I spoke to Paris-based reporter Pierre d’Almeida for MIXTE, a French bi-annual fashion and ideas magazine, about the political power of beauty tutorials on TikTok and YouTube. The interview closely followed after human rights activist Feroza Aziz‘s use of TikTok videos to speak out against Uyghur concentration camps in Xinjiang, only to have her content deleted and banned from the platform. The article ‘L’avis Est Belle‘ is in French, but a brief snippet translated into English is below.
But if make-up trends like cut crease, glass skin and Trophy Wife Life from Fenty Beauty are relatively recent, the introduction of political discourse in supposedly frivolous content is not new. For Crystal Abidin, anthropologist of web cultures and co-editor of Microcelebrity Around The Globe: Approaches To Cultures of Internet Fame (Emerald, 2018), “these YouTubers are inspired by a practice that already existed in women’s forums, on which Internet users concealed secret messages in publications visible to everyone, to protect themselves from potential attackers. A well-known example is that of women discussing cooking or education recipes, but when you read between the lines, you realize that they are talking to each other about domestic violence.”
According to the researcher, by increasing the length of messages posted on her site from 140 to 280 characters in 2017, Twitter also contributed to an expansion of female activism under the guise of frivolity: “The first lines of a tweet can play stereotypes to encourage men to go their way, while the following ones tackle a more political subject ”. In the same vein, Caitlin Walton of Norvell beauty tweeted last September the following message: “So, what kind of primer do you use when you put your foundation? – Ok girls, now that the men are gone, when are we going to have a joint government? ”.
CAN (’T) RELATE
But in the same way that brands are generally reluctant to take sides (with some exceptions, hello Michel and Augustin), professional YouTubers – who have made their ability to be “relatable” and close of their subscribers a regular source of income – Do they have an interest in positioning themselves politically? To risk the disavowal of a part of their public by showing an invested chouïa?
Yes, says Crystal Abidin, for whom playing it safe would no longer be the best strategy. “The web is populated by people, belonging to generation Z, who have grown up on an internet shaped by woke culture, cancel culture and call-out culture. There is a kind of generational movement which consists in being as political as possible, even if the way in which this is practiced political awareness is not necessarily effective (relies on fashions, hashtags, current passions, etc.) ”.
Being an influencer or a YouTuber beauty who has no opinion on anything and seeks to please everyone would have stopped working. The ideal compromise of content creators in search of meaning but who value their likes: the defence of relatively consensual causes such as the protection of the planet or animals. “If you want to rekindle the flame of your online presence, cultivating a niche, becoming interested in a new social cause can be a turning point in your career and a way to attract a new public, explains Crystal Abidin. It can be seen as hypocritical, but it’s part of political branding. ”
In France, the YouTuber EnjoyPhoenix (almost 4 million subscribers) – formerly used for traditional tutorials and HAUL videos (in which she presented her purchases from fast fashion stores) – has been particularly popular for a few years invested in raising awareness of responsible consumption patterns. Recipes for homemade household products, “anti-Black Friday” purchases made at thrift stores and the video “Should we stop flying?” – content significantly less dangerous for its brand than a video “15 reasons to participate in the general strike movement”.