Interview by Jana Letonja

Powerhouse content creator Lexi Hensler is on a mission to conquer her bucket list after a near death experience left her with newfound perspective on life, which she regularly shares with her followers on social media. On 25 November she launched her brand ‘HUGZ’ as a way to further conversation surrounding mental health, aid in destigmatizing it and to help those who are suffering.

Lexi, before you became a content creator, you did some modeling. How did your career as a content creator begin?

When I graduated high school I had a good friend who was an aspiring photographer and needed a model for practice. I had no clue what I was doing, but we got super creative with our photoshoots. I started posting all of the photos on Instagram and watched my following grow. I grew up acting, singing and doing stand up comedy, so I’ve always loved being in the creative world. I started on Instagram and then grew the confidence to post on YouTube. When I started YouTube I never thought anyone would watch, so it blows my mind to see how things have turned out.

Social media today has huge power and reach among all generations. As a business major in college, how do you look at the power of social media as one of the media channels of modern day?

I quickly realized that social media was a business. I was actually studying business in college as my social media was growing, so I was getting a first hand experience in my studies. Social media has the power to change someone’s life, launch a business and reach people across the world. There is so much potential in this new world of social media and I aim to use that power to make an impact in mental health. Using my reach to share my story and raise awareness. 

You had a near death experience after having a serious problem with your kidneys. How did this experience touch you, change you and most of all changed your perspective on life?

When I was 17, I had a medical emergency and was hospitalized. I found myself in a hospital bed with a long recovery ahead of me. I remember promising myself that if I survived, I would fulfill the dreams I had. The experience was a chilling reminder that life is such a gift and we never know when it might end. I finally started traveling, left college to pursue my dream career in social media and even faced fears. My advice to anyone would be to not wait for a near death experience to start living their dreams.

After this horrible experience, you decided to create a bucket list of the top 50 things you want to achieve. You film your greatest adventures and share them on your social media platforms. Why do you believe it is important to let people in on this part of your life?

Growing up I had such a desire to travel, jump out of planes, meet crazy animals like sharks, but I thought that it was so difficult or unachievable. I’m hoping that sharing my adventures can spark some bucket lists for others and even show people some things that they may not even know exist. I never knew that there was a hotel underwater in the Maldives or a hotel made completely out of ice in Sweden. It’s so exciting to discover new places and be able to share them. I also like to include tips I’ve learned on affording travel or the best ways to pack, so when viewers go on their adventure they have much more knowledge than I did when I started. Plus I love having a video diary to look back on when I’m older.

You’ve flown a helicopter, skydived and visited an underwater hotel amongst others.
What’s next on this bucket list for you? How many of the 50 things have you already experienced?

It has been a wild ride. The crazy thing is the more things I check off of my bucket list, the more things I find to add to it. I’ve accepted that it will be ever growing and through these experiences I’ve found new loves and passions. I have crossed off probably 30 items so far and I’m excited to tackle new ones this year. A few of the items on the top of my list are to get my pilot’s license, travel to Africa to experience the culture and wildlife there, and swim with whale sharks. I’ll have to check in with you at the end of the year and let you know how it goes.

You are also a lover of all things fashion. What is the most magical thing about fashion to you?

I have always been in awe of fashion. When I was a little girl, my mom let me dress myself for preschool because I insisted I could put together a fun outfit myself. I find so much fun in the expression of style and fashion and I’ve never been able to stick to just one. I will admit I have been rocking sweatpants much more than a runway outfit since Covid, but I’m so glad the world is getting back to normal and I can get dressed up more often.

One of your wishes is to one day visit Paris for Fashion Week. Why has this been a dream of yours? And why particularly the Fashion Week in Paris?

Growing up, my mom and I would fantasize about going to Paris. We dreamed of seeing the fashion there, shopping at the Champs-Élysées and wearing the most fabulous outfits we own. One of my biggest goals is to secure an invite to Paris Fashion Week one year and take my mom as a surprise. 

Lexi, you are a huge supporter of mental health. Why is this topic so important not only to you personaly, but also in the society as a whole?

I have personally struggled with my mental health my entire life. The worst part was always that I felt alone and believed no one else was experiencing what I was. I thought I was weird or different. One of the biggest steps in healing for me was educating myself on where my mental health struggles were coming from and learning that I wasn’t the only one going through this. It is so important to me to share my story to not only show others that they aren’t alone, but that things really do get better. Mental health is health and unfortunately it hasn’t always been seen this way. 

On 25 November 2022 you launched your own brang ‘HUGZ’, as a way to further converstaion surrounding mental helath, aid in destigmatizing it and to help those suffering. Tell us more about ‘HUGZ’. How did you decide to create your own brand?

When I had my medical emergency at 17, I then also developed severe panic attacks for the first time. One of the things that made a huge difference in helping my anxiety was weighted blankets. I dove into researching why weighted blankets work and learned how they are scientifically proven to relax the parasympathetic nervous system. I wanted to create a more portable version, that has led to my new mental health brand ‘HUGZ’. ‘HUGZ’ is devoted to promoting mental health and wellness, beginning with our first product of weighted stuffed animals that simulates the feeling of being hugged and promotes calm. ‘HUGZ’ are weighted friends for all ages that you can take anywhere, that help with reducing symptoms from anxiety, depression and stress.  In an effort to normalize the conversation on mental health, a portion of ‘HUGZ’ proceeds goes to mental health charities. 

‘HUGZ’ consists of a line of weighted stuffed animals (a llama, an elephant, a sloth). What is the intention behind it?

There are actually a few intentions behind ‘HUGZ’. First, we want to provide comfort and relief to others. Second, we want to normalize the conversation around mental health using our ‘weighted friends’ as a vessel to spark those talks. Hopefully people can connect with each other and begin to feel more comfortable sharing their experiences. Our website and social media platforms are filled with information about mental health, as well as resources in an effort to educate on the topic. One of the biggest parts of destigmatizing the conversation around mental health is education.  Lastly, we hope to help with donating a percentage of our proceeds to mental health charities to further make a difference.

A portion of the proceeds for ‘HUGZ’ will be donated to ‘Your Mom Cares’, a non-profit organization that provides resources and support for children’s mental health. Why do you believe there is so many mental health issues among children today?

I think it’s extremely difficult to be a child. Children deal with numerous challenges while they’re still developing their minds. One of the biggest challenges being how severe bullying has become. I remember being bullied in school every day and then it would follow me home through the internet, which is something our parents’ generation didn’t have to deal with. There are constantly new factors making it more and more difficult on the mental health of children, but I do have hope because I believe our society is working harder than ever to combat it. My mom works in a children’s hospital and she has seen the shocking rise in children coming in with mental illnesses. She introduced me to ‘Your Mom Cares’ organization because she saw what a major value they were in making an active impact in the healthcare of children. I’ve gotten to watch from the sidelines as Rady Children’s hospital works tirelessly to innovate new programs for children’s mental health. I have a lot of faith that we’re heading towards a turning point where we will finally understand how to prevent mental health complications before they can get a foothold on children.

Photographer Ben Cope
Stylist Sophia Rahimi
Hair J Michael
Makeup Janice Daoud