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The Hairpin on YouTube Beauty Vloggers
June 29, 2014 10:17 AM   Subscribe

My Imaginary Friends: The Beauty YouTuber Economy

The descriptions are so exact that they are hypnotizing, but this minute attention is also countered by the hyperactive energy that is a prerequisite for beauty YouTube personalities. Hyperbole is the currency in these videos—beauty vloggers are obsessed with everything. “Kenra Platinum Finishing Spray is life-changing,” Ingrid of the two million-subscriber channel MissGlamorazzi said recently, with a fervor no one who watches many product videos would bat an eye at. “There’s something indescribable about this deodorant,” London YouTuber essiebutton said in a favorites video. “It’s an absolute joy to use.” In a video about her favorite eyeshadow palettes, she said, “I genuinely feel like I could die if I don’t get the Lorac Pro Palette.”

But these women are not weird. They’re not or nerdy or awkward. They’re pretty, generic girls next door, wholesome basic bitches who are grossed out by feet and the word “moist.” Many of them are covertly Christian, slipping Bible verses into the “About” sections of their channels. They’re the quintessential Nice Girls Who Like Stuff, as a famous advertisement for Juicy Couture once put it. Their approachability is carefully engineered and purposeful; the chatty gal pal stock character is obviously a marketing ploy.
posted by danabanana (32 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think Youtube videos have officially given me my old man "get off my lawn" status. Beauty videos, Let's Plays, unboxings, PewPewDie, I simply don't understand the draw. And yet millions watch them. They are often times simply paid advertisements. And yet millions watch them.
posted by zabuni at 10:27 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I really do not get YT, but I also don't get television. I'm not sure if there's a demographic who gets along with TV but can't get along with YT. The whole multi-channel network thing is sort of scary, though: a mask for corporate interests made out of thousands of likeable individuals...
posted by Zarkonnen at 10:33 AM on June 29


I'd like to see the phrase "basic bitches" die a quiet, forgotten death.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:37 AM on June 29 [55 favorites]


Awesome!
posted by notyou at 10:37 AM on June 29


BASIC Bitches was what there were before Perl Monks and PHP Ninjas.
posted by acb at 10:51 AM on June 29 [38 favorites]


It is obvious that beauty vloggers receive samples and do sponsored videos—it’s very common to see two or more tutorials in one week on different channels featuring the same newly released product line.

Yeah, this. There's a culture of YouTube "reviews" that are nothing but This thing (which I got for free and/or which I sell in my store and/or which is sponsoring this video) is awesome!

While the products tend to be gendered, the phenomenon itself isn't. In my experience, it's apparent that any professional-looking "review" of a guitar, or a guitar effects pedal, etc. is essentially an ad. I can think of exactly one electronic instrument reviewer -- Sonic State -- that actually does something resembling an actual review that actually goes through pros and cons, and that's probably only because Sonic State predates YouTube by a decade and had built up a huge following for legit reasons.

That said, the pseudo-reviews are useful as product demos, which is really what they should be called. You've just got to keep in mind that they're trying to push the product, so it's up to you to look for the downsides.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:03 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


[title changed to generic less offensive version with the OK of the OP]
posted by mathowie at 11:08 AM on June 29


I think Youtube videos have officially given me my old man "get off my lawn" status. Beauty videos,

I must be still on the lawn, because I don't get what's not to get about beauty videos. Makeup tutorials...tutor you in how to apply make up in different ways. And yeah, hawk products. They'll often give you a few alternatives in different price ranges though their favorites are usually the most pricy.
posted by sweetkid at 11:10 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]


The beau and I have talked Bethany Mota, (who's one of them and was recently featured in a big ad push by Google in NY) a lot. I started watching her videos as a way of killing time and I definitely see the draw even as someone who has never applied- let alone owned BB cream.

I mostly watch her videos just because I really do find the image of the every woman really interesting, but I am really drawn to people's lives who are so not my own. It is interesting that despite the fact that they aren't awkward or geeky or whatever, they do seem to try to paint themselves as such. Bethany Mota makes weird faces and talks about being obsessed with mustaches and owls as if it's weird, but how weird is it if you can get anything and everything in owl or mustache?

But I kind of have really mixed feelings about her. On the one hand she made a really successful empire and more power to her. But she does this on the back this kind of vapid consumerism that doesn't quite sit right with me.
posted by KernalM at 11:31 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I wondered what those SNL skits were meant to spoof.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 11:43 AM on June 29


I've never seen the appeal of vlogging in general; it's usually quicker and easier for me to read something than to sit through the video. But I've read a lot of beauty blogs. For the most part, they're awfully useful for honest product reviews and comparisons - there aren't that many beauty blogs that are straight-up shills. But after a while, they start to wear on me. There's this constant undercurrent of blithe, unquestioning consumerism, like it's beyond normal to have five favorite kinds of BB cream and of course BB cream is totally different from foundation or tinted moisturizer, of course it's not a marketing gimmick. I'd love to see a beauty blogger say something like "you know what, this whole brand is bullshit" or "honestly no one needs any kind of illuminizing powder" or just "fuck this." But I suspect they don't say these things because if you regularly get pissed at the stuff you review, you'll burn out easily, and companies will stop sending you samples.

