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Look at Me: Makeup YouTubers Leading a Quiet Revolution


[UPDATE 6:45 ET: An earlier version of this article included a section on YouTube artist Jeffree Starr. Some readers expressed concern over featuring Starr in an article designed to celebrate inclusive YouTubers, and we agree. We’ve removed the section on Starr from this article, and sincerely apologize for our mistake.]

The YouTube community is full of celebrities that the greater world at large might not know about. There are many different “sub-genres” of YouTuber—comedians like Grace Helbig, musicians like Tori Kelly, gamers like Pewdiepie. But one of the biggest communities (and one that also inspires a lot of vitriol) is the YouTube makeup community. You might have heard of some of them—they’ve been increasing in number, and fame, over the past several years, and I’ll be addressing some of them in more depth throughout this article—but what’s become exponentially clear is the impact these artists might be having not just on YouTube and sponsored content, but in the world as a whole. It can also be a new example of personal empowerment, autonomy, and exposure to variant types of self-expression.

“But Ally, they’re just doing their makeup and opening boxes of stuff. How impactful can they be?” you might howl at me. Yes, sometimes, it is annoying to open up someone’s YouTube channel or Snapchat and repeatedly watch someone do hauls from Sephora or Ulta, expounding about highlighters that probably cost more than my bag of groceries for the week, but I urge you to dig deeper and to look at the various personalities that do much more with their channels than just show you the new BECCA highlighter. These men and women are turning beauty—and self expression—into big business. Being yourself is now a lucrative venture.

I’d light to highlight (pun DEFINITELY intended) a few YouTubers you might know, or might not. All of them are changing the game in their own way, whether through makeup or other business ventures or through their messaging, and if you don’t know them yet, you will.

Jaclyn Hill (JaclynHill1)

A professional makeup artist based out of Florida, Jaclyn Hill has become one of the most successful YouTubers when it comes to business connections. At 25, she collaborated with BECCA Cosmetics on a highlighter called Champagne Pop, which sold out immediately and caused the company to make it a permanent part of their collection. Now, she has released a full Champagne Pop collection with the company, and she’s working toward the release of her own eponymous makeup line in 2017. A professional makeup artist who worked at Sephora for many years, Jaclyn relates to her viewers by discussing previous financial struggles and pledging total and utter honesty with her subscribers. “We were so poor, our electricity kept shutting off, and I remember crying in front of my fridge because there was nothing in it and we didn’t have any money to buy food,” she relates in one vlog. “But I kept thinking, ‘We just have to hold on and things will get better.’” I like Jaclyn because her energy is always sky-high; although some people do find that annoying and fake, I relate because I am at the same level of energy, and I know that some people are just built that way! She has also devoted considerable time to charities, selling clothes and makeup on EBay with proceeds going to foundations that work to end human trafficking.

In addition to bomb makeup tutorials (my current faves are this blue smokey eye, this lighter summerlook, and this gorgeous holiday red lip) Jaclyn also has been very public about her struggles with anxiety, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and depression—in one video, she discusses visiting a therapist three times a week while also posting makeup videos. “I have worked my ass off to be a happy person,” she says in one video titled “Trying to Make a Change,” in which a makeup-free Jaclyn addresses comment in-fighting on her channel. Jaclyn’s efforts to make her channel about more than just makeup, and her public persona about more than just appearance make her a valuable addition to my subscription box.

Manny Gutierrez (MannyMUA)

When some people think of men wearing makeup, their minds might automatically go to either a member of the trans community (because that’s what some people mistakenly think trans women are: just men wearing makeup) or a member of the drag community. It should be noted here that transness and drag are too often conflated in our culture—there is much transmisogyny out there—but what Manny MUA is doing isn’t part of either. He identifies as male, and he enjoys the transformative properties of makeup. In an interview with the Examiner, he calls for “constant exposure for it to become more normal … you can’t blame someone for misunderstanding what we do.”

