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Making up her own YouTube success

Interview: Ashley Waxman Bakshi

    Waxman Bakshi offers tutorials and advice to her fans
    Waxman Bakshi offers tutorials and advice to her fans

    Write off Ashley Waxman Bakshi as just a pretty face at your own peril.

    She has a degree in business and economics and a masters in counter-terrorism. She worked for Israel's Ministry of Defence, trading weapons with other nations. But she has found fame and fortune for something quite different.

    Some compare her to hugely successful lifestyle vlogger Zoella, while others describe her as Israel's Kim Kardashian. Neither comparison does justice to the Canadian-born mother-of-two who is Israel's leading You-Tuber.

    She now has two YouTube channels, with more than 180,000 subscribers, a huge number for Hebrew content. The main channel provides tutorials and advice on makeup and fashion, while Behind the Bakshis offers a glimpse of her life with husband Idan and their two infant daughters.

    Ashley, 30, is something of a celebrity to teenagers and millennials who regularly stop her in the street. Such is the buzz around her, that she has even been lampooned on Eretz Nehederet, a prime-time Israeli TV satire.

    "Being chosen to be a imitated means big respect in Israel. They made complete fun of me and I thought it was hilarious."

    Ashley fell in love with make-up at a young age and dreamt of becoming the next Estée Lauder.

    "When I was three, I got lost in the mall and they found me at the cosmetics counter," she laughs.

    Born to Israeli parents, she grew up in Toronto's commuter belt with no intention of moving to Israel.

    "My entire childhood I hated Israel," she says."I thought it was too hot and full of cockroaches."

    At 18, however, Ashley signed up to a Birthright tour of Israel. Although her main reason for joining was because it was a "free trip", the experience proved transformative. Back in Canada, she engaged with student politics.

    "I started paying more attention to the anti-Israel feeling on campus. I became more involved and started learning more about the conflict."

    Eventually, she decided to enlist in the IDF and make aliyah.

    "My family thought I was nuts," she says.

    She served the mandatory two years, followed by an extra three as an officer in the Air Force, selling aircraft and military hardware to foreign armies. Upon leaving in 2012, she was recruited by the Ministry of Defence to work in defence co-operation.

    "It was the direction I wanted to go in; to stay in defence and maybe eventually move into politics," she says.

    Months later, life took an unexpected turn. She searched for advice on how to clean make-up brushes and was overwhelmed by dozens of online tutorials.

    "I was immediately addicted. Then I wondered if anything like that existed in Hebrew, but it didn't."

    Shortly before her wedding to Idan in 2012, Ashley made her own short clip in Hebrew.

    "A month later, I saw there were 100 views and a few comments. I thought it had gone viral!"

    She started to post regularly.

    "Back then, I filmed on an iPhone," she says."It was very low quality and there was no editing." She spent her evenings training as a make-up artist, while trading weapons by day.

    Initially, the videos were "actually kind of embarrassing", she admits.

    "Everybody always thought Ashley was so smart and hard working, so it didn't make sense in their minds that Ashley was also uploading videos about make-up."

    Her passion for cosmetics grew from being afflicted by acne as a teenager, which she believes helps her relate to young women.

    "People who have gone through severe acne know it's severely traumatising."

    "I'm not stick thin and I gain weight when I'm pregnant just like everyone.

    "Today, I put on make-up because I love it and not because I need to. Some people really love jewellery or bags but for me it's make-up.

    Eventually, Idan convinced her to go full-time with the vlogging, noticing that many vloggers in other countries were making a living out of their films.

    Once the beauty channel was established, Ashley set up Behind the Bakshis. She shrugs off comparisons with Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

    "Our life isn't like that," she says.

    "It's me complaining that I woke up three times in the night with my baby! People connect with us as a family."

    Ashley turned to her viewers for support when she found out she was pregnant, and also when her father died.

    "Because I had made aliyah, it wasn't easy to make friends at the beginning so I felt I had finally found a group of people I had something in common with."

    "My father died the day before I gave birth, so it was a very emotional week. One of the first things I did after he passed away was to upload a photo to tell my viewers, before I'd even told some of my real-life friends.

    "Being online and having so many people close to you, they are your support network. I have cried on camera and they've helped me get through hard times."

    Now earning considerably more than she did as a civil servant, Ashley has launched her own lipstick, a range of make-up brushes and also an English-language YouTube channel.

    Her appeal to young girls is obvious but the demographic of her followers is surprising. Just 13 per cent are under 18, while 18 per cent are male and a substantial number of her followers are in their 40s.

    Not all of the attention has been positive, with online trolls describing her as an "airhead" who is "materialistic and stupid". Nevertheless, Ashley has learned to turn a blind eye.

    She says: "People initially find me because they want to know about make-up, but they stay because they like the values and underlying messages.

    "I feel like I'm making a difference so, who knows, maybe in 20 to 30 years I may still go into politics."

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