Story by: Jennifer Tormo
Photos by: Raegan Labat
Styled by: Elle Marie
Location: Greenwood Community Park
Everyone at Walmart was staring at her. When she was a little girl, Paige Browning was sure of it.
“Oh my gosh, mom,” she’d whisper. “They are looking at me. I think they think I’m famous.”
Looking back as an adult today, Browning always had a feeling she was destined for the spotlight.
“I felt like I was different—and maybe I was different in a weird way,” she recalls. “My mom thought I was the most uptight, conceited, vain child she’s ever met. But there was just this confidence I always had. I just knew who I was.”
That confidence turned out to be magnetic. Four years ago, it led Browning to start a YouTube channel of beauty tutorial and prayer videos. Today, she has nearly half a million subscribers. Over on Instagram, her following swells to 1.1 million.
Browning now gets recognized for real during trips to Walmart. Sometimes her young fans are so awestruck to see her, they’ll burst into tears.
The attention can be a little embarrassing. “When I go to Walmart, I always look so bad,” she says sheepishly.
DO+BE one-shoulder dress, $62
FRNCH jade pleated button-down, $68
David Tutera shoes, $68
From Moxi Boutique
Bella earrings, $20
From Doll Face Jewelry
Geometric clutch, $63
Except it’s hard to imagine her ever looking “bad.” This afternoon, she has just arrived from a workout—but there’s not a drop of sweat on her lululemon. Her fluttery eyelash extensions are fully intact, and her thick chestnut hair is perfectly tousled.
You’d think hitting that 1 million mark on Instagram would go to a 23-year-old’s head—or anyone’s head—but Browning seems about as grounded and low-key as they come.
If you met her in person, you might never know her Old Goodwood rental is staged with lighting to shoot videos, or that the Instagram photo she posted a few hours ago is racking up nearly 20 likes a minute.
Even though she’s filmed herself doing everything from hair tutorials and unboxing products to sharing prayers and deeply personal thoughts, she’s still not fully comfortable being in the spotlight. She’s nervous for today’s magazine interview, and overly apologetic that she feels a little nauseated after climbing into a canoe with 225’s photographer.
Getting press is still new and exciting. When she was featured on local news station WGMB Fox 44 earlier this summer, she was so thrilled she recorded her reaction while it aired. She shared the experience in Instagram videos, letting out shrieks of joy throughout the segment.
She’s self-deprecating and knows how to laugh at herself. She’s a vegan with a strict fitness routine, but jokes that it doesn’t stop her from devouring spicy chicken sandwiches and fries at Chick-fil-A every now and then.
She’s beautiful but relatable—and that’s probably why her followers adore her.
C. Luce dress, $78
Eloise earrings, $75
Generation Love pleated skirt, $198
So Me strappy shoes, $33
From Shoovie Shoetique
Many of them discovered Browning originally through another YouTube channel, Bratayley. The account is run by Browning’s tween girl cousins and their parents, Billy and Katie LeBlanc. They document their lives in California through daily vlogs, recording everything from gymnastics competitions to their house search.
It’s basically an online reality show, Browning explains. If you’re like me—aka anyone who is not part of Generation Z—you have probably never heard of them until now. But people are watching. The Bratayley channel has nearly 7 million subscribers. For comparison, The Bachelor—one of the most popular shows on TV—drew just under 6 million viewers for its 2018 season premiere.
“Every kid under the age of 15 knows them,” Browning says.
Browning’s own rise to internet fame began in 2014. She was a hairdresser and started posting hair and makeup tutorials on YouTube. She was living in Los Angeles at the time and spending a lot of time with her cousins. Simply being around them in videos led to instant growth on her own channel, she says.
Around a year and a half ago, her social media accounts really started exploding. Running the channels, responding to fans and managing brand sponsorships became a full-time job—and then some. She now works Sunday to Sunday, cranking away at business emails long after her roommates get home from work.
Her YouTube Sunday prayer messages, where she reads Bible passages and shares personal experiences, are particularly popular. Producing videos is time consuming, but as a spiritual person, she’s always thinking about what impact her clips might have on kids.
“Posting a photo on Instagram is so easy for me,” she says, “but YouTube is where I’m really giving back to my fans.”
Fans notice immediately when she’s posting—and when she’s not. “When will you be back on YouTube? I miss your videos,” says one comment on an early September post. A few scrolls down, another chimes in, “I can’t explain how pretty you are Paige can’t wait for you to be in the vlogs again love you.”
Miley cocktail dress, $68
From Moxi Boutique
Elizabeth Grace wrap necklace, $66
Elizabeth Grace saint necklace, $66
Gold-plated medallion necklace, $66
From Posh Boutique
Paige white button-down
Forever 21 shoes
Followers have even created hundreds of fan pages for her. Sometimes Browning’s own friends follow the wrong accounts by mistake when they are trying to find her on Instagram. Her account name is, of course, @therealpaigedanielle.
This afternoon, Browning pulls out her iPhone and loads up the app to find her favorite fans.
She thumbs through her feed until she finds @paige.danielle.love, a page created by an English teen who edits together clips from Browning’s vlogs. The account’s bio reads, “PAIGE IS MY IDOL.” Some of its videos are compilations of her funniest moments. Others are set to dramatic music. Even today, Browning cracks up laughing as she rewatches them.
Browning grew up in Ethel, Louisiana, and has also lived in Florida and California. But Louisiana is the place etched into her heart. She even has a tattoo with the coordinates to her grandparents’ house in Ethel.
Still, when Browning moved back to Baton Rouge last year to be closer to family, she admits at first it didn’t feel like an opportunity. She missed Los Angeles and her cousins—and the instant connections a big West Coast city can offer for a social media influencer.
But as she started to network, she quickly found there were plenty of opportunities here. She met her boyfriend and fellow influencer Thurman Thomas. She reconnected with the crawfish boil culture and discovered new-to-her spots like MJ’s Cafe and India’s.
“I kind of fell in love with it,” she says.
Even though Browning always thought she’d be famous, she firmly believes anyone can do what she does. She sees young hairstylists, makeup artists and photographers and thinks about the success they could have if they started their own YouTube or Instagram pages.
Browning shares a conversation she had with her mom recently: She used to tease her daughter about feeling famous as a kid at Walmart. But now she finally sees the light.
“She told me, ‘You literally spoke your life into existence.’”
Minuet cocktail dress, $88
From Moxi Boutique
Find Browning on Instagram at @therealpaigedanielle
This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of 225 Magazine.