How do beauty YouTubers maintain authenticity when success inevitably creates a gap between themselves and their audience? Are heightened production values and high-end products indicative of investing in your content, or do these improvements create unhealthy expectations? TenEighty chats to Lucy and Lydia Connell, Marc Zapanta, Corrie Swaffield, Katie Snooks, Lewys Ball, and Lucy Wood to get their thoughts on the evolution of the beauty community.
Having just passed its twelfth birthday, YouTube has changed a lot since its inception; the community of beauty gurus on the site is no exception. With over 45,000 channels and an average of 700 million views per month (as reported by Pixability in 2015), the online beauty community is a powerful thing. In the UK alone, two-fifths of British women have viewed online beauty content or tutorials according to The Guardian in 2014, and these numbers have likely grown since. The online beauty–sphere of today has a presence that’s impossible to ignore for both viewers and the larger cosmetics industry – but it wasn’t always this way.
Perhaps the most obvious change are the increased production values across beauty videos. “It’s no longer people sitting on a bed, but now people with backdrops and graphics,” notes Lewys Ball.
Lydia Connell adds that many creators have adopted higher-quality equipment, raising the overall standard of beauty content to a much higher level. “We [she and Lucy Connell] have changed along with the times, and spend a lot of time editing our videos to make them as fun to watch as possible,” she says.
In a recent video detailing his own criticisms of the beauty community, however, makeup artist Wayne Goss likened a piece of beauty content today to a well-produced TV segment: “The production quality of it was so high, there had to have been a crew there of at least three… while I was watching it I was just thinking, other than the beauty of it, how extreme YouTube has become in terms of production.”
“When I first started, it was webcam-quality, budget brands, and although the talent level was probably similar, it was all so much less polished and kind of more welcoming,” admits Lucy Wood. “Even self-taught beauty vloggers are makeup-artist-standard now, their filming setups are pro, and while budget brands are still a huge part of it all, there’s also an emphasis on quantity, spending, and luxury which I find pretty intimidating.”
Corrie Swaffield mentions the intimidation that comes alongside competing with top beauty creators who have teams of editors and camera operators at their disposal. “My first ever makeup video was filmed on my laptop webcam, had some budget AF soundtrack shoved over the top of it, and out-of-focus product close-ups,” she says.
“It’s just presumed that videos will be to a certain standard now, whether the creator is rich and famous or not”
Revealing that she gets comments on every video about her setup – from lighting to sound quality – Connie believes the standards of before aren’t enough today. “That definitely wouldn’t fly anymore, and the thumbs-down button would be on overdrive because people just expect so much more,” she says. “It’s just presumed that videos will be to a certain standard now, whether the creator is rich and famous or not.”
Marc Zapanta believes that higher-quality videos can sometimes equate to more views regardless of skill, saying, “The better the equipment, cameras, products, and lighting, the more views people get”.
However, Katie defends heightened production values, believing they give clarity to content like tutorials, making them easier to follow. “I feel like people have more respect and adoration for the people that create tutorials and how-tos,” she says.
While Lucy and Lydia Connell enjoy the balance between high- and low-production content, Lucy admits that they saw their channel grow when they focused on increasing their production values. “We think that audiences actually prefer the higher-production video content,” she asserts, though the pair still regularly upload traditional vlog-style footage as well.
Ultimately, Lewys concedes that makeup artistry in any context is just that: an art form where skill reigns supreme whether you’re filming on a webcam or in 4k. “I don’t think it really matters whether [the videos] are extremely great quality or not, because the personality and the makeup skills of someone shine through a lot more.”
“Some creators are now much more unrelatable, as their lifestyles are now unobtainable to the public and our viewers”
It seems that the level of production is a contentious issue within the community. While production could mask a lack of skill and make creators feel more distant from their audience, it can also lend clarity and make videos more visually engaging. Ultimately, it seems to be a matter of taste.
Along with the increased production values, creators are now being afforded far more opportunities by the industry, which has begun to notice how valuable their endorsements can be. But with this new ability to showcase high-end products, is the beauty community as relatable as it was in the past?
“This is a difficult one as I do think it’s half-and-half,” Katie argues. “Many creators that started off as predominantly beauty have now transferred to more travel content because of the incredible opportunities they have been given. In a way, I find this means they are now much more unrelatable, as their lifestyles are now unobtainable to the public and our viewers.”
In his criticism, Wayne Goss touched on ways in which overtly lavish lifestyles seemed to have dampened modern beauty content. “It is a room that is the most beautiful vanity room you’ve ever seen,” he explained, “with every kind of cosmetic behind you that you can think of, and then there’s your handbags and they’re Prada and they’re Gucci and they’re Chanel… I don’t find that inspiring at all. I find it the complete opposite; it doesn’t inspire me to be better, to strive for more, it just makes me think there is something so fundamentally wrong.”
Lewys counters this by stating that relatability changes with every person.“Some people may not want to do full glam makeup, or buy super expensive makeup,” he explains, “and therefore some YouTubers wouldn’t be ‘relatable’ to them. However, I don’t find that turns me off watching a YouTuber; I love watching super expensive makeup reviews when I have no intention of buying them.”
Despite still enjoying the content of many top beauty creators, Lucy Wood finds that the opulence of some lifestyles keeps her from finding a common thread. “While the overall beauty bubble can seem unrelatable nowadays, I think it does make it a lot more special when you do find a YouTuber that you instantly click with,” she adds. “It’s a rarer thing to find now, so that connection is kind of like finding a hidden gem.” For her, a relatable creator mirrors some aspects of her own life but, more importantly, holds a genuine connection through the lens.
“I watch a whole range of beauty vloggers, and I enjoy watching them all for different reasons”
Corrie echoes this concept – that as a viewer you will not be able to relate to everyone, but the sheer volume of beauty content means you will always be able to find a creator with whom you resonate. “I’m just a normal twentysomething girl and I live my life, and if people can relate to me then great, but also I understand that not everyone is the same,” she says. “I watch a whole range of beauty vloggers, and I enjoy watching them all for different reasons.”
Often, promotions and brand deals can alienate audiences and be seen as inauthentic, despite being legitimate sources of income that enable creators to do what they love. How do beauty creators navigate this new world while still maintaining their own authenticity?
Lucy Connell cites her and Lydia’s passion as a reason behind their channel’s authenticity. “Both of us started working on beauty counters from a young age and feel like our background means we’re always going to be passionate about beauty,” she says.
Corrie points out that part of being authentic is being selective about the brands you work with. “I’ll only work with a brand if I love the product, would genuinely buy it, or if I find the brand or campaign interesting and think my viewers would too,” she says. “You do end up saying no to about 80% of things offered to you.”
She also points out that working with brands shouldn’t conflict with being genuine. “I am fortunate enough to work with brands more often these days than when I first started… now and then there might be a sponsored video uploaded, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less genuine than my other content.”
Katie agrees, adding that balance is key when talking about products. “Not all beauty products are ‘amazing’… it’s just not true, and people will see through it.”
Besides, as Lewys comments, “it’s obvious when a product isn’t great because they can see the result on my face”.
While reviewing high-end products might not exactly be relatable for viewers, it’s clear that it isn’t brand deals themselves that can make a beauty creator feel less authentic, but how they approach them. If a deal allows the creator to showcase beauty ranges that fit their style, but they couldn’t necessarily afford themselves, that must be positive.
“If you’re creating the content you genuinely want to make, you’ll get there in the end”
So if this isn’t the heart of the problem, then what is? What’s the key to creating authentic content that resonates with viewers?
Marc believes broadening your reach across multiple platforms, such as Snapchat and Instagram, is essential. While main channels are reserved for high production and professional content, side channels and other social media accounts can become a more personal outlet for YouTubers. “It’s how followers can get to see a little more of their favourite influencer’s personality,” he explains.
While staying relatable for Lucy and Lydia means creating content that is achievable and affordable for their young audience, they also celebrate the diverse content within the beauty community. “We watch so many different beauty YouTubers and think the variety of people, brands, and products on YouTube is what keeps it interesting,” explains Lydia.
Lucy Wood believes that authenticity is about not falling into a formulaic rut of creating brand- and algorithm-friendly content, but creating videos that she is proud of. “Honestly, I’ve thought about completely altering my style of videos to fit in more with what seems to do well, but it’s something I’ve never actually been able to make myself do,” she admits. “It would mean creating things that I have zero interest in.
“You basically have to weigh up your priorities, and have faith that if you’re creating the content you genuinely want to make, you’ll get there in the end.”
Huge steps have been made in production quality on YouTube over the years, and the regard in which more traditional industries hold creators is only rising. This isn’t just within the beauty community; it’s systemic in many communities across YouTube. These tools, while enabling content with a more professional sheen, have also created ways to glamourise creators and their lifestyles to an aspirational standard sometimes beyond reach. But have these advancements damaged the relatability of beauty creators? We think not.
Ultimately, relatability is about cultivating a genuine relationship between creator and viewer, and it’s a concept that no amount of lighting rigs or Dior highlighters alone can build. Whether they’re filming an everyday summer makeup look or going full-on glam, it’s most important that the creators we enjoy most always manage to stay true to the styles and looks they love.
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- Is YouTube Leaving Creators Behind?
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