All I want to do is just stay at home and eat chips.” At six years old, this was the height of Mackenzie Ziegler’s aspirations. Ziegler, along with her sister Maddie Ziegler (Sia’s go-to dancer), got her start on the reality TV show Dance Moms, which ran from 2011 to 2017. When she wasn’t busy dancing, she was dreaming of simpler days spent on the couch. Now, seven years later, things have changed a bit. The dancer now keeps her schedule packed with projects and pursuits, including writing, acting, producing, singing, and modeling. In addition, Ziegler is launching a makeup line–Love, Kenzie–this fall. For a fourteen- year-old, she has a lot on her plate. But Ziegler says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m so focused on my career that I really don’t have time or want to do anything else,” she tells me. The interdisciplinary talent pirouettes from one passion to the next without fear.
This confidence may seem natural, considering she grew up in the spotlight, but it hasn’t always been there for Ziegler. “When I was on Dance Moms I was really scared to put myself out there,” she admits. The reality TV show was notoriously stressful, and it was not uncommon for the dancers to break into tears with the ever-watching cameras ready to catch it all. But there were positive things that came out of it. “I learned a lot from the show, like how to stick up for myself.” Ziegler also appreciatively notes, “I wouldn’t be here without it.”
This ability to always find the silver lining is a specialty of Ziegler’s, and she’s channeled this upbeat energy into her new self-help book, Kenzie’s Rules for Life: How to Be Happy, Healthy, and Dance to Your Own Beat. In her debut manuscript, she shares advice on how to use positivity to handle drama with friends and family, as well as strategies for coping with and preventing bullying. “I wanted to write a book about positivity, because my friends are always saying, ‘How are you so positive with everything?’ I always find the bright side of things,” she tells me. A skim of the reviews from young readers voicing their appreciation for the book makes it clear that her perspective has resonated with her audience.
Her new YouTube show, Total Eclipse, also tackles the subject of bullying head-on. Ziegler plays Cassie, an outcast who spends her days with her head in the clouds, daydreaming to escape the reality of isolation that she faces at school. Ziegler welcomes the chance to play a character, rather than being one herself.“I love it so much more because it’s scripted and you get to play someone totally different, while on reality TV you’re playing yourself,” she tells me.
As much as Ziegler enjoys playing someone else, she does her best to share her real self with her social media followers—all 10.7 million of them. While she doesn’t consider herself a celebrity, she is well aware of her position as a role model. She tries to interact with followers as much as possible by going live or making their day with a supportive comment. She honestly loves her fans, and with that love comes concern. “Everyone wants to look like Kylie Jenner. Thirteen- year-olds are facetuning themselves to look skinnier,” she says, clearly troubled. “I just want to tell them, ‘It doesn’t matter! You’re thirteen, just live your life!’”
Unlike some of her counterparts, who will endure a system shutdown if their phone is pried from their ever-connected hands, she has no problem stepping away for a bit. “I don’t think followers are a big deal. I’m thankful that I have ten million, but it’s just a button,” she says, laughing. “I don’t think it’s that cool. I love social media, but people need to chill.”
She means what she says. As we speak she keeps her eyes on me, undistracted by her nearby phone. I say this in advance to help explain her greatest fear: “Losing my career and my supporters.” It might seem a narcissistic insecurity. But it isn’t. For Ziegler, the point isn’t the likes or the fame. It’s about the platform. She supports her fans; her fans support her. She truly enjoys her work and wants to continue doing it. And for now, nothing is stopping her. As she balances a book release, a new show, and a community of fans 10.7 million strong, she remains undaunted: “I feel like I can conquer the world.”
Written by Tori Adams
Photographed by Kelia Anne
Flaunt Film directed by Luke Sirimongkhon
Hair by Kylee Heath
Makeup by Glenn Nutley