In the way of new media, the term became a running joke on Twitter almost as quickly as the assured headlines rolled in. From shared apartments to presidential marketing suits, people wondered: what on earth is an influencer?
It’s a vague, peppy term that feels strangely sufficient to describe the YouTube economy of content that has evolved in the last few years. Some creators do produce music, films, books — and those actions come with their own titles — but the truest medium for anyone above a certain subscriber count is, perhaps, influence. With eyes and advertisers slathered over the video-sharing website, the question for some creators becomes how to use that sway.
The realm of beauty vlogging might seem mired in consumerism, but each product could be reimagined as a catalyst for discussion. Everyone makes personal choices about what they buy and use on a daily basis, and those decisions construct real influence, no matter the size of the audience.
Under the current global economic system, money is nearly always connected to some form of violence: even if someone only buys from their local farmers market, the bank of their credit card could be funding human rights violations somewhere else. Consumer-based activism is complex, which is all the more reason that more people should be encouraged to try.
Social media stars do have a responsibility to be informed on social issues just like anyone else, if to not actively point their audiences in an informed direction. For the beauty vlogger, critical thought must extend past the efficacy of the product to consider the forces that created it. Here are some of the major movements in the beauty domain.
Probably the most visible of the movements on YouTube, people have protested against cosmetic experiments on animals since the 1980s. A search for “vegan beauty” on the platform turns up nearly two million results, with people discussing their favorite products that don’t use animals to test. One way to view the argument is that, while it is unethical to test new medications on humans, making animal trials necessary, makeup is more of a privilege than a right. The European Union officially banned cosmetic animal testing in 2013, while fewer and fewer American companies use the practice, so the public interest and petitions are working.
Boycott, Divest, Sanction, or the BDS movement
Inspired by the boycotts against Apartheid in South Africa, this campaign to end Israeli human rights violations is part of the larger Palestinian resistance. As in the name, the strategy is to boycott, divest from, or place sanctions on cultural and financial institutions that support the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. BDS was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the movement gains traction every day. Many cosmetic companies are unfortunately tied up in this market, but alternatives are just as present.
It does not feel adequate to describe the sweatshop systems and child abuse coordinated and maintained by multinational governments and companies as simply “unethical.” These issues cross with beauty in a myriad of ways, from the supply chains of fast fashion to the smallest ingredients. For example, the mineral mica is a practically ubiquitous component of color cosmetics, but approximately 20,000 children work in dangerous conditions to mine the material in northern India. Mica mining has only recently been legalized by the country after investigations revealed how often these children die in the unsanctioned mines.
In other regions dealing with debt bondage and poverty, jobs in garment factories can be the best way for people to provide for themselves and their families. For these issues, boycotts are not necessarily the ultimate protest because policy decisions structure the local economies to rely on these hazards. Most activists within these countries recommend contacting corporate officials to ask them to take responsibility and improve working conditions. It is essential to move with this knowledge, and understand that glitters and clothes are more than possessions to be briefly worn and discarded; they belong to a wider exploitative system. For more information on these issues, Rowan Ellis and Rian Phin are quite educational.
Use that Influence
These are just a few aspects of being an informed buyer and promoter. Beauty vloggers should absolutely research the supply chain of brands that they use in order to fully educate their viewers. Vloggers have intimate access to the opinions of their viewers, with more people taking online reviews into account when purchasing new products than ever before. The larger cosmetics market has sped up to recognize the leverage of vloggers over the market, and the vlogging scene is even more powerful when taking these concerns into account.
Vloggers have intimate access to the opinions of their viewers.
From what I have seen, the most effective method is to explain what you use and why; people are more receptive to being inspired by good examples rather than just being told what to do. The online beauty community is full of people speaking honestly and passionately, and that influence can be exercised even more.