Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we’re passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry, so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they’re using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Gabe Adams-Wheatley, a 22-year-old TikToker and self-taught makeup artist.
I was born in Brazil and put up for adoption at 9 months old. I was adopted by a Utah family here in the US, and when they were adopting me, my mom was pregnant with her 11th child; she now has 13 of her own biological children, and I am her only adopted child. We grew up in a Latter-day Saints home, so being gay was a huge no-no. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I told my parents for the last time that I wasn’t going to change and if they wanted me to be in their lives, they would need to learn to accept me and allow me to be myself, unconditionally. It has blessed our relationship beyond measures, and they are now two of my best friends.
Ever since when I was younger, I was always looked at as a kid in the wheelchair — nobody was asking me to hang out, because they didn’t see that I was physically independent and capable of doing things without my wheelchair. In the seventh grade, there was a talent show, and I didn’t tell anybody that I was auditioning. I came home, and my mom was like, “Where were you? What did you do?,” and I was like, “I danced.” And she’s like, “No, really? OK, well, I’m going to need to see this dance.” I showed it to her, and she told me flat out that the dance was not good and that we needed to work on it. My mom has always been the type of person who never gives it to me easy because she wants me to be able to take things in life as they are.
She ended up helping me choreograph a whole new one. There’s a video on YouTube from the actual performance, and you can see my mom running to the front of the audience to be right up front. At the end of the dance, I got a standing ovation, but the first person I looked at was my mom, and she started crying and mouthed to me, “You did it.” It was a huge eye-opening moment for my classmates — I was no longer just the boy in the wheelchair. It helped push me out of my bubble and make some friends.
I still struggled with bullying, and it got so bad that I ended up switching schools. I had to find my confidence again before I went back into the public school system, and when I did, I decided I wanted to join a dance company. That’s when my excuse to get into makeup came. I had always been interested in beauty — I have four sisters, and they’re all gorgeous, and my mom is also stunning. I always loved just sitting there watching them do their makeup and how each one of them did it so differently — whether that was starting with their eyeshadow first or starting with their foundation first.
My junior and senior year, I ended up making both dance teams at two different schools, and my senior year, I went to state and got second place with a dance that I choreographed, which was all about people with disabilities being looked at as if they can’t do things. That’s when my coach was like, “You need a foundation, a blush, a contour, and a highlighter to make your features pop out on stage, otherwise, you’ll look like a ghost.” And I was like, “Oh, this is perfect.” I went to Ulta Beauty with my sister, and I spent about a hundred dollars that day on just random makeup that I found fascinating. That very next weekend, I applied blush, and I put it all over my entire face because I didn’t know what I was doing at the time.
I started watching a lot of makeup YouTubers on their techniques and taking into consideration what works best for me, because I have to use the makeup brushes and the beauty sponges in a very different and unique way. When I first started doing my makeup, the best way I could think of was to lie down and have a towel on the ground so I wasn’t getting any products on the carpet. I had one of those circular, flat sponges that you can buy at Ulta, and I did my makeup lying down, but I was always having to lift my head up and would get kinks in my neck because it wasn’t the best position to be in.
At the time, I had been doing motivational speaker work for about five years. I actually never truly enjoyed it, I just thought it was something that I should be doing because there’s a lot of people that could benefit from it, but when COVID-19 hit, I was like, “Oh, this is the perfect point for me to actually do something that I want to do.”
That’s when I dove into making makeup videos. I was in my brother’s house at the time, and I had this TV stand that hit just above my chest area, and I would do my makeup there every single day. The first video I ever posted, it was just from the neck up, and there were a bunch of comments saying, “Why is he doing it this way?” and “What’s going on?,” and I was like, “Oh, I need to show that I actually don’t have arms and legs in the beginning of the video to people understand.” When I started to do that, the videos skyrocketed. Everybody was like, “Whoa!”
Then, when I moved in with my now-husband, for a birthday present, he bought me an Ikea vanity desk and mirror, and he chopped the legs down to my height. It was really sweet of him to give me, because it gave me a boost of confidence in doing makeup, and it also helped with my future career in being able to express myself on TikTok.
I always like to say I know that I don’t need makeup, nor does anybody else, but it’s a creative outlet and a way for me to express myself. I feel like my entire life, I’ve always had to prove myself and go beyond what people think the boundary could or should be for a person without arms and legs, or just with a disability in general. For me, there’s always been a fire that ignites in me when somebody tells me that I can’t do this or that I’m doing something wrong. I always want to be able to push those norms and show that anything is possible if you just try.
It’s still mind-boggling that this has been a possibility for me. It’s always been a dream of mine to be somebody that people look up to and want advice from, and so now that I’m actually there, it’s amazing. But it’s been very interesting to navigate, because I always thought that I was a strong person until I started doing more on social media and getting a lot of backlash just for the way that I look. But the thing that makes me so happy and makes me want to continue doing makeup and posting it on social media is when I get the comments and the messages from parents saying that their 4-year-old wakes up in the morning and says that they want to watch my videos while they eat their breakfast, or people who are going through a really hard time will scroll through my feed just to brighten their day and get a different outlook on life.
And so, I hope that continues in many ways, not just for those people but also for people who are with disabilities, or in the gay community, or in any kind of community. I just hope that my content brightens their day and makes them want to better themselves and know that everybody goes through different things and comes from different walks of life. That’s what makes us unique and special in our own ways, and it needs to be celebrated.
Image Source: Courtesy of Gabe Adams-Wheatley
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