Why is Makeup and Beauty YouTube Dominated by Men?
by Amaya Oswald
Youtube sensation Shane Dawson is decorating his beauty room. A few months ago, Shane didn’t know the difference between a moisturizer and a primer, and today, as he shuffles through his eyeshadow palettes sitting on a bathroom countertop in his large Hollywood home he bought last year for somewhere around three million dollars, his boyfriend points out that “there are probably fifty five palettes here,” likely ranging from 15 to 65 dollars each. Shane argues that “there’s more” than 55. Just a few seconds later, Shane comments, “These are my luxury brushes—like my Gucci and my Tom Fords” and points to about fifteen different brushes resting on the counter.
Looking around at all the makeup he now possesses, Megan, Ryland’s sister, hits the nail on its head: “I don’t think any girl has this much makeup.” In response, Shane says, “I know… every girl has left earth.”
Shane’s typical witty banter seems to have struck a somber chord of truth here. In a metaphorical sense, every girl has left earth. No normal girl watching Shane’s videos could afford to buy this much makeup or to start selling millions of dollars worth of makeup product after becoming invested in the beauty world just a few months ago, even if they are as in love with makeup as Shane is.
Simply, the girls and women have left the chat. They could only be in his position in their dreams.
After half watching Shane morph into a makeup mogul these past few months—half watching because I daren’t directly watch it in the same way you wouldn’t directly stare at a blood moon—I am not sure what to think about Shane’s entry into the beauty world. I love to see people entering new avenues and I support people making their fortune. But I am a makeup wearer and lover, and I want my effect on the beauty community to be positive: I want to stick up for women in this industry, not (in the least crude but most truthful way possible) rich men profiting off women.
Because men in the beauty industry are perceived to have a certain expertise that women do not have, women get pushed aside. Many of the most well-known and popular selling brands at Sephora are owned by men (or owned by parent companies that are owned by men/male designers like Christian Dior). Women-owned beauty brands make up a very small portion of Sephora, and black women-owned brands make up even less.
When have you ever seen a woman’s name on a conditioner or shampoo? I know Christophe Robin, Toni&Guy, etc. I can’t think of any women-owned hair care brands named after their owner. It seems to me that men who own beauty brands are far more likely to use their own name when naming their company. I wish more women had the confidence of men who title their brand names after them— the confidence that comes with knowing that a man’s name on a shampoo bottle will do well.
This is also the case for the fashion world; Versace, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Jacequemus, the list goes on. How many large fashion brands can you think of whose female creator uses their own name? Kate Spade; Vivienne Westwood. Is that it?
Of course, this isn’t new to the beauty world, and it’s certainly not new to Youtube. In the comedy world, men are funnier; in the gaming world, men are better at gaming; in the beauty world, men have more natural talent, because women should already know how to do makeup and it’s really not that much of a stretch for them to be talented at it. The most famous and most-subscribed-to Youtubers are mostly men, and the two most subscribed and arguably most popular beauty Youtubers are men (James Charles and Jeffree Star). If Shane Dawson calls himself a beauty guru now—which he has—he will push Jaclyn Hill out of her third place position.
The “glass escalator” experience is something that has been happening since women started working, and you better believe that if men aren’t the ones doing the hairdressing, they are the ones owning the salons that do the hairdressing. Men have infiltrated the beauty and fashion world just enough so that their influence is embedded within women’s own beauty ideals while they claim that they are helping with male representation in female fields.
As a nineteen-year-old reading my favorite online beauty magazine Into The Gloss, I was a little astounded by Sir John’s description of his rise to fame. His description made it seem quick like a lightning bolt—like an escalator, carrying him straight up. Quite literally, he had a passport rushed to go Fashion Week with legendary makeup icon Pat McGrath very shortly after becoming a makeup artist for MAC. In his own words:
“… one day I was on a lunch break and I ran into Yadim, a makeup artist who I worked with at MAC back in Atlanta. He was like, ‘Come to Bryant Park and do this show with Pat McGrath.’ I had no idea who she was, but I showed up, nothing to lose. After the show, Pat asked me if I wanted to come do the Italian shows with her a week later—I had a passport rushed, and that was that. At Tom Ford’s first womenswear show in 2010, Charlotte came up to me and was like, ‘You’re going to do Beyoncé.’ … I stopped doing runway and stuff like that when I got the first tour offer with Beyoncé, and I also got a contract with L’Oréal.”
Is it luck, or is it the glass escalator? I love Sir John. He’s an inspiration. I love hearing him speak about makeup; I love his personality; I love his humbleness; I love the way he does makeup. I think he adds so much to the beauty industry. This summer, I even started binging American Beauty Star solely because he was involved with it. His success is caused by his clear, undeniable talent; he would not be where he is without it.
I know and you know that he’s a fantastic makeup artist—but so are so many women. And for every one incredible male artist, there are ten equally as talented and personable female make up artists who simply have not risen to the top so quickly. While no single individual designed the system to work this way, it is still a result of the norms imposed on society as a whole, and I wish men in the beauty industry would do their due diligence and speak up about it.
At this point, with so few men speaking up about the glass escalator experience they benefit from, I wonder if men in makeup even know the industry they are operating in. While it’s difficult to be completely aware of how the less privileged group experiences aspects of life, if you are working for an industry mainly marketed towards women, it seems logical that you would care about how women are treated within that industry. However, it seems that so many men have a blind spot when it comes to understanding female colleagues’ experiences, both in the beauty industry and in the workplace as a whole.
Men need to be in female-dominated fields; I want men in female-dominated fields. What I don’t want is men not recognizing the privilege that has been granted to them. Shane Dawson’s vlogging series about the beauty industry that he created for Youtube this past October was originally supposed to be titled, “The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,” which may have been a fitting title, but probably not in the way that he would have intended it to be.
Shane can immerse himself in the beauty industry. He can make palettes. He can flaunt his makeup. He can be in love with makeup. Where I draw the line is him saying he knows the beauty community enough to uncover the ugly side of it, or that the ugly side of it is anything other than the glass escalator experience and the experience of those less privileged.
Of course, Jeffree Star’s and James Charles’ petty dramas are ugly too—vomit worthy—but rich people getting in fights with other rich people is not reality. The real ugliness occurs when women feel forced to wear makeup to look professional or “not dead,” or when women can’t reach the top of their own fields. It is the girls who are being set aside or not considered at all. It is the glass escalator.
So, Dawson. Make a series on that.