Boring And Racist – The Beauty Community Is Ticking All The Wrong Boxes Right Now

“The lack of representation in beauty is something that should always be at the forefront of a brand’s employees, marketing and products. If the people behind the scenes aren’t diverse there’s no real change.”
woman recording a makeup tutorial for her beauty blog with her phone while sitting at home. female influencer live streaming her cosmetic review and recommendation online
ediebloom via Getty Images
woman recording a makeup tutorial for her beauty blog with her phone while sitting at home. female influencer live streaming her cosmetic review and recommendation online

When I joined the beauty community in 2015, I was bombarded with bold, colourful, ultra-precise makeup. People showed off their looks proudly on social media, and all I knew was glitter cut creases, drag queen-turned-Kim Kardashian contour, and what could be called an unhealthy obsession with the Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance eyeshadow palette.

Being able to explore freely was one of the main reasons I remained in the beauty community this long. I’ve made a career out of my passion for all things beauty, and have established strong relationships with leading brands and PR agencies.

You’re probably thinking I’ve got no complaints at all. Unfortunately, I do.

Recently, I’ve (amongst many other people) been bored. I’ve felt a shift in the beauty community that I can only describe as stagnant, uninspired, and dare I say it, recycled.

A lack of willingness to create and diversify content in fear of being thrown to the curb by the members clinging on to “clean girl beauty” because that’s what gets the most views.

“I honestly hate how commercial the beauty community has become,” content creator @witch_hazel_x tells me. “It’s people creating the same makeup look over and over again, giving it a slightly different name, and boom, there’s your next trend for brands to jump on.”

Recycled beauty trends

Hazel Jane (@witch_hazel_x) speaks on a topic that has been burning through my mind for a very long time – I’m calling them recycled beauty trends. It seems like everyone (including me) is obsessed with taking relatively simple makeup looks and giving them entirely different (and somewhat questionable) names.

Why, you ask? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. But as a content creator, if I had to give you an answer, it would be the accusation that content creators know what “sells” and they’ve latched onto it – taking away originality in place of trying to make commissions on TikTok shop.

It’s no surprise that content creators are cashing in on this trend, however – I’m certainly not blaming anyone for trying to get their ‘bag’.

In 2022, Forbes reported that “engagement rates on TikTok are higher than on both YouTube and Instagram.

“Micro-influencers on YouTube have an average engagement rate of 1.63%, and 3.86% on Instagram. On TikTok, this figure stands at 17.96%.”

“Everything is sponsored or there’s a commission behind it”

“There’s no originality anymore and everything feels like an ad,” Hazel Jane continues.

“The pressure to use viral products is huge as well, and it feels like the only way to get noticed by brands is to push their products rather than just using them organically. It feels like no one does honest or in-depth reviews either because everything is sponsored or there’s a commission behind it.”

It’s something Glow Up Ireland winner @the_queer_wan can also attest to: “I think adding retail to a social media platform removes its original purpose, and turns it into a virtual department store with influencers simply trying to sell you something for them to make money.”

It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of beauty

Palatable beauty has been creeping up on us for some time now. Gone are the days of constant rainbow makeup looks (unless it’s Pride or you’re following amazing content creators who haven’t fallen under the trap of “latte makeup”) and all we have left is beauty content that doesn’t ruffle any feathers, or make anyone uncomfortable.

“I have become accustomed to seeing the same type of face and influencer be pushed into the limelight without having space for people of other demographics,” Glow Up season three finalist @dolli.glam tells me.

“I know we all understand how damaging it is to not have other forms of representation and I thought we were coming out of it but it seems to have made a total 360.”

Byrdie Beauty, which boasts 9 million beauty-obsessed readers monthly, released an article earlier this year explaining why the “clean girl aesthetic” trend is inherently problematic. Having labelled it classist, racist, ageist, and fatphobic, it’s incredibly alarming to me that we as consumers have latched onto the concept and completely ran with it.

That said, no one is saying only skinny white women are entitled to the “clean girl aesthetic”, it’s just that seeing only mostly white people participating in these trends “exemplifies the fact that Blackness is not inherently accepted as part of the look,” as Byrdie reports.

However, some BIPOC creators completely disagree with this statement.

Content creator @afroglory_ tells me she “rocks the clean girl aesthetic” every time she does her daily makeup. “I don’t think it’s exclusive to the white/Eurocentric beauty standard. That’s an absolute myth!”

“We’ve recently seen projects coming out that speak out on the censorship of black, brown and plus-size bodies”

However, Shahira (@afroglory_) does share similar concerns on the topic of “palatable beauty.”

“I do however think that on social media white/Eurocentric beauty standards are favoured not just by social media users but by the algorithm,” Shahira states.

“It’s naive to think that the apps we’re using are smart enough to show us ads for that product we thought about 30 seconds ago but not know the colour of our skin, ethnicity and other personal race-related information,” she explains. “We’ve recently seen projects coming out that speak out on the censorship of black, brown, and plus-size bodies which is heavily in relation to how we are treated in comparison to our white peers.”

