Tefi on dealing with TikTok fame and why 'oversharing has a price tag'

Tefi Pessoa opens up about building a thick skin and tuning out the noise:
Tefi Pessoa opens up about building a thick skin and tuning out the noise: "I meditate a lot."
(Photo: Marlo Miller; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life's well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

The early 2000s — now referred to as "Y2K" — are having a major resurgence at the moment, and it's thanks in part to digital influencers like Estefanía Vanegas Pessoa, known as "Tefi" to her 1.4 million TikTok followers. At 31, the TikToker is old enough to have experienced the aughts firsthand; that, combined with her sense of humor and obsession with pop culture has Gen Z audiences enthralled.

"It really exploded when I started talking about how I was alive and a teenager during Y2K and people had so many questions," the Florida native tells Yahoo Life's The Unwind of her TikTok popularity. "They're asking me about being on the battlefield.

"People were like, 'you're a genius,'" she adds. "I'm like, 'I think I'm just old.'"

Though Tefi only turned to TikTok after her original YouTube plans went bust during the pandemic, she's been able to parlay her newfound popularity into a hosting gig for InStyle's TikTok and work as a red carpet correspondent for Warner Bros. But with that hypervisibility has some criticism from keyboard warriors, including comments on the larger-than-life personality that sets Tefi apart from her peers.

"People always think I'm, like, drunk or on drugs," she says. "I don't understand. I'm just animated; I'm just Latina."

She adds, "Reading those comments, I've learned pretty quickly that people feel like they can just say whatever they want to you and nothing is going to happen to them. Worst-case scenario, they get blocked and they make another account."

As ruthless as the internet can be, Tefi views the virtual vitriol as a part of the process, and says it helps her reaffirm her sense of self.

"The only way that you can get thicker skin is through situations that make you have thick skin," she explains. "So, of course, in the beginning, I was so obsessed with reading every comment. Then I went through my blocking phase, where the moment somebody offended me, whether they meant to or not — [they got] blocked. ... Now I'm just at a place where I don't care."

While internet trolls don't really get to her anymore, existential worry is something she is still working through.

"My mental health is not affected by the internet; what affects my mental health is the world opening back up," she shares. "There are so many events that are happening for the first time again, so the logistics of things really stress me out.

"I feel exhaustion in places where I didn't before," she adds. "I have a social anxiety that I didn't before,"

To manage social burnout and anxiety about the future, Tefi swears by one of the most widely discussed mental health practices: meditation. She says the practice is the only reason she has continued to put out the internet content fans love.

"It's so life-changing to just sit with yourself and check in with you and just talk to yourself in a way where you can speak to your honest self," she says. "If it wasn't for meditation I wouldn't still be online."

Tefi’s account toes a fine line between cultural observation and personal tidbits, something that can be tricky to balance with a large following of people that want to stay up-to-date with her personal life changes. Whereas she's opened up in the past about a long-term relationship that has since ended, she's taking a more cautious approach these days.

“I picture it kind of like when you're a parent and you're going to introduce your kids to a new person — you can't just do it right away because they're going to get attached,” she says. “Oversharing has a price tag, and I'm weary of that.”

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