Authenticity, Mental Health And Fashion | The Rise Of Dance Moms’ Maddie Ziegler

Izzy Hall

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When 19-year-old Maddie Ziegler graced the cover of US Cosmopolitan’s June/July 2022 Fame Issue, fans had to do a double-take: it seemed as though just yesterday she was an 8-year-old performing on Dance Moms. Awarded Teen Choice dancer three years in a row from 2015 to 2017, named twice to Time Magazine’s list of 30 most influential teens, and maintaining over 13 million followers on Instagram, Maddie’s popularity is only growing. So how exactly did she rise to fame, and what can other content creators learn from her popularity with the Gen Z audience? 

Who is Maddie Ziegler?

Maddie Ziegler’s career began when she starred in the reality TV show Dance Moms – the show aired on Lifetime in 2011 and ended in 2019. It followed the dancers, moms, and coach of a Pittsburgh dance studio’s Junior Elite competition team as they prepared for and competed in weekly dance competitions. 

Maddie was a favorite of competition judges as well as her coach, Abby Lee Miller. Abby Lee’s ‘go-to’ girl took away first in nearly every competition on the show. After watching Maddie dance, Abby often said that she “looked like a 25-year-old professional on stage.” And when Maddie auditioned for the prestigious Geoffrey Ballet School in Season 1 of the show, a judge said that her performance was Broadway-worthy.

Maddie left Dance Moms in 2016, shortly after Season 6, to pursue her ever-expanding career opportunities. Her fame skyrocketed in 2014, when she starred in several music videos by the artist Sia, including Chandelier and Elastic Heart. Since then, brands and productions have latched onto Maddie’s talent. She’s partnered with Fabletics to create 5 fashion collections, judged the 2016 season of So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation, and even made a guest appearance on one episode of ABC’s Pretty Little Liars. 

Gen Z, a loyal fanbase and building an empire

Rising to fame is tough, but it’s arguably even tougher to stay in the spotlight. And while Dance Moms brought Maddie into the public eye, part of how she has managed to keep Gen Z in the palm of her hand is with the online platform she has built for herself. Our stats show that Instagram and Youtube are the social media platforms that Gen Z use the most, with 88% of teens using Instagram and 75% using Youtube once a month, and  Maddie engages with young people on both of these platforms. She not only regularly posts updates about her life on Instagram, but also regularly uploads videos  to her 3.68 million subscribers on YouTube. And these videos aren’t any just old updates about her daily life – they keep viewers posted about her latest roles and collections. 

Maddie also publicly shows a strong sense of morality, and this is a trait that Gen Z admires in influencers. According to our stats, 77% of 16-24s surveyed think that it’s important for any famous or well-known people they follow to share the same values as them. In several of her most recent interviews and YouTube videos, Maddie has spoken very boldly about the toxic effects of social media, an issue particularly pressing for Gen Z given the generation’s ‘confidence crisis’.

Despite the favouritism of her teacher and all her successes, she has not shied away from expressing the psychological strain she experienced on the show. She’s revealed that “growing up on a reality TV show competing was stressful” and that she hasn’t spoken to Abby Lee since leaving the series in 2016. Maddie’s willingness to remove the mask of perfection and be open about her mental health has made her popular with Gen Z, especially when we consider how 42% of respondents in one of our recent surveys cited mental health as a key stressor in their lives.  Her Instagram profile also provides a refreshing mix of professional photos that make her an aspirational figure, alongside casual and fun photos, making her relatable. In being open and honest, she clearly dissociates herself from the stereotype of influencers as ‘fake.’

It’s no secret that Gen Zers are on-trend, with 62% of them wanting to see content about fashion trends on social media. Maddie’s platform caters to this fashion-savvy generation, as most of her posts either feature her own product lines, outfits she wears to important events, or an array of popular designer brands such as Fendi, Kiehls, Hugo, Kate Spade, and Euphoria. By featuring well-known brands in her posts, whether she’s partnered with them or not, Maddie keeps 16-24s following her profile with the range of fashion trends she features. 

So what can we learn from Maddie Ziegler?

  • Be open and honest. As a generation of direct individuals, Gen Z value authentic discussions around mental health. By proving to her audience that she too faces all-to-common issues with her mental health, Maddie is a relatable and friendly figure in young people’s lives. 
  • Stick to your morals. Authenticity is key, and you need to have a strong set of values that you stick to. But don’t get caught out – Gen Z do their research and will know if you’re being fake!
  • Post regularly on socials. We say this time and time again, but make sure you’re on at least one of Gen Z’s favourite platforms (Instagram, TikTok and YouTube). Posting regularly and using a format they know and love is a sure way to earn their loyalty and maximise engagement.

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Cover image 📸 : @maddieziegler on Instagram.


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