There's something to be said about a person who can validate millennial neurosis while simultaneously carrying Gen Z on their back. After all, the disconnect between the two generations has never felt greater. One woman, though, manages to do it in a way that feels authentic. Meet Tefi Pessoa: InStyle host, media personality, and, most importantly, queen of the 305.
As a fellow Latina from Miami whose social media feed consists of abuelas reacting to Safaera, 15 year-olds making me feel geriatric, and conspiracy theories about why Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello broke up—it wasn't long before I came across the Colombian-Brazilian multi-hyphenate. Her sense of cultural realness has made Pessoa the internet's favorite big sister.
Pessoa and I virtually sat down to talk all things confidence, being Latinx, what happens when the internet feels like they own you. And of course, her now-viral wardrobe malfunction (yes, that one). And if you think our chat was under two-and-a-half hours, you don't know what being from Miami truly means. Read on for all Pessoa had to say.
You mentioned on TikTok a teacher told you you'd never succeed. Do you think that moment impacted your career path?
I'm 31, and I still bring it up to my mom every week. When I realized I wasn't good in school, it wasn't my realization. I was just told. It was beyond my comprehension at the time. I was only 9 years-old. I was so scared of not being liked that I relied on socializing instead of academia. It's sad to think about if someone at the time had said, "You're doing a good job, don't stop trying," where I could've been.
How do you find your niche in your content creation?
You know how some groups of people like you more when you're in a relationship because they have you figured out? When you're single, they're trying to read you. That's how it was in the beginning. At first, people didn't know where TikTokers could go. I don't think people expected to see me on red carpets; maybe on a dope podcast or a YouTube channel. I don't think any other social media platform [other than TIkTok] has allowed people to transition in that way. When it comes to influencing and the "niche," I reject it. I'm a whole person.
Do you ever feel the need always to be "on" as if you owe the internet something?
I did at one point because I was new to this. I felt like I needed to be engaging 24/7. [Now I realize] being "on" is just being myself.
How do you disconnect when your job is to stay connected?
You can always tell when somebody lives too much on the internet and is too attached to what people think about them. Their identity exists online. I think it's really important to be present in the real world. If I'm uploading a video and sitting there like, what if it doesn't do well? I tell myself, Snap out of it. I need to do grounding things that plant me in the real world and remember people online do not know me.
As another Miami-raised Latina in media, it has been refreshing to see your content because I see myself reflected in it. I remember growing up in an environment where I was told the only way to succeed was to white-wash myself as much as possible. Do you ever feel that pressure?
I code-switch all the time, but when I'm with my people, my Miami comes out. We'll be at a restaurant and be like, "Hello hello, besito besito," and then the moment the waiter comes up to us, we immediately switch. For my first job in New York, I was working as an assistant to a CEO who was a Colombian man from Queens, and he said to me, "You can't take meetings with that accent." My whole life, I never was aware I had to change anything about myself until people let me know. Either you look at people and love them for who they are or you decide to be an asshole.
You should've seen the reaction from my family when I wrote an article about getting my nipple pierced.
Oh, girl. Do you know how many people unfollowed me when I dyed my hair pink? When I dropped out of college, started getting a bunch of tattoos, dyed my hair, and started posting videos on the internet—my mother naturally freaked out. It wasn't until Vogue Business called me "a new kind of archetype" that my mother called me in tears. Don't get me wrong, she's always been proud of me. But it took Vogue Business.
For the sake of a smooth transition, let's talk about beauty and fashion. I lost my mind when I saw the video of you wearing your dress wrong to the Dune premiere.
Here's what happened: I was in L.A., but I was supposed to be in London on Saturday. I had to stay longer, so I have my assistant in Brooklyn emailing showrooms all night long until finally one person answers. By the grace of god I got the dress, threw it on, looked at my manager, and said, "Wow, the hole is so retro."
I go to the red carpet, and I'm about to interview the last person when suddenly the TikTok representative who came with me told me I should check my phone. What do I see when I grab it? 42 messages from my assistant saying, "For the love of Christ, put your leg through the fucking hole." I didn't talk for the rest of the night. I went to my hotel room, ordered a pizza and a burger, and just stared at the ceiling. I didn't want the showroom to blame my assistant because it wasn't her fault, so I made that TikTok so they wouldn't be mad at her.
You've always been open about getting fillers and Botox.
This can only go left if you try to look like somebody else—you're already setting yourself up for failure. When I go [get injectables], here's what I always say, "I want to look like I just got back from a vacation where I didn't look at my phone, slept the whole time, and didn't have a sip of alcohol. I want to look rested."
Gen Z looks up to you and millennials see themselves in you. It's incredible how you've been able to bridge the gap. What's the best piece of advice you could give anyone watching your videos?
There's no way we can continue as a community without trying to understand one another first. That being said, racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic shit does not count. If you're a dick, I don't have to understand you. But there's a thin line between having empathy and being a doormat. You don't have to love or like everybody. But, trying to connect and understand will only do you better. The more you start to humanize people, the more we as a community will stop pointing fingers at each other.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.