Enthusiastic, energetic, honest, hilarious and downright relatable: these qualities make University of Tennessee student Gabby DePietro a beloved TikToker to users of the app.
A third-year retail and consumer science student, DePietro has reached almost two million followers on TikTok within two-and-a-half years of creating content surrounding body positivity and the vulnerable reality of being a young 20-year-old during a global pandemic.
DePietro began making TikTok videos in 2018 without any real expectations. But then, one viral video garnered 50,000 followers. With more time on her hands to create content and more time for TikTok users to scroll through the app, her following increased exponentially during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t even consider myself TikTok famous, that’s weird to me…” DePietro said in an interview.
According to Josie Ahlquist, “Based upon user statistics, Gen Z is loving TikTok with 41% of TikTok users between the ages of 16-24 translating as a major demographic for potential and current college-aged students. With teens able to log on as early as 13 (even though it appears tweens also have found “creative” means to be the app), they have single-handedly propelled the success of the app.”
DePietro’s ability to make hundreds of thousands of strangers feel better with a short video demonstrates her powerful influence, but also how much she truly wants her followers to accept and love themselves. While she feels the love, there are downsides.
“It’s challenged me to be open about things in my life that I’m not usually open about and try to be raw… [TikTok’s] been very positive in the aspect of changing a lot of young women’s lives. I get DMs all the time saying I help them with their body image and how they view themselves.”
Tiktok took this down for some reason…
“Really needed this rn. Ily and your videos” @jeaurdyn2
“Thank you for being real on social media. This takes a lot of courage and i’m so grateful for you” @aelizabeth20001301
“Dude. i don’t even have the words to tell you how this made me feel. Thank you. For real, thank you” @maia.mcdermott
“Thank you so much for being so real. It helps remind me that I am human and that is ok” @christina.brush03
“seriously thank you! Today was a tough one for me. Normalize the normal!” @theemeraldbunny
Her journey with TikTok came with highs and lows, but DePietro said her family has been her rock.
“All of sudden I hit 200,000 followers, 300,000 followers and he [DePietro’s father] was like ‘okay maybe we should do something about this’,” she said. “All the hate that I’ve gotten — my parents have said ‘they don’t buy my beer’. Basically saying don’t worry about them because they’re probably old and stupid, so [my family] helped a lot regarding hate, especially my sister.”
Being a college student is hard, and managing an account as popular as DePietro’s on top of a full time course load can be difficult to balance. At one point, she had to cut back her daily content by almost half.
“I cannot go out [on campus] without 10 people coming up to me which is so weird to me…” DePietro said. “I’ve had someone take a picture of me in the library and send it to me over DM (direct message) on Instagram.”
DePietro had a major piece of advice for college students who may gain a following like she has. It’s a lesson we could all learn from.
“I just know … getting a job
is a lot easier with a degree.”
“Don’t let it [TikTok fame] get to your head cause that happens to a lot of people. I know a lot of college students that are on TikTok or were college students with a big following that dropped out. I’ve been asked to join a house in L.A. and Florida, and I’m like ‘maybe not’ because I want a career and this is a hobby. Yes it is a job, but I would say don’t let it get to your head… Use it as a tool to get connections with people and companies and learn from that.”
According to Kapwing Resources, “TikTok houses are literal houses (often mansions) where primarily Gen-Z TikTok influencers live together and create videos for the social media platform…The idea was co-opted by popular TikTokers and led to the formation of the first two TikTok houses located in Los Angeles, California: the Hype House and Sway House. Membership in these houses helped some of the internet’s most popular personalities get their start, a list that includes Addison Rae, Charli D’Amelio, Dixie D’Amelio, Noah Beck, Chase Hudson, Daisy Keech, Avani Gregg, Bryce Hall, Griffin Johnson, and Josh Richards.”
DePietro is savvy about just how far TikTok can take her.
“I just know … getting a job is a lot easier with a degree,” said DePietro. “When I was offered a position with Barstool they were going to fly me out to New York twice a month and I can’t do that, I’m a student.”
During her interview process for an internship with JTV, DePietro’s experience with TikTok interested the company and her experience now makes her a valuable intern. With DePietro’s interest in fashion and her platform on TikTok, fashion companies have reached out to her, which could boost her career plans and networking opportunities.
DePietro plans to graduate from UT in 2022 with a degree in retail and consumer science to pursue a career in fashion.