Avery Timm is famous, and, as it usually goes for internet-forged stardom, the thing that brought that fame about is both altogether banal and totally wonderful.
In December, the twelve-year-old Sarnia girl created her own music video for Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK.” With glasses that magnified her eyes and wispy brown hair, Avery might in different circumstances—ones where she’s not lip-syncing in a frenetically edited YouTube video—be mistaken for mousy. She’s not entirely sure why that one video of her 242 YouTube uploads got so popular, but it did: it’s been viewed more than 361,000 times. “Probably because it’s such a popular song,” she says in an email to Torontoist, “and I really took my time with this video so it’s better than some of my older ones.” That, she says, and “it might be because I look different than other people too.”
Avery was born with a syndrome called CDPX2 (its full name is chondrodysplasia punctata), a very rare form of dwarfism. Her mom Cassandra lists off what that’s meant for Avery: “an extra digit on each hand, poor muscle development and tone, some bone irregularities, skin and hair changes,…cataracts removed at two months old, and a spinal cord compression corrected at nine months of age that was causing even more problems.” It also means that Avery often relies on a wheelchair to get around outside of her home.
Predictably, the more visible markers of CDPX2 have led to some mean comments on YouTube. When she wants to, though, Avery effortlessly dispatches the haters. Sometimes, she responds directly in the comments to a video (to a user named “SarniagerryIsUgly”: “ya know, i honestly don’t care about your opinion, and, you make an account to troll on me? get a life”). Other times, she responds via videos that we may not be young enough to fully understand.
“Sometimes it can hurt my feelings,” she says, “but only if I’m feeling really emotional that day. It doesn’t usually bug me though. It helps that I have so many fans and my family all stick up for me.”
Right—the fans. There are lots of them, lots more than there are haters. Like these guys. (“Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.”) It helps that the “Tik ToK” video especially demonstrates more than a little talent on one hand and self-awareness on the other: it’s good, but it also doesn’t seem to take its own goodness too seriously.
Avery started making videos when she was nine, after getting a camera for Christmas. “Over time,” explains Cassandra, “we found a few free programs that she could use to edit the videos, then came better cameras and better software”—and Avery found YouTube. “I liked watching videos on YouTube and I loved making videos,” she says, “so I thought it was a really good chance to do both and maybe get famous and share my videos with the world!” “TiK ToK” took a couple of days to make in Windows MovieMaker and ManyCam, as Avery worked on continuity. (“I had to keep remembering what I was supposed to be wearing and put it back on!”)
For Avery, Cassandra says, making videos is “something creative and fun and an opportunity for her to have an interesting, inexpensive hobby that was not limited by her disability.” But, she admits, “I was a little wary of her wanting to be on YouTube because I know it’s bigger than big and a lot more people would be likely to see the videos. I figured she would be trustworthy about following the rules I set out and smart enough to know when to question things that might be concerning.”
When Avery mentions that she’s got her family sticking up for her, she means it; her mom is the one checking the direct messages sent to Avery on YouTube, and mom and kid talk a lot about the internet and Avery’s place on it. As Cassandra puts it, they’re “making sure [Avery] is doing OK with the things people are saying and that nothing is bothering her. We have regular conversations about what is OK to respond to, what she can and cannot say, and why these rules are important….We also have lots of mother-daughter talks about people who say mean things, how they make her feel, and the different ways people can handle those feelings. I don’t think those roles will really calm down much since they are just part of being a mom and this is a big part of the social aspect of her life. It’s a normal responsibility that I teach her about.”
In Avery’s most recent music video, this one for Owl City’s “Fireflies,” she piles tissues onto her bedroom floor. For most of the song, she’s wearing a shirt that reads “I HAVE OED: Obsessive Edward Disorder.” Her character’s enemy: homework. And there she is, a twelve-year-old girl from one of the quieter cities in southern Ontario who likes making videos, who happens to be pretty good at it, and who is making a lot of people happy because of them, herself included.