Tefi Pessoa is unapologetically herself. She has the level of confidence and boldness we all wish we had. Most people might have been too shy to get a vitamin IV treatment during a press interview, but not Tefi. “I just wanted to let you know that I did order an IV cause I’m in L.A. and I’m a boujee little girl,” she told me before we got started. “So, if somebody comes in and administers an IV, I don’t want you to think I’m insane.”
That’s the beauty of Tefi (@hellotefi on TikTok), you know exactly what you’re getting—even 2 minutes into meeting her for the first time. Authenticity is a rare quality in the social media world, where face-altering filters and curated feeds reign supreme. And when you have an audience of 1.4M followers? It’s much harder to keep it real. “I've had the same group of friends in high school and the same family since birth—and they are so quick to humble me and tell me that I’ve been annoying,” says the Latinx TikTok star and Instyle TikTok host, who is known for her pop culture hot takes. “The people that I admire in my life are people who have not made homes out of the internet. There's no way that I'm going to let strangers tell me who I am when I've been in this body my whole fucking life. And I don't care who you think I am.”
But don’t be mistaken. Tefi wasn’t always this sure of herself, especially when it came to what she was supposed to do with her life. “I dropped out of school four times,” she recalls. Tefi tried a little bit of everything in college: art history, business, PR, fashion merchandising, jewelry design, Spanish. She even talked about going into dermatology and archeology. “I was partying my ass off,” she says. “My mom was worried about me for a long time.”
“I always knew that the only real skill set I had was being myself."
The Miami native also had a (very) non-linear career path. No matter what she tried—personal training, styling, being a receptionist—she still felt lost. “I always knew that the only real skill set I had was being myself—and corporate America wants anything but that. There was a long time where I was tormented because I was like, ‘This can’t be my life.’ There’s no way that I am destined to be like Pam [from The Office].’”
But things changed when Tefi landed a job at a production company at 27. Around that time, she started posting more regularly on social media, sharing anything and everything about her life and her pop culture POVs. “My friend emailed me saying, “You can’t seem to shut the fuck up on social media,’” says Tefi. And then, her friend told her about a producer she knew who was looking for TV hosts. Tefi auditioned and got her own live pop culture talk show, Tefi, which launched on YouTube in 2019. “I got to work on my improv a lot and I got to hire a team of my own,” she recalls. But being thrusted into the spotlight (even if it was on a computer screen), wasn’t easy. “You know that people are going to talk shit about you, whether you like it or not, so accepting that and still showing up was a lot for me.”
In the first few months, she ended up gaining 100,000 subscribers—and then COVID hit. And her investors pulled out. “I tried to do it from home but it sucked,” says Tefi. So, what else could you do in quarantine? Download TikTok, of course.
Photographer: Brendan Wixted; Hair: David Cruz; Makeup: Tegan Rice; Styling: Grace Tully
Fast forward two years and she has a dedicated following of 1.4M on the app, scored a gig with Instyle as their TikTok host, attended multiple red carpets and dyed her hair pink. “Everything I do is to make my mom proud,” she says. “And the greatest gift you can give your parents is letting them know you're okay.”
When asked what her greatest professional accomplishment is, she said, “Getting invited to the Oscars is pretty cool.” Five days after our chat, she attended the star-studded event and gave her followers a play-by-play of “The Slap" right outside the Dolby Theatre, faster than the news outlets ever could. What would a major pop culture moment be without Tefi’s iconic commentary?
And that’s what makes Tefi the internet’s BFF, she says it like it is. “I’m at the point where I don’t feel any way about being on social media. I feel zero pressure. I don’t give a fuck about analytics, and troll comments to me are just part of the job,” she says. One of the most common questions she gets asked is: “How are you so confident?” And she wants to set the record straight. “I might have pink hair, but I don’t have confidence,” says Tefi. “I tap into confidence every day.”
As a first-generation American (her mom is Colombian and her dad is Brazilian), her definition of success was very different growing up. “It was about survival. Having health insurance, stability and security, being able to pay my bills,” she says. And now? “Success to me would be leaving a legacy. That’s beyond awards—that’s like creating youth centers, safe spaces, support systems… upholding the community that raised me. And if I’m blessed enough to have them, I’d like children. I want my children to be proud of me.” We have a pretty good feeling they will be.
Who are you inspired by?
“I come from a line of women where you never have to wonder where you stand with them. That’s definitely inspiring to me. I have never met a woman I have not been inspired by. I have never met a woman I have not loved.”
How do you unplug from work?
“I love watching TV of all kinds. Being in bed, watching TV, eating Chinese food… like the worst TV you can think of. I just finished Bad Vegan on Netflix. I know we have to practice mindfulness but I’m so mindful about what I’m watching [laughs]. Oh, and being on TikTok is a big unwinding thing for me, too. I love laughing with people.”
How many unread emails do you have right now?
“My work email, I have 23 and on my personal, I have 13,800. Oh, and I have 1,491 texts. It’s just GrubHub telling me it’s on the way.”
What do you look for in an employee?
“People who are interested. People who are hungry. Everyone on my team knows when to rest but knows we’re not doing enough, and wants the same things I do when it comes to building something we can be proud of. I love a big dreamer, but I also look for doers.”
Best piece of advice?
“The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is from my mom: ‘Life is long.’ Meaning, if you fuck up, life is long, it’s gonna be ok. But also, if you’re gonna do something that you can’t undo, life is long and you have to live with it.”
Worst piece of advice?
“‘If you have a yeast infection, put garlic in your vagina.’ I did it two times. Walked into Mount Sinai bawling. A whole clove… and I put holes in it so the scent would come out. Insanity. I didn’t have health insurance, so going to the doctor was a big investment. I was doing a lot of DIY stuff.”