As I've mentioned before, I'm a Sociology major. For an Anthropology class, we had an assignment to perform an observation exercise on a community. So I decided to do it on a community I knew well: the Youtube beauty community.
This assignment was easy, yet hard at the same time. Of course I'm very familiar with the community, but writing about it so formally was a bit amusing lol
I've had some requests to post the paper on my blog so that you can read it. Hopefully you guys find it interesting and enjoy =] (oh, and I got an A- on the paper)
Youtube is comprised of millions of videos on an assortment of topics. There are music videos, home videos, tv shows, and many more options that are all available at the search of a few words. However, Youtube is not only made up of random videos all on one site posted by individuals with an account; this monumental site also has communities formed based on common hobbies. If one were to look through the site, one may stumble across one or two videos dedicated towards makeup and beauty, but in actuality there is an entire network formed by women (and occasionally men) that all share their passion for makeup. For my ethnographic observation, I have chosen to observe the “beauty community” that exists on Youtube.
The general name used for the makers of these videos is formed by the category that their channel is under on Youtube: “Guru”. Individuals that choose to watch the videos and follow the videos posted by the “Guru” is called a “Subscriber”. A person that belongs to the community is not set under strict categories when it comes to being either; a Guru can be a Subscriber and vice versa.
The tone of the videos is generally relatable and informative. Gurus talk about various makeup products, demonstrate how to use them, and even have videos referred to as “Hauls” where the Guru shows their Subscribers what they have purchased in a given time period. The products that the Guru talks about can be spoken about positively or negatively. Either tone is meant to inform the viewer about the various reasons to buy/not buy the mentioned makeup product. These are recommendations for the Subscribers from an individual that has already tried the product and therefore shares his or her opinion on the item with people potentially interested in it.
The Gurus that seem to have the most Subscribers are the ones that come across as very relatable and genuine. If a video appears contrived or not truthful, the Subscribers are quick to notice this fact and point it out. When the Guru appears dishonest, their Subscribers believe that they are being compensated by a company for the mention of the product. In the description box to the side of the videos, there is even an FTC disclaimer if a product was supplied by a company.
Interaction between the Gurus and Subscribers continues in the comments section of the video. Gurus even encourage their viewers to interact with them and post a comment on the video. Some comments may be an opinion statement about the product, a compliment toward the Guru, or a question. The Gurus can reply back to the comments and answer any questions that were asked. There are also instances where fellow Subscribers reply to each other’s comments to answer a question or reply to a comment.
There are also ratings as a part of the interaction process. A video can be rated upwards of 5 starts depending on the quality of enjoyment the Subscriber received from the video. Comments also include a rating system of a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” sign, so others can show if they agree or disagree with what an individual that posted this comment said.
Negativity does appear in the comments of videos. Negative comments may be an insult or rude remark. These comments are generally made by individuals that are not Subscribers and are outsiders to the beauty community. Such remarks are met with defense from the other Subscribers. These comments are replied to with equal hostility as was shown by the original rude outsider. The Subscribers reply back to the rude comment with the purpose of defending the Guru that was perhaps insulted and/or to inform the outside viewer to leave the video if he/she is not interested in the content.
I approached this ethnographic observation with a question in mind: “How is beauty viewed within a community?” I decided to analyze the makeup community on Youtube to help answer this question. This community focuses on expressing one’s beauty through makeup. The general mindset of the members is to use makeup to achieve results that enhance their beauty. Members are encouraged to be proud of their features and appearence.
This community also can be analyzed in order to answer the question, “What does the Youtube beauty community show about stereotypes of makeup within American society?” General stereotypes of society about women who wear makeup include that they are superficial and view themselves as unattractive. This makeup community disproves this stereotype. In the videos Gurus make and through the comments Subscribers post, expression of beauty is encouraged, both outer and inner. The majority of members use makeup for their own personal pleasure and not to impress society.
Another concept within the larger society that observing the beauty community can answer is, “How do common interests unite individuals in a society?” Living in New York City, especially, the general assumption is that everyone is different and diverse. The city society is considered to be so busy and hectic that people do not have time to engage in hobbies or relaxation. For most of these Gurus, this is their hobby and relaxation. This online community helps them interact with others that share the same likes and dislikes in a field that they are interested in.
A piece of litterature I have made a connection to with this observation exercise is Debt For Sale, written by Brett Williams. This book speaks about financial problems individuals encounter with credit and debt. A similar situation occurs in this Youtube community. With the encouragement to buy good products that the members will enjoy, comes with financial responsibility as the hobby the members share can get quite expensive. There are individuals involved in this community that try to find less expensive alternatives that are equal in quality to the more expensive products that may be mentioned. This helps individuals save money and stay on top of heavy spending, so as not to run into financial problems.
One comparison I have made on an aspect of this community is the difference between the reviews of products done on Youtube and the reviews sales associates do on products that they are trying to promote. These sales associates work on commission so there is a level of wondering by the consumer whether the product is truly great, or if it is commission-drived. There is a level of trust between the Gurus and Subscribers because the viewers know that the Gurus they trust are not trying to gain any monetary benefit from recommending the product.
The beauty community on Youtube is very interesting to observe to discover the dynamics among individuals with common interests and passions. Their shared interests have allowed them to for a close-knit community where each individuals are more than eager to help their fellow member. These individuals earn close friendships and trust among the community through helping the people and introducing each other to new and improved products.