With more pressures at school and with friends, middle school can be awkward, scary, and lonely. Middle school is also when many tweens and teens onboard social media. Although social media is a fun way to keep up with friends and follow special interests, it has also been proven to increase insecurities and make kids feel left out and excluded. Cyberbullying is not uncommon and can lead to depression and anxiety. Insecure about their looks, teenagers are the perfect target for online beauty gurus and product marketing. Are beauty videos innocent instructional fun or high-tech marketing? Today’s GKIS article covers the beauty guru craze on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok and how they trick us into buying expensive and unnecessary beauty products.
What is a beauty guru?
Beauty gurus are social media celebrities who create images and videos that offer makeup and hairstyling tutorials, skincare reviews, and fashion advice. They are popular on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook.
Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) and Generation Z (those born between 1996 and 2015) are the targeted populations for beauty gurus.
- Tweens, teens, and young adults spend an average of 11.3 hours on YouTube each week.
- 60% of them follow YouTube celebrities on social media.
- Nearly a third of teens ages 13 to 17 prefer YouTube celebrities over movie or TV celebrities.
- As of 2015, there were approximately 45.3 billion views on YouTube for beauty videos alone. 
- Each month, 50 million people watch over 1.6 billion minutes of beauty guru content. 
Why are beauty gurus so popular?
Developmental changes during adolescence make teens perfect targets for beauty marketing. As kids develop and mature, they are getting used to maturing bodies and also switch attachment focus from parents to peers.
To attract their tribe, teens focus on their looks and often believe that others frequently watch and judge them. Child psychologist David Elkind coined this developmental phenomenon imaginary audience.
Is a judging audience imaginary? After all, the hundreds of social media selfies and YouTube videos teens view each day fuel the idea that everybody is watching, scrutinizing, and judging.
Teens are also attracted to the fame and influence of YouTube celebrities. Fifty-six percent of teen subscribers aspire to be a YouTube star.  Beauty gurus are particularly admired because they are often more relatable than polished celebrities like Kylie Jenner or Angeline Jolie. They’re “normal girls” just like everyone else, right?
Videos Shot for Profit
High subscriber numbers mean high profits. Although beauty videos appear to be spontaneously self-produced, informal chats into the camera, they aren’t. Most teens would be surprised to learn that these videos are expertly produced with scripting, expensive cameras and sound equipment, professional lighting, digital filtering and enhancements, and extensive editing. Newly created video editing software offers filters that enhance the skin and hide imperfections.
Beauty Box Video is an example of a digital enhancement software product. “This early-generation video plugin automatically identifies skin tones and creates a mask that limits the smoothing effect to just the skin areas…[It’s] Powerful, Easy, Real-time skin retouching for video” (website product description). With retouching software and filters, beauty gurus lead their audience to believe that their flawless skin is the result of a skincare item or a makeup product available for purchase rather than photography, video, and editing tricks. 
Some beauty Youtubers are not even amateurs. They are professional makeup artists or stylists. Some Youtuber celebrities may have started innocently making videos, but when subscriber numbers rise, advertisers offer attractive incentives to better sell. For example, Youtuber Michelle Phan was initially endorsed by Lancôme and now has her own makeup line called EM Cosmetics. Her brand makes millions of dollars a year.
Fake Friends and Confidants
YouTube beauty gurus intentionally create a false sense of intimacy in their videos that appeal to a lonely generation of young people who are captive audiences to their screens. Intimate video titles such as “Get ready with me” or “Storytime” offer the viewer a false sense of friendship with the Youtuber. 
Although teens may feel entertained and satisfied with learning, hours of watching may also contribute to their dissatisfaction and loneliness. Despite the teen’s best efforts, they will never be able to attain the professionally produced look of the beautiful Youtuber. The most popular beauty gurus are very attractive to begin with. Youtubers with average looks rarely get views and endorsement deals. The prettier the Youtuber, the more brand deals they get, and the more discouraged teens get sold on expectations they can’t achieve.
Compare and Despair
Many teens look to beauty gurus as role models. Unfortunately, beauty gurus rarely encourage their audience to explore interests outside of beauty and fashion.
Instructional beauty videos reinforce gender stereotypes that our worth is based on beauty, which requires time, skill, and money to achieve and maintain. These stereotypes are reflected in filter features that reflect Western beauty biases. We covered an example of this in our GKIS article, Beauty Filters Don’t Embrace Brown Beauty: The Rise of Colorism.
Also disturbing is how many beauty gurus discuss their plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures on camera. Browse “I got injections,” and you will see dozens of videos produced by surgically enhanced influencers with millions of views each.
In Xiaxue’s video titled, “Plastic surgery questions answered!” she discusses her nose job and double eyelid surgery as if it’s an everyday, simple get. Surgical transformation is a dangerous proposal to a lonely, self-conscious teen who has spent hours mesmerized by enhanced marketers slowly grooming her desperation to be reinvented. Anxieties inspired by this type of content can lead to mental illnesses like body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders. 
Popular YouTube celebrities boast large followings, high influence, and big profits off of vulnerable teens. A top beauty influencer, Wayne Goss, blew the whistle on this misleading phenomenon in his video, “WARNING. YOU’RE BEING LIED TO.” In his illustration, Wayne shows his audience what his face looks like before and after using skin retouching software. But knowledge doesn’t always cut through compulsive video viewing habits. 
What you can do:
- Recognize that worth is more than skin deep and emphasize this among friends and family. Provide opportunities for intellectual, spiritual, and character growth. Value substance.
- Be a good role model. Makeup-free days and clean, natural living balance special, glitzy occasions.
- Parents can filter streaming video content with screen safety management tools like those offered in our Screen Safety Toolkit. The more developed your child’s personality and self-concept, the more resilient they’ll be in the face of relentless marketing.
- Educate kids about the risks and benefits of watching beauty guru videos. Make sure they understand that beauty videos are meticulously edited to make a profit from unsuspecting targets.
- Help each other know that we don’t need to alter our appearance to be genuinely loved and accepted.
- Monitor and limit how often you or the people you care about view beauty guru content. Take notice if you or those you care about are showing compulsive viewing habits or are negatively affected by the content they are consuming.
- Teach balanced, healthy, and fun beauty activities like giving to others, gratefulness, kindness, a clean diet, and satisfying fitness. Beauty radiates from within, not from ten-minute ombré lips and $50 shimmer. Sometimes it’s important to dare to go bare.
Thank you to CSUCI Intern, Mara Pober for providing parents with information about the beauty gurus of Youtube. For more parenting support to dull the influence of high-earning, big-influence celebrities like Kim Kardashian, check out the GKIS article What Parents Need to Cover About Kim Kardashian’s Un-covering.
I’m the mom psychologist who helps you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty