Depending on your age, Sarah Magusara is either the girl you want to be or the most famous Australian you’ve never heard of.
And she is spearheading a new brand of celebrity that is almost entirely generated by who she is as opposed to what she does.
She’s not on our cinema or television screens, and she has no cache in a sporting arena. But via a constant stream of 15-second videos shot largely next to her couch and bed, the 19-year-old dancer, fitness fanatic, mother of one and social-media superstar has garnered a staggering 15.1 million followers on social-media platform TikTok.
What’s more, she’s somehow managed to subvert the societal tut-tutting around teenage mothers, using her multiple platforms – along with TikTok, she is an avid YouTuber and has well over a million followers on Instagram – to make young motherhood look like the coolest lifestyle choice on the planet.
“I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant until I was 21 weeks because I thought people would look down on me,” says Magusara, whose daughter Zamira will turn one next month.
“Instead, it was the complete opposite. Having a baby increased my audience. Young mums started following me and the feedback I received was really positive. I really love how they like my lifestyle.”
While fame via social media remains a polarising phenomenon, there is little denying that it is democratic. In what other world could an ordinary Australian teen born to Filipino parents take a penchant for dance moves, a passion for make-up and an overuse of the word “like” and parlay it into a career that reportedly has the potential to earn her tens of thousands of dollars per post?
Yet if you ask Brisbane-based Magusara how she’s managed to circumvent the usual pathways and hierarchies to fame, she sounds confused in reply: “Can I get that question again?”
The truth is that she doesn’t overthink it. She just does it. Having realised at 13 that her preternaturally curvaceous body gained her attention, Magusara – the daughter of a receptionist and an electrician – started an Instagram account and began to post images and videos in which she shared her outfits, her outings and her occasional dance routines.
When the platform Musical.ly launched in 2014 she began recording lip-sync and dance videos; when it merged with the newly formed TikTok in 2018, she was already on the front foot to grow her existing audience exponentially.
As Magusara tells Stellar, she loves TikTok because its brand is fun and its audience is highly engaged. Plus, it remains the ideal outlet for her to connect with others while indulging her passions.
“I’ve always been really into fitness,” she says. “I was a cheerleader at school and I’ve always done freestyle dancing. My brother showed me how to dance and what was trending, and I just got really into it. Now I hear music and I just want to move, do a head nod or a shoulder bump. It just comes out freely.”
Magusara met her boyfriend Pieta Warbrick when he was in Year 12 and she was in Year 11, and tells Stellar that when she fell pregnant in her last year of school, “I was surprised. I was so nervous and scared of how everyone would react, including my parents, friends and teachers.
“But when I announced it, everyone was so positive and happy for me. Even my parents were supportive, despite my young age and all the stereotypes about teenage pregnancy.”
She credits her teachers for helping her fast-track her Year 12 studies so she could complete the Queensland Core Skills Test (QCS) while at the same time feeding that burgeoning social-media following that had grown captivated by her pregnancy.
She left school when she was 34 weeks pregnant and a few weeks later gave birth naturally in what was a surprisingly fast labour.
If motherhood disrupts some women’s working lives, it has only augmented Magusara’s. She admits the sleep deprivation and lack of a schedule was challenging in the early days, but says she adores the simple routines of life with a baby.
Although Zamira appears in a lot of her mother’s content, the 11-month-old now has a separate Instagram account (@zamirarose; 154,000 followers), because Magusara feared the constant baby spam may be too much for her own followers.
As for Warbrick, who works in a warehouse and has “maybe, like, 100 Instagram followers”, he rarely makes an appearance.
“He was my first boyfriend and he’s always been a low-key guy,” she says. “When my audience started growing, he never changed his attitude towards me. He only wants to be on my Instagram if it’s an occasion like an anniversary or a birthday, but he knows what I’m doing is making people happy and he supports me.”
Parenting experts express caution around screen time, but TikTok and its stars – like Magusara – are generally regarded positively. Kim Smith, youth wellness specialist and founder of teen-support organisation Standing Strong, says it’s a great platform when used mindfully.
“TikTok can be a fantastic space for creativity and self-expression, especially for teens who love music, dance and videography,” she says.
Psychologist and author Justin Coulson agrees, pointing out that social platforms are useful when they lead to connection and creativity, not just consumption. That said, he urges parents to question what screen time may be displacing.
“Are they still getting sleep, doing chores, enjoying proper connections and doing other things that are important to healthy functioning?”
While TikTok is popular with gen-alpha kids, many of whom don’t meet the age limit to use it, News Corp’s national technology editor Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson points out that anyone can go viral on the platform and the algorithm is good at getting followers hooked.
Magusara won’t discuss how much she earns or address claims that the Chinese-owned TikTok is using the app to spy on its users. She’d rather note that her success proves hard work pays off.
“When I became pregnant I had this mindset that it wasn’t over. Day by day I reminded myself I needed to keep moving forward.” She works on her content until 3pm most days, generating posts she can schedule to go live on weekends, when she tries to put her phone away.
While she has received negative comments from “randoms”, she says she never takes it to heart. “I’m not fazed; I just roll my eyes at it.”
Indeed, she’s proven her agility by using weeks in lockdown to post at-home fitness videos and generate posts that focus on gratitude and body acceptance. She’s even come to terms with being a teenager with stretch marks.
“I didn’t have them until I was pregnant, but I think they should be normalised. They don’t bother me anymore. In fact, I love them when the light shines on them.” She pauses: “My audience loves it when I’m honest and comfortable with myself.”