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Beauty’s biggest YouTubers are highly problematic yet always survive scandal

07 April 2021

You can hardly move for YouTuber apologies at the moment, and the latest to join their ranks is beauty guru James Charles. Known for his bold and colourful style of makeup, the 21-year-old vlogger faced up to a new round of child grooming accusations in his latest video, “holding myself accountable”.

More a confession than an actual apology, this saw James admit to sending sexually explicit messages to two 16-year-old boys. He apologised to those involved, noting that although he at the time believed the boys were over the age of 18, his behaviour had been “reckless” and “unacceptable”. While James added he has only ever wanted a relationship with someone the same age or older (despite stating he wanted to “date the absolute youngest” in a previous podcast appearance with Logan Paul) additional victims have since come forward. James’ final word on the matter? He messages underage boys because he is “desperate”.

Unsurprisingly, the response on Twitter has been almost universally damning. But YouTube tells a different story. Since James’ video was released (on April Fool’s Day of all days) he has lost an estimated 100,000 subscribers. What seems like a significant drop is nothing compared to his last major scandal in 2019. When fellow beauty vlogger Tati Westbrook uploaded her now-deleted takedown “BYE SISTER” – accusing James of “disloyalty” and trying to “trick a straight man into thinking he’s gay” – James’ YouTube following plummeted from 16.5 million to 13.8 million in the space of a week.

This in itself is very telling of YouTube’s beauty community. Its most prominent figures have a history of surviving scandals relatively unscathed. Jeffree Star has been repeatedly accused of racism, bullying and sexual assault, but was still the tenth highest paid YouTuber in 2020. A string of racist tweets emerged from Laura Lee in 2018, and while her makeup line was dropped from retailers like Ulta, her fashion brand Nudie Patootie sold out almost instantly when it launched in September. Racist tweets were also unearthed from Nikita Dragun – who has also been called out for Blackfishing, joking about child abuse and paedophiles and hosting parties at the height of the pandemic – but her Snapchat series Nikita Unfiltered is the app’s most-watched show ever.

But nothing hurts a beauty personality like clashing with another member of the elite. Just as James Charles suffered his biggest loss in engagement after his fall out with Tati Westbrook, the big repercussions usually don’t kick in until other YouTubers get involved. It took combined condemnation from Jackie Aina, Chloe Morello and Amanda Ensing to finally start chipping away at Jeffree Star’s sponsorships last year. And when multiple YouTubers became embroiled in a mass beauty community controversy of summer 2018, it wasn’t Gabriel Zamora who lost more followers for using racist terminology, but Manny MUA when Gabriel publicly accused him of being a bad friend.

These followers don’t just disappear – they jump ship. Gabriel started recouping his lost followers at a similar rate to Manny losing them. When Tati Westbrook released her video about James Charles, she gained roughly the same amount of subscribers on YouTube that he lost. The beauty elite is sustained by audiences who care about the personalities and the drama. History has proven they are more compelled by the inner dynamics and personal vendettas of the community itself than external incidents, no matter how serious they may be.

Unfortunately, this probably includes the accusations against James Charles. Considering the pattern of other beauty scandals, his following and sponsorships will take a temporary dip, but unless other big names get involved, all it’ll take is a brief absence to redeem him in the eyes of those who really matter – his 25 million remaining subscribers. Bye sister (for now).

By Chloe James, fashion and beauty editor of CORQ. Picture credit: James Charles via Instagram.