced getting cancelled overnight. She shares, “Obviously, that brought me down. This was my chance to do what I’m passionate about and the internet just shut me down. But I posted three political videos right after that. I think there’s always gonna be discouragement, there’s always gonna be opposition…Wala sa isip kong sumuko kasi and dami pang kailangan gawin (I can’t quit because there’s still so much to be done).”
Embracing this sense of accountability allowed her to cultivate her personal growth in more ways than one. Over time, she’s learned to filter through the noise and listen to constructive criticism. She believes, more importantly, that everybody deserves a second chance. She encourages education over cancel culture. She imparts, “I was 19 when I had my political awakening. I was four years into the industry where I was just living in a bubble…and I wasn’t paying attention to the world beyond my bedroom.” She adds, “Nobody’s political awakening sounds like mine or yours…I think we have to let people learn to grow in their own time.
For other content creators who carry this strange burden of influence but aren’t too keen on speaking publicly about current issues, she shares, “At the end of the day, my hope and my prayer is [for] these people [to] realize the value and the weight of their platforms and they will do something about it. Sayang, you have this platform where people are listening to you and, so again, what are you gonna say? I hope, at the end of the day, that even if we’re in different paths, we go [towards] the same finish line.”
“Trendsetter is breaking the stigma that you can’t be passionate about pop culture and politics at the same time. There’s a stigma that you can talk about one but not the other. I’m saying that part of being human, part of being a citizen of a nation, is being passionate about both.”
As the granddaughter of local broadcasting legend, the late Helen Vela, it was inevitable that Janina follow her path in her own way. After a period of discernment, she gave birth to Trendsetter, an organic video series on her channel where she breaks down pressing issues, covering a broad range of topics from pop culture to entertainment and, of course, politics. She explains, “I really wanted my channel to be a lot more about everybody else than me. I know that a lot of people like listening to my stories, but I also know there [are] so many other stories that need to be told.”
She aims to make more intimidating topics appealing and more comprehensible for members of Gen Z, an idea that actually first came from her mom. “I understand that news is daunting…and it’s scary. So I was like, what if we repackage news [and communicate] current affairs in a way that my generation [would understand]? I wanted to take away their excuse to be passive and be uninformed,” adds Janina.
Recently, she’s spoken up about the petition for an academic freeze from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to help underprivileged members of society who can’t keep up with the digital demands of education. She’s also held authority accountable, with topics like the Anti-Terror Bill and the PhilHealth corruption scandal. She explains, “Trendsetter is breaking the stigma that you can’t be passionate about pop culture and politics at the same time. There’s a stigma that you can talk about one but not the other. I’m saying that part of being human, part of being a citizen of a nation, is being passionate about both.”
Through the years, she’s learned to transcend the hate that comes with being in the public eye—by responding with grace and kindness. But the process hasn’t always been easy and, even after six years in the industry, there are still tough days. She interjects, “I think being able to experience your emotions is part of being kind to yourself. I would like to pretend that I’m indestructible, and when I get hate…I don’t care, but the truth is, until now, it still hurts. I think that’s the first thing that isn’t talked about enough. You’re allowed to be hurt by these things; as long as you pick yourself up after, you’re good.”
A lot of strength goes into this process of taking the higher ground. She feels empathy for these “keyboard warriors” who “leave their heart behind” when they spread unnecessary hatred. She explains, “I never want to do that online, my heart stays with me wherever I go. I think [about] why they must have reached that point where they feel relieved to hate on someone…and that actually brings [forth] so much compassion. I guess it’s humanizing the hater. If they don’t want to be human, I won’t allow them to dehumanize themselves. Because I still see them as human, as someone whose heart has been hurt.”
As a believer in holistic health—physical, spiritual, emotional and mental—Janina acknowledges everything is interconnected, and tangible steps need to be taken to cultivate it. Her systematic take on her well-being involves a lot of work but it’s worth it.
Soon, she’ll infiltrate a new platform, Spotify, and explore the world of podcasts with Globe in the form of Self Space. Here, she’ll be highlighting essential discussions on self-care, wellness and improvement with the experts. It’s perfect for her as someone with, in her own words, a madaldal (talkative) brain. She adds, “I [don’t] want to just give people a quick laugh and move on, I want to make people’s lives better…Awareness without action is useless. It’s the action step that goes beyond awareness so we don’t just stay aware but we become overcomers. That’s Self Space.”
Beauty From Ashes
Growing up in a Christian household, and being the daughter of a pastor, has heavily contributed to her way of life—driven by her fervent faith. For everything she’s been through, she can’t take any credit. “My blanket passions have always been God and people…Knowing I have a platform and wanting to use that platform for a purpose, and thinking about my legacy, is how I want to be remembered.”
The beginning of this new decade has been endlessly disenchanting, and sometimes we feel nothing but fatigue from the turmoil that surrounds us. It’s easy to give up, to lose faith and let that deafening voice in our head consume our thoughts—that our efforts are for naught. But after this deeply healing conversation, we face another day and find assurance, not only through our faith, but in young women like Janina Vela. I hope we all sleep better at night (because I do) knowing that hope flows through her veins, bringing forth beauty from ashes.