One of the cornerstones of YouTube happens to be its community of beauty vloggers. These beauty-obsessed, video-loving aficionados have developed an entire phenomenon and key demographic for YouTube views, which makes sense given the multibillion-dollar industry that is cosmetics and beauty.
Beauty vloggers are able to build entire independent businesses off of their success ranging from product placements, to brand partnerships, and affiliate marketing. However, a quick look at the roster of the most featured beauty vloggers on fashion magazine websites and in brand campaigns will find that there is a dearth of Black beauty vloggers present.
Amid the calls for more racial diversity at fashion and beauty companies this year, Black beauty vloggers have begun speaking out and demanding the representation that their non-Black counterparts have often received. While it is easy to say, “Let’s have more Black representation,” Black beauty video creators need the subscriptions, brand partnerships, and follows on their media platforms. In addition to shopping Black-owned brands, it’s also time to give Black beauty vloggers the attention they deserve.
Eric Boyce, a Black entrepreneur and founder of social media influencer agency sociaLebs, has an impressive list of Black beauty vloggers on his roster including Raye B, Iris Beilin, and Doralys Britto.
He set out on his own in 2012, and in 2014 he launched digital management agency sociaLebs, dedicated to representing social media influencers. Part of the inspiration behind his business was realizing how undervalued minority creators felt in these influencer spaces, and he wanted to do his part as a Black entrepreneur to rectify that.
While the civil rights protests in 2020 sparked by the killing of George Floyd also led to conversations in the beauty industry of how they need to give Black talent a bigger platform and more opportunities, it was only just the beginning.
“It’s been a long time coming for these types of conversations to happen,” Boyce said. “Black beauty vloggers need to be put on the same playing field as other cultures. It’s cool to be recognized, but a lot of the time they are just recognizing Black beauty vloggers just for being Black. Black beauty vloggers want to be recognized as vloggers period.”
While Boyce acknowledged events and platforms specifically for Black talent are great for helping elevate them, they also want a seat at the table for things that are more general as well. While it is great to have things tailored specifically to Black culture, Black beauty vloggers want to be part of the greater conversation and not just separated into an exclusively Black category.
Boyce has said that ever since the protests, he’s noticed a pronounced improvement in brands trying to collaborate and feature Black beauty vloggers, but his concern is that they are being treated like a trend, and that these diversity efforts could stop as soon as diversity isn’t headline news anymore. Some of Boyce’s biggest success stories include getting his vloggers campaigns with top beauty brands including Revlon, L’Oréal, and E.L.F. cosmetics.
While businesses are starting to recognize it’s time to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to representing Black talent, Black beauty vloggers still find they face more scrutiny from internet viewers and trying to get people to take their credibility seriously. Nai Roberts-Smith is a beauty YouTuber and licensed aesthetician, who despite formal beauty training still finds her credibility questioned.
“Black women are beat up online a lot, we take a lot of criticism and harsh comments,” Roberts-Smith said. “If I say something that could be remotely questionable online, it would be perceived much differently than if I was not Black or not a woman. I’m always having my license and credibility questioned. There are vloggers who have no professional background in beauty and are considered authority figures, meanwhile Black women have to have years of experience and credentials to be taken seriously and trusted.”
Before becoming a beauty vlogger, Roberts-Smith spent many years in the beauty industry as a licensed esthetician in both California and New York. She is also a licensed nail technician in both California and New York as well. Back in college, she would even do her friends nails and wax their eyebrows. She even grew up with a mother who was a hairstylist, so beauty has been part of her entire life. Despite years of experience, she still has to fight to have her opinion valued.
“It’s still a struggle to be taken seriously,” Roberts-Smith said. “This comes from both sides, including viewers who don’t want to trust you, and people within the industry who don’t treat your work as important and valuable. The beauty industry is known to be very Eurocentric in terms of beauty standards, messaging, and marketing. When you’re marketing toward Black women and women of color, you are really on the outside.”
Roberts-Smith says that since the beauty industry has been called out for its lack of diversity after the civil rights protests across the nation, she has seen an improvement in trying to elevate Black voices, but she also shares Boyce’s sentiment that it could just be a trend.
Roberts-Smith says for the industry to truly diversify they need to start paying Black content creators fairly and investments need to be made in brands that actually market toward Black people. She also said that Black women need to be given more board rules on brands because brands often miss the mark in marketing to Black women when there are none in the room helping contribute to the decisions.
While there is no formal organization for Black beauty vloggers, Roberts-Smith said many of them do know each other and are fans of each other, so, there is still a level of support. Roberts-Smith also pointed out how tokenism is still a problem in the industry where brands will often just hire one Black beauty vlogger to say they have diversity, rather than making any attempt at having campaigns that are truly diverse.
“We are heading in the right direction, but there is so much work that needs to be done.”
Ashley Strong, a makeup artist for a decade who began beauty vlogging just this year and quickly amassed a huge following, has seen the effects of tokenism throughout her whole career in the industry. Being biracial, Strong does identify as a Black woman, but fully recognizes the privileges she’s had in the beauty space being multiracial.
“When I started out in the beauty industry there was so little space for Black influencers, but what I’ve noticed in the wake of BLM movement a lot of brands are being held more accountable and underrepresented groups are being more broadcasted,” Strong said. “We are heading in the right direction, but there is so much work that needs to be done.”
Regarding the colorism she saw in the industry, Strong said, “I was ten times more likely to be featured than my counterparts with darker complexions or ‘traditionally Black’ features. I would often be the one Black person they cast in campaigns and work with for collaborations.
