Even when makeup vlogger Tati Westbrook was still in her twenties, nasty commenters told her she was “too old for YouTube.” It still happens today.
“I get a lot of really strange hate about being a little bit older and doing YouTube,” Westbrook, known simply as Tati to her two million-plus subscribers, said in a recent video. “If you think I’m old and you wanna unsubscribe, go ahead.”
And then she took a long, sassy sip from her iced coffee.
Now 34 years old, Tati has proved her early critics wrong. She is one of the most successful and prolific makeup vloggers on the service, posting five product reviews a week to her GlamLifeGuru channel. After six years, her lifetime view count is the same size as the U.S. population: 318 million.
It’s easy to see why Tati has had such success. She describes cosmetics in precise, technical terms—far beyond “I love it” or “I hate it”—while still coming across as warm, honest, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. In her most popular video—a review of a $90 Louboutin luxury lipstick that came on a rope—she jokes that, if she were a billionaire, she would “buy a hundred of these lipsticks and decorate my Christmas tree.”
And far from being a disadvantage, Tati believes her age has only made her more successful in a space that is dominated by twentysomethings.
“At times, I’ve felt very much like an outsider,” she told me. “But as those younger viewers have grown up, they tend to gravitate towards more mature perspectives and, as a result, my audience just keeps growing.”
Makeup vlogging is mostly a young woman’s game. The average age of the 10 most popular YouTube beauty gurus, as ranked by celebrity gossip blog Oh No They Didn’t, is just 28. (Tati, who came in fifth this year, was the oldest on the list.) That youthfulness is partly a reflection of their audience; a recent Digiday analysis showed that women between the ages of 13 and 34 make up 74% of beauty and style channel viewers.
But women don’t have to become invisible as they grow older—even on a young platform like YouTube. As Tati put it in one of her videos: “Your 20s are not it. That’s not where life ends.”
“The reality is your 20s are just one decade,” she continued. “And then you’re in your 30s. And 40s. And 50s. And 60s. And 70s. And 80s.”
Indeed, women in each of those decades of life are still makeup-vlogging despite the negative comments; even Tati at the young age of 34 told me that she has “learned how to look away” from her trolls. These women might get hate for sticking around, but they will continue to show their subscribers that aging is a normal part of a beautiful life.
Patti Bailey is proof that women don’t have to retire from makeup vlogging. In fact, she didn’t start posting videos on her YouTube channel rxstrmom until she was 68 years old, after going on a futile search for beauty gurus close to her age.
“I thought if I’m looking for beauty tips from women who I can relate to on [YouTube]—women with the same issues that I have with aging—then there have to be other women looking,” she told me.
Just how many other women were looking came as a shock. Patti was expecting “a little handful of subscribers,” she said. Now, at 73, her YouTube following is just shy of 20,000. A commenter once tried to insult her by calling her a “grandma.” But like Tati, Patti didn’t allow the negativity to get to her. Instead, she made a video to mark the occasion, “My Very First Official Hater,” even mixing in some applause sound effects to celebrate the milestone.
“By the way, I’m not going to call this hater a person because people don’t do things like this,” she quipped in the video, before noting that “it would be absolutely the best thing in the world to be a grandma.”
Patti is nearly four decades older than Tati and, when it comes to makeup vlogging, some of the challenges she’s facing are different. For one, she no longer has the patience for the extensive eye makeup tutorials that are so popular among younger YouTubers. “I have wrinkly skin on my eyelids,” she told me. “I do better with something more simple than eyeshadow and eyeliner.”
But Patti and other YouTubers outside of the makeup-vlogging community’s fairly narrow age range are charting a path forward for women Tati’s age and younger. The future of makeup vlogging, as they envision it, will have something for everyone: winged eyeliner tips for young women, skin care advice for middle-aged women, foundation advice for women in their sixties, and more.
“I do feel like I'm paving the way for younger women to keep going as they get older by showing that mature women love beauty, makeup, and clothes too,” said Angie, who vlogs about makeup and beauty for women over 50 on her popular HotandFlashy channel. “Hopefully I can illustrate that ‘old’ isn’t scary, and it doesn’t mean you have to quietly fade away.”
For the last year and a half, Angie, who prefers to go by her first name for privacy reasons, has been publishing a video series called Foundation Fridays, in which she tests foundations on her skin, which “suddenly changed” after her 50th birthday. Out of the 100 foundations she has tested, she estimates that only about 10 work for her. “At 20 you can put on any makeup and look great,” she told me. “Over 50, it's a struggle to find products that work.”
And at age 67, Carol Ann Sinnott, who runs the weekly Oh Carol Show on YouTube, was brutally honest with me about why makeup vlogging gets more complicated as you get older.
“We as older women are dealing with all the ravages of gravity, dry skin, aging skin, hooded eyes, wrinkles, puffy eyes, smile lines, sagging skin, marionette lines, et cetera, and the list goes on,” she told me over email, before adding a chipper smiley face.
But women like Patti, Angie, and Carol aren’t just managing the physical effects of aging; they’re also trying to get a youth-oriented cosmetics industry to notice them beyond token gestures like placing Helen Mirren in a L’Oréal Paris advertisement. And makeup companies would probably be wise to start catering to them sooner rather than later.
Tati, for example, has built up an enormous audience of style-conscious millennial women who will age alongside her, and it seems unlikely that they are going to put down their brushes in their golden years. In that sense, Patti is a possible sign of things to come. Her daughter encouraged her to start vlogging because she saw her mom “trying to take care of [herself] and be relevant” instead of shopping in the seniors section and “wearing the little hairstyles.”
“[Beauty companies] think we’re just gonna fade off into nothing,” Patti told me. “That we’re just gonna die. That we’re not relevant at all.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many women of her generation. One 2013 study by a marketing firm found that 53% of women born between 1946 and 1964 felt “overlooked” by advertisers, despite being the “richest consumer demographic in U.S. history.” That problem only gets worse when it comes to makeup ads. A 2016 study of 509 women between the ages of 40 and 89 conducted by psychologists the London College of Fashion found that more than 90% “believed that they are not represented accurately or sufficiently in different kinds of advertisements” for beauty products.
“We content creators are trying to show the advertisers that we are still vital and have a lot to offer,” Carol told me.
But part of the problem, as the London College of Fashion study pointed out, is that advertisers are still caught up in the sexist and old-fashioned mindset that older women just want to be young again.
"It would be a step in the right direction if advertisers could reconsider some of their marketing strategies and focus less on how a product makes a women look younger and more about how the product can make her feel good about herself,” Dr. Carolyn Mair, one of the study’s authors, advised in a press release.
Today’s mature women just aren’t buying the notion that they either have to either be forever young or “age gracefully,” Angie explained.
“Traditionally, youth and beauty have been the most valued assets in a woman,” she said. “But fortunately, that perception is starting to change.” She’s helping to change it. And that shift is happening just in time for YouTube’s bustling beauty community.
For all of the difficulties that makeup vloggers face after leaving their 20s, they do have one key advantage: experience. As beauty channel viewers get older, they don’t just want to watch young girls with disposable income gush about their makeup hauls from the mall—they also want knowledgeable voices they can turn to for honest opinions and purchasing advice.
Tati, for instance, has discovered firsthand in her thirties that length of track record is becoming an asset.
“For me, after six years and one thousand videos on YouTube I feel like I've earned my credibility and have the advantage of being taken more seriously,” she told me. “I don't see much of a disadvantage [to my age.]”
At the other end of the spectrum, Patti has learned that many of her younger followers gravitate toward a more seasoned viewpoint in a landscape flooded with hype. “I’m very down to earth,” she told me. “I tell it like it is.”
And as more and more women refuse to conform to societal expectations around aging, there’s no reason to suspect that the world of YouTube beauty content creators will have a cut-off age.
In the near future, Tati predicts that the makeup-vlogging world will be “a platform filled with talented women and men in their 30s and 40s,” and Carol predicts that “they will be on YouTube until they are old and gray.”
“There is societal pressure for ‘older’ women to fade into the background and not put themselves out there,” Angie told me, but she believes that will change as both makeup vloggers and their “loyal audience” refuse to quit as they age. In so doing, they will put to rest the idea that someone can ever be “too old for YouTube.”
“I used to feel anxiety that I was running out of time,” Tati told me. “And now I believe I'm just getting started.”
Samantha Allen is a reporter for Fusion's Sex+Life vertical. She has a PhD in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Emory University and was the 2013 John Money Fellow at the Kinsey Institute. Before joining Fusion, she was a tech and health reporter for The Daily Beast.