I love doing my makeup.
I also rarely, if ever, wear it.
That’s less the smug statement it may seem, and more a testament to my own laziness. Makeup just isn’t a daily priority for me. (My skin also doesn’t care for it, blessing me with beautiful baby pimples when I bury it under foundation for too long.)
But when it comes to going out – like properly going out – there’s nothing I enjoy more than setting up in front of a mirror, blasting some tunes, and baking my face. It’s almost better than the going out bit. That’s how I mentally prepare for the necessary burden that is human socialisation. That’s my me time.
Although, me time has perhaps run its course as the appropriate way to describe the process. In recent years, this time has been spent less often in Zen-like solitude, and more often in the company of my good friend Shannon Harris. You might know her as Shaaanxo, the makeup guru from Palmy with a casual 3 million YouTube followers.
Okay, so I’ve never actually met Shan. But I do know her morning routine. I know what she eats and drinks day to day. I know which makeup products are her holy grails, her ride or dies, or drugstore faves, and her duds. So, I come into this debate as a makeup tutorial fan.
But I’m also beginning to wonder how healthy this stuff is. Slowly but surely – if bizarrely – makeup tutorials are becoming my nightly wind down material. And with brands like Vogue commissioning videos from Rihanna and Kylie, the magnitude of the phenomenon is impossible to deny. So, like a full face of first impressions, I decided to weigh up the pros and cons.
On the one hand, there’s the argument that the business of makeup tutorials – and it is a business – is the epitome of modern-day (capitalist) feminism. These are women (and sometimes people of other genders, often members of the LGBT+ community) making content for themselves. Unlike most businesses, and this is vital, no one here is trying to placate the straight white man. This is content created by women, for women (for the most part) and that’s no small thing.
The boring chorus of ‘guys don’t like heavy makeup, guys like natural girls’ is obsolete in these parts. No one is learning how to make an ombre rainbow cat eye to impress their boyfriend (although any dutiful boyfriend would be right to express wonderment at such a feat).
There’s also the argument that makeup is not inherently oppressive. That none of these YouTube influencers feel subjugated by their professional choices, in fact quite the opposite – they feel empowered by them. As Shan herself states, “I used to use makeup as a mask, but now I use it for self-expression and art. I want it to be seen as something creative, not as a cover-up.”
Most internet gurus are of the same belief – makeup isn’t a repressive tool so much as it’s a way to express their artistic skill. And to deny that makeup is art, especially on the level it's being performed on YouTube, is woefully naïve. It takes major expertise to apply makeup at that calibre. Just try to replicate one of the more complex looks online (or, in my case, one of the simple ones). It’s difficult, and it takes training and practice. As does any skill.
But then there are the PR unboxings. The sponsored content. The commissioned reviews. Perhaps the prevailing argument against all this stuff is that, essentially, these videos are all just one big ad.
And they need to be – it’s the only way this type of business can remain viable. On a platform where the audience tunes in for free, the remuneration must hail from somewhere.
In New Zealand, social media influencers don’t have to disclose if they’ve been paid to endorse a product. And that’s where things get murky.
Most, if not all social media influencers state that they wouldn’t endorse something that they don’t genuinely believe in. And I tend to believe a whole bunch of them when they say that. That’s because social media influencers are in the business of building trust. When I sit down with Shannon to do my makeup it’s akin to sitting down with a friend. I know just as much about her as I do any other close-ish person in my life. An endorsement from Shannon, and her ilk, feels more like a word-of-mouth recommendation than it does an ad. Even if it is an ad.
But let’s not pussyfoot here, we’re being sold a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. No career-YouTuber can deny that claim. In order to live off the website they must sell, sell, sell. And the line between ‘products I believe in’, and ‘products that pay’ must get blurry real fast.
And I haven’t even gone into how this imagery might be affecting their audience’s body image. Almost all of YouTube’s superstars fit within a very strict beauty standard; slim, conventionally pretty, often blonde, often white. Of course, there are exceptions. But if YouTube was supposed to be the great media equalizer (a place for talented people who wouldn’t usually fit within the mainstream) it has failed. Many of the folks who have made lucrative careers of the website look just like any young popstar-cum-starlet-cum-model.
I don’t have a definitive answer here. This is a debate, not a conclusion.
I mean, on one hand, you could say that women stepping into the capitalist, consumerist shoes of their corrupt male peers is not a success of feminism, but a failure of it.
On the other hand, if we live in a capitalist, consumerist, materialistic society anyway, maybe we should celebrate when women take the reins in any way they can.Support Villainesse