“It even got to a point where once I got management and had some more machine power behind me that I was able to pass deals off to other Black influencers and YouTubers if I felt they were a better fit. I actively tried my best to work against colorism by recommending other Black influencers for opportunities.”
To help further her cause in helping diversify the industry, Strong is working on creating formal coalitions to audit social media accounts, brands, campaigns, and product launches on their diversity representation. While she’s keeping most of the details under wraps for now until she can formally launch an organization, she’s hoping this will lead to more consumer consciousness.
Naezrah Desir is a beauty vlogger who has managed to amass a respectable following on Gen Z-friendly video app TikTok. Desir has felt the much worse side of colorism in the beauty industry.
“It’s very hard for Black creators to gain momentum, but I see it as a challenge, and not something impossible,” Desir said. “Our challenges all vary on our appearance, and it definitely all depends on what ‘shade’ you are. Some people are considered part of a more desirable ‘shade’ and I don’t fall into that as a dark-skinned woman. We are not considered commercial enough. I have very strong Black features that you can’t mistake for anything else, so I’m often not a brand’s first choice for vlogger partnerships.”
Despite some of her challenges in the industry, Desir said, “People are getting used to see more Black creators in these spaces, there are more people who look like me. The obstacles might be hard, but I enjoy it.”
One of the things that Desir has learned to avoid as a Black beauty vlogger is reposts and comment sections.
“As a dark-skinned creator, if our videos get reposted anywhere you will find that the comments are disgusting,” Desir said. “If I see a repost of a lighter-skinned or Caucasian vlogger, we could be doing the exact same makeup look and application and the comments are splendid. These are the things we have to work on. Pages and comments need to be moderated. There’s an anxiety for posting with Black creators, and I’ve learned not to look at comments because of this.”
Desir has also run into issues with other creators copying looks from her videos and giving her no credit for them, and she says that’s something that fellow beauty vloggers need to work on.
“Creators don’t like crediting other people for inspiration because there is this pressure to be unique, but I always credit other creators,” Desir said. “That doesn’t take away from my talent, and no two creators will ever do things exactly the same. Theft isn’t inspiration, and you add your own flavor to things.”
In 2019, beauty vlogger Chelsie Worthy took to social media to call out other YouTubers who were copying her signature video editing styling of merging rap music to their makeup tutorials. She specifically called out famous beauty vlogger Patrick Starrr for copying her video editing style and also said as a Black vlogger she has never felt welcomed by the beauty industry.
After receiving backlash for her comments, Worthy would go on to temporarily deactivate her social media channels for several days before returning to say she was simply trying to stand up for herself, and could deal with the repercussions of her statements.
Beauty YouTuber Bri Hall says that issues around authenticity present a complex challenge for Black women in the beauty vlogging space.
“Speech was a challenge for me at first,” Hall said. “I was born in New York to a Jamaican family. From an early age, I found the pressure to tone down my accent because I had two very strong accents. When I moved to Maryland it became so apparent how different my accent was. When I stepped into the YouTube world, I had to figure out if I could talk more like how I do around my friends, or if I assimilate and code switch. That was a big issue early on, but the way I speak is just part of who I am, and I feel so much more comfortable with my audience now.”
To help counteract tokenism, Hall has had her management team ask ahead of time about how diverse panels she speaks on will be, not only by background, but by complexion as well. As she’s grown a larger following and gained more credibility, she has started speaking out about her experiences being tokenized in the industry, recalling one particular incident with a white influencer where she was treated like the help.
“I remember I was at an event along with this really popular YouTuber who just randomly asked me to hold her things, and I just said yes,” Hall said. “At first I just thought she’s probably not with anyone and just needed to run to the lady’s room. It was weird that she asked specifically me, and a person as successful as she was would usually come with a team of people. I eventually saw that she never went to the bathroom, she was walking around and talking to only other white YouTubers in these big circles. I felt so embarrassed and uncomfortable.
“It got to the point where I was holding her stuff for 30 minutes. Eventually I had to get past this feeling and give her stuff back. I clearly had a badge that said talent, so it’s not like she could think I was working the event, but there was still that reassurance of hierarchy where she was basically telling me we still aren’t the same. That was a really defining moment for me, and I became committed to never treating anyone else that way because I didn’t want anyone to have that experience with me.”
She added that, “I remember going home and calling my mother crying because I felt so insignificant that day. During that event, I also had my YouTube followers coming up to me and I had to put on a smile and give everyone who came to see me the best possible version of me for the day. A lot of time Black women in spaces are having a totally different experience than everyone else there, and other people don’t see that. We get taxed or drained 45 percent compared to everyone else’s 3 percent because of micro-aggressions we experience on top of the actual job we came here to do.”
In many cases, Black influencers still aren’t fairly compensated compared to their non-Black counterparts. Unfair treatment of Black talent can often lead to PR scandals for brands nowadays that can also result in lack of sales. Many activists for diversity in the beauty industry have said that consumers should refrain from shopping brands that don’t use Black talent. As a result, 2020 seems to be the year that the beauty industry has begun to move beyond tokenism.
To create a more diverse environment for the beauty vlogging community, Hall says that beauty companies need to actively learn as much as possible about individual YouTubers and actually get on calls with them. By listening to the needs of Black beauty vloggers, companies can begin to take the steps necessary to create actually diverse spaces and not engage in tokenism.
Desir said that the beauty industry should “recognize there is no one skin tone to anything and there is no one face to beauty. You don’t have to compare Black women. You can acknowledge all types of Black women in all skin tones. It’s OK to have multiple Black women succeeding.”