Today’s influencers represent a sea change in celebrity culture. Instead of actors and sports figures gaining clout first, then cashing in with endorsements, a new generation of social media stars—and no, that doesn’t just mean Gen Z—are using an interesting lifestyle and a must-engage social feed to build an audience, find a voice, and even earn a living all in real time. Today’s influencers aren’t just trendsetters, reflecting our culture back at us—they’re on their way to being power brokers, shaping the society in which we live. The new wave has reached NoVA, and we’ve gathered together the local social savants putting their stamps on our region and beyond.
Here, we spoke to Stephanie Grasso, an Oakton native, dietitian, and TikTok powerhouse who’s shaping the way her audience thinks about healthy eating. In a world dominated by lemon-cayenne cleanses and carb-free keto diets, she’s busting the myth that eating healthy can’t be fun.
TikTok handle: stephgrassodietitian
Followers: 1.8 million
On TikTok since: January 2020
Getting started: “My friend introduced me to TikTok, and at first, I thought it was stupid. I finally downloaded it and noticed diet-culture posts—young girls promoting supplements or what they eat in a day. It was very unhealthy. So I made my first video as a clinical dietitian. I didn’t go viral right away. It took me about seven videos: I did one on the benefits of magnesium. I’ll always remember my phone blowing up. I got 60,000 views in a couple of hours.”
Why she does it: “TikTok is mostly younger-adult adolescents. As someone who has had disordered eating in the past, the videos I saw were a trigger for me. I want to put out the message that this isn’t reality; I’m teaching people about balanced eating and building a healthy relationship with food.”
Biggest post ever: “A few months ago, chlorophyll was trending. There are so many health benefits that aren’t necessarily true. I’m an evidence-based dietitian, and I debunked some of the claims by visualizing it. I explained that a cup of spinach is equivalent to 24 milligrams of chlorophyll. It’s the same as a dropper of liquid chlorophyll that people are buying for $25 to $50. You can get a bag of spinach for $4. I made it easy to digest. I got 5 million views.”
Favorite feedback: “It comes from the people who thank me for helping them develop a healthy relationship with food. My motto is: You need to add more vegetables, protein, fiber. Since people have gotten that takeaway, it’s exciting.”
Weirdest feedback: “I’m anti-keto because carbs are great. But I have these keto followers who get mad and shoot me down. At first, I didn’t know how to handle it, and I’d get defensive. But now, I just ignore it: If they don’t want to listen, they can unfollow me.”
Future goals: “Because of the success of my platform, I quit my job in July, and I’m launching my own virtual private practice. I also am writing a cookbook. If I told myself two years ago that I would quit my hospital job to become an influencer and start my own [office], I would never have believed it.”
On “living” off-camera: “Prior to TikTok, I had a consistent schedule: wake up, work at my hospital job, exercise, cook dinner, and go to bed. Now, every day is different, whether it’s creating content, participating in podcasts or interviews, or working one-on-one with clients. I’m excited for the next chapter, living in DC with my friend, and moving away from my parents.”
What she won’t share: “I’m pretty open. My followers have seen my family, friends. I’m single, so I don’t have a boyfriend to share. I’m trying to be more vulnerable to them—showing my quirks, things I need to improve on, my stressors, and mental health.”
Why her followers care: “They realize that I’m a health professional, but I’m also personable. A lot of people on videos seem scripted; their voice changes. Sometimes that happens to me when I’m serious about teaching a subject. But then I show this other side of me—drinking wine, watching movies, hanging out with friends.”
The free loot: “A huge one was Sunkist Oranges. The brand was the first to reach out to me, and I eat the Cara Cara oranges all the time. A funny one came after I did a video about being single; I joked that I was accepting résumés. I have a P.O. box, and I started getting résumés from men. One guy laminated his. It was quirky; he said he liked to watch movies, play with puppies, and cook.”
The food her audience is sick of: “Cottage cheese: I eat it for snacks, breakfast. People probably hate that I show it in my videos.”
New Year’s resolutions: “Last year, I tried to add more water to my diet because I’m very bad at drinking it. I made a goal to drink two extra cups a day. I never have a goal not to eat something; it’s always about adding.”
Top NoVA spot: “My family and I go to Clyde’s in Reston. I love the burger, medium rare, with extra pickles and fries.”
A version of this story appeared in our January issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.