Beauty is one of YouTube’s largest verticals — right up there with music, food, and gaming. What sets beauty apart, though, is that the success of a “beauty channel” is largely dependent on the face of the “beauty guru” behind it. To be sure, for the young female audience these channels attract, there's much more than just giving good face — tips, tricks and ideas are also important — but having coveted symmetrical features certainly doesn't deter viewers from subscribing.
But for some of these beauty gurus, lipstick and eyeshadow isn't enough: They've gone under the knife (or turned to the needle) in their quest for self-improvement. And just as they do with a new manicure or brow shape, they share cosmetic procedure information with viewers. A sampling:
Nic Haste is one-half of the popular makeup artist channel "Pixiwoo." In 2013, she made a video (objectively in haste) for her 1.8 million fans about deciding to get lip fillers on the fly. "I kind of really didn't think about it," she laughs as she describes the bruising masked by her vibrant red lipstick and the pain she is feeling just one day after the procedure.
The video feels awkward to watch and dismissive in many ways, mainly because as a non-invasive surgery with a short recovery period, it is easy to wave off the procedure of getting a substance injected into your face as NBD. The attention to detail she normally exhibits in makeup tutorials is nowhere to be found in the above video. The title, "I had my lips made bigger (don't tell mum)" reduces her major decision to physically alter her body to something like getting a nose ring or dying her hair. Is the distinction obvious to pre-teens in her audience?
Cutie Pie Marzia's channel features animation, cooking, style hauls, and makeup tutorials. She's amassed a mammoth audience of over 5 million thanks to the diversity of her content and her public relationship with the creator behind YouTube's largest vlog channel, Pewdiepie. However, in this video, she opens up about her rhinoplasty as a way to correct a deviated septum. She claims the problem got "worse and worse" every year, making breathing nearly impossible.
"[The doctor] told me there might be slight changes [to the appearance of my nose] because depending on how the surgery goes she might have to 'do something.'" She maintains that she chose surgery strictly for respiratory relief. So why did she feel it was necessary to disclose a routine correctional surgery at all?
Vlogger Nikki Phillippi has been documenting her life for more than 3 years through videos on YouTube. In her most popular video, she explains the reasoning behind her decision to get liposuction and breast implants. The video (which has more than 1.3 million views) is done in the same familiar conversational tone of other beauty and shopping haul videos on her channel.
In a video posted last summer, Ingrid Nilsen — whose content is usually about beauty, fashion, and healthy food — spoke to her fans about her body insecurities and admitted her desire to get larger breasts and have some keloid scars removed. Around the 14:30-minute mark, she also invited her audience to speak with her plastic surgeon friend to get answers to their body questions. "Because I know body confidence is such a huge issue right now… I decided to ask Dr. Miller if he would be willing to answer your questions… I feel like he was really helpful for me, so I want to extend that to you guys."
The video didn't go over so well. Many commenters found the suggestion irresponsible. One viewer wrote, "It's absolutely disgusting that you've ended a self confidence video with an advert for plastic surgery. " The top comment on the video (having over 1500 thumbs up) sums it up:
Julie G usually posts Disney manicures and smokey eyeshadow tutorials, but in July 2013, she discussed her rhinoplasty instead. In the video (which is more than 20 minutes long — a miniseries in YouTube time), she describes, in detail, the melancholy she felt after getting a nose job, and how not recognizing her own face was initially a traumatizing experience — but how, overall, she is happy with her decision. Since then, she's posted videos about glitter eye makeup and her eponymous nail polish collection.
This twenty-something vlogger makes videos about her day-to-day life experiences (this is her 2nd channel, the first has over 1.5 million subscribers and is strictly about beauty) and in December of last year, one of those days included plastic surgery. The juxtaposition of upbeat Christmas music and Rienks' casual demeanor regarding her impending rhinoplasty is incredibly jarring. Around the 20-second mark she literally squeals, "Today I'm getting surgery!!! Wheeee!"
Rienks says that while she did have a deviated septum, getting a nose job was something she'd wanted to do "for aesthetic reasons since middle school."
Surgery is serious — it can be painful, dangerous, and potentially fatal. Two of Rienks' follow-up recovery videos (titled "I HAVE BLACK BOOGERS" and "2 BLACK EYES AND BED REST IS BORING," respectively) might be a bit too lighthearted given the weight of the decision. Should she have taken the opportunity to educate her massive audience about the severity of the surgery?
Dulce Candy's audience tunes in for weekly bilingual beauty product reviews, and fashion and makeup hauls. In this 26-minute video posted in 2013, Dulce — then in her late-twenties — explains that her nose looked too big in pictures, and her breasts changed after breastfeeding her son. And so she made the choice to endure breast enhancement and rhinoplasty. "I'm a grown woman… As long is as my husband and my son are happy and they're well taken care of, my choice does not affect anybody." The video has over 2 million views. Young women come to her for beauty tips. Can she be sure no one was affected?
The Xiaxue is another successful beauty vlogger on YouTube. Her most popular videos either contain footage of her adorable son, Dash, or detail her plastic surgery experiences. In this video she very bluntly answers viewer questions about her multiple procedures. She nonchalantly details having her nose broken and reconstructed repeatedly throughout several surgeries, as well as her double eye-lid surgery.
Gigi is an extremely popular YouTube personality/beauty guru; in December 2013 she posted a video titled "I am transgender," and in April 2014, in the video above, she highlighted her decision to get a nose job and a forehead softening procedure as part of her transition journey. The video is a bold statement about how Gigi believes that her nose conflicted with the way her gender was perceived — and how that's not necessarily same battle as being self-conscious about the size or shape of your nose in a general sense.
While the decision to confess a cosmetic procedure to millions of viewers can be seen as a brave act, it is important to consider whether or not these videos glamorize — or normalize — surgical augmentation of the body as a stop on a path to happiness. Makeup videos have a rosy perfectionism, and it's carried over into these videos, despite the subject matter being far more serious. What should serve as an opportunity to be real with audiences about insecurity, depression, body dysmorphia — a chance to be really raw and honest — often feels like a cookie-cutter attempt to be likeable and pretty. YouTube draws young audiences seeking entertainment and advice, and we should not discount the power these personalities have in the lives of their young, impressionable viewers. Role model or not, kids are watching.
Only time will tell if this video trend persists, and if there becomes a standard best/better way to address the deeply personal choice to go under the knife.
Akilah Hughes is a comedian, YouTuber, and staff writer and producer for Fusion's culture section. You can almost always find her waxing poetic about memes and using too many emojis. 🍕