Beauty Makeup Gurus on YouTube and Orientalism

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It seems in this day and age there are either people who promote makeup and beauty products as an act of agency, where Asian Americans and people in general can gain social recognition and community support for their skills, or they frown upon the practice as a continual enforcement of misogynistic hegemonic forces of power that push unrealistic, and often white, beauty standards onto people of color. Though the makeup industry is almost exclusively marketed towards a female audience, it is heavily dominated by white males who, for years, have been the main creators and distributors of products. However, with the rise of online social media sharing website such as YouTube and Instagram, more and more Asian Americans are finding outlets where they can share their own makeup tips, advice, and opinions. Garnering huge online fanbases, these (mostly female) makeup gurus have gained the attention of big name brands and some even go on to create their own makeup lines (ex. Michelle Phan).

From all the success that Asian makeup artists have received from their YouTube videos, some argue that many of these videos perpetuate and reinforce the forces of white beauty standards that dominate mainstream media. In YouTuber Wengie’s video, “No Surgery Double Eyelid Tape Glue & Fibre Tutorial ♥ 3 Products B&A Monolid & Hooded Lid ♥ Wengie,” she takes the viewer through a variety of different eyelid tape and glue products from Japan, all designed for Asians who want to have a double eyelid. Her video is very reminiscent of many other western makeup artists on YouTube who cater to western audiences interested in learning about Asian beauty products; she states, “For those of you who like these sorts of videos where I explore weird, beauty, cultural products, please give this video a thumbs up.” In this way she is engaging in the almost orientalist fascination that many white people and even Asian diasporic people residing in western countries seem to have about the popular beauty trends in East Asian countries. Another interesting point to notice is that despite making a point of presenting herself as merely a sampler or these “quirky” Asian products and thereby distancing herself from East Asians who might actually use these products regularly, Wengie actually wears circle contact lenses, which are popular in East Asian countries and designed to give the appearance of a larger iris and thus larger eye. So she is actually quite familiar with these types of products, but merely wants to appeal to her target audience who might not be.

The controversy over these types of videos can often be found in the plethora of individuals arguing in the comments section.

As seen in the above screenshot, white user annarchy’s comment is not an uncommon one where a white individual questions the why East Asians desire to change their already beautiful monolids. We can see that she is displaying a type of ignorant privilege where white people denounce these Asian beauty products as unnecessary, but are part of long history of systematic racism that have stereotyped East Asians for their “small, slanted eyes.” User AhoiMina then brings up another issue of whether or not these beauty products are really about race or whether they simply deal with cosmetic concerns for Asians who want to change their appearance; is it possible for us to separate beauty trends from a history of racial ties? According to Drake Baer in “The most popular plastic surgery operation in South Korea has a controversial past,” the history of double eyelid surgery goes back to American plastic surgeon Dr. Ralph Millard who was stationed in Seoul from 1950-1953 and was reportedly the first to develop this surgery; Millard claimed that, “the absence of the puerperal fold produces a passive expression which seems to epitomize the stoical and unemotional manner of the oriental.” Similar to how whites asserted racial superiority over other minorities, they did and continue to do so over East Asians and their eyes.

After years, many Koreans and other East Asians using double eyelid products or getting the surgery do not attribute these with their racist origins, and some have argued that they have developed into a part of East Asian culture separate from white beauty ideals. However, with a white hegemonic power still heavily prevalent on a global scale, it is impossible to mutually exclude double eyelid products and their history. From Asian YouTubers like Wengie who make videos where “[…] you can find out what Asian girls do to create pretty eyelids” to others that make videos geared for those with monolids and promote their beauty, social media sites have allowed Asian Americans and other western Asian diaspora to contribute and have a greater voice in the makeup world while also often failing to subvert any racial ideals that plague people of color and playing into the orientalist intrigue that westerners have about East Asia. The platform has immense potential, but in order for any changes to be made not only on YouTube but in the mainstream makeup realm, these makeup gurus need to not only be aware of social issues of race and ethnicity, but take action.

Works Cited

Wengie. “No Surgery Double Eyelid Tape Glue & Fibre Tutorial ♥ 3 Products B&A Monolid & Hooded Lid ♥ Wengie.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 26 December 2015. Web. 19 February 2017.

Dasha Kim. “EYELINE FOR MONLIDS | dahyeshka.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 12 April 2016. Web. 29 February 2017.

Baer, Drake. “The Most Popular Plastic Surgery Operation in South Korea Has a Controversial Past.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 06 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

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