Liberal Foundation Part 3: Expectations

Being a further discussion of expectations and reality.

“Do not live someone else’s life and someone else’s idea of what womanhood is. Womanhood is you.”

— Viola Davis

Hello and welcome to The Feminist Lipstique. I’m your hostess; today you can call me Ophidian Davis. I’m a feminist in my early 30s who recently became obsessed with makeup, and is trying to remember that YouTube and Instagram are not real life.

YouTube and Instagram have been incredibly helpful as I have been getting more into makeup. (Beauty YouTube is also an amazing time suck full of drama. Be careful as you enter into it, you will possibly be trapped in its vortex of “spilled tea” and “favorite products ever.”) I can watch people apply makeup and attempt to imitate them. I can get suggestions on products, see people review products that I’m too poor or lazy to look into myself, and see makeup done on a variety of skin types by people in a variety of body shapes. I can follow makeup Instagrams and see inspiration look pics, and get a sense of trends and options.

Instagramers and YouTubers both trade a lot on how “relatable” they are. Anyone with a camera can start a page or channel, pick up a makeup brush, and get going! It’s the great equalizer. People Just Like You are doing all of these things. And I think it was this sense of being relatable that made me temporarily turn off the cynical parts of my brain and start being Extremely Concerned when my attempts were not living up to even the supposedly “easy” looks.

I think almost everyone of my age knows better than to accept cosmetics commercials or ads on face (ha) value. We’re well aware of the little small print parts on mascara commercials that reluctantly inform you that fake lashes and CGI were used to enhance a model’s looks. We know about the magic of airbrushing and Photoshop, and how they can transform any look into something glorious (and skinny. And light skinned. And without lines, or cellulite, or blemishes….).

But with YouTube and Instagram, we have entered a whole new world; one that simultaneously flaunts its authenticity while doing lots of things to undermine that same authenticity. With something as simple as a photo filter, your selfie is suddenly better than real life. With a Snapchat filter, your eyes can sparkle, your lashes can grow longer, and your complexion can smooth. With apps like FaceTune, you can instantly edit and enhance a selfie while still making it seem like you “just woke up like this.” And I’m admittedly more suspicious of still images than I am of live videos, so I’m slightly more likely to have reasonable expectations on Instagram than I am on YouTube. After all, what can be unreal about a moving image when someone can’t afford body doubles or CGI?

The answer is: a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

Let’s start with the basics. They say that the camera adds ten pounds. Well, when it comes to makeup, the camera and good lighting add five pounds of makeup and take away your flaws.

Most makeup vloggers use large ring lights (you can see them reflected in things like mirrors, glasses, and sometimes even their eyes). I don’t say this as a negative– good lighting is essential for filming. If I ever do get around to vlogging, I’ll be doing the same thing. But having this lighting makes makeup very different. You can essentially create the ideal lighting setup for a certain look. Will it look good in any other kind of light? Probably not. Can you put on your normal colors of foundation and amounts of makeup? Almost certainly not– you’ll be washed out. So the YouTubers you’re watching are putting on more makeup than usual, darker makeup than usual, and the lighting is for a controlled, idealized condition that you probably can’t replicate in the real world. The makeup your favorite YouTuber is doing may or may not be something you can replicate in your own life.

Next, we have things like editing. YouTubers may actually be doing their look multiple times, and then splicing together the best takes. That look that you can’t imagine someone getting right on the first try? Odds are, they didn’t. You are watching the version of the look they decided to share with the world, not necessarily the first attempt. They can also put filters over an entire video– Snapchat in real time.

Then we have things like “doing it for the ‘gram.” Or “doing it for the clickbait.” YouTubers are almost certainly doing things that they don’t entirely need to do because it makes for good cover image clickbait or good Instagram engagement. Now, I don’t entirely blame them for this– the YouTube algorithm is a demanding and mysterious master, and creators do what they have to in order to get some clicks. But it leads them to do some things that make for good images, but bad makeup techniques– putting color corrector over their entire face, putting highlighter and contour powder in places it doesn’t need to go, dripping product directly on their face in big squiggly lines,(SO wasteful with liquid foundation, do not do that!), using products just because they look interesting/glittery/whatever. Now, not every YouTuber does this. Or even does this often. But enough of them do it often enough that it is worth knowing about.

Then we get into some of the “behind the scenes” things. I’ll talk about this more in my second miniseries where I talk about ethics in makeup, but everyone from a mid-sized influencer to a mega beauty vlogger is likely to have a mix of affiliate links/codes, PR, and “sponcon” (sponsored content). All of which may or may not affect their stated opinions, their makeup decisions, and how they interact with their fans.

Affiliate links are special links that fans can click to go to a makeup website, and usually get some kind of discount. The YouTuber or Instagrammer also gets some kind of kickback for the purchase they influenced. Affiliate codes are similar, only the codes are usually entered at checkout. Now ostensibly, someone could have an affiliate link/code and stay honest about the products that come from the company they have an affiliate link/code with. And many of them do. But many of them don’t. After all, if you trash a product and your fans don’t make a purchase, you don’t get that cool, cool kickback cash.

Figures in the beauty community also get a lot of PR, aka “free products sent by companies in exchange for a review or mention.” Now again, this can be very innocent. People can get free stuff and still stay honest about their discussion of it. But again, some people don’t. You badmouth something, you could end up blacklisted. And then you don’t get the free makeup, or the extra goodies, or the early scoop on the new release.

Finally there is sponcon. Some brands will actually go into business deals with influencers, whether that means actually doing a branded palette or something, or just getting the influencer to talk about and feature their product. The FCC dictates that influencers are supposed to disclose whenever they are getting paid to talk about a product. A lot of influencers laugh in the FCC’s face. And even those that do let you know when it’s an ad aren’t necessarily going to be honest about the product. James Charles infamously touted the benefits of SugarBearHair vitamins that he couldn’t possibly have been taking for long enough to actually notice a difference. Lots of influencers will talk up diet teas (aka laxative teas) that they don’t use themselves. Hell, Kylie Jenner will (allegedly) sell her OWN products without using them herself.

I’m not saying to delete your Insta or to harass beauty YouTubers. I still find a lot of use out of both Instagram and YouTube, and I really like a lot of influencers. (I’ll talk about the ones I like in that future series, too.) But when you are a makeup beginner (or even somewhat advanced) it is really important, for your own sanity, to remember that the internet is not actually real life. Be kind to yourself, keep practicing, and avoid the urge to use a filter, as that starts to hella mess with your self esteem.

Join me next time, when I talk about what makeup costs and what makeup is worth.


Ophidian Davis

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