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Pushing Beauty Boundaries With YouTube

April 15, 2010

Over the course of the past year and a half the beauty industry, make-up artistry in particular, has undergone an explosion of new creativity and participation via YouTube. The success of these “makeup gurus” has been noted by the mainstream media and has been covered by Allure, Elle, Stylelist, and SFWeekly to name a few. While the increasing commercialization of YouTube beauty channels is potentially problematic, YouTube is also proving itself an essential tool for creating change within the beauty industry. In this article I will discuss how YouTube is providing a platform for activists, advocates, and creative members of the public who were without a global forum before they took their practices to the internet.

This will no means be a comprehensive look at the ways in which beauty is expressed and criticized via YouTube but rather will focus on several small segments that have stood out as being particularly indicative of change within the beauty industry. In some cases the videos are giving voice to segments of the population whose needs are neglected by the mainstream beauty industry and for others the accessibility of YouTube is opening up new creative avenues to aspiring makeup artists who lacked the time, funds, or access to conventional beauty training.

Disability and beauty:

Theophania79 grapples with the issues of disability and conventional beauty standards on her YouTube channel and her blog Beauty Ability. Tiffiny discusses in detail the challenges of fashion and beauty for people with mobility issues. On her YouTube channel Tiffiny creates makeup tutorials for people with dexterity issues and directs them towards the products and techniques that are most effective. Not only does she provide humorous insights into her life, but she continuously challenges the myth of the differently-abled body and its place in normative beauty.

Images of disability are rarely found in the fashion world. When they are they usually focus on the fashion industry bending its definition of beauty (usually for a limited time) by inviting disabled models onto catwalks and into photo shoots. Rarely does the fashion industry accept the constancy of disability and design with differently-abled bodies in mind. In contrast to this, Tiffiny reviews clothing lines that are functional and accommodating with the added bonus of style. Further, she counteracts the conventional cosmetics rules of blending in, looking natural, and applying makeup with flawless precision. By focusing on products that accommodate dexterity challenges Tiffiny frames makeup application not as a tool of conformity, but as a means of artistic expression. Recommended videos: The Im-Perfect Beauty Regimen and Tiff’s Essential Beauty and Makeup Products Pt 1.

Counteracting myths about Muslim women and fashion:

Through her blog and YouTube channel HijabTrendz journalist Mariam Sobh explores the fashion, beauty, and entertainment needs of Muslim women via a series of videos, podcasts, and pop-culture articles. On her YouTube channel in particular, Mariam demonstrates the versatility of the hijab and proves that it is anything but restrictive and boring as Western fashion ideals might imply. Mariam’s videos are straight-forward and practical yet also thought provoking. She invites her viewers to take pride in their hijab and fuses styles from many countries in an effort to continue to innovate hijab styling. Recommended videos: Sports hijab style, Eco friendly hijab fashion, Eid or party hijab style.

Men can wear makeup too:

One of the most well-known YouTube makeup gurus, Josh aka Petrilude, works to make avant-garde and special effects makeup accessible to everyone by providing tips, tricks, and inspiration. In addition to this he demonstrates that makeup is not only for women, through his series Man Makeup. The tutorials Josh uploads often push the boundaries of what “traditional” gendered makeup is; his looks are frequently androgynous and eccentric by normative beauty standards but always visually captivating. He invites his viewers to be as creative as possible with their personal style. Josh downplays the importance of high-end products by encouraging his viewers to use what they own and his videos often provide do it yourself cosmetic guides. Recommended videos: Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth, Use What You Have, and Space Makeup: The Sun.

Busting the myths about natural hair for African-American women:

Kim uses her YouTube channel to follow her journey as she chronicles a move from processed to natural hair. Her videos provide a visual record of her hair’s progress and she discusses her personal philosophy and growth as she undergoes this experiment. She discusses the many conflicting messages about Black women’s hair such as the idea that it is inherently damaged and unmanageable, the myth that Black women can’t grow long hair, and the notion that processing women’s hair is the only way to acceptably maintain it. She uses her personal hair journey as an ongoing challenge to the social pressures against natural hair and invites her viewers to re-define their concepts of beautiful hair. Recommended videos: My YouTube Hair Journey Part 1 and Part 2.

