It was only a few years ago that I discovered a sector of YouTube that would keep me hooked for months, and coming back for many more -- the beauty gurus. There is something relaxing and mindless about watching someone discuss facial cleansers, foundations, and footwear. My mild infatuation with these videos began innocently enough. I was searching the internet looking for inspiration for my hair for a party when I stumbled upon this goldmine of all things beauty and fashion. For the past couple years or so I have wandered through YouTube, watching a haul (in which a YouTuber will show and discuss certain purchases they have made recently) or a makeup video here and there. I recently noticed a certain trend in the video content of many YouTubers who focus on beauty and lifestyle -- dissatisfaction.
I had often wondered in the past if these women felt fulfilled by talking about products and basically acting as an unknowing (or contracted, as has often become the case) advertiser for hundreds of different shampoos, eyeliners, lipsticks, and moisturizers. Although many continue to happily film and post ten-minute videos detailing their monthly favorites, or their daily morning routine, others have begun to shift the discussion towards Things That Matter.
Meghan Rienks, an aspiring actress and beauty guru, recently published a video to her channel entitled "I HATE YOUTUBE!!!!: A 100% Honest Q & A" in which, among other things, she discussed how she felt that her channel misrepresented her values, and that she did not love makeup as much as her channel would have you believe. A week later, Rienks published her first artistic, and non-beauty related, video to her channel. "Spark: A Visual Poem by Meghan Rienks" delves into the emotions of depression, something that Rienks has spoken freely about suffering from on her channel. I watched "Spark" with just a little trepidation, as both the title and the black-and-white editing, sitting smack dab between videos about skincare, makeup, and Christmas gifts, smelled like someone was trying to be something they were not.
I was pleasantly surprised. "Spark", the first half of which features only Rienks' voice, is well-paced, honest, and moving. It is apparent from the rawness and detailed descriptions that Rienks is sharing a lot of her personal struggles with her 1.4 million subscribers. "Spark", in addition to her earlier video "My Depression Story: Where I've Been & What I'm Feeling", provides to her young fan-base a role model that is not afraid to talk about mental illness, and who advocates searching for help and support.
Ingrid Nilsen, another YouTube beauty guru, recently made a January favorites video which went a little differently than usual. "I want to incorporate and talk about things that are meaningful to me," says Nilsen, going on to explain that she is aiming to start a discussion amongst her viewers. "You have a voice," she says at one point. Nilsen reaches out to and connects with her viewers, many of whom are teens and young adults going through life changes, by saying, "What I like may not be what's popular, and I'm okay with that." She ends her video with a question meant to stimulate discussion about change, and if we should seek it out or let it happen naturally.
This video is strikingly different from many of Nilsen's other videos, which are largely focused on fashion, lifestyle, and makeup. Like Rienks, Nilsen is more dimensional than her channel's genre had allowed her to be while maintaining her viewership as she continued to rise as a star. Now comfortable with a healthy 3.2 million subscribers, Nilsen is free to expand what she stands for as a role model for millions of viewers. Although Nilsen has touched upon bigger topics in the past, such as plastic surgery and writing an article for Darling Magazine, this video marks a change in Nilsen's dialogue with her viewers, as these discussions are something she plans to continue in many videos to come.
Both Rienks and Nilsen have capitalized on the popularity they grew for themselves from talking about makeup and clothes in a way that reaches out to their viewers and inspires discussion and hope. They reach an audience that might not otherwise be exposed to these ideas and discussions, bringing a touch more discourse and thought into an otherwise commercial and predictable sector of the internet.