In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the next several months in rehab, gaining sensation in half of her back, but battling major anxiety and depression. A few months later, she found herself in another accident when a drunk driver crashed into the car her family was in, just one block from the hospital. Aiello was also diagnosed with cancer shortly after. And yet, in the face of such adversity, Aiello’s courage and resilience not only helped her beat cancer and become stronger, it also motivated her to pursue her love of makeup.
With the help and encouragement of her occupational therapist, Aiello was able to figure out how to maneuver brushes using the palms of her hands and open makeup products, like lipsticks, with her mouth. After months of hard work, Aiello could do what she loved before her accidents — but even better. Her cat eyes were precise and she could contour her face as well as her favorite beauty vloggers. This inspired her to start an Instagram account, where she shared photos of her completed makeup looks. While she started to gain thousands of followers, Aiello still hadn’t shared the fact that she was disabled on her account, until a serendipitous encounter with Tyra Banks changed everything.
In 2016, Aiello attended BeautyCon in Las Vegas with her friend Chelsie who ran into the former supermodel at the event. Chelsie shared Aiello’s story with Banks who then called Aiello out on stage, encouraging her to not hide her limited hand function with her followers. It was the moment that changed everything, Aiello tells Bustle. Since then, Aiello has been unafraid to show her hands and her process in her tutorials on her Instagram (which currently has over 120,000 followers). She has also become a professional makeup artist, doing makeup for clients (including professional surfer Carissa Moore on her wedding day) and continues to inspire others through her work and her spirit.
BySara Tan, Bustle
Below, Aiello shares how she hopes the beauty industry will change in 2018 and what she hopes her followers take away from her story.