I also suspect that a lot of beauty bloggers deliberately work on cultivating a breezy, pleasant social presence, because makeup is a fairly safe thing for many women to talk about, and it's just nice to have a friendly space for idle chatter. I admit I seek out makeup blogs when the rest of the Internet seems too harsh. But I inevitably run into problems when there's a hivemind-y attitude about some product that I don't like, and I silently steam about how so-and-so nail polish is overrated and no one else gets it, and then I just get mad at myself for getting angry about nail polish instead of something that's actually worth my anger.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:49 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]


I understand unboxing and Let's Play videos because they substitute for being able to look and touch something in a brick and mortar store. And I get makeup tutorials, which are lessons like any other, no different from "here's how to cook $FOOD." But I honestly don't understand the point if you're talking about deodorant, or food, or drink, or scents, or anything where being able to look at it in detail or watch someone else do it, doesn't help.
posted by tyllwin at 11:49 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


I'm just sad that I read YouTuber and it wasn't about videosharing between potatoes, yams and jerusalem artichokes. That'd be my kind of thing to watch.
posted by ambrosen at 11:54 AM on June 29 [11 favorites]


About six years ago I decided to take up the archaic hobby of tobacco pipe smoking. Not knowing where to begin, I turned to YouTube, where I found a surprisingly large community of "Pipe Presenters", as they refered to themselves, who made homemade instructional videos on how to choose a pipe, Briar vs. Meerschaum vs. Corn Cob, differences/pro and cons between pipe shapes, how to break in a new pipe, how to refurbish an estate (used) pipe into usable condition, how to properly clean a pipe after use, differences between pipe tobacco types, how to properly store tobacco, how to avoid "ghosting" a pipe, pros and cons between stem types and how long your pipe should rest between smokes.

Even in this far less mainstream community than beauty products, I suspect there was a certain amount of "sponsored" videos. It was not uncommon for a host of one of the more popular pipe smoking-themed channels to start heavily recommending a particular pipe carver in what appeared to be in exchange for free product.

Honestly, I thought it was all kind of great. I didn't have any IRL friends who were into the hobby, so it was really valuable to me to be able to log onto Youtube and feel like I had a dozen or so virtual "friends" bonded around a common interest. What was especially appealing is how the common hobby united so many people who had virtually nothing in common otherwise (the hosts of these various pipe smoking channels ran the spectrum from openly gay to religious conservative, working class to professional - "Pipe Lawyer" was the host of one of the most active channels, but there was little friction between hosts since all conversations tended to center around the common interest rather than their differences). I sold off my pipe collection a couple years ago, so I don't watch a lot of these videos anymore, but I look back at this brief period with nothing but fondness.
posted by The Gooch at 12:07 PM on June 29 [7 favorites]


I can't really afford my fascination with makeup any more, but even when I could, I just never felt I had the time for getting to know any YouTube personalities. For me, the world of makeup reviewing begins and ends at Temptalia. What a meticulous, magnificent blog. Full of information, high quality photos, and serious, open-minded assessments that stick rigorously to their stated criteria. Every time I go there I feel like, Jesus, who am I to even have access to a resource like this.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:51 PM on June 29 [6 favorites]


just like everything, it seems pretty easy to "get off my lawn" at youtubers when its an interest that you dont share, but as soon as you find one that you do its a whole other story.

for instance, i couldnt possibly care less about let's plays, makeup or tech unboxing videos, but musictrackjp enthusiastically riffing thorough reviews of new synthesizers is literally one of my favorite things on the planet.

basically what im trying to say is that its not as if the medium is somehow inherently perplexing to old people.
posted by young_son at 12:57 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I really do not get YT, but I also don't get television

I don't understand what "I don't get television" or "I don't get YouTube" even means. Do you also "not get" film? Because you can watch a lot of films on both TV and YouTube. Do you "not get" music? Because you can listen to (and watch) a lot of music on both YouTube and TV.

I mean, they're media. To say you "don't get" them makes as much sense as saying you "don't get" books because there are some kinds of books you happen not to like or that you "don't get" paintings because you don't see the appeal of Thomas Kinkade. YouTube has pretty much everything on it, somewhere--from the sublime to the ridiculous. If there's stuff there you "don't get" then you just don't have to watch it.
posted by yoink at 1:08 PM on June 29 [9 favorites]


Yeah, this particular article is on beauty videos but it's sort of like the opposite of Rule 34: Anything you can think of that is in no way sexual or interesting to you in the least has tutorial videos on YouTube. I lost hours a couple of weekends ago watching people canning. There are approximately a billion videos reviewing the various supplies and methodologies of e-cigarettes.

