Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is quick to charm any new viewer with her welcoming personality, bubbly British accent and vintage aesthetic. Underneath is only more to love—a biting wit, a passion for fighting for—and with—the underdog and an incredible ability to educate viewers on anything from LGBTQ+ history to living as a deaf person with many chronic illnesses.
Video Views: 60,096,147
Channel Type: People
User created: Apr 2nd, 2011
Despite joining YouTube in 2011, it wasn’t until December 2015 that Jessica started her online career with a series of popular Christmas songs in British Sign Language. Since then, she has blossomed into an activist, entertainer and absolute icon. Her journey is far from slowing down as she continues to thrive on YouTube while writing a book, all with her wife and 770k+ devoted subscribers by her side.
“realizing that you’re gay doesn’t immediately flood your head with all of the knowledge you need to navigate life as a gay person”
Representation is the destination
Growing up as a disabled lesbian, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard wasn’t provided with representation in mainstream media. This made it difficult for her to imagine a future where she could have a career in entertainment—until she discovered YouTube.
“YouTube is a wonderful platform in my eyes because I can make content around my body’s schedule—which is unhelpfully all over the place!— [and] not have to go through gatekeepers who question whether I’m ‘too disabled’ or ‘not visibly disabled enough’ to be a presenter AND at the same time provide to others some of that much-needed representation I was lacking”.
The scarcity of representation didn’t stop with the media, as Jessica came to realize that these disconnects also happen in our everyday life. Growing up, we experience the same culture as the generations in our community before us—we eat the same foods, continue traditions and share stories of ancestors. When we live with something that isn’t handed down between generations, such as sexual orientation or disability, we’re forced to seek out our own communities to understand what that world is like.
Jessica aims to provide this representation and knowledge, noting that “Knowing the history of your community helps you to feel proud of your identity; to realize that others like you have done great things and to inspire you to do the same. Equally, realizing that you’re gay doesn’t immediately flood your head with all of the knowledge you need to navigate life as a gay person, much like no one hands you a guide book when you become disabled!” Jessica’s channel acts as a bridge between two worlds—the one where you’re without a community, and one filled with it.
She knows what works for her
YouTube can be difficult for anyone to navigate and thrive on, but Jessica has managed to build a dedicated and enthusiastic community.
Outstanding consistency may have contributed to her success, with regular uploads fuelling her growth – she has shared videos two a week for over three years and has earned over 58 million views. A regular schedule can be difficult to adhere to, but Jessica has learned to work with her body instead of against it (“ie, writing when my brain feels clear, filming when I have energy, editing or planning when I have to lie in bed”).
She’s also found the perfect balance between “easy/elaborate productions”. Some videos will take her a day to create, and others can take a month. Finding the sweet spot that works for you—and your body, and your schedule—is key to maintaining consistency. This also applies to brand deals and collaborations. Jessica has lost some amazing opportunities because one day of travel or a more demanding shoot could have her in bed for a week.
People who work with her also need to understand that longer lead times may be necessary, and a sudden day or week of illness could put a temporary halt to production. This can, and should, be a wake-up call to brands working with creators. A truly inclusive campaign should not only include disabled creators but also willingly provide appropriate accommodations to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible without putting disabled people in uncomfortable or painful situations.
Her vintage charm
When it comes to her unique vintage style, Jessica insists that it wasn’t planned—“I’ve always just worn clothes that make me happy!”—but the result remains a strong visual impact that makes her videos instantly recognizable to fans. Designing a unique look and feel is something many successful creators strive for. Considering that it will be a part of your content and online persona, it’s important to form your aesthetic from within rather than searching for inspiration externally. Jessica’s advice is to create a look that is “authentically ‘you’” to avoid becoming “fatigued with your own content”.
Addressing the haters
“Clearly it’s something that we as a community need to be more conscious of.”
It’s no secret that LGBTQ+ and disabled creators face harassment online. Jessica finds it easy to brush off any homophobic comments because, as she eloquently puts it, “well, clearly they’re just empirically wrong!” Hateful and ignorant comments surrounding disability, however, elicits a more impassioned response.
For many disabled people, their disabilities aren’t always visible. Sometimes people who use mobility aids like wheelchairs or canes don’t need them every day. Chronic pain can flare up out of nowhere, and activities that make someone feel fine one day could have them bedridden for days on another day. This results in disabled people unreasonably needing to “prove” that they’re disabled enough for certain spaces, accommodations or reserved seats made specifically for them. “That’s what the majority of the ableist comments I receive hinge on and it upsets me, but at the same time makes me angry.”
Jessica works hard to combat ignorant comments through education but will turn to moderation if that doesn’t work. She also puts her energy towards speaking directly to those living with disabilities. She’s telling them that they are enough and worthy, and don’t need to prove anything to be accepted in this space.
Making YouTube better
As Jessica Kellgren-Fozard moves to make YouTube a brighter platform, there are steps other creators can do to help disabled viewers and creators. Number one on Jessica’s list? “Caption. Your. Videos. Captions are vital not just for viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing but also those with processing disorders or cognitive impairments—not to mention the wider internet community for whom English is not their first language.”
She’s not the first—and certainly won’t be the last—creator to call for wider captioning across the platform. YouTuber Rikki Poynter started the #NoMoreCraptions movement in 2016 in response to YouTube’s substandard auto-captioning capabilities and the number of YouTubers with massive audiences who still don’t have effective captions on their videos. In addition to this, content warnings can also help make a more inclusive viewing experience for audiences, be it for mental health topics or flashing lights that could trigger a seizure for those with photosensitive epilepsy.
In LGBTQ+ spaces, there is a long way to go in regards to making the community more inclusive of disabled people. “More than one-third of adults who identify as LGBTQ+ also identify as having a disability… Clearly it’s something that we as a community need to be more conscious of.” In Jessica’s experience, LGBTQ+ events often involve nighttime activities and alcohol, but she can “barely stay awake past 10 PM!” Live events could also benefit from sign language interpreters, live subtitling boards, ramps and quiet spaces that allow people to step away from everything if they’re feeling overwhelmed or just need a moment alone. Jessica loves both her online community and the LGBTQ+ community and strives to see both of them do better for disabled people.
Community though YouTube
While she has her criticisms of YouTube—reminder again to “Caption. Your. Videos.”—the overall impact the platform has had on her life is extraordinary. Through YouTube, without barriers put up by mainstream entertainment, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is able to create thought-provoking and highly entertaining videos for millions to see.
She’s grateful for her career, but also for the ways in which her positive community helped her own loneliness. “Living with a dysfunctional body can be very isolating,” Jessica explains, “so I’m very lucky to have such a positive and uplifting community of internet friends”. On YouTube, fans often reflect your content, so Jessica prioritizes positivity by approaching every topic and video “with kindness, and by welcoming people in, making it clear that it’s okay if you disagree [with her]”. Her welcoming nature does not extend to hate speech, and Jessica strongly moderates her platform in order to protect her diverse audience.
It’s evident that her positive content isn’t a PR move or “branding”. It’s simply a disabled lesbian with an enviable petticoat collection creating a place online where she and her audience feel accepted, supported and empowered. And if you’re still looking for your place online, a group of people who understand and reflect you, then be patient. “The internet is such a huge space, your people will find you.”