Health and Wellness

Why are early YouTube beauty videos so comforting?

Arguably the big bang of the influencing age, early beauty gurus on YouTube were defined by their commitment to extremely long-form content, DIY beauty tips and excessive morning vlogs. Though the algorithmic overlords have since seen them sacrificed to a landslide of short-form content, over the past few months clips from this era have begun recirculating TikTok, with old viewers collectively mourning a long-gone era of internet history. “It’s like a warm hug from the past,” says 21-year-old Alex, who’s racked up thousands of followers from reposting videos on the account ‘forevernostalgia’. “It’s refreshing to watch videos created before social media was saturated with product placements.”

When revisited within the context of TikTok’s short and speedy content wheel, these clips illuminate the drastic evolution of digital beauty influencing in the past decade. People commenting on Alex’s videos celebrate, and often share surprise in, the level of simplicity they didn’t notice at the time. While large portions of today’s beauty content recommends new cosmetic procedures or expensive anti-ageing products, early YouTube videos offered simple, accessible guidance. Michelle Phan catapulted to internet fame with a slew of DIY facemask videos with pore-clogging ingredients that would make the TikTok aestheticians of 2024 shudder, while Blair Fowler (under the apt 00s screenname Juicystar07) regularly uploaded 15-minute, webcam-quality hair tutorials while monologuing about her life.

So what changed? According to Brooke Erin Duffy, associate professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University, once advertisers realised they could capitalise on the communities surrounding these creators, the game was forever changed. “The seeming professionalisation of this sector owes much to the astonishing growth of influencer marketing. Beauty brands covet a more ‘authentic’ sales force, and people increasingly turn to online personalities for advice, recommendations and lived expertise,” she says.

It means many creators now want to target older audiences with disposable incomes, rather than create relatable content for young girls. “In the 2010s it seemed most videos were aimed towards the tween demographic whereas today it seems there’s a growing gap in content for this age range,” Alex says. Yet the result isn’t that young people are discouraged from consuming beauty content, but that they’re following advice not intended for them. Recent months have seen reports of pre-teens coveting expensive skincare products in place of the drugstore lip balms that dominated the early YouTube era. “Zoella would use a three pound Collection concealer. We could go to the high street and buy those Rimmel lipsticks and recreate her looks,” says Grace. “Now, you need a Dyson Airwrap for £500, the Clinique Black Honey at £25 and a Drunk Elephant moisturiser for £60, and those products will be tossed out tomorrow for the next trend.”

It’s easy then, to be sucked back into the utopian world these older videos seemed to create. Yet perhaps it’s a mistake to adopt such a rose-tinted outlook. The recirculated content also acts as a reminder of how whitewashed the beauty industry was only a few years ago, with the majority of creators fitting into a very specific mould. “The image of beauty that circulated at this time tended to reaffirm traditional representations of beauty and femininity – young, white, thin and conventionally attractive,” says Duffy. This was escalated by the introduction of brand partnerships. “There were exceptions, of course, but advertisers tended to partner with beauty vloggers who weren’t all that different from those in the legacy media industries.”

So perhaps the widespread nostalgia is misplaced, despite how desperate some may be for a return of crackle nail polish. Yet it does seem to point to a collective yearning for a more community-focused internet. While algorithms have worked to curate feeds that show us exactly what we want to see, these videos suggest it may be the very opposite that we truly desire. “Looking back, the experience of YouTube in the early 2010s feels a lot more unified than the social media platforms we use today. There was a sense of a shared experience and community: the homepage promoted videos that other viewers were engaging with, not only those related to your personal viewing habits,” Berryman points out. “The nostalgia we see on TikTok today may not be just for a particular style of content or group of creators, but rather for a missed sense of community.”

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  • Source of information and images “dazeddigital”

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