Isabel Meijering, known as Isabel Imagination ASMR on YouTube, is a 29-year-old ASMR artist by night and the owner of a gym in Holland by day. (A Man Repeller reader named Hajni recommended Isabel to me when I was looking for artists to interview for this story!)
ASMR, if you’re unfamiliar, stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and it’s described by those who experience it as (I’m paraphrasing here) an enjoyable tingling sensation down the head, neck and spine in response to certain auditory and visual triggers, often inducing intense relaxation. I wrote about ASMR in 2016 when I first heard about it, and it’s only increased in online popularity since then. A cursory search for “ASMR” on Youtube produces a whopping 13,200,000 videos, many featuring content creators who made channels for the express purpose of relaxing or inducing sensory responses in their subscribers. (Fun fact: W Magazine has a whole section of its site dedicated to celebrity ASMR videos.)
To close out Feel Good Month, I spoke with Isabel about what it’s like to be an ASMR artist in hopes of better understanding the phenomenon and also to figure out if I might someday be able to experience even a kernel of a tingle from watching a video. (Rub the inside of my arm, though, and I’m a goner…)
How do you describe what you do to people who don’t know what an ASMR artist is?
I make relaxing videos on YouTube so that people can fall asleep better. Viewers have also told me it helps with their anxiety, depression or migraines. I don’t know why it’s so helpful in so many different ways, but I receive 10, 15 messages every day from people who tell me how ASMR videos have helped them. I have some really loyal fans who send me messages about how these ASMR videos have helped them. They’re so kind and sweet. There’s a lot of love in this community and a lot of respect for what I do. I put a lot of time into my videos, and the people who watch really appreciate what I create.
Relaxation and falling asleep better are the two focuses of my ASMR videos. I’ve had people who have trouble falling asleep tell me they could stop using medication after finding ASMR. I have experienced it myself, too.
Is that how you got started as an ASMR artist?
Yes. When I was 21, I became co-owner of a gym with my parents. I had a lot of stress and sleepless nights because of that. One night I searched “relaxation videos” and stumbled upon a video where someone was being massaged — but it wasn’t the massage itself that relaxed me, it was the voice whispering about the massage. So then I typed in “whispering videos” and ASMR popped up. It was so amazing, like I’d been to a spa all day. The feeling is crazy. I became addicted to it for years.
I was embarrassed at first to say that I watched ASMR videos. The funny thing is, my brother and sister were watching them too, but we had no idea [that each of us were watching].
Two years ago, I realized I had more time on my hands — even with the gym — and wanted to do something with my creative spirit, so I decided that I was going to make ASMR videos myself with my own stupid phone. Nothing fancy. The ASMR creators felt like family, and I wanted to give that kind of love back. When I told my brother and sister that I was going to begin recording ASMR videos, they were like, “We watch those too! That’s so cool!”
What does ASMR feel like?
I’ve only heard ASMR described really positively from people who experience it. A euphoric relaxation, tingles…
Certain things really trigger me. It can be a visual trigger. You know that head claw thing? Oh my god. Just talking about it or showing me it can give me ASMR. It’s so weird. My sister doesn’t have the tingles like I do, but she gets in a trance. Watching ASMR videos can be enjoyable even if you don’t have the tingles. The tingles don’t last super long, but the relaxation does, which is a great benefit.
If I’m feeling anxious, watching ASMR is a great distraction. It feels like the heavy dark cloud in my head fades away and the sun rays calm me down. ASMR is like a little sun shining over me at night.
I can fall asleep in five minutes after watching an ASMR video. It’s like falling into a coma. The next day, I feel great and throughout the day, I’m more able to handle stressful situations. I problem-solve all day and watching ASMR means I don’t freak out as much: Deep breath; I’ll figure it out. I think it’s kind of the same thing as mindfulness, but you don’t have to think about your breathing. You just have to listen to a video, and it’ll do everything for you.