Bringing Avant-Garde to the masses:

With the growth of traditional beauty tutorials on YouTube there has also been an influx of avant-garde makeup tutorials; makeup that rather than enhancing features subtly relies on vibrant colors and contrasts, dynamic shapes and patterns, and often embellishments such as rhinestones, glitter, and feathers. Before YouTube the most accessible source of information about cosmetics was in fashion magazines. While these magazines often feature avant-garde or high-fashion makeup on their models, the advice given to the general public rigidly holds to conventional beauty norms. One of the most perplexing rules of traditional cosmetics is to never look as though you are wearing makeup. There is heavy emphasis on the “flawless-face” that is blemish-free, softly contrasted, and youthful.  YouTube has allowed aspiring makeup artists to experiment with avant-garde and non-traditional makeup and helped foster a community that encourages growth, creativity, and experimentation.

The accessibility of YouTube allows for much more diverse participation in the beauty industry. There are no editors, designers, and photographers to impress before practicing makeup artistry on the internet. Even the freshest beginner has a voice, and those who experiment with unusual techniques are congratulated on their artistry rather than criticized for their lack of conformity. Whereas beauty coverage in the mainstream media is deeply Eurocentric, on YouTube there is less emphasis on these narrow standards. There is greater participation by people of color, and greater acceptance of diverse beauty identities, be they gender-ambiguous, disabled, or plus-sized. People who express their personal style on YouTube challenge the conventions of mainstream beauty (even if they are unaware of it) and assert confidence in their own identity. With each participant the rigid definition of normative beauty is weakened. The global scope of YouTube ensures there is a fluid definition of beauty rather than a singular definition. The wide array of makeup enthusiasts world-wide who use YouTube as a platform continually push the boundaries of makeup and encourage their viewers to do the same. The global nature of YouTube forces the beauty industry to acknowledge the changing face of beauty across the world.  Here are a few examples of these artists at work.

WannabeWitchMU Carolina, Age 24, Puerto Rico. Recommended video: More Makeup Looks

Pomibylyric Lyric, Jamaica.  Recommended video: Flower Inspired

BeautyArtStudio Viznuk Svetlana, Age 23: Ukraine. Recommended videos: Imagination, Something Else

MNMofYemen Preeti, Age 22: Malaysia. Recommended video: Snake Skin Lip Tutorial

Vanessa Lazar is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island where she is pursuing a master’s degree in Marine Affairs and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. She is currently researching the level of gender-awareness in natural hazard mitigation. Her overall interests involve bridging the connections between social change and environmental change. In addition to her professional interests you can find her drinking coffee and contemplating science-fiction, falling in love with new music, and embarking on culinary adventures (and disasters).

  1. G.Kay Bishop permalink
    April 16, 2010 10:31 am

    Is the term normative beauty meant to refer to Western-style patriarchal hetero-normative standards of gender theatre?

    Because homoerotic standards of beauty can differ greatly from heteronorms with respect to age, (non)use of makeup, body type and fat distribution patterns.

    Also, non-Western cultures may employ face painting only as a religious or ceremonial signifier for transmission of cultural meanings, not as a beauty enhancement device. These face-paint patterns remain the same for each celebrant, regardless of the beauty standards of that culture with respect to facial planes and body types.

    When did the word beauty become totally submerged under the idea of the daily ritual of submission to Western-style patriarchal gender obsessions? Higher Beauty Culture is one of the sarcastic names for this concept from the 1920’s and 1930’s (c.f. Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon)

    The daily practice of applying “flawless” makeup is no different from assuming the veil: an acceptance of male authority in defining the public face of femininity.

    If people who are marginalized by the hegemonic culture want to make themselves more visible by claiming a role on the public stage, with facepaint to match, that is their baliwick and may they make the best of it. Or warpaint: many an indigenous culture might do well to re-introduce that notion to EuroAm awareness.

    But the implied conflating of the concept of beauty with the product of makeup is not different from conflating the concept of sexual attractiveness with bound-foot fetishes. In both cases, it tries to force a wide (dare I say broad?) concept into the small confines of a culturally limited/limiting obsession. The ugliest part of the Cinderella story is when her half sisters cut bits off their feet to fit into a glass shoe. No doubt they had to stoop under a glass ceiling too. It may be normative, but it ain’t pretty.


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