His unapologetic approach to makeup also extends to Manny’s personality: His catchphrase at the beginning of every video is “If you don’t like it, please don’t fucking watch it.” This bravery didn’t come immediately—Manny grew up in a Mormon household in San Diego and waited until college to come out because he was nervous about what his parents would think. They’ve since come around, and Manny’s self-expression has skyrocketed into more than one million subscribers on YouTube. This fanbase has resulted in two successful makeup collaborations—one an eyeshadow palette with Makeup Geek and the other a liquid lipstick set with Ofra Cosmetics that was originally meant to be limited-edition, but after two sellouts, Ofra decided to make the shades permanent. Manny isn’t the only “beauty boy” out there, either—his best friend, Patrick Starrr, has one million subscribers of his own and a deal with Sephora. Both of them have commented on the dozens of emails and comments they’ve received from young men struggling with their sexuality or gender expression who have been helped by their videos, and they both make it a priority to discuss these issues openly and honestly. It shows that the beauty revolution isn’t just about girls and false lashes; it’s about anyone who wants to be themselves as fully as possible.

Jackie Aina (lilpumpkinpie05)

Women of color are experiencing great success on YouTube. Jackie Aina, formerly known online as Makeup Game On Point!, is on the rise. Her goal is to reframe what women of color have been told they can or can’t do with makeup, and her looks attempt to cater to both black women with videos like “Eyeshadows for Chocolate Gals” and women everywhere. “NO ONE is telling people of darker skin that they are beautiful regularly, and I wanted to do that,” Aina recently told HelloGiggles. One of her most famous videos had Jackie fielding subscriber comments about standards of beauty across six continents and recreating them. Another, hilarious video series, “Makeup Trends We’re Ditching,” shows Jackie recreating some of the more outrageous makeup trends seen on YouTube like huge “fan lashes” and contouring, as well as more serious issues like skin bleaching. (“You went in looking like Lupita N’yongo and came out looking like Nicole Kidman. Can we talk?”)

Not settling for just traditional makeup videos or comedy, the Nigerian-American Aina incorporates her family’s heritage into several videos, including one that puts a twist on the “Get Ready With Me” format that follows Aina’s transformation into a Yoruba-inspired outfit and makeup look. She’s also been candid about her early marriage and her experiences as a black woman on YouTube; most recently, she participated in the inaugural #YouTubeBlack event, in which activists like Deray McKesson and artists like Nate Parker spoke about the issues related to black YouTubers and artists.

An aspect of Aina’s personal life that could perhaps clash with how people perceive makeup artists on YouTube is her military background. Aina joined the army in 2007 and is currently in the reserves, and she has published several tutorials on how to create looks that are military-friendly.

Also, as as side note, Aina’s Twitter name is “La Bronze James.” You gotta love her.

I’ve highlighted these makeup artists in particular, and hopefully, this list can indicate the wide spectrum of gender representation, skill, and personality that is across the YouTube community. There are many, many more out there that I don’t have the room to touch on, but I want to make this abundantly clear: These YouTubers, whether you’ve heard of them or not, are quietly revolutionizing the way millennials or anyone with a YouTube account sees beauty standards and, subsequently, themselves. By inhabiting a space in which women like Jaclyn, men like Manny, and women of color like Jackie can thrive and break down what it means to be beautiful and to make money doing it, these artists are creating new pathways for self-expression, agency, and autonomy.

One of my least favorite criticisms of “selfie” culture is that it’s an inherently selfish act, when really I would posit that the selfie and the constant cameras trained on each other and on ourselves can be a way to take back one’s personal power. By training the camera on themselves, Jaclyn, Manny, and Jackie (and thousands more like them) are retaining their agency, allowing us to both see inside their world and create alongside them. We are their collaborators in a new age of identity, one in which labels might be unnecessary.

Alysa Auriemma is a teacher, writer, activist, geek, cosplayer, and her friend group’s feminist killjoy. Her blog, The Curious Ally Cat, has seen notice by newspapers such as the Hartford Courant and the New York Times. She is in the process of writing a series of fantasy novels for self-publication. In her spare time, she enjoys participating in community theater, solo trips to the city to see Broadway shows, really good Mexican food, and arguing with friends about which Mighty Ducks movie is the best (D2).

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