By his own admission, Reuben De Maid is “not your typical teenage boy”.
The 14-year-old beauty vlogger, from Cardiff, has more than 500,000 followers on Instagram and YouTube and can count the likes of Ellen Degeneres and Kim Kardashian West among his fans. A makeup tutorial he filmed featuring the latter has 8.3 million views – and counting.
If you don’t know him, teenagers around you probably do; he’s fast becoming the king of contouring. But Reuben, who has been sharing beauty videos for two years now, insists that experimenting with foundation, highlighter and bronzer is more about self-care than aesthetics.
“It’s really therapeutic,” he tells HuffPost UK. “When I’m putting my makeup on, I zone out, I watch some Netflix. I take my time – usually I give myself two hours, because I know I’ll get distracted by the screen.”
Seeing the end result feels “empowering”, he adds: “I just feel great and like I’m ready to jump around and have fun.”
Reuben began playing with makeup aged nine after watching YouTube videos. He started off by mixing his mum’s bronzer and moisturiser together – “It didn’t go very well!” he laughs.
No one at home batted an eyelid about his new hobby, but it was a slightly different story when he ventured outside the house. “I used to wear a hood,” he says. “I knew it wasn’t considered the most normal thing ever. I got the double takes, I got some stares.”
His mum, Vicky, prepared him for the potentially negative reactions – and he credits her for helping him gain a thick skin. “She always told me if I was going to wear makeup outside the house, I needed to know what to expect, which was a good thing, I think,” he says.
“When you put yourself out there, you’ve got to expect that kind of thing to happen a little bit. That’s wrong, but also, that’s the reality of it, that’s the sad truth.”
Things got worse, however, when Reuben started drama school two evenings a week and was targeted by bullies. “People would call me names – the ‘she-male’ – names like that,” he recalls.
“They would hit me, push me, whatever they decided was appropriate, really. At the time, it made me think: ‘Why is this happening to me?’”
Reuben kept the bullying a secret from his family at first, and says it impacted his mental health. But gradually, as he became anxious about going to drama school because of it, he told his mum through tears.
“As soon as I let it all out I felt so much better and things got so much easier,” he says. “If you don’t, then you’re just bottling up all those feelings and it makes you feel worse.”
Barely a week passes without another study warning us about the potentially harmful impact of social media on teenagers’ wellbeing, but Reuben says connecting with others online has actually boosted his confidence.
His posts are periodically targeted by online trolls – “anyone can say anything behind the safety of their keyboard,” he admits – but, for every negative comment, there are three positive ones, and those are the ones he focuses on.
The teen’s tactic for ignoring criticism is to block certain words from appearing in his comments and delete anything that spreads hate. He also reminds himself why people might post hateful things about him.
″‘Hurt people hurt’, is the famous quote, which is true, I think,” he says. “If someone is unhappy with themselves, they project that onto other people. In most cases, it’s been proven that most bullies have been bullied. It’s about their own issues, which is why I don’t take it personally.”
Alongside those who criticise Reuben for wearing makeup are people who express concern that, whatever gender, 14 is too young to be contouring and wearing fake eyelashes.
But Reuben believes parents who impose age restrictions on makeup do so because they worry their child will feel insecure without it – when that isn’t necessarily the case.
“I never really wear it because I feel like I need to,” he says. “And with everyone I know, the girls who wear makeup and my friends, they just do it for fun.
“When you look at young girls – or in some cases boys, like me – when they first start with makeup, they want to experiment with colour and it’s all about the blues and the rainbows. That’s when you know it’s not about ‘looking good’, it’s about playing and having fun – it’s a bit like art.”
When Reuben’s not getting artistic with his makeup brushes, he unwinds with his first love: singing. Going to school is also a handy break away from the influencer limelight. “I’m not allowed my phone in school,” he adds, “it has to be switched off, so it’s a good distraction from everything outside.”
With a reality show on the way, an eyelash range with W7 cosmetics and an impressively mature take on self-care, it’s clear Reuben is only just getting started.
Being Reuben premieres at 8pm Monday 6 January exclusively on Quest Red and dplay.