YouTube makeup videos are one part Consumer Reports, one part social media, and one part performance art. Women as young as junior high post videos of themselves doing makeup “tutorials” giving step-by-step instructions on how to achieve a look, “hauling” items they bought on recent visits to the mall (a consumer capitalist show & tell), and reviewing beauty products.
I started watching the videos five years ago as a cure for insomnia. I soon had favorites whose videos I watched every week like I did TV shows. I grew to care about Xsparkage’s recommendations, even if I would never buy a $200 hair straighter or wear a Silk Spectre makeup look. I know SayAnythingBr00ke’s favorite lower lid liner (Stila Smudge Stick in Stingray, natch) and her favorite character in The Hunger Games, a book I’ve never read. I worry about Shaaanxo, a New Zealander my same age recovering from the discount boob job she got in Thailand.
I found the videos fascinating enough to devote some serious time to them—I’m now doing academic research about teen girls’ participation in the YouTube beauty community. I expected the project to dominate my time, but I didn’t predict how it would influence my spending. Financially, the situation is getting ugly.
At times, YouTube has provided honest reviews for products I responsibly weighed buying. It has also turned me on to indie makeup brands before they hit Sephora. Most of the time, though, I end up filling my drawers with junk I wouldn’t have bought were it not for a video: Lip colors I know will wash me out; mascaras from brands I don’t like; hair products not designed for my pixie cut.
By responsibly doing my work—right now, watching videos is my job—I wind up with “Oh crap, what did I buy?” regret after every trip to Rite Aid. When I buy high-end products at Sephora, the guilt multiplies.
After watching and dissecting hundreds of them, I figured, the videos would be powerless over me. Turns out I’m still a sucker. Product recommendations weasel into the dark corners of my brain. I am subliminally controlled by teenagers in Arkansas and Ontario.
A few purchases from the past two weeks:
Maybelline Color Whisper in “Oh La Lilac,” $8.43 These lipsticks are popular on YouTube right now, even though no one seems to like them very much. I think people just enjoy saying the name—”color whisper.” I bought the lilac one based off a review by a Canadian guru. I don’t like her taste in makeup, clothes, or hair, yet when I saw this product at Rite Aid I thought to myself, “Hmm, I remember someone telling me to buy this.” Way to go, lizard brain. The lipstick is not great—barely noticeable and short-lived on lips. Good for wearing to work, or at least I imagine it would be as someone who works from bed.
Coastal Scents Eclipse Concealer Palette, $14.95 Coastal Scents hopped on the “giving guru products for review” train early—like, five years ago—and at this point almost everyone owns it. It’s a given. I almost never get acne, but when I broke out late last month I caved and ordered the palette on Amazon. My face was back to normal by the time it arrived. I have not used it and probably never will.
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, $17.00 From the same bout with acne. It fixed my face, which is good, but made the $15 concealer obsolete.
Revlon PhotoReady Concealer, $9.99 I bought this based on another recommendation by the Canadian when the Coastal Scents concealer was still in the mail. Save me from myself.
Bath & Body works Lilac Blossom candles, $77 This candle was in a California teen’s “February Favorites” video. At the end of each month, gurus create videos identifying their favorite beauty products from the past thirty days. These videos now stretch to include candles, songs, vacations, and other non-beauty recommendations. Instead of ordering this candle online, I decided the Very Best Idea would be to take the Metro North train from the city to a mall in Westchester. The train only costs $3 each way and it sounded like a nice day trip. At the mall, I learned that the more candles you bought, the better the deal. I ended up spending $77 on candles. Welcome to my shame spiral.
The total from the last two weeks: $127.37. Much more than I can afford, especially for products I hardly use. Items I wouldn’t have bought—or trekked to the suburbs to buy—were I not watching videos. Did Naomi Wolf get hooked on anti-aging goop when she wrote The Beauty Myth? Did Ralph Nader ever mindlessly buy a seatbelt?
Marisa Carroll lives in New York.