Breanna Youn is a six-year-old girl from Busan who loves Legos, G-Dragon, and posing happily for the camera. But when Breanna’s mother takes a photo and posts it on Instagram, it’s viewed not just by the usual intimate circle of family and friends, but also by her fans around the world who subscribe to Breanna’s official account — 1.3 million, to be precise. Yes, you read that correctly! Little Breanna has more Instagram followers than popular stars such as Jaejoong, Nana, and Kwanghee!
The Youn family had hardly set out to become Internet stars. Like every proud parent, Breanna’s mother, Jocelyn, shared photo updates of her children on Facebook. But she soon found herself inundated with new Facebook fans who had fallen in love with Breanna’s big doe eyes and charming smile. At their request, Jocelyn began public accounts on Instagram and Vine last year, posting cute photos and videos that began to go viral. A year later, they somehow found themselves with over a million followers — a setup that’s provided the Youns with a lot of great opportunities, but also a fair share of complications.
When a social media account reaches as many fans as the Youn family’s has done, its owner will undoubtedly be approached by sponsors. If your favorite power bloggers are mentioning certain clothing lines, restaurants, stores, airlines, or hotels, you can bet that it’s probably the result of sponsorship — last week, a popular blogger named Essena O’Neill unveiled the truth behind many of her pitch-perfect photos. Famous bloggers can easily earn thousands of dollars on a single Instagram post in this way.
Sponsorship works well for bloggers who post about fashion, humor, or travel. But when your brand is built around your children, it’s a different story. It’s a path that the Youns have found difficult to navigate. While the family does accept sponsorships from time to time, they tend to face criticism when they do. A series of posts with Breanna holding pricey Louis Vuitton handbags — actually a deal with a preowned luxury goods company — resulted in a sensationalistic article about the family’s outrageously luxe life.
The biggest condemnation came when the Youns accepted an offer to take a two-week vacation in Dubai. Their patron was not a publicity-seeking brand, but a wealthy family who wished to remain anonymous. This private negotiation, coupled with the Youns’ subsequent decision to convert to Islam and stay in Dubai to pursue an import-export business, left some fans questioning their motives.
Jocelyn spoke with Soompi to clear the air. “No Arab people made us rich; no Arab people let us stay in a fancy house for free. We rented a small apartment; we had no car.” Jocelyn’s husband, Junghyun, attempted to start a business in Dubai with other Korean expats. Finding the opportunities minimal, the family left Dubai a few months ago and returned to Busan for good. They continue to practice Islam. The Youns say that their decision to convert was a natural one; Jocelyn had been raised in her native Philippines as a Mormon, and Junghyun as a Catholic. Having grown up in religious households, they say they simply found a good connection in Islam.
Today, the Youn family lives in a modest home in Busan, and they reject most sponsorship requests. Junghyun still works in the import-export business, and Jocelyn is now trying her hand at a children’s clothing line called iBreanna. Breanna and her eight-year-old brother, Braxton, both attend public school; Jocelyn describes the siblings’ relationship as “partners in crime.” On the weekends, the family goes camping, fishing, or on picnics. They continue to post daily updates on their life, to the delight of their fans… and the ire of some naysayers.
Jocelyn says that she dismisses the critics. “We cannot please everybody. For now, as long as she is happy and having fun of what she is doing, there’s nothing wrong with making people smile. Whatever she wants in life, for her future, we will support her as much as we can, as long as we know that it is good for her.”
We asked Jocelyn if she worried about Breanna’s future.
“Yeah, because there’s a lot of judgmental people out there. What I worry about is when Breanna is at the age when she can read people’s negative comments.”
She thought about it, then added, “The time will come when she understand, and will learn how to deal with the reality. [My job is to] teach my children how to perceive, feel, and act positively. I am happy to see her learn from experience and solve problems on her own. Someday when I’m not around, I know that she will be just fine.”