Influencer David Ruff Is Going Through His Teenage Years On Social Media With None Of The Awkwardness Of Most Of Us

When today’s high schoolers become grandparents, they’ll grouse about the olden days when they had to perfect selfies and persistently scroll on social media. David Ruff may have the most grousing fodder. A teen influencer and PopSugar contributor whose underage, updated version of blue steel has drawn 116,000 Instagram followers and partnerships with the likes of By Kilian, SoulCycle and Dr Brandt, Ruff squeezes in ever-so-coiffed posts on self-care, support for the LGBTQ community and his first shaving lesson between classes. He admits the responsibilities of content creation for public consumption can be too much sometimes. “I need to go out with my friends and do things in the moment versus trying to make a moment,” says Ruff. “In all honesty, the audience is trying to see something new and cool, but also that there’s imperfection there, that we’re all just normal people.” Beauty Independent caught up with the fashion and beauty guru to chat about teacher acceptance of his digital side gig, shaking off haters, prioritizing the audience and how brands can get the most out of the influencers they work with.

How did you start to create digital content?

Believe it or not, in middle school, I started posting a bunch of pictures of my outfits on Instagram. I would curate a specific color theme per month, so my feed was a myriad of colors. My friends told their friends, they told others, and it started that way. I figured I should also expand onto a blog and YouTube. My audience grew, and I also started to learn more about each industry as I created content.

David Ruff
David Ruff lives in New York City and attends LaGuardia High School. His Instagram following began to grow when he was in middle school.

You are in school full-time. How do balance education and content creation?

I’ve started to tell certain teachers simply because it’s becoming more of an actual business. I go to LaGuardia High School, which is all about creativity and the arts, so it’s actually nice for teachers to know. I love writing, and it’s an extension of that passion. It’s a good feeling that adults embrace that, but I still try and separate the two in order to give each their focus. I try not to schedule things during school hours or be away for events unless it’s extremely important, but those are rare cases.

Did you have any idea you’d be deemed an influencer?

Not necessarily. The first year I started, I really just wanted to somehow get to 10,000 followers, and it seemed so far-fetched. I was amazed as I watched it grow. It was shocking to some degree, but I have also worked really hard in being strategic, too, to see how far it can take me. While it certainly started as a hobby, I now know that it can be lucrative as well.

What do you wish brands knew about working with influencers?

Oftentimes, brands tend to take advantage in different ways. They don’t want to pay, but they want free content, and it’s a lot of work. We should be compensated somehow. Also, when working with brands, obviously, there can be different guidelines per campaign, but the creativity of the influencer is the most important. You’ve approached us because we know our audience. Brands underestimate that bond and relationship we have, our ability to speak to them, yet they want to reap the benefits all the same.

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Ruff blogs at Roughly Ruff and has 116,000 followers on Instagram, where he posts under the handle @davidevanruff.

Lately, what big influencers charge, including for supplying negative reviews, has been a hot-button issue. What are your thoughts?

Just like not all brands do the right thing, not all influencers do either. All I know is that, when I work with a brand, it has to be something I really believe in. I try the product for at least two weeks to get a feel for it, and I want to have deep conversations about the product or line with the company. I always say that, if I don’t like something, I won’t post it. It’s all about the interaction and communication. Brands should be able to feel out the authenticity and should form relationships with their influencers. Some of these big mass campaigns don’t get personal. It’s also good to keep in mind how important it is as an influencer to share your real voice because we have the biggest relationship with our followers. We aren’t out here just trying to sell your product as fast as we can, but extending our relationship with our audience to you, the brand, over time.

How do you choose products or brands to feature?

My aesthetic on Instagram is important. If it doesn’t fit in my feed, it will have to go in my Stories. Second, does it work for me? Even if it doesn’t or I get sent something for anti-aging or female-driven, I’ll give it to someone close to me to test out. We’re all looking for an exclusive experience with a product, and I’m giving it my own review, but I also know that what works for me may not work for others or vice versa.

How do you prefer to work with brands?

It’s really a mixture of all things right now. I will send my media kit to those I’m interested in working on a personal basis with or [I’ll] see when the next campaign is coming up. I’ve been a part of a few paid campaigns, but I try to keep them to a minimum because I don’t want to lose my creativity in the process. No matter how big I get, I would never do a ton of them because it has to be something truly special. I also work with PR agencies. They contact me or I contact them. At some point, I might go for representation myself to help field what’s right for me in the future.

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Ruff likes to test products for at least two weeks before he posts about them.

Why do you think the indie beauty movement has momentum?

Small brands are really important because what they are creating matters directly to a group of people out there who are looking for exactly that. It’s really attractive to a certain audience. They really can relate to the brand on a much more personal level.

What are some trends you are loving in beauty and fashion?

Well, I really love anything fall. It’s my favorite season. As a matter of fact, I love a good seasonal product in general. It’s always good to switch it up and cater to the climate. For fashion right now, I’m always wearing neutrals, so currently I’m branching into neons. You won’t see it on my feed because transitioning it over aesthetically is complicated, but I do enjoy all of the vivid color that is being experimented with.

What’s next for you?

I am only a junior in high school, so what happens after high school or with college, if I continue and how my content will change within that, I’m just not sure. I do love that a lot of people are watching, so I’ve got a leg up on whatever I do. I do want to do more with the blog and platform, add more fun, more interaction. I don’t really want to fit into a blogger crowd, but just stick with the creativity I started with, which always seems to attract more.

David Ruff
Ruff gets a shaving lesson from his dad.

Do you feel there’s a lot of pressure trying to fit within a certain mold as an influencer?

I have felt a little stuck in my creativity recently. Some of that pressure is from school with studying, and [social media content production] felt like it was in addition to that. It was getting very scheduled because I did feel that I had to post certain things at certain times, etc., and I finally realized I need to have fun with it and not think about it so much.

Do you ever face negative criticism at school for what you do?

When I first started, people thought it was weird, sure. I think now it’s more, “He’s doing what he’s doing, and he’s good at it so we have nothing bad to say.” Overall, there have been mixed moments, but you learn to filter it out. It is a real job, but people want to tear you down. It could be jealousy, maybe they aren’t successful within the same capacity. Everyone has their own insecurities, and people can be super mean, but you really just have to have tough skin and believe in what you’re doing.

What are your thoughts on the progression of social media?

I actually have no idea. I talk about this all of the time. I feel like Instagram is so popular right now, but you just never know when things will change. Remember Vine, it just dropped off! If you have great followers, they will follow you, so I guess I don’t worry about it too much, but it will be interesting to see. I don’t believe Instagram will stay on top forever. Things have to evolve.