Middle school can be lonely and social media makes kids feel excluded. Depression, anxiety, and suicide rates are skyrocketing among teens. Insecure about their looks and used to the free entertainment of YouTube, teen girls are the perfect target for online beauty gurus and product marketing. Are beauty videos innocent instructional fun or high tech marketing?
What is a Youtube beauty guru?
Youtube is a popular online video sharing platform where anyone can upload homemade videos or subscribe to the video streams of other users. Beauty gurus are Youtube celebrities who create videos that offer makeup and hair styling tutorials, skincare reviews, and fashion advice.
Millennials and the iGeneration are the targeted population for beauty gurus. Tweens, teens, and young adults spend an average of 11.3 hours on Youtube each week, and 60% of them follow Youtube celebrities on social media. According to a survey conducted by Defy 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 (Pixability, 2015). Each month, 50 million people watch over 1.6 billion minutes of beauty guru content (Sykes, 2014).
Why are beauty gurus so popular?
Developmental changes during adolescence makes teens perfect targets for beauty marketing. As kids develop and mature, they switch attachment focus from parents to peers. In order to attract their tribe, they become extremely focused on their looks and meticulous grooming and believe that others are similarly scrutinizing them. Child psychologist, David Elkind, coined this developmental phenomenon imaginary audience. In the digital era, we are left wondering if the audience is indeed imaginary. After all, the hundreds of social media selfies and Youtube videos teens view each day provide fuel for consuming teen narcissism and egocentrism.
Teens are also attracted to the fame and influence of Youtube celebrities. Fifty-six percent of teen subscribers aspire to be a YouTube star (Defy media, 2015). Beauty gurus are particularly admired in that they seem more relatable than polished celebrities like Kylie Jenner or Angeline Jolie. They’re “normal girls” just like everyone else, right?
Beauty videos are produced for profit.
High subscriber numbers means high profits for advertisers. Although beauty videos appear to be a spontaneously self-produced, informal chats into the camera, most teens would be surprised to learn that these videos are expertly produced with expensive cameras and sound equipment, professional lighting, digital filtering and enhancements, and extensive editing. Newly created video editing software enhances the skin and hides imperfections, a sort of Photoshop in motion.
Beauty Box Video is an example of digital enhancement software product. “This video plugin automatically identifies skin tones and creates a mask that limits the smoothing effect to just the skin areas…[It’s] Powerful, Easy, Realtime skin retouching for video” (website product description). With retouching software, beauty gurus lead their audience to believe that their flawless skin is the result of a skin care item or a makeup product available for purchase.
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 polish and 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.
Beauty gurus are 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, she will never be able to attain the professionally produced look of the beauty Youtuber. The most popular beauty gurus are very attractive to be begin with. Women 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.
Teens who compulsively watch YouTube beauty tutorials are at risk for becoming fixated on their appearance.
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 a woman’s worth is her beauty, which requires time, skill, and money to achieve and maintain.
Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that many beauty gurus nonchalantly and intimately discuss their plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures on camera. Type “I got injections” into your Youtube browser and you will see dozens of videos produced by surgically enhanced young women 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 spend hours mesmerized by enhanced marketers slowly grooming her desperation to be reinvented.
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 illustration, Wayne shows his audience what his own 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:
- Emphasize to your kids that worth is more than skin deep. Provide opportunity for intellectual, spiritual, and character growth. Value substance.
- Be a good role model. Makeup-free days and clean, natural living balances special, glitzy occasions.
- Filter streaming video content to kids and tweens with supervision and YouTube Kids. The more developed your child’s personality and self-concept, the more resilient she’ll be in the face of relentless marketing.
- Educate your child about the risks and benefits of watching beauty guru videos. Make sure she understands that beauty videos are meticulously edited in order to make profit from unsuspecting targets.
- Help your child to know that they don’t need to alter their appearance to be genuinely loved and accepted.
- Monitor and limit how often your teen watches beauty guru content. Take notice if your child is showing compulsive viewing habits or is 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,
Dr. Tracy Bennett