Missy Lynn is here to remind us that women can be both feminine and super tough.
The Louisiana native, 28, is a beauty and lifestyle celebrity on YouTube, with more than half a million fans following her makeup tutorials and product reviews. She has also racked up nearly 400,000 Instagram followers and landed collaborations with several major beauty brands including Neutrogena, Ulta Beauty and BH Cosmetics.
She also happens to be an Air Force veteran who served for eight years in the military, including a four-month tour in Iraq in 2008.
Being a soldier and a makeup guru may sound like an unlikely combination, but for Missy Lynn, the two always went hand in hand. A self-described “girly girl” from a young age, she honed her makeup skills in high school and built a reputation as an expert on beauty and fashion, all while participating in her school’s ROTC program.
And when she joined the military in 2007 — following in the footsteps of her father, stepfather, brother and uncle — Missy Lynn continued to build her beauty clientele on the side, doing makeup for family members and civilian employees on base.
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She also did her own makeup every day on duty while following Air Force rules, which permit neutral colors and a natural “no makeup” makeup look.
For Missy Lynn, keeping up her beauty routine was a way to hold onto her identity as a woman in a masculine field. She even brought her makeup brushes to Iraq, where she often worked in extreme conditions.
“It was literally 115 degrees, so I wasn’t out there wearing foundation, but I would always be sure to put on mascara and my wing liner and my lip gloss,” she told TODAY Style.
People asked why she bothered with makeup in the middle of the desert, but for Lynn, it was an important way to stay connected to her femininity.
“I’m like, listen, we’re in Iraq. We’re in these really baggy uniforms where I feel like a man already ... this is the only piece of femininity that I pretty much have,” she said. “Makeup (was) literally the only escape to keeping myself sane.”
And, she said, don’t think for a second that her mascara or lip gloss made her any less of a soldier.
“I’m pretty much a marksman, I’m shooting better, as far as my scores, than some of the men out here,” she told TODAY Style. “I am the toughest that it gets. I don’t feel like my makeup brush is going to hinder me from pulling the trigger.”
During her first few years in the Air Force, makeup and beauty were mainly a side passion for Missy Lynn. But in 2008, a personal tragedy led her to take more of an interest in the world of YouTube beauty tutorials. While still in Iraq, Missy Lynn learned that her brother had been shot and killed in Louisiana.
“Once I got back to the States, I kind of shut the world out," she said. "I turned to YouTube and started watching all the beauty girls because it made me happy, it was my little happy place."
Gradually, she began to realize that she could offer her own beauty advice on YouTube.
“I was like, I could do this. I kind of used it as my creative and emotional outlet to kind of get me through the dumps,” she said.
In 2010, while still on active duty, she launched her own YouTube channel. In some of her earliest videos, she gave tips to fellow female service members for doing their makeup and nails while still following Air Force regulations.
Once she retired from the Air Force in June 2015, she was able to devote her full attention to growing her personal brand.
Today, Missy Lynn’s social media accounts are a whirlwind of makeup tutorials, brand collaborations, and red carpet photos from beauty events and product launches, not to mention candid snapshots with Oprah and Tyra Banks.
Five years ago, Missy Lynn never imagined her life would take this direction. She says people often ask her how she became a social media entrepreneur while still in the military, and how she continues to build her beauty empire as an Air Force veteran.
One answer, of course, is a lot of hard work. But another key to Missy Lynn’s success is that she never let doubt, fear, or people’s misconceptions about what it means to be feminine, keep her from pursuing her passion.
“I didn’t lose sight of the thing that made me happy, and I continued to build my brand while I was still in the military,” she said. “I basically stayed true to myself.”