Yes, she might have 1.6 million followers on TikTok and hundreds of thousands on Instagram. Yes, she might've interviewed celebrities on the red carpet as InStyle's exclusive social media host for two years. But TikTok star Estefanía Pessoa, who goes by "Tefi," is completely normal — or so she says.
"I can be an a--hole and I can be a nice person, depending on what I've eaten, stuff like that. I feel like that's just normal," the 32-year-old tells TODAY.com.
On a typical day, Pessoa wakes up at 11 in the morning. She grabs coffee and decides whether to work out, even if she's already dressed in the proper gear. From there, she fills her day with meetings and interviews (and always finds time to play with her cat, Tabby Margolina Jolie).
But as Pessoa continues describing the life she's created since joining TikTok in early 2020, it sounds anything but normal.
One day, she's in Phoenix encouraging Latino people like herself to vote. Then, 24 hours, she's on the streets of Los Angeles interviewing strangers for InStyle.
Pessoa, walking into influencer stardoms slowly, once asked her mom if she considers her famous.
“Do you think I’m your famous daughter?” she asked.
“When she said ‘yes’, I was like, 'That’s nuts! That’s crazy to me that you think that I’m like, a public profile because to me, I’m not.'”
Becoming the internet’s 'aunt'
If you had to describe Pessoa's job as simply as possible, you might reach for terms like "content creator" or "influencer." In some videos, Pessoa shares funny stories she’s experienced throughout her day. In others, she’s explaining a pop culture moment, such as the rise and fall of Fleetwood Mac, broken down as if it were a true crime saga.
But it's more complicated than that, Pessoa says. Rather than create, Pessoa also connects — she has a bond with her followers.
“It feels very natural, the relationship I have with my followers,” she says. “
Pessoa likens herself to a trusted confidant — or, specifically, "the aunt someone calls when they need an abortion when they can't tell their parents."
Her fans reach for other comparisons, likening her to aspirational yet relatable women. "idk if this makes sense but you’re my carrie bradshaw," one follower commented on a TikTok.
"No cause same! Annndddddd scene!" another person comments.
Pessoa's internet footprint goes back to October 2019, when she launched a pop culture show on YouTube. On the @TefiShow, Pessoa share her latest takes about celebrities, trends and fashion. The show came naturally to her, as she was already fluent in pop culture.
Right as things seemed to be picking up, the pandemic hit. The show was put on hold. That's when Pessoa turned to TikTok.
In her first viral video, she sits in bed wearing a black charcoal face mask, eating a salad with pepper flakes.
Pessoa remembers looking down and thinking to herself, ‘Man, these pepper flakes are huge.’ Then she realized what she thought were pepper flakes were actually parts of her mask peeling off.
“That was my first big video,” she says. “I got like 500 followers off one video, and I was like, ‘Hey maybe I can get more people to watch.'”
Using her passion for Y2K fashion and pop culture, she started a series breaking down everything from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's divorce to Brangelina.
From there, her platform grew.
‘I pretend I only have 11 followers’
Pessoa's moved beyond explaining other people's drama. She's become a main character on her own social media accounts, sharing details about her mental health journey — she has depression — to her romantic forays.
To bridge the gap, she often connects what's going on in her life to moments in pop culture.
“When I talk mental health, and I talk about people like Amanda Bynes because it is an important part of her story too," she says. "I'm so lucky to be alive in a point with internet because if it weren't for internet how would we remember people like Britney Spears? Selena Gomez?"
It's hard for Pessoa to believe she's impacted anyone online. To stay authentic, she pretends to only have 11 followers. But when her DMs fill with thankful messages, she's snapped back to reality.
“I love you so much Tefi. You are SO valuable and your voice is so important and so meaningful. You bring so much joy to so many. Thank you for sharing your journey with such honesty and vulnerability,” one follower commented on her post addressing her depression.
"Sending love. Thank you for being so open. When our daughter was struggling with suicidal impulses, PTSD and depression, we knew we had to openly discuss it so the stigma was not there," another person commented.
Pessoa says this kind of feedback is "everything" to her.
"Whenever I hear that I'm like, 'You don’t know the way you helped me.' Just the fact that you want to listen to me or take me seriously changed my life," Pessoa says. "I feel very lucky to be someone that people bring along with them mentally and emotionally during hard moments."
'Do you think I'm my authentic self online?'
“What do you think?” Pessoa replies, after she's asked whether she's the same person online as she is off.
"You can always tell who you are by the people you're reaching," she says. "I have a little community on a little side of the internet, and we have so many inside jokes and like so many memories. I feel like I am part of something."
Authenticity like Pessoa's is prized online, but there's a dark side to being vulnerable: Pessoa has retained her sensitivity. And the internet, especially the comments section, can be a brutal place. Pessoa takes vigilant care of herself in order to stay afloat.
"If you're not taking care of yourself and listening to your body and to your heart and speaking your mind things could go terribly wrong," she says. "
Staying authentic also means representing her Latina identity. Pessoa is Colombian and Brazilian. Growing up in Miami, she says her whole life there were always "more Miguels than there were Michaels" in a room.
Now, she says people come up to her and call her "Latina mommy."
"Even if they're teasing, I'm like, they can go home and be like, yeah Latinos were represented," she says.
'My biggest hot take: I'm just a person'
Pessoa may be the subject of a profile. Many, in fact. But she warns you against idolizing her.
As she puts it, everybody that you love and admire, online and off, has done something "sh--ty." That's why every six months she tries to make a video to remind people that even she has her flaws.
"I'm just a person," she says, untangling her necklace. "I've been mean to people, you know, I've f----- people over and that's why I know how s----y it feels."
"People want me to be categorized so badly because they’re so used to people online becoming like s----y people," she says. "And I’m like, what if I told you I was just normal?"