It seems the online ASMR community is a super positive one. Do you get any negative comments?
Some people have a negative reaction towards the mouth sounds and the whispering. They find it too intimate. I don’t get many negative comments on my normal videos. One video I did, which was a reaction to another video, got way more views than normal, so people found my page who don’t understand ASMR, and then the negative reactions came. But usually, I would say the comments are mostly positive.
You can see my analytics: I get 96% likes as opposed to dislikes, and that’s the same in the comments section. It’s a loving community! I was really scared to begin my ASMR channel, but it’s been really nice to see how supportive people have been.
Do you get ASMR from doing your own videos?
No, I can’t trigger myself in that way when I’m recording — no tingles in the back of my head or goosebumps. Sometimes when I’m editing my videos, though, I do get it.
When I record videos, I go into a trance-like state. I’m in the zone. If I don’t have problems with my technique, when everything is going well, it’s so relaxing to record. So that’s great, and it’s why I want to do more live sessions, so we can experience it at the same time. I can be relaxed; viewers can be relaxed.
The only way I want to keep doing these videos is if it’s a relaxing thing. If it becomes too much for me, then I’ll take a break. I don’t make a living off of YouTube; it’s just something I do to give back to the ASMR community and an outlet for my creativity. I want to make videos that I look forward to making — and I always do. When I don’t have inspiration or energy to record something really interesting, I’ll just pick up a brush and tap on it or brush my hair to make an easy video.
It doesn’t have to be difficult. But the joy of making these videos is more important than marketing strategies and growing really fast and becoming the most popular ASMR artist. That would obviously be really nice, but it’s more about me trying to enjoy what I’m creating. I like to take my time to create something really cool.
Is there competition among the other ASMR artists on YouTube?
I don’t think so! I analyze other channels to see why some grow and others don’t. I definitely do try to learn, but there’s no rivalry. There’s no tension. It’s so nice. We’re all happy if the videos do well. I think that because ASMR is about relaxation, and it’s kind of a hippie thing; we’re open-minded. Everyone can come and watch the videos, and if it’s not for you, great, you can click along.
What’s the process of video making like for you?
I wish I had a set schedule. It’s hard for me to balance the gym and YouTube. Tuesdays and Thursdays and sometimes Saturdays are quiet — those are the days the gym doesn’t need me as much, so I try to make ASMR videos then. I have no 9-5 existence whatsoever, so it’s a struggle, but I make it happen.
Inspiration for my videos comes from certain sounds I hear — those are the easy videos, mainly for the tingles. Roleplay videos come from things I’ve dreamed or movies I’ve seen or books I’ve read. Something sparks my imagination, and I go from there. I visualize what the character looks like and what the story line is gonna be. People make requests in the comments, too, which I sometimes use as inspiration. People have huge imaginations and give me really cool ideas, so that can be fun.
When I have everything prepared and filmed, then the editing comes. Role plays take 10 to 15 hours to edit. Tingle videos are five hours of editing. I started with a really easy editing software, but the green screen effect wasn’t good, so I learned how to use Adobe Premiere Pro. The videos are starting to get more and more professional as I go along. Baby steps; one thing at a time.
As my videos started to get more popular, I invested money into a soundproof studio in my second bedroom. I live downtown, and it’s never quiet here, even at midnight. I live alone — just me and my cat — so it’s not embarrassing if I’m dressed up like a certain character.
I have recorded some collaboration videos — those are SUPER embarrassing. I recorded one with an ASMR artist named Luuk (ObviouslyASMR on YouTube). We recorded a dermatologist videotogether where the viewer was the patient, and at first I was like, “What am I doing? I am extracting fake pimples from a camera lens and whispering?” Normally I never think that — I think about the camera as someone participating in video — but with someone else in the room with me, I was like, no, this is not a person, it’s a camera. We just tried to set aside shame and record the video. Usually there’s no shame, though. I love it. I do my thing in that studio. I love to be there.
