A Bennie, a hula hoop and 6.7 million followers on TikTok
January 23, 2020
By Faye Williams ’20
“On TikTok, I have 6.7 million followers,” said College of Saint Benedict senior Hope Schwinghamer. Her tone is matter of fact, though it’s safe to assume no one is more shocked at the scope of that statement than her. “Instagram is 208,000. YouTube is 147,000.”
From her small-town home in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, Schwinghamer began her rise to internet stardom in 2015 with a hula hoop (which seems a perfectly plausible way to begin one’s rise to internet stardom). Over the summer before her senior year of high school, she had taught herself to creatively dance with a hula hoop as a pageant talent. Eventually she began to record and post videos of herself online.
“Within seven months I got verified on Musical.ly,” recalled Schwinghamer. (Musical.ly was purchased and combined with TikTok in 2018.) “I had 24k fans. And it was just from my hula hooping videos. But it grew really, really slowly. My first year at Saint Ben’s, I didn’t even have 150,000 followers.”
And then came comedy
Recently, Schwinghamer has pushed herself in a more comedic direction. Her social media accounts have exploded since then.
“Since January  I have gained about 4 million followers,” said Schwinghamer.
Her content today ranges from YouTube videos of her experiences eating spicy food to Instagram posts featuring a photoshopped ape to TikTok videos of her signature character, Tina.
It’s all about the followers
Her willingness to put herself out there on camera and hold it up for the world to see has resulted in an amazing degree of connection with her followers. Ironically though, it originated with an attempt to hide. Schwinghamer says she was bullied in middle school and high school and was hurt by the comments on her Facebook posts.
“The reason I got [Musical.ly] originally was because people told me I posted too much on Facebook of my hula hooping videos,” she said. “So I got Musical.ly because no one in my high school had it.”
That early experience with negativity in social media continues to drive her to make her spaces something better by using her unique individuality to project self-love and self-acceptance. And she says she wants to use that unapologetic self-love to teach young girls to love themselves.
Her content, however silly, is a proud and bold representation of who she is. And she hopes that inspires others to feel a degree of comfort with themselves.
“I had a meet-and-greet in Minnesota,” she said, “and this girl came up and immediately started crying. … She said she used to be super-depressed and she followed my account and the videos helped her get through that.”
Schwinghamer takes that responsibility seriously. Her friend and CSB classmate Josie Schumacher ’20 observed, “I think Hope is a strong role model for younger girls and their confidence to be themselves, because she does it so well herself.”
What’s that like?
While, by all accounts, Schwinghamer remains the same down-to-earth person she’s always been (“I watch her videos,” said Schumacher, “and her online persona is exactly the person I know”), internet fame has her feet in two different worlds.
She can go from being a fairly anonymous college student on campus to something very different just a few miles away. “I went to Target a month or two ago,” she said, “and I got stopped 41 times when I went to get a bag of chips and salsa.”
In July she attended VidCon (which bills itself as the world’s largest celebration of digital video and online creators) in Anaheim, California. Even in a hall filled with featured creators, the mob reaction to Schwinghamer’s appearance nearly forced promoters to remove her from the convention center to ensure her safety. “I had my own private security and had to ride in a separate SUV to go anywhere,” she marveled.
Schwinghamer is majoring in global business leadership at CSB and Saint John’s University, with a Spanish minor, and plans to graduate in May 2020. Her post-graduation plans are to take her social media career full-time. “[My CSB/SJU education] will help me with making my own brand. It’s helped me so far with marketing and knowing how to be creative and entrepreneurial,” she said.
In the meantime, she’s doing her best to keep her student and celebrity roles in balance. A 40-second TikTok video might take her an hour and a half to create. A seven-minute YouTube video? Plan on around eight hours. Some days she’ll spend as much as 10 hours a day on her phone.
“Having to entertain 6 million people every day, and try to get your homework done? It has been nearly impossible,” she acknowledged.
She’s content with the mayhem though. “Even though this lifestyle is chaotic and busy, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she proclaimed. “Life is too short to not do what you love. So make time for it.”
Still confused about TikTok? So was Joanna Stern from the Wall Street Journal. She asked Hope and a few other TikTok stars for some help. Check it out.