By Shawna Healey
In the last couple of years, the “beauty community” on YouTube has boomed. The original stars, such as Michelle Phan, Tanya Burr and Kandee Johnson, paved the way for new, more modern, and arguably far more influential beauty influencers, otherwise known as beauty gurus. Today, beauty gurus such as NikkiTutorials, James Charles, Jeffree Star and Tati Westbrook, to name just a few, are far more recognisable names, and each garner millions of views each month. Ignoring the internet scandals that surround most of these names, their influence on people, especially the young girls who form their main target audience, is incredibly potent, and also very interesting.
The top beauty gurus on YouTube have varying numbers of subscribers and monthly views, and these fluctuate, especially lately, with a slew of beauty gurus coming under fire for their shady pasts. For example, Laura Lee has (rightly) lost over a quarter of a million subscribers since racist tweets surfaced, and Jeffree Star is involved in racist scandals seemingly every few months. However, racism is only one problem with the beauty community, and not a story that I feel qualified to tell, as a white person.
The influence that beauty gurus have is difficult to define or measure, but they are certainly paving a new manner of marketing. Brands will send free makeup or “PR” to influencers to feature on their channel, in agreements which are either sponsored, which means the gurus will be paid to advertise said product, or non-sponsored, whereby the influencers are not paid to mention the product, but still receive it for free. One issue with this is that a lot of YouTubers do not disclose their sponsorships, despite it being illegal not to do so, or use certain techniques to conceal them. One reason beauty gurus do this is because sponsored posts that are openly disclosed as being sponsored get less views, which means less influence, less opportunity to sell, and less money for the YouTuber in terms of AdSense from views. As a result, it is difficult to believe these YouTubers when they claim these products to be the “best product ever”, or that we, the public, will look like them if we buy these products, when they’ve also had plastic surgery, fillers, injections and expensive facials, which they also often receive for free. When gurus do disclose having received these treatments, we must question how healthy the message they are conveying to young girls is.
Marlena Stell, owner of Makeup Geek, also recently divulged details on her own YouTube account regarding the fees that big YouTubers request to mention a product in one of their YouTube videos or Instagram posts. The figure she cited was $60,000, although she later followed this up with a statement that that isn’t a standard fee. The fact that companies are willing to pay anywhere near this much, however, clearly demonstrates how YouTube stars are increasingly becoming more influential than traditional media. This can also be seen in the emerging trend of YouTubers starting their own lines with international corporations such as Jaclyn Hill with Morphe, NikkiTutorials with Maybeline and Becca, Kathleen Lights with Colourpop, and Carli Bybel with BH Cosmetics, to name just a few.
These influencers are entertaining to watch, and somewhat educational for those interested in makeup. These videos, however, are also incredibly insincere. It is an uncomfortable thought that grown men and women on Youtube are advertising expensive, significantly appearance-altering products to young people. The days where beauty influencers were “sitting in their bedrooms talking about makeup” have long gone. Today, it is a business, and an incredibly successful one at that. When we see traditional advertising, there is a sense and understanding that we are being sold to – that there is an exaggeration and overemphasis of how good the products are, and how well they work. However, with the non-traditional nature of the advertising on YouTube, many viewers feel a kind of relationship with the YouTuber, making it difficult to recognise that they’re being advertised to when the YouTuber is proclaiming their top products of the month, often an undisclosed form of promoting sponsored products.
The beauty community is thriving and will continue to thrive, but things need to change. I believe the first steps towards changing the community have already been undertaken, with Marlena of Makeup Geek’s “My truth regarding the beauty community” and Samantha Ravndahl’s “THE PROBLEM WITH THE BEAUTY COMMUNITY”. These videos have been influential and are essential to beginning to change the way we think about beauty gurus and the business of makeup promotion.