By Katie Mercer @katiemercer_BM
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Videographer / director: Dan Dennis
Producer: Charley Sutton, Ellie Winstanley
Editor: Sonia Estal, Ian Phillips
For 16-year-old Matthew Tronconi, from DeLand, Florida, make-up is more than a fun pastime - he credits it with saving his life.
Matthew's YouTube channel, Clawdeena9, has racked up more than 110 million views and almost 250,000 subscribers since it was launched four years ago.
He said: “People say makeup is a superficial, fake type thing but I feel like makeup is something that can be used to make you feel more comfortable with yourself.
“It makes you look like who you feel you really are. So when I do drag, it’s an art. It’s me expressing a part of myself.”
Matthew realised he was gay at a young age and has always been fascinated by makeup, but the journey to his new-found internet success has been far from easy.
He said: “I realized I was gay when I was about 11-years-old.
“My best friend was very, very masculine and would play football, play soccer and I always felt like I had to compete with that.
“I tried to force myself to play basketball and play soccer and I just never liked it. It made me feel like I’m not good enough...and that made me really depressed.”
“I knew I was gay and I accepted it...but my self esteem was way down and it got to the point where I just did not want to live anymore.”
A boy Matthew was dating broke off the relationship the day before his birthday. Hitting his lowest ebb, Matthew began to self self-harm.
He said: “That sent me over the edge. I remember cutting myself using a razor.
“It was just like if I’m going to be unhappy all the time, I might as well not be here.”
After an attempted overdose at the age of 14, Matthew was sent to a mental health hospital for recovery.
In rehab, he learned coping mechanisms that enabled him to deal with his anxiety and depression and met his boyfriend of two years, Bailey.
But Clawdeena’s fans have been the biggest confidence boost of all.
He said: “On YouTube, I have so many fans and so many people were so supportive of me. It made me realise I’m really not that bad of a person.
“I’m not alone and I have a lot going for me.
“I can help other people who feel the same way I did - really alone and really depressed.
“It made me feel like I have a purpose - to help other people. To entertain people, to put a smile on their face even when they are down.”
Matthew remembers raiding his Mum and sister’s makeup kits as a young child and says he has always been interested in makeup. But after watching the film Cinderella, it inspired him to drag up himself.
At first, Clawdeena left Matthew’s parents, who have raised him since adopting him aged three, a little shell-shocked.
Joanne and John struggled to accept Clawdeena but the overwhelmingly positive impact her channel had on both Matthew and other YouTubers made all their doubts disappear.
Dad John said: “When he first did it, I didn’t like it. I felt funny about it. I didn’t understand it.
“But then I see him using the entertainment value and helping other people and I thought, you know, this might be for the good. It is empowering other people.”
Inspired by her son’s new-found confidence, Matthew’s mum Joanne, 61, was even persuaded to appear in some of Clawdeena’s videos.
She was born with a birthmark covering one side of her face and has always relied on make-up to even her skin tone and make her feel more like herself.
Aged 40, Joanne slipped on a patch of ice, leaving her face swollen.
When the swelling did not subside, Joanne was diagnosed with Klippel-Trenaunay (KT) syndrome - a condition characterized by abnormal tissue growth and birthmarks.
However, Matthew’s drag persona helped Joanne see the similarities that exist between the two of them.
“Matthew and I are both different, and yet we’re actually just the same,” she said.
“When you’re out in the world and you don’t fit the mould - the Barbie cookie-cutter look people think you’re supposed to - you’re kind of ostracised.
"You’re not understood; you’re made to feel like you are not good enough.
“I never knew until what he was going through – the bullying and the attempts to end his life.
And now I see him empowered to be who is and not be ashamed to be who he is.”
Now confident, happy and enjoying life with his family in Florida, Matthew also enjoys the love and companionship of boyfriend, Bailey.
Matthew says the pair are polar opposites but that’s what makes their relationship so strong. “He’s a wallflower. I’m more the blooming blossom in the centre of the room,” he said.
Bailey added: “Matthew helped me become confident and I think I’ve helped him feel more comfortable expressing himself.
“Matthew is loving, definitely caring he is the most creative person I know.
“I remember when I first met him, I’d never experienced a drag. I didn’t think it was weird, I thought of it as something as new, something I would have to get used to.
"Now I have and I love when he does his drag videos.”
Matthew says Clawdeena gives him extra confidence and in the future he hopes to go to beauty school and perform his own drag shows in nearby Orlando.
“When I do drag, it’s still me but it’s a me that can be sassy and bitchy and rude and tell people anything,” he said.
“Honestly I feel very pretty and I feel like I can essentially do anything. When I do this, I get to really be whatever I want to be.”