I was never a girly girl. Growing up, I frowned on femininity and tried desperately to run away from it because the boys I was friends with made fun of the girly girls who wore purple skinny jeans to school. I was one of the worst kinds of feminists, thinking that signs of femininity were signs of weakness. Towards the end of middle school, I began exploring that side of myself– first through clothes bought from the girls’ section instead of the boys’, then the addition of a couple female friends, and eventually makeup. Twelve year old me would cringe knowing that I now consider makeup to be one of my hobbies and that I wear skirts beyond special occasions. One of the biggest things that helped me grow out of my misguided hatred of femininity was my introduction to the online beauty community.
Makeup was kind of the final frontier in my transformation from a hardcore tomboy to a relatively feminine-presenting girl, and frankly, I was terrified of it. Even though I could’ve asked my mom or my older sister to teach me how to put it on, watching YouTube tutorials let me get the same knowledge with less embarrassment. I could learn and practice without being judged before I was ready.
Once I watched a couple videos, I also discovered that for the people on the screen, makeup is more than some mundane thing that’s part of a routine. It’s an art form, a type of self-expression, a way to practice self-care. It doesn’t have to be shallow and just about looking prettier to other people; makeup can give you something more. I obviously didn’t turn into the avid makeup lover and amateur artist I now am overnight, but the realization that makeup (and femininity more broadly) can be a sign of power was the beginning of my journey. Philosophically, it comes down image and how the world sees you. Before, I thought it was weak to show that you cared about how the world saw you. After, I realized that there is power in taking control over how the world sees you and taking time to display yourself in a way that you choose. I was able to recalibrate some of my misguided feminism and appreciate that there can be power in something as simple and classically feminine as red lipstick.
The beauty community truly is a community. Creators communicate with each other across videos, whether it’s directly through guest appearances and comments or indirectly through completing the same challenge or reviewing the same product. Audience members can communicate with creators as well through comments or by following a tutorial and listening to recommendations. There’s a constant flow of giving and receiving that builds unique relationships surrounding a common interest.
Makeup and beauty are such personal things that it’s hard not to feel intimately connected to the people you share that part of yourself with, even if it is through a screen. For some people, makeup is their armor against the world, so seeing them barefaced at the beginning of a tutorial puts them in an extremely vulnerable position. This connection evolved and solidified with popularity of “get ready with me” and other more casual vlog style videos. Instead of producing impersonal step-by-step content, creators started sharing parts of their lives with the audience by recording themselves getting ready and having conversations with the camera that one might have with a friend. These videos made the beauty community more accessible because the impossibly talented and stunning artists became human the more they shared their worst first date stories, had conversations with their mom on the phone, and showed their flaws on camera. This aspect of beauty YouTube videos is what has kept me engaged through the years. By now, I can mimic just about any look my favorite YouTuber might create, (perhaps not quite as well or as fast) but I still watch them for the companionship and excitement over makeup that can be hard to find outside of the online community.
It feels weird to say, but the connection I have with a couple of my favorite YouTubers feels startlingly similar to friendship. I’ve spent entire mornings and evenings alone in bed watching videos to curb my loneliness. I know what time and what days they upload new content and will subconsciously schedule when I’m going to watch them like one might schedule a phone call with a friend. I’ll put videos on as background noise when I’m getting ready alone to simulate getting ready with friends. Even though I know it’s not real and that they don’t actually know me and vice versa, it’s nice to feel like I’m part of a community that “gets” me. I love makeup now, but still get embarrassed about what that says about me. I don’t naturally gravitate to other makeup lovers in real life, so without the online beauty community I’d be lonely in my love.
Even so, makeup is a huge part of who I am now. I do stage makeup and basic special effects work for theatrical productions. Among my friends, I’m known as a makeup artist and get asked for help getting ready for special occasions and my opinions on products. Sometimes, I’ll just do their makeup for fun and for the sake of having something to do. That’s one of my favorite things about makeup—the way it can fun and pointless.
As the beauty community gains popularity and followers, some creators are moving on and starting a new wave of content that has been edited by teams of people and tries to create an aloof, celebrity-like personality. Social media celebrities exist on all platforms and across areas of interest, but there’s something about the untouchable glamour of beauty gurus that take on this elite status that makes them different. They seem to be playing on the stereotype of makeup being shallow and all about looking pretty to get attention, marketing themselves like traditional models and actresses. For me, this is an opportunity lost and doesn’t use the communicative nature of the platform to its fullest extent. My favorite content is still videos that make me feel like an equal with the creator, not a fan. I love the community aspect of the beauty world and hope that this elitism is a passing fad so people can continue to feel validated by its existence and be inspired by the amazing artists that participate in it.