Photography ED ENCLONA
Traversing the bounds of dance, comedy, and social media, Yanyan De Jesus gets real on stereotypes, expectations, and mental health.
Designed to keep you locked in for as long a time as possible, social media is engineered like the space region that is a black hole, pulling even the strongest forces within its terrain with no escape—not even light. In a similar scope, whatever on your preferred timeline on the digital matrix is, whether it be threads of doomsday, philosophy, and humor on Twitter, a saturation of curation on Instagram, or the endless bounds of entertainment and energy on TikTok, the goal of the algorithm is for you to just keep scrolling. As much of an escape as it is, especially at a time when and where we need it most, it can be deliriously overwhelming, often forcing us to break away for a proverbial gasp of air. In this lucid awakening, the dust of the virtual marathon settles, and you are left with a linger of those by-the-second updates, posts, and episodes that truly sears itself into your consciousness.
A digital smashing of the ceiling, this is what makes and breaks anyone and everyone who dips their toes in the muddled and manic world of social media. A veritable extension of our lives, there are those who are just so good at the creation aspect that they separate themselves from the rest, proving themselves to be rigors and standards in what subsists on the trends, the fleeting, and the viral. On TikTok for example, the rising star ratified with an almost impenetrable gleam of permanence over the course of pandemic, one of those dominating the For You and Following, as well as the Discover tab is a bouncing and buoyant spark of energy that never seems to run out. Seemingly drawn out of an anime series, Yanyan De Jesus can be seen doing everything from dancing, putting on makeup, and acting out comedy skits. In mere seconds and minutes at most, he not only catches attention, but also completely charms and enamors the viewer, compelling them down the rabbit hole of his wonderland on the social media platform.
With his digital following in droves of millions, 11.7 to be exact as of this writing, Yanyan De Jesus is a star—verified check mark and all. While most social media personalities chalk their claim to fame to a moment gone viral, Yanyan De Jesus is a complete contrast to that belief, having been on the wildly popular video-sharing app since 2016. “Back then, I was using TikTok as entertainment, for fun. Sobrang saya eh, but I stopped because of school and stuff. Then when I gained around 5 followers, I even joked, ‘Mom, I’m so famous,’” he recalls, holding his hand with black lacquered nails close to his mouth temper a hearty fit of laughter. “Tapos upload lang ako ng upload, pero hindi ko naman inaasahang padami ng padami ‘yung followers, kasi hindi ako nagche-check. Ilang years talaga ako nag-strive, but I never expected it. Hala, 100 followers, ang saya ko na dun kasi may nakakakilala na sa akin, but nung naging 1 million, 2 million, nagugulat ako kasi sabi ko, ano bang meron sa akin na nagugustuhan ng ibang tao?”
Perhaps an effect of early onset quarter life introspection, he is after all, 19-years old, Yanyan De Jesus has since leveraged his social media presence and persistence to embark on a journey of self-discovery. “Kasi ako, hindi ko alam. Pero I never ask personally. Gusto ko malaman and maradaman sa support that they give me,” he says. “I never really expected the outcome to hit 11 million. Parang yesterday lang, I was so shookt.”
While it was no overnight success, the sudden influx of his fame past the average commas and zeroes has shaken him to his core. But he isn’t letting that consume him, especially since the gust to his wind is being able to experience a lot of things to be able to really discover who he really is. “I like to experiment things, with looks and movements, especially. As an androgynous person, gusto ko talaga mag-explore and I’m game to try anything, because I want to learn a lot of stuff,” he shares. “And right now, I’m slowly finding out who I really am, through the help of other people as well. They give me the love na sobrang nakaka-overwhelm. Kasi kapag ikaw nagmahal ka or nakaramdam ka ng pagmamahal, ‘di ba, it changes you? You become a better version of yourself, kasi you know na you love yourself and other people love you because of who you are. And dun talaga ako nagsa-strive na kilalanin pa ‘yung sarili ko and be genuine to a lot of people.”
A lifelong process, self-discovery really becomes conscious realization when life takes a sharp turn, forcing someone to a turning point in their journey. “Nag-start siya nung high school ako, kasi I was so feminine when it comes to movements, tapos 'yung dance style ko, hindi siya B-boy. Mas nararamdaman ko 'yung sarili ko when I dance the way I do. Na-bully ako dahil dun. Kumbaga dun siya nag start, people calling me names: bakla, ganun. It was an insult before, and now it isn’t anymore. Sabi ko, why don’t I embrace my inner self and find my own identity. I owned it and made it a part of me,” Yanyan de Jesus reveals. “Back then, I was so limited sa mga movements ko kasi nga, we have toxic masculinity and ayun, sobrang gusto kong ibahin ‘yung sarili ko. I want to think outside the box and explore. When they say, ‘hindi pwedeng mag-makeup 'yung mga lalaki, hindi pwedeng mag-damit pangbabae 'yung mga lalake, bawal ang cropped tops…’ I want to break through those standards or ‘yung tingin ng ibang tao sa iisang lalaki.”
With an acute sense of awareness even early on, trumping adolescent insecurities through dance, Yanyan De Jesus started to come into his own more. This love for dance, which he credits for really helping him break out of his shell led him to audition and after a few tries, finally get into one of the country’s premier dance companies, G-Force. “With dancing, you can move freely. It’s like a conversation with you through your body, connecting through movements. Ako, wala akong nakakausap minsan kasi I’m not that open, introvert ako. So, ‘yun ‘yung way ko to communicate and open myself up,” he details. “After dancing, I started doing comedy even though it’s out of my comfort zone. Then I started with makeup and fashion. Kumbaga my channel is all about versatility and variety.”