I kind of think these videos are in part the equivalent of my mom switching to Animal Planet or HGTV when she's not watching TV, for background noise. Some people watch them to learn, some people watch them for company. Some of them - deliberately or otherwise - are for the ASMR crowd (and maybe there's an ASMR-like quality to the satisfaction of watching them, even if one doesn't specifically get tingles). Someone somewhere is masturbating to them, of course.

They are dull and baffling right up until you see one that's in your wheelhouse.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:09 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Beauty vloggers, for all that the breathless hyperbole makes my shoulderblades itch, serve a really useful purpose: for makeup application, there is no way to make text adequately describe what you need to do to change a mediocre result into a "wow" one. It's one thing to read "apply your crease shade to the area between your orbit bone and the crease of your eyelid using a small, pointed crease brush" or "use a post-it note to mask off the area by the corner of your eye for a crisp winged shadow look" but another to watch someone ACTUALLY DO IT. It would take way more than a thousand words to accurately describe how to accomplish this.
posted by KathrynT at 1:14 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


just like everything, it seems pretty easy to "get off my lawn" at youtubers when its an interest that you dont share, but as soon as you find one that you do its a whole other story.

Nope. Pretty big video game fan, but still don't get Let's Plays. I understand wanting to see what a game looks like, but the person's constant talking gets in the way of seeing what the game is like, and if I wanted to go through an entire game, I would play the damn thing. I also found it odd during the last Youtube copyright Götterdämmerung that when they were complaining about it, they were doing it through the medium of video while playing a game, when what they were talking about had nothing to with the game in question.

It's less the subject matter and more the cult of personality that these videos bring. They are more about the person than the subject they are presenting.

I mean, they're media. To say you "don't get" them makes as much sense as saying you "don't get" books because there are some kinds of books you happen not to like or that you "don't get" paintings because you don't see the appeal of Thomas Kinkade. YouTube has pretty much everything on it, somewhere--from the sublime to the ridiculous. If there's stuff there you "don't get" then you just don't have to watch it.

Well yes, but I'm talking about, and the article is talking about personality based video presenters on Youtube. I do watch youtube for other things. And I normally don't watch the videos described in the article, but in the case of Let's Plays they've become a very large portion of the modern video game landscape that it's hard to avoid them when talking to people about video games. And since they're where a lot of the monetization of "journalism" is these days, they've taken the air out of more text based sites.

I kind of think these videos are in part the equivalent of my mom switching to Animal Planet or HGTV when she's not watching TV, for background noise.

This may explain a lot of it. I despise that with a deep passion. I'm pretty much anti-background noise.
posted by zabuni at 1:24 PM on June 29


yoink: Sure, let me expand on that.

I can't stand video (on TV or YT) that's about communicating information, eg about beauty products. It forces you to take in that information at a particular pace. In a text, I can read at the pace I want, scan, and go back to check things. Video and audio are really unsuited for this, and it drives me up the wall that I can't take information in on my own terms. Video tutorials for programming (a text medium) are especially aggravating. Having grown up without a TV, I have no ability to tune it out. If there is video playing within my field of view, it's completely distracting.

So I'm fine with video as a form of art, or as the kind of entertainment where it's worth your complete attention. Someone very slowly going through a set of steps while talking about it doesn't qualify for me.

(On preview, I agree with zabuni: background noise is evil.)
posted by Zarkonnen at 1:29 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Let's Plays can serve multiple purposes: video FAQ, diifficulty commiseration, documentation, and they can also be a way of experiencing a game's story without going through the effort of playing it.
posted by JHarris at 1:33 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


I can't stand video (on TV or YT) that's about communicating information, eg about beauty products. It forces you to take in that information at a particular pace. In a text, I can read at the pace I want, scan, and go back to check things. Video and audio are really unsuited for this, and it drives me up the wall that I can't take information in on my own terms. Video tutorials for programming (a text medium) are especially aggravating. Having grown up without a TV, I have no ability to tune it out. If there is video playing within my field of view, it's completely distracting.

