It's hard to sustain a beauty blog, without it evolving into a marketing bulletin or a tiresome photo montage or a blog sale. I write posts so sporadically because I try to grapple with issues I notice arising, and exploit them with the aim to eventually see this blog as a collection of essays... (pretentious, moi?!)
Seeing an explosion of blog sales, with many popular personalities charging the lion's share of what they paid originally, and moreover had originally praised as magnificent, can make one feel slightly taken aback and rather shatters the veneer. However, with beauty buying getting out of hand, and a willing audience, who can cast blame? In any event, this is not the "underbelly" I speak of. It merely adds to the insipid state I found myself in, the lack of inspiration if you will. But recently I read a popular blogger's post, in which she denounced Sigma for jamming up her inbox with their latest contest challenge. Within moments, comments waded in, vowing to avoid Sigma brushes. Before long, the owner of Sigma arrived on the scene, assuring all that as of now the rules and contest were over, and apologies for the inconvenience. I asked in the comments why this unkind attack on a small company had been dealt publicly (rather than addressed as a private email). Afterall, this person had been one of numerous YouTube partners given a load of Sigma to give away and enjoy. Was it, I ventured, because she objected to Sigma expanding their contests and thus undermining the elite Super Gurus??
This got me thinking (haha insert Carrie Bradshaw voice)"How vulnerable are small companies?" and "How ugly is beauty's underbelly?"
Recently there was another minor scandal, Lime Crime were accused, again as far as I can see, by a lone ranger blogger with determined conviction, of simply repackaging cheap mica and plastering it with slogans and promises of, as they boasted, "illegal" levels of outrageous colour. Again the owner of the company was forced to emerge in staunch defence of her company. She made a YouTube video but disabled comments, thereby preventing any right to reply and avoiding escalating the debate. In her video she made a show of being emotional and gave a brief outline of a hard life through which she had toiled and triumphed. Clearly with popular YouTube Gurus being able to look forward to launching their own ubiquitous makeup/skincare ranges (Lauren Luke, Enkore makeup, Michelle Phan to name the most obvious) it is clear that this 'personal touch' is paramount... but, how much do we value that above all else? Even Gurus who review too many 'freebies' come under attack, so how much more so one who is exposed or simply accused - however reliably - of having ripped us off?
A popular YouTube member with a debilitating illness was recently outed as a mass swaplifter and fled her channel, thereby incriminating herself further. Subscribers were understandably horrified and went quite far in their condemntion. Nevertheless, the YouTube member returned with a perhaps feeble explanation, but heartfelt and emotional, and was largely forgiven. YouTube was seen in a new light: even members who seemed so familiar as to be true friends, became strangers. The ease with which one can disappear belied the security of trusting a face. Yet a voluntary return was rewarded and appreciated and the harm was undone. The issue of control is central: The power of the people, in one way or another, as a force.
The popular Guru can command a cause, as when Google AdSense lost Partners money and they made their discontent a subject for a video; or when a company is deemed to have offended - SunLove being an additional example; or when a company dupes their buyers and are attacked - MAC using the recognisable Ben Nye packaging in a promo shot being an indisputable example. Word of mouth is a quick, cheap way to get your brand recognised, but one wrong move and the damage is extraordinarily hard to undo - and usually involves a calculated mix of humble apology, complete retraction and compensation.
Beauty buying has seemed to have changed over the years too, it seems more collections than ever come out, more brands emerging, more folding - and aggressive sales tactics abound. It is virtually impossible to go peruse a makeup stand anymore. The unsubtle way one is speculatively judged, then rounded on, is deeply off-putting. I often feel far happier buying from the company website, and with Illamasqua's new absolute accuracy in online swatches, perhaps this is indeed the future.
Beauty shopping has an immediacy to it: the instant promise of change, the rush we all know so well. Yet blog sales attest to the briefness of that feeling. Perhaps buying online would limit the impulsiveness and allow time to decide rationally between shades?
The companies we buy from all struggle to maintain a personal identity: Bobbi Brown, Trish McEvoy, Benefit, all feature images of their creator at every opportunity. MAC still present themselves in this way too, although they are far removed from those days since being bought out. But seeing Sigma's creator and Lime Crime's creator coming out, and seeing our favourite Gurus extolling their products, puts many of us on our guard. It seems the distance between a personality as an icon rather than a familiar face, is preferable in many ways. Lauren Luke has been careful to only use her products very sparingly, and continues to use mainstream brands in general. I marvel at the way she is so sure-footed in her atttitude, meaning she never alientes her original fans. Many Gurus may not be so wise. And many small companies may find they overstep the line between friendly and personable, and clumsily fall instead into naive and overconfident - and worse. A captive audience can be swayed, and the domino effect can be lethal.