She goes on to state: “The internet is always looking for “palatable beauty” to fit in with the ‘you could be this pretty if you buy this product’ narrative.

“On top of this, we unfortunately live in an inherently racist society with deeply internalised racism. This means that it is, as our ancestors predicted, ten times harder for us to reach the same level/goals as our white peers.”

Regarding the eurocentric beauty standard, Shahira says the closer you are to the white eurocentric beauty standard in the Western world the easier it appears to be to “go viral” in this industry.

She adds: “I’ve seen five seconds reels go viral because a conventionally pretty white/Eurocentric, slim-figured, female-presenting person has done a spin on camera in a cute little fit and in comparison I have seen exceptionally talented black and brown creators put hours into their content only to receive minimal engagement and small followings.”

The influencer pay-gap

In a report published by The Influencer League and communications company MSL, the study showed the pay gap between white influencers, and those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of colour was a whopping 29%.

Between white and Black influencers, that gap widened to 35%, MSL reported.

49% of the Black influencers who participated in the study said they felt their race played a part in being low-balled, while 59% of Black influencers also reported that posting about race negatively impacted them financially, according to the report.

“If I could solve one thing in this industry that hurts BIPOC influencers, it would be pay transparency,” said Brittany Bright of The Influencer League. “The absence of a pay standard disadvantages BIPOC influencers at every turn.”

In 2021 @atimxo told Dazed of her experience facing racial discrimination when a fashion brand reached out to her. “They wanted 10 posts in exchange for gifting. I genuinely couldn’t believe it.”

She mentions asking to be paid properly for her work which the brand said would be “impossible”.

“One of my white counterparts was also approached by this particular brand and they offered her £20,000 for the same collaboration. You can only imagine how crazy I felt.

“What made it worse is that at the time this brand chose their collaborations based on engagement rates, and my white counterpart had much lower engagement rates than I did.”

However, Black creators possess larger and more engaged followings compared to their non-Black counterparts

A study conducted by Group Black and Nielsen revealed that Black creators possess larger and more engaged followings compared to their non-Black counterparts.

“The report sheds light on the tremendous impact of Black creators’ social media content and emphasises the need for marketers to recognise and value their contributions,” says Wishu Media.

The study analysed the performance of Black creators across various niches, including lifestyle, fashion, and gaming, on popular platforms like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter from 2020 to 2022.

The findings showed that Black creators consistently outperformed their non-Black peers in terms of overall engagement, follower growth, and media value for brand sponsors.

BIPOC Content creator @maytahmi details her own experience, telling me: “the lack of representation in beauty is something that should always be at the forefront of a brand’s employees, marketing and products. If the people behind the scenes aren’t diverse there’s no real change.”

May adds: “I believe brands and the people behind brands can sometimes have bias when it comes to picking creators to work with, a lot of the time picking people who they resonate with or look like. If a team is full of cis het white people, the campaigns aren’t going to be as rich in diversity as they could be.”

She speaks on her own experiences while attending events, mentioning that brands only seem to invite the same BIPOC creators repeatedly while ignoring many others.

“Brands utilise the same token poc’s and don’t do research beyond what they know to look at who fits the profile of their brand,” she states. “They only seem to take black and POC creators seriously if they have an extremely high number of followers.

“A PR dinner will be full of white creators who vary from 10k - one million followers but all the POC seem to have to be on like 50/100k minimum. It’s almost like we have to work harder to be in these spaces.

So, where do we go from here?

“For me, walking into a MAC counter and seeing every person sporting a different colours/styles of eyeshadow made me feel accepted,” @t4ylormade_ says. “It felt like there was an actual community.”

They add: “I was in many group chats where we just spoke about makeup and what we were excited about and YouTubers we liked etc. But now it feels like every man for themselves.”

The lack of community is something I relate to – it does feel like it’s “every man for themselves”. However, it doesn’t have to be.

Look, I’m no stranger to paid opportunities and brands paying me to promote their products, but that doesn’t mean we should be eradicating others from similar opportunities.

As a POC, I’ll always be vocal about the mistreatment of BIPOC creators in the beauty community (and the influencer community as a whole).

The unspoken truth that BIPOC creators are paid less, invited to fewer PR events and taken to fewer brand trips should be spoken about. The more we amplify the topic, the better we hold these brands accountable and give opportunities and platforms to BIPOC creators that are usually glazed over by their white/Eurocentric counterparts.

We also need to go back to enjoying makeup, enjoying the beauty, and stop creating content solely based on the fact we think we need to create the same content as everyone else because it’s going to “perform well.”

“Find your community. You will find people who love what you do,” Hazel Jane says. “Keep an eye on trends but don’t force yourself to do them - people can tell when it’s not genuine. Create content that you want to see.”