Utah influencer on modesty, balancing school, social media authenticity

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Utah influencer Marla Catherine Henry does homework at UVU in Orem, Utah. Henry is balancing a social media career with gaining her education. (Andrea Zapata)

When 12-year-old Utah native Marla Catherine Henry agreed to start a YouTube channel where she would be filmed by her older sister Evelyn Henry, she was only looking for some bonding time with her sister. The sisters went to a local baseball park on a hot July afternoon in 2015 and recorded what would be the first of many videos on their channel.

Seven years later, these two sisters have a platform of more than 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube and more than half a million followers on Instagram.

Marla Catherine Henry is now an influencer who uses her social media to connect with people online through content about fashion, makeup and video blogs about her daily life and travels.

The things that distinguishes Henry from other influencers is she makes videos about dressing modestly.

“There’s so much power in the way we dress, the way we present ourselves,” Henry said.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Henry places a specific emphasis on this principle taught in the religion.

“The gospel is not just an aspect of my life, but it is essentially my life: It influences what music I put on in the car, the movies I watch, the clothes I wear, the way I treat my mom, the language I choose. I feel like this shows on my social media as well,” Henry said.

Her content has attracted social media users like BYU finance student Alexis Jackman.

“The first post I saw from Marla’s Instagram account was a reel about modest church outfit ideas, and I thought her clothes were so cute, and because I wanted some fashion tips and inspiration, I followed her,” Jackman said. “I really like the way she’s promoting modesty in fashion and that she is not afraid to show her values.”

Attending school as an influencer

Despite having success with her online platform and earning revenue from it, Henry decided to continue her studies after high school and began attending Utah Valley University in Fall 2021.

When asked about her decision to go to college, Henry talked about her love of learning and exploring new things.

“Especially being religious, we believe that once you die, the only thing you take with you is what you’ve learned on this earth,” Henry explained. “For me, I feel like furthering my education is a great way to continue furthering that knowledge pool.”

Increasing numbers of Gen Zs are choosing not to go to college and be self-employed or create content online, so the decision not to continue one’s studies has become more accepted, especially among the YouTube influencer community.

“I think that at the end of the day, college is not for everyone, and there are so many wonderful jobs that you really don’t need a degree for, so experience can be the greatest teacher when it comes to a lot of those creative jobs,” Henry said.

Henry said she supports YouTubers who decide not to attend college and she is an advocate for people to do what is best for them.

Although there are challenges that come with doing school and social media, time management being one of them, Henry explained how she chooses to focus on the positive aspect of it.

“As an influencer, you make your own schedule, so if anything, doing school as well as social media gives me a more structured schedule,” she said.

Henry said despite being very grateful for all the opportunities social media has given her over the years, it is not what she wants to do forever. Henry’s plans are to complete her associate’s degree at UVU and study marriage and family therapy to become a counselor who helps couples who are struggling with pornography addiction.

Henry also wants to be a wife and mother. Her father Oliver Henry said “What greater compliment could she give us than to want to be like the mom who raised her?”

Social media obstacles

During the years since Henry started her YouTube channel, the influencer has been invited to a large number of events including the Coachella music festival, the Playlist Live Convention in Florida and other meet-ups with YouTubers such as Emma Chamberlain and Kamri Noel.

“Whenever there was a business trip, I always traveled with Marla because she was a minor and I felt a responsibility to be there,” Henry’s mother Ronda said.

Ronda, who has her own YouTube channel as well, explained her concerns as a mother about the social media exposure her daughter has received since the start of her platform.

“Having an interest in social media has given Ronda a different and wider perspective of what our daughter has been going through, and she has been involved in every step of the way,” Oliver Henry said about his wife’s role in his daughter’s influencer life.

Henry said there are many good things that have been made possible for her thanks to her platform, such as making friends all over the world.

“I feel like no matter where I go, the mall, the cafeteria or the library, I can find people I’m able to connect with because of my social media platform, and I think that’s been so awesome,” Henry said.

One of Henry’s goals is to do good things with her social media platform, and she chooses to do so by being authentic with the image she portrays on YouTube and Instagram.

“If you go to my Instagram account, there’s definitely a lot of unflattering photos of myself,” Henry said. “I like having that line of authenticity which allows people to connect with one another.”

Studies reveal there is a strong link between teenager’s social media consumption and a high rate of likeliness to experiencing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders. To uplift her audience, Henry emphasizes the need to remember “everything posted on social media has been curated.”

“It’s important to have that mindset as a viewer or creator in social media because it helps with those aspects of anxiety, depression and comparison,” Henry said. “You need to remember that you’re seeing people’s best and you’re normally comparing it to your worst.”

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