Sunday, 22 November 2009

Beauty underbelly

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.


  1. What an interesting and thought provoking post. I'm more of a lurker in the beauty blogging community so haven't been involved in sales or giveaways but I've been a bit surprised at all the drama and hurt feelings flying around recently on YouTube and the blogosphere. I generally read blogs and watch YouTube videos for fun and I wonder what the point in all the drama is. People seem to be much too trusting of others. I don't feel I "know" YouTube gurus anymore than I "know" the newsreaders I watch everyday or the radio presenters I've listened to for years. I would certainly never send them money or take their word as the be-all and end-all of reviews.

    Lighten up people and use your common sense. It's only make-up!

  2. I really enjoyed your post, and feel you touched on several subjects that concern me. I think the YouTube Beauty Community has a lot to offer- whether helping consumers make more informed decisions about their purchases, exposing newcomers to brands they've not heard of, or simply providing a platform for discussion, where both men and women who have a love for all things beauty can meet and even develop friendships.

    I have only been a viewer/ video maker for about a year, and I have to say that several times I considered deleting all of my videos. A part of me doesn't want to be associated with the majority of those within the community... In my opinion, Cosmetics, Clothing, and Accessory "Hauls" have tremendously over-saturated the community. It is a bit sickening to me. Instead of exploring and playing with colors, it seems that many would rather purchase EVERY single eye shadow color in the rainbow! I am not knocking people for collecting (I do) but anyone can go out and buy the newest MAC collection... I appreciate much more people who teach through tutorials, or even give detailed reviews. The level of consumption is quite disgusting, and very unrealistic for the average person.

    Gurus do mislead us. Some are self- proclaimed "Freelance" Makeup Artists... In my opinion, this really discredits the profession, and undermines those who have attended cosmetology school, or who have worked on sets for years. I am sorry, but discovering Enkore's beauty channel in 2007, recycling the information he provides in his videos, and calling yourself a "Makeup Artist" does not magically give you the credentials to hold that title... And people fall for it!

    In a way, I don't think it is fair to blame gurus who take advantage of free products, or the opportunity to be paid for promoting a product. Everyone has to make a living... But it upsets me when a Guru puts herself on a "Pedestal of Integrity" and acts as if she is above this- when it is obvious she is not.

    Julia's post about Sigma, to me, seemed like projection. I felt there was some validity within the post, with respect to being spammed, but otherwise, it seemed to be a conflict for her to complain about Sigma's promotional tactics, when she promotes products she receives, and has been paid to make commercials on her channel. It came across as though she was putting herself above all of it, and frankly, it was snobby.

    My position is that I can only control what I view, and what I put out there. I just think the community is getting really watered down. There used to be something special about the community, but that seems to be slipping away.

    I love Lauren Luke and Koren! (And Gail, I am so glad I was directed to your new channel, too!)

    I hope you'll keep up with your "essays" because I will read them!

  3. I will admit, I am relatively new to your blog/channel. I never watched your old one until you had left and come back to start your current channel. And now I really wish I had been watching. This essay asked so many questions that I myself have asked. I feel that the innocence of a global community sharing tips and other know-how has somewhat become sinister. I miss my old Youtube!
    Thank you for this, it was very enlightening.

  4. I think I just (luckily) happened to miss a lot of the recent Youtube drama.

    I do get a little tired of the product promotion that goes on, although I really don't mind it if the guru likes the product and takes the time to provide an honest review or tutorial using the product. It's fairly easy to tell the difference between a review and a sales pitch.

    In one instance I did unsubscribe to a guru who told an obviously fake story about how she discovered a product, and then exaggerated its benefits. I think that people who do that sort of thing will eventually lose their viewers as well as their advertising income.

    But I do worry about the younger viewers who can't necessarily see through that type of thing, and fall for the hype.

    As for the hauls, well, I think they're fun and I don't mind them at all. I've learned a lot about the various brands through watching haul videos.

    Some people are better at show-and-tell than they are at tutorials. As long as they're entertaining and the colors are pretty, I'm happy to see what they bought. :)

  5. I have quarterly blog sales, mainly to clean out my makeup drawers to make room for yet more new products. This doesn't mean I love my older purchases any less, it just that I cannot continue to collect without selling off my previous purchases or I'd be buried under a mountain of makeup!

  6. Another fantastic blog post. You always seem to crystalize the key issues in the beauty community. It's kind of like ethnography!

  7. @Beauty Bitch
    You're right!! Well said, so much drama. BUT... we are only human, things get to us, and who can judge? It is meant to be fun, but things fall apart. Sad.

    Thank you for your essay too haha! I agree, and yes I thought Julia's post was shockingingly unaware of the inherent hypocrisy within her complaint. Some gurus are getting too big for their boots. At the end of the day "It's still only YouTube". I know maybe that's sour grapes as I am nowhere near their level of fame and fortune, but still, they seem to really get ahead of themselves when it comes to voicing their opinions and thoughts...?

    It has changed, I remember the olden days before Lauren and Koren were partners, before the partnership thing took off. But that's Google and YouTube commercialising it, and it's an inevitable progression that needn't harm the community. I still adore watching helpful makeup videos (of which there are many) so it's not all bad! Thanks x

    @Ms M
    I agree, I personally love watching hauls - even if I'm mentally working out what they'll charge for it later haha. And yes I agree, as long as reviews are measured and helpful, I really don't care if they were freebies - in fact I don't think they should be forced to divulge how they got it. If something is a Christmas gift or a PR freebie, you've not paid in either instance afterall. I know there is a temptation to please the PR for more goodies, but really it's not impossible to rise above that and still provide an honest review regardless (many do just that). The drama is upsetting, because it ought to be easy enough to avoid, if PR companies respect individuals, and individuals respect their audience.

    Nothing wrong with blog sales!! ESPECIALLY with your fantastic prices! It's just some blogs, where they give me the impression that their hauls are viewed as loans which will later be redeemed via a quick blog sale. I would love to get lucky on a blog sale - alas my crappy laptop always knows just when to crash...!

    Oh haha thanks!! Yes ethnography, that would have been fun to study! I love that!! xx

  8. Gail you are without doubt my favourite blogger when it comes to putting together eloquently written opinion posts like this - I salute you. I salute you for saying exactly that I wanted to say except my post triggered hateful comments from people claiming that by saying what I said I was being negative and bullying. All I can do is sigh really. Keep up the good work - eventually some of these principles may rub off on others less scrupulous bloggers.

  9. Well said (written) Gail. As always, thank you for your thoughtful posts. I don't mind the sporadic-ness as you know. You always have great thoughts to share when you do...Hope all is well with you!xx

  10. @sestheticoo

    Thanks! I have just done 2 posts in one day today. That's what being snowed in does! Hope you get a chance to revisit your blog too haha! xxxx

  11. @magpiesparkles

    Thank you so much, you are very encouraging and I love reading your comments xxxx

  12. You've given me a lot of food for thought! I love the essays so keep them coming.

  13. @lipstick rules

    Thank you xx

  14. I revisited this post again today and noted the comments on one of the gurus that was annoyed by Sigma's contest. I just read all of the comments after reading the post.
    I agree with your comment Gail. Another thought occurred to me though...I almost feel like this post could be a marketing spin for the guru herself. Attack a small but well-known beauty business and let the sh*t fly. I think the saying goes,"There's no such think as bad publicity." Maybe this thought is out of turn but that's what initially struck my mind...

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