When Cassandra Bankson revealed her face to the world in December of 2010, she inspired millions. The gorgeous teen, then just 17, had a moderate following on YouTube thanks to her thorough makeup tutorials. But her big video — more than 11 million hits and counting — showed her bare face — and her severe acne.
“I was nervous,” she tells PEOPLE of sharing something so personal with the world. “I filmed it in November [of that year, at her boyfriend’s urging], then sat on it for an entire month. I was so used to being picked on and teased at school, that I wasn’t comfortable with it. But then I just put it out there, and from that point things happened like clockwork.”
Now 19, Bankson is a Bay Area college student (studying dermatology), a successful model (she was cast in the Boy Meets Girl New York Fashion Week show through Explore Modeling, and walked the runway Wednesday night, left) and still struggles with skin issues, though she’s much more confident about tackling them.
Bankson was first affected by acne at 13, and by 14 or 15, was making the rounds at dermatologists’ offices. “I got the runaround from doctors,” she explains. “They’d give me some medication and send me on my way.”
Suffering at school — and even leaving one school for a different, alternative learning institution — Bankson spent a lot of time studying the science of the skin, and learning to use full-coverage foundation. “Makeup got me through social situations that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the confidence or knowledge to deal with,” she says.
Posting makeup tutorials online was an outlet for the teen, too — though she never expected the reaction her big video (above) received. “Since I’d been bullied in school, I thought people were going to be just as rude online,” she shares. But when, after four months, the clip had about 500,000 views, 5,000 likes and only 30 or so dislikes, “it was a turning point for me,” Bankson says. “I didn’t feel alone anymore. And people who had and hadn’t had acne started telling me I helped them in some way.”
Though Bankson’s skin still isn’t flawless, she’s come a long way — both physically and emotionally. “Even if someone doesn’t approve of me, I approve of myself,” she says.
Modeling has helped her confidence, too. “I’m doing something I love, and want to do this for as long as I possibly can,” she explains. “But in 10 or 20 years, that may not be possible.”
So then it will be on to dermatology, through which Bankson hopes to help as many people as she can. “As terrible as my acne is, and as many time as I’ve cursed it, without it, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in,” she shares humbly. “I wouldn’t have found this amazing passion, dermatology, if I didn’t go through what I’ve been through. It’s kind of unbelievable how the worst things in life can turn out to be the best … and I never thought I would say that.”