Labeled a "black weirdo" in high school, YouTube star Ari Fitz has never been someone easy to define -- and she likes it that way. "I hate labels," she proclaimed in a recent video, "but I understand [their] usefulness."
On labeling her own sexuality, Fitz says, "Nothing ever feels right," which is why she shies away from calling herself a lesbian, instead prefering to say she's "a girl who likes girls." The only labels Fitz fully embraces are her name ("Not the YouTuber Ari, not the lesbian Ari, not the tomboy Ari -- just Ari.") and "androgynous." Her androgyny can be baffling for others, and Fitz says she's often mistaken for being trans. "A lot of people are confused by me, and I like it that way," she says with a giggle, "because y'all don't need to know!"
Although the former model and reality star (she was on MTV's The Real World: Ex-Plosion in 2014) seems to get plenty of attention, Fitz isn't easily seduced by conventional fame. She turned down a lucrative modeling contract to pursue other career avenues, and never gave much thought to milking her reality exposure. "Nothing changed," she says nonchalantly of her life after the show.
Fitz feels it's essential for people like her (and others who are different) to share their narratives with the world, which is what motivates her to make and post her enormously popular YouTube videos.
"It's a representation and a visibility thing," Fitz says, who admits, "I was super homophobic growing up. I wish I could've seen someone like me ... to validate and confirm that queer women are normal, and frankly, can be cool and live dope lives."
In one of Fitz's particularly entertaining and enlightening videos, she runs through old photos talking about the style evolution that led to embracing her own androgyny.
"My androgyny was an embarrassment of sorts early in my college years," says Fitz. "I yearned to be like the other brilliant, pretty college girls," so for a while she wore "cheap Forever 21 dresses and drugstore makeup."
Then, two years into college, Fitz "was hit with the strangest most unexpected direction of my life: I fell in love" with a girl who "preferred more masculine of center women."
Fitz pulled a fashion 180 and went from "high femme" to full butch. "I loved her, so I wanted to do everything to make her love me back, even if it meant rocking a snapback and Timbs," she jokes about wearing a baseball cap and Timberland work boots -- butch fashion de rigueur. She says even queer women "wanted me to decide if I was on the masculine side or feminine side, then stay there."
Although she eventually realized the real Ari existed somewhere in the middle, she's grateful for the experience. "Even though our relationship didn't survive, she sparked a major shift, with me finally seeing my personal androgyny as a gift and not a curse."
With her current social media project, TOMBOYISH, Fitz "seeks to give style alternatives to the androgynous, to the tomboys, to the individuals that want to hold tightly to both their feminine and their masculine [sides]." She does so through a series of videos and images with themes like "PROMBOYISH," for the andro prom date, and "Take Back the Beach," which features androgynous swimwear.
An aspiring filmmaker, Fitz recently executive-produced a short documentary about a pregnant butch woman, which just got into a YouTube film festival, and says one day she'd "love to produce a feature film on the level of Get Out."
With film, acting, and fashion projects all in the works, Fitz says she is excited about her life and the future, but for now she's happy traveling (Tokyo and New Orleans are favorite destinations) and dating (she's involved, but polyamorous) -- and just being black, carefree, and "andro as fuck." (@ItsAriFitz)