Melissa's beauty channel, LetsMakeItUp1, has gained more than 900,000 subscribers since she started it five years ago. Now, at 26, Melissa mostly does hair tutorials, which puts less pressure on her than makeup videos: While hair girls can get away with using their high school curling irons—albeit in new, inventive ways—makeup girls are beholden to the market; there's always a hot new eyeliner or mascara, and beauty vloggers want to be first person to get and review it. Sometimes, Melissa said, companies send products, and that's helpful, but beauty vloggers of all kinds invest quite a bit of dough back into their channels. Their audiences—as well as the brands that sponsor the vloggers' work—demand it.
Melissa says the balance is between seeming aspirational and approachable—a mirror of the ideal of feminine beauty—or, if you're cynical, between appealing to brands and to her audience.
Then, there are the funding issues. Cruz, who is Guamanian and Korean, said she believes the beauty fan community is looking for different types of gurus—hijabi makeup artists or natural hair vloggers or dark-skinned girls demonstrating how to make beauty trends, which are modeled by predominantly white women, work for darker skin tones. However, those aren't the ones getting the most brand deals.Melissa, who is white, worries about what her being deemed automatically beautiful says about who can beauty vlog successfully. "I think our culture has beauty standards pretty firmly cemented, no matter how wrong they are," she said. "I feel conflicted when people post #goals—hair goals, the way I look goals. I don't want people to make [whiteness] a goal."Rosianna Rojas, who is more of a lifestyle vlogger that posts occasional makeup and fashion videos on her channel, missxrojas, said that though YouTube is lauded as a place where diversity thrives, channels do need to be marketable and brand-friendly in a mainstream way to make money."There's a mold you have to fit into," she said, speaking over the phone about how YouTubers can secure sponsorships. "It seems to depend on very traditional ideas of what you should look like or be talking about, for women especially." (And most beauty vloggers are women.)"You're encouraged to do that stuff because that's where the money is," Rojas said, referring to bubbly, uncontroversial contouring tutorials for pale skin.
There's something a bit structural about the type of woman you have to be.
"[Potential sponsorships] really narrow the kind of content you're able to make. There's something a bit structural about the type of woman you have to be."
Most beauty vloggers also do "haul videos": After a vlogger goes shopping—either at drugstores or high-end places—she comes home, sits in front of her camera, and shows off what she bought. Some commenters accuse beauty YouTubers of shilling for companies and not disclosing it, hiding sponsored products among the other items they bought, allowing them to avoid being called out for promoting a product they'd never actually buy. Brands want the value of being in the video without the stigma of having paid for an ad."Beauty vloggers are a force in the marketplace," Melissa said. At beauty conventions, Melissa has noticed that every brand with a line or a long wait time at their booth has been hyped big-time by beauty YouTubers.Rachel Whitehurst, an occasional beauty vlogger based in Seattle, said companies often approach her and undervalue her time and under-budget the video; they want what they want in 48 hours or less. They'll ask her to promote her video on other social channels without compensating her for it, and they don't understand that not including that in the contract means she won't tweet it. "They think digital media stars are all idiots without lawyers," she said, "so they expect they can take advantage of us."
Beauty vloggers are representing beauty products, and it needs to look like they use them.
A 2015 article on YouTube marketing in the Observer argued that most brands were missing out by continuing to do one-off brand deals with YouTubers, which "often leaves creators looking to make a living jumping from brand deal to brand deal (and often working with competitive brands in the process)." This in turn leaves fans wondering what products their favorite YouTubers actually use and recommend, breaking the trust between vlogger and audience. Some smarter brand deals are sweeping; L'Oréal is one company that will sponsor entire channels rather than shell out per-video deals."But you have to do it a certain way," Whitehurst cautioned. No controversial topics like her bisexual identity, and no cursing. Once you ink a channel sponsorship deal, a brand controls your content."
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Resentful fans, Melissa says, believe money comes from "the magic YouTube fairy." When pressed, many fans of my own channel can't explain how YouTubers make money, but they remain convinced YouTube is paying them a lot. Melissa's money, like that of most beauty vloggers, goes back into her channel. Whitehurst eventually stopped making as many beauty videos because she couldn't afford to drop $200 at Sephora to constantly buy new products and stay relevant, though she was able to write her beauty purchases off on her taxes and could get some products for free. Melissa lamented a $50 highlighter she had to "splurge on."And it isn't only products that put strain on vloggers' wallets. "Beauty videos are the most produced and perfect looking," Melissa said. "You need flawless skin, lights, high production value, and glamour." More so than other kinds of YouTubers—who might be able to get away with grainy cell phone videos or shoddy audio—beauty vloggers need to have perfect production value. Melissa's videos often have a clean white background and bright lighting, both to showcase the products and to create the illusion of an easy, breezy, beautiful life that viewers would want to emulate.Whitehurst agreed that beauty videos are different than other vlogs: "The casual sit-down in the beauty community does not fly."
Once you ink a channel sponsorship deal, a brand controls your content.