If people can experience ASMR just from sounds or movement, what’s the point of roleplaying? Where does that come in?
For me, I love movies and acting and makeup, so that’s something I focus my attention on. But the main purpose of roleplay ASMR is personal attention — personal attention is a huge trigger point for ASMR, so these videos are about creating a setting for the viewer where they’re the main focus, like at the doctor’s office, or where there’s a dilemma going on and you’re caring for them. Soft spoken voices and whispers are also huge triggers, so I combine all those things into an imaginative role play.
Do you get ASMR when you actually go to the doctor? Or when you receive this kind of personal attention in real life?
I do when I go to my dermatologist — I get so many tingles. I remember as a kid, when I’d get a checkup and they’d measure my height and check my spine, I’d get so relaxed. When they’d check my eyesight and point to the board and ask, “Can you tell me what this is?” I’d go into this euphoric trance.
I was dyslexic and used to have a tutor. She had the softest voice, and it would put me into a trance. Sometimes I would purposely get things wrong so that she would have to repeat herself. So, personal attention: It’s a huge trigger in ASMR videos and in real life. Someone is paying attention only to you, only you, no one else.
When I started learning about ASMR a few years ago, I remember reading that some people feel ashamed at first because they don’t know what’s going on. Have you experienced that? Is that changing now that it’s becoming more “mainstream”?
I experienced some of those shameful thoughts, not knowing how to explain that you’re watching ASMR videos. How can you explain that you like watching someone pretend to stroke your forehead and listening to them whisper? There used to be more of a stigma when these videos were mostly made by young, attractive women. I still get asked in interviews if it’s a sexual thing. (That’s mostly here in the Netherlands, though. It’s really new here in Holland. It seems more accepted in America.)
But now everyone is becoming an ASMR artist: old people, young people, men, women.
I am always blown away by how many people experience ASMR — and I’m always bummed I don’t. Do you think that it’s possible everyone has the ability to experience it but hasn’t found their trigger yet?
I think everyone has the ability to go into a trance when they’re open. It’s possible that the tingles depend on the individual. I really want to figure that out, though. I want to know why some people tingle and some people don’t. My theory is the more empathetic you are or the more open you are, the easier it is for you to feel tingles. Some people HATE listening to ASMR videos. My boyfriend was like that. But he went on vacation where he was more relaxed than usual.
I told him to put his headphones while laying down and he got the tingles. So I feel like the mood and your state of openness really can determine whether or not you feel it. You have to allow yourself to be super vulnerable, because it really is one on one. It’s intimate. I would say: Don’t listen to it with other people in the room. Try listening alone, in a calm state, and see what happens.
I’ve heard that you can build up a tolerance to it. Is that true?
The tingles can fade away if you watch too many videos too often. I think that if you watch it every night, it will keep helping you sleep, but the tingles won’t always be there. This happened to me. I was an addict, let me tell you, and the tingles went away slowly — I didn’t even realize I had lost them, though, because the videos were still helping me relax. Then I had a busy period. I didn’t plan a break, but I gradually stopped watching them. When I finally did watch a video again, I had crazy tingles. So they do come back.
What are your future goals as an ASMR artist?
I’d like to get into virtual reality ASMR. I imagine a slow-motion world with butterflies all around you — I am seeing that as a future goal. And I want to organize live ASMR events in movie theaters. They have amazing surround sound systems. If you have an ASMR artist making live sounds in a group setting to a whole crowd of people who are relaxing in a group setting — that would be really special.
ASMR has to become more mainstream in Holland for that to happen, though. To do that with a few other Dutch ASMR artists here would be my dream. The whole taboo is fading away, but it’s not super well-known yet, like mindfulness or meditation. It’s still a secret here that you have to discover on YouTube.
Until then, I wish people a lot of fun as they search for their personal favorite triggers. Different triggers work for different people, and it’s a super fun search to find what works for you.