I feel you on the different learning styles being suited to different media thing. But beauty blogging in particular --- I mean, no one's saying it's rocket science --- but a lot of the techniques are much clearer when demonstrated than they are when described. Take something like contouring --- I can write, "take a dab of bronzer and apply below the cheekbone and blend" but how big a dab? How far below the cheekbone? Blend how far out, how evenly? Watching someone who knows what they're on about do something shows you all these unspoken things at once. Plus, I find with makeup in particular --- basically it's painting on a very particular media, and literally seeing the transition between the blank canvas and the finished piece is very helpful in understanding how the final effect is produced.
posted by Diablevert at 1:46 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


I can't stand video (on TV or YT) that's about communicating information

Well, that makes more sense, at least. But it's still too restrictive. Sure, there are lots of times when instructional things get presented in video and it drives me mad because a text would be so much more efficient. But when it's a matter of some physical technique, then video suddenly comes into its own. Every time I set out to do some job around the house that takes me out of my comfort zone (plumbing or electricity, for example) I thank the good gods (Tim Berners-Lee and DARPA, I guess) for the internet. Some kind DIY-er or even kinder pro will have put together an instructional video taking me through all the steps in a way that words simply could not convey with anything like the same precision.
posted by yoink at 1:54 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Let's Plays can serve multiple purposes: video FAQ, diifficulty commiseration, documentation, and they can also be a way of experiencing a game's story without going through the effort of playing it.

Yes, but in the case of the youtube let's plays, I get to experience the game's story while having the equivalent of an early morning drive radio station DJ talking constantly while it's happening. It's now getting hard to find actual instructional videos that don't have some whacky personality talking while laughing way too hard at their own jokes. Also they would like you to subscribe to their channel, their twitter feed, like them on youtube, like them on Facebook, support them on Patreon, and buy a T-shirt with one of their whacky catch phrases.

I'm all for videos that present content that would be hard to demonstrate in text form. I could stand to lose the color commentary.
posted by zabuni at 2:03 PM on June 29


I understand wanting to see what a game looks like, but the person's constant talking gets in the way of seeing what the game is like, and if I wanted to go through an entire game, I would play the damn thing.

The talking is fucking obnoxious, not least because there seems to be a law that Let's Players have to have horrible obnoxious voices. You might check out Longplays.org, which hosts thorough Let's Plays without obnoxious commentary.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:08 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


It's true that video tutorials can be very useful, but I fundamentally don't get YouTube. I hate looking at things as a form of recreation/learning in general, because I tend to feel like not enough is going on, yet it's often hard to do other things at the same time. The fact that a video is simply whatever length it is, and that's it, and I can't look at it harder to get it over with faster makes me feel antsy and vaguely oppressed. Usually when I'm watching a television show or movie, I have reason to expect that interesting things will happen. Many categories of YouTube videos, on the other hand, are just as likely as not to be bullshit filler from beginning to end, relying on the willingness of their audience to just sit down and hang out and enjoy a bit of audiovisual company. There is definitely something in that that is not for everybody.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:01 PM on June 29 [8 favorites]


I don't follow any of these things regularly, although I do watch review videos and demonstrations when I'm looking for something in particular and pictures/words aren't helping me understand what I want.

What constantly blows me away is the number of tweens and teens who do them -- who plan out what they want to say, set up the video equipment, demonstrate their thing and explain the pros and cons, confidently and with a lot of eye contact with the camera, and post it online to share with other people. A kid who did this for an oral report in school would be earning an A+ for preparation, persuasive writing, confident delivery, etc. ... and these are kids who are doing it just because they like and are interested in something and want to share it with other people. They're usually pretty amateurish videos (and their lightly-populated channels tend not to have a lot of coherence to them, although some do), but it's just fantastic that kids are putting all that self-motivated work into engaging in an internet conversation, and with such confidence. I love it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:05 PM on June 29 [17 favorites]


I'd love to see a beauty blogger say something like "you know what, this whole brand is bullshit" or "honestly no one needs any kind of illuminizing powder" or just "fuck this."

Metroid Baby — I love reading Brightest Bulb in the Box and Cheap As Fuck because they do exactly that! They talk frankly about what kind of stuff just doesn't work for them, and about bullshit marketing tricks.
posted by dire at 7:08 PM on June 29 [6 favorites]


As it becomes harder to run old video games, especially those that require corporate-run servers to function, Let's Play videos will eventually be the only documentation of what those artworks were like to experience.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:45 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Yes, but in the case of the youtube let's plays, I get to experience the game's story while having the equivalent of an early morning drive radio station DJ talking constantly while it's happening.

Agreed entirely. I said they can serve such purposes, as in the case of the two stellar examples I presented. There is nothing that can make me click away from a video faster than some thinks-hes-funny idiot talking over the gameplay. A lot of people think they can do Mystery Science Theater, but a lot of people are wrong. In DeceasedCrab's case, I think his La-Mulana stuff doesn't distract from the game itself, but instead supports it.

(If you want some quality playthroughs that don't have talking over the game, I suggest having a look at the work of seahawk0027.)
posted by JHarris at 9:22 PM on June 29


YT personalities and endorsements were partially covered in PBS's Generation Like.

The whole commercialism aspect where you get money from views and freebies from corporations does weird me out a bit, and just makes me trust the whole thing a lot less.
posted by FJT at 3:26 PM on June 30


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