In his continuing quest for growth, he isn’t resting easy, just because he has amassed a success on social media that others can only aspire to. Here, he is constantly finding new ways to entertain, taking inspiration from his periphery on and offline. “I get inspiration from other creators as well. It’s a non-stop learning process, but as a viewer, I want to see the genuine person na pinapanood ko. I really want to see who they really are. When you’re a creator, you don’t just put content to the public just like that. Kasi kapag ikaw, sad ka, magpo-project siya sa camera,” he explains. “So, when I don’t want to film, I don’t film, kasi it affects the quality of the video. Kumbaga ako, pag masaya ako, it comes through. It really has to be genuine.”
But, of course, even with a seemingly unlimited source of verve and vigor, Yanyan De Jesus gets tired, too. Even at his young age, he knows when to take things slow lest he run himself to the ground. “Actually, I take a break. I never give up, but I take a break. Kasi 'yun 'yung pinaka-importanteng part eh. If you give up, you lose, but if you take a break, you realize and reminisce kung saan ka nagsimula. Saan ka ba nagsimula and bakit mo siya gustong tapusin? It’s a lifelong type of process, so you know, take a break and continue ka ulit,” he contemplates. This cognizance of the self is important, as it is a necessary reminder that we all run out of our maximums.
Ah, such wisdom from the youth.
SKY’S THE LIMIT
“Hindi talaga!” he exasperates when our conversation treads to the question of if he ever imagined that he would come to this point in his life, on-the-cusp of so many possibilities. “’Yung feeling talaga, sobrang surreal, parang nananaginip ako. Hindi ko in-expect na may mga opportunities na ganito. Akala ko hanggang dancing lang ako kasi dun lang ako kumportable. Pero ngayon, sobrang saya, kasi I get to experience so many things out of my comfort zone. Dati, akala ko kilala ko na sarili ko. Ngayon, it’s just the beginning of knowing myself more.”
Unapologetic and unbothered, Yanyan De Jesus isn’t afraid to get real in the truest, unfiltered sense. As pervasive as happiness is, encompassing many fronts and facets of life, he knows that it will not always be the case. “Ang saya ng journey, to be honest, pero pressured din. Lahat naman ng bagay nakaka-pressure, especially for someone like me who grew up with anxiety and having gone through episodes of depression as well. But I know that with the proper help and support of my loved ones and the followers, I will be okay,” he says, uncharacteristically opening himself up more, as opposed to his typically reclusive self in real life. Living in a generation that really is threshing through the tired tropes of propriety in the archaic sense, Yanyan De Jesus is generous in the continuing conversation of mental health, as it is something that is a part of life that we cannot just sweep under the rug and forget about it. It is a big deal, and people have to respect and understand that. “Ako, marami akong pinagdaanan sa buhay. Everyone has problems or moments, but [being strong for yourself is important.] There’s a lot of people na nagaantay sa 'yo, who cares about you. Follow what your heart wants, kasi if you do, sobrang saya,” he says to anyone who will heed his call. “Kumbaga ikaw, kung magtatrabaho ka tapos gustong-gusto mo, it doesn’t feel like work—akala mo naglalaro ka lang. Parang ako, when I’m doing TikTok, I’m happy, hindi ako forced or pressured. Just continue what you love doing and do it with happiness.”
Happiness of course is such a lofty ideal that many grown-ups still struggle with. Aspirational and elusive as it may stand to be on the surface, Yanyan De Jesus is making it known that this joy doesn’t lie on anyone or anything else but himself. Right now, however, I want to find my own happiness, ‘yung galing sa sarili mo mismo. Sabi nga nila, it’s a process, and nothing is perfect, but I want to find that through myself,” he admits, counting of course, his family, friends, and supporters as constant sources that make him happy everyday.
From beyond the shifting thumbnails of his TikTok feed, there is a whole lot more to Yanyan De Jesus than the dancing, the comedy, and the trending. Barely scratching the surface of prospect and probability, this is just the beginning—and the magic of this isn’t lost on him. As grateful and content as he is, Yanyan De Jesus wants to keep on pushing himself, fully defining who he is and who can still be. “Ako, hindi ko pa kilala fully ‘yung sarili ko, but at this point, si Yanyan behind the camera is a shy person. Pero hindi siya mag-isa. He’s strong—sa dami ng pinagdaanan niya, lumalaban pa rin siya. And look where he is now?” he says with a sense of wonder. “I know there’s a lot more opportunities, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come. While it wasn’t a goal before, ngayon, I prioritize what I have and I am happy—and of course, now, I’m dreaming bigger.”
Trust us, the limit does not exist. A wise woman from one of literature’s seminal classics pre-TikTok taught us that—and yes, it still applies, kids.
Creative direction ANGELO RAMIREZ DE CARTAGENA
Art direction KENNETH DIMAANO
Photography ED ENCLONA
Fashion and beauty direction, styling LYN ALUMNO
Makeup MIN ORTIZ
Hair JAN EDROSALAN
Video CHINO VILLAGRACIA
Sittings editor ELYSE ILAGAN