Caitlin Wynne-Sheil and Leah Joseph tell PinkNews about finding a community on TikTok and raising awareness about LGBT+ and mental health issues. (Instagram/@caitlinandleahh)
In a world of doom scrolling, TikTok stars Caitlin and Leah offer solace to LGBT+ people seeking levity and a sense of community.
A recent video shared by the couple shows just how far they’ve come since meeting in an online support group.
In it, Caitlin Wynne-Sheil recalls telling her mum in September 2015 that she is “going to meet up with strangers from the internet to help” with her eating disorder.
Cut to 2021, and Caitlin and her fiancée Leah are shopping for wedding dresses as Bruno Mars sings: “Have I told you lately that I’m grateful you’re mine?”
The couple’s TikTok account is awash with intimate, adorable moments like these. In one video, they share tips for coming out as part of the LGBT+ community while the next video shows Caitlyn wearing a fake pregnancy bump just to see Leah’s reaction.
But as the ‘then and now’ video suggests, the pair also use their platform to highlight both the stigmas they face as a queer couple, and to promote awareness of mental and other health issues.
In one short video, Leah and Caitlyn joke about how “ironic” it is that they are both women with anxiety who openly share “their lives online” to their over 5 million followers on TikTok. But as one person pointed out in the comments, the couple have helped “soo many” by sharing their stories.
The couple told PinkNews that helping others is part of what inspired them to start sharing their lives on TikTok.
Leah said both she and Caitlin were initially “extremely shy” when they started out, and that she “didn’t even want to be on camera” initially because she lives with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). According to the NHS, BDD is a mental health condition in which an individual “spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance” which are “often unnoticeable to others”.
“All the people around us were doing TikTok, and I hated it,” Leah recalled. “I did not want to do it.”
It was “really scary” at first to open up about their lives on TikTok, Caitlin added, but soon their inbox was quickly flooded with messages saying that their videos “really helped other people”.
“We’ve just wanted it to show people that it may look perfect, but everyone does have a struggle,” Leah said. “That’s why we started first to be open about mental health on TikTok because we don’t want to be like a sort of influencer or someone, someone follows that they think they’re perfect when in reality, no one’s perfect.”
Caitlin admitted feeling “a bit abnormal” when they started making TikTok videos because they didn’t see a vast representation of female same-sex relationships online.
As a result, the couple were “kind of shy to show affection” in public because they were worried about what other people would think, but they soon realised how important it was to champion the LGBT+ community and highlight their relationship for younger generations.
Caitlin explained: “It’s kind of helped us become more comfortable in our sexuality, especially knowing that we’ve helped others and that we’re kind of like giving others…”
“Something we wish that we had,” Leah added, finishing her fiancée’s thought.
Most of all, the social media stars said, it’s been “overwhelmingly amazing” to build their own community on TikTok. Leah said it was “just an incredible feeling” to see fans reacting positively to their content and seeing more people feel confident in themselves.
“We’ve had people come up to us in-person as well,” Caitlin told PinkNews. “When you’re online, you see it [reactions] on a computer, but when someone comes up to you and actually says it to you in person, it’s really impactful to us.”
“Because you’ve got a barrier between yourself and the person [online], and the phone is the barrier,” Leah added. “So if someone comes up to you in real life and says ‘thank you so much’ or a mother saying thank you for their daughter – it’s just incredible.”