It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
It would be difficult to miss Amelie Zilber while scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, where the 19-year-old model has aggregated over 10 million combined followers. But the social media influencer hopes that while her beauty might initially attract someone to her page, it isn’t the reason they stay.
“I like to think that people come to my page because of the way that I look but they stay for the substance,” she tells Yahoo Life.
At a quick glance, it makes sense that the California native, whose mom Christina Zilber is the founder of Jouer Cosmetics, is subject to a lot of praise of her looks, as commenters call her the "prettiest person to ever exist." After dealing with bullying at school and disordered eating throughout her life, however, Zilber explains that she has a more complicated relationship with her body and physical appearance than one may think.
"As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder in the past and who has kind of always had a dysfunctional relationship with food from a very young age, I think it’s an ongoing battle. I have a much better relationship with my body and with food than I did four years ago. But I’m not gonna sit here and lie and say it’s perfect," she explains. "I’ve learned the skills to take myself out of negative patterns of thinking. So when I fall into those patterns I know how to get myself out of them. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not ever there."
When it comes to body image in particular, she admits that comments about her appearance can be "double-edged."
"On one end it’s honestly really amazing because when I sit there and I look at myself and I’m like, I hate everything about myself, in those moments I look through my comments and I’m like 'Ok I’m literally losing my mind. I’m beautiful, people think I’m beautiful, I don’t need to be thinking these things about myself,'" she explains. "On the other end, it can be really hurtful. I do find myself thinking I have to look a certain way or people are really quickly going to notice that I look different. There’s a lot of pressure on the way that I look."
Zilber's hope, however, is that the way that she looks is in fact the least interesting thing about her as she becomes one of the leading voices in political activism at her age. And while many might steer away from the difficult topics that she discusses on her page, Zilber explains that nurturing her passion for politics is what has allowed her to find true confidence within herself.
Video: Amelie Zilber on using TikTok to address social and political issues
"I went through a period in high school where I really felt like I had no friends. I was really lonely and when every high school girl was going off to a party on a Saturday night that I wasn’t invited to, I would spend that time doing something that brought me joy and that was reading UN memorandums on the Middle East and reading about the Iran Nuclear Deal and reading what foreign policy experts have to say about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia or what’s happening between Israel and Palestine," she recalls. "I would spend my time delving into those topics and becoming so well versed in these areas of the world that I recognized I have a superpower that basically every other high school girl in my school didn’t have, and for me that gave me the confidence to believe that I had something really special."
In early 2014, Zilber put that superpower to use when she founded the TwoMinuteTimes — a weekly political newsletter aimed at engaging young people in current events. She has also volunteered her time as an ambassador for Unicef and most recently launched a Facebook series called Don't @ Me, which features conversations amongst a diverse group of young thought leaders about society's most prominent issues. All of these projects, she explains, help her to define her purpose and to encourage others to seek value in their own intellect.
"I think loving myself from within expanded to loving myself on the outside. All of the time that I spent nurturing the curiosity and the passion that I had in my soul, in loving that part of me so much and loving my drive and loving how hard I was working, is the reason I kind of came out of that shell of thinking that beauty was it. So those conversations and the time that I spent learning really impacted the way that I viewed myself and the way that I loved myself."
And while Zilber doesn't shy away from sharing her knowledge and opinions with whoever will listen — in fact, she feels most confident doing so — she knows that most young women aren't encouraged to embrace their minds in that way.
"Whether we know it or not society is riddled with misogyny. So when girls think that 'Oh my gosh, I have to look the prettiest in the room,' you have to challenge that by kind of asking yourself 'What is pretty gonna get me?' It’s gonna get that person to like me, it’s gonna get people to compliment me. But really what kind of substance does that offer me?" she questions. "But when someone compliments you on your thoughts or the way that you articulate yourself or an idea that you have that is outstanding, I think those kind of compliments are much more fulfilling and they last a lot longer."
Of course, Zilber doesn't stick to one category of content, as she mixes posts from her work as a political activist, model and social media influencer. Still, she acknowledges that she's likely to be received in a more favorable way as a result of her pretty privilege.
"There’s honestly no strategy. I post content of myself that isn’t political because it brings me joy and I love fashion so much and I have loved fashion from a very young age and I love beauty. My mom’s in the beauty business and I love that part of who I am. I love feeling beautiful and feeling confident and wearing cute outfits and I think that adds the joy to my world," she says. "When it comes to talking about politics, it can be really intense and really serious, and I think it’s important to have the balance of like really intense issues and also a fun, light-hearted space. So there’s no strategy, it’s really just what brings me joy."
Fortunately for Zilber, the content that she posts is not only well received by millions, but also found empowering by the people she most hopes to inspire.
"I'm always fighting against the mold that beauty is what brings women value," she says. "We’re just sick and tired of the stereotype that pretty girls have nothing to say. It’s sickening and we’re ready to move on from it. Social media has been beautiful in so many ways because it gives us the outlet to voice our opinions to a group of people that already know us, that already love us and want to hear what we have to say. We’re outgrowing the point of time where we are bystanders to a misogynistic society."
She continues, "At the end of the day, people love me for my soul and my character and the way that I use my platform, not simply because of the way that I look."
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.