The beauty maven has garnered over four million followers on TikTok, where she shares a plethora of videos creating different makeup looks.
“Journey” gets used a lot these days as a way of describing life’s unfolding, but for social media sensation Gabe Adams-Wheatley, it’s a deeply accurate descriptor in so many ways.
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The Brazilian-born influencer has Hanhart syndrome, a condition that can lead to missing limbs at birth; her birth mother abandoned her, and her birth father “had already left her for another family.” Plans were put in place to send Adams-Wheatley to America for medical treatment, but what actually came next was an adoption by a family in Utah. And she hasn’t stopped since, pushing herself to evolve from teenage dance enthusiast to motivational speaker and, more recently, makeup-tutorial maven.
“I first got into makeup because I used to be a dancer in high school,” says the Salt Lake City-based entrepreneur, who only recently came out as trans. “I remember coming home one day and telling my parents I needed to get some makeup. I come from a very conservative religious background, and the reaction was ‘Men don’t wear makeup.’ I explained that every TV actor and news anchor wears it. So, they let me buy some products and said, ‘You can only wear them when you’re performing.’”
But Adams-Wheatley found herself sneakily putting it on before she’d leave for school. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she admits of her initial attempts to apply blush, bronzer and beyond. It was one of her brothers (Adams-Wheatley is one of 14 kids and the only adoptee) who motivated her to get more serious about the pursuit. “That jump-started my interest in wanting to get better,” she says. “I watched a bunch of YouTubers and saw how they were doing their makeup. Then I modified it in a way that I was able to do myself.”
Adams-Wheatley uses a tool called a dressing stick for wardrobe changes, which vary from sequined frocks to sweater vests. But she doesn’t typically use adaptive makeup tools during her videos, since not everyone with a disability would find them of use. “Each person’s disability and needs are different,” she says.
Yet that doesn’t mean she hasn’t let viewers in on her technique. Folks who follow Adams-Wheatley’s tutorials, which range from “Let’s Do a Euphoria Makeup Look” to special-occasion transformations, are familiar with how she rests various products and tools on a tabletop to help her apply them. Her husband, Adam, was crucial in helping her finesse her routine.
“When I first started doing my makeup, I would do it while lying on the floor,” recalls Adams-Wheatley. “I’d have a towel placed under me, so I wouldn’t get product on the carpet or on the hardwood floors, and I’d have a mirror right in front of me. For my 22nd birthday, my husband surprised me by buying an Ikea desk and chopping its legs down to my height. He then bought me a ring light and a few products. That’s when TikTok really started happening for me.”
Adams-Wheatley has since found herself sitting front row at New York Fashion Week, walking the red carpet at Loveloud Festival, visiting the White House last year for a Pride celebration and working on major campaigns. “A year ago, you wouldn’t see somebody like me doing an ad for Dermalogica or Estée Lauder or other brands that are marketed to the everyday person,” she says. “It’s so nice to be able to be the face for so many different communities and know that they all have my back and support me. It’s also rewarding when younger kids come up to me and say they watch my videos. Or parents who say they use my videos to teach their children that it’s OK to be different and that we need to celebrate that.”
Adams-Wheatley does admit that, with over four million followers on TikTok, being in the public eye comes with its challenges, including online bullying and fans who don’t respect personal boundaries. And even though she describes her success as “overnight,” she admits that she takes it one day at a time. “I feel that proving myself is something I’ve been doing my whole life,” she says.
And she encourages others to follow her lead — and try out her tips for a perfectly blended smoky eye — as they accompany her on her journey. “People are always going to tell you that you can’t,” she says of what has kept her motivated over the years. “But you can. And the ‘sky’ is not the limit — you create your limits.”
Browse the gallery below for the beauty products Gabe Adams-Wheatley can’t get enough of.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s April 2023 issue. Find out more here.