How Maya Washington Built An Empire On Shameless Self-Promotion


For YouTube star Shameless Maya, each day starts off just like any other nine-to-fiver. Born Maya Washington, the Toronto-native/LA-transplant wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to read the Bible, squeezes in a session with her personal trainer, then beats her face for the gods before heading off to work.

By 10 a.m., the spirited social media personality is swimming in a pile of emails, pre-production planning, and video shoots. "Before we shoot anything, we gotta come up with ideas and storyboard, then we send it to get approved [by brands]. We go buy what we need, take photos, flat lay it, then send it for approval. There's a bunch of back and forth about the final edit. They want me to cut this out, they wanna cut that out. I would say, it's maybe two or three rounds of edits."

It's all in a day's work for this 34-year-old creative producer.

"I thought it was cheesy, tacky, and shameless," she says of her YouTube beginnings. "I went into it as a social media experiment on what would happen if I was shameless of a year and see where it would take me." And it truly paid off.

Since starting her channel in 2012, Washington's ability to be transparent with her followers about personal topics, such as her divorce and why she ultimately decided to shave her head, has helped her snag a following of millions of subscribers across her social media platforms. Her brightly colored beauty tutorials, inspirational online diary entries, and informative tech reviews keep her rolling in dough. Most recently, she has collaborated with brands such as Target, CoverGirl, and Google Store. In 2014, she landed an opportunity of a lifetime as art director for Prince's Art Official Age album. While she doesn't disclose the amount she was paid by The Purple One, in a video, she says, "I hadn't ever seen money like that at this point in my life."

Don't Knock the Hustle

It's evident that being a YouTube star can lead to a pretty comfortable lifestyle. However, there's a common misconception that living life in front of the camera is all play and no work. Flip on a camera, turn on your charm and get paid, right? Well, not so much. Along with extensive planning, especially for branded content, Washington sometimes has to fight for creative control. "I had one brand tell me to stop saying 'homegirl' and 'boo.' I was so frustrated, like, no, you can't tell me what I can and can't say. That's how I talk to my viewers. I had to learn to stand up for myself because it's my voice."

While dealing with brands and cashing checks can be tough, the hardest career challenge for Washington is learning to lead. There's a learning curve in evolving from independent worker to operating a full-fledged brand. "I don't like telling people what to do," she admits. "I've never had a manager position in life. Like, I've never been a supervisor or anything of that. I've always been kind of like a worker bee. I'd work for companies as a production assistant or an intern, so to go from those types of positions to working by myself was challenging. I have to study and read books on how to be a leader."

To balance out her weaknesses, this HBIC is building a strong team and learning how to delegate day-to-day tasks. While positive energy is the number one requirement for people on her Shameless squad, there are a few other major keys to success in Maya's World. "Are you hustler and do you work hard? There's so much to be done when you start off small. I do everything, so I'm looking for someone who is down to do everything and then some. I have issues with organization and staying on top of my calendar, so I needed someone who is exceptionally detail-oriented, which I found. I like thinking outside of the box, too, so if you have other passions, it's a plus."

Before the YouTube Fame

Though Washington seems to have it all––the money, the career, and, the squad––for a long time, her relationship status still read single.

At the age of 22, she met the man who would become her husband and they married when she was 26. Unfortunately, their marriage succumbed to their differences in life goals and five years later, the curly girl finally got a divorce. While recovering from her heartbreak, she threw all her energy into her work. It was not only a much-needed distraction from her rocky romantic life, but also a time to for her to heal as a woman.

"A lot of people when they leave relationships, they rebound," she says. "You go on dates and try to distract yourself. And that's part of it. But once you get all of that outta your system, you have to look inward and figure out how to be the best person you can be. You can distract yourself, but know that if you do that, you're gonna run into issues. I was so angry and always coming into confrontations. I literally had to reprogram everything about me. I'm genuinely happy with the woman I've become and now I can say I'm ready to date."

Braving the world of Tinder swipes and first dates seems pretty daunting, but Washington is equipped with the biggest lesson she's learned from her failed marriage. "When I got married, I was making decisions based on feelings, but as an adult, I have to do a checklist before I allow myself to get carried away. Do you have a good family background? Are you a positive, happy person? Do you believe in God? I have to check all those things off. Because once you let your feelings go, it's game over. Before you let your heart get carried away, take your brain with you."

No matter what's ahead, Washington is passionate about inspiring and spreading her youthful joy. And who can even be mad at that? Be shameless and do you, boo!

Find out more about Shameless Maya by following her on YouTube!

Originally published in 2016

Images courtesy of Maya Washington

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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