August 28, 2018
by Yvette Thomas
The year 2018 will be remembered as a dramatic turn in the industry of social-media beauty influencers who became famous for their postings, usually about makeup, on YouTube and Instagram. As a result of offensive posts on the Internet, beauty influencers Laura Lee and Manny MUA have lost thousands of YouTube subscribers and have taken a temporary break from social media.
Within a period of two weeks, Laura Lee had her Laura Lee Los Angeles business terminated by Ulta, Morphe, Diff Eyewear, ColourPop Cosmetics and BoxyCharm after racist comments that she tweeted in 2012 were exposed. In the racist tweet, she said, “Tip for all black people if you pull ur pants up you can run from the police faster.. #yourwelcome.” She also made several fat-shaming tweets in 2013 that were exposed in mid-August 2018.
Before the scandal, Lee had 5 million subscribers on YouTube. After the scandal, she lost approximately 533,000 subscribers from August 15 to August 28, 2018, according to Social Blade. When the racist tweet was first exposed, Lee did not address the matter for a few days and continued doing her usual videos about makeup. After the scandal became too big to ignore, she temporarily deactivated her Twitter account, and deleted thousands of tweets, and then posted an apology on Twitter. When companies started dropping her, Lee then posted an emotional apology video on August 19. However, the apology video seems to have done more damage to Lee’s reputation than done any good because people have blasted her for being insincere in the video. For example, she insisted that the offensive comments were retweets from other people, not tweets she actually wrote. Screenshots taken of the comments show that they were actually tweets from Lee’s account.
In addition, Lee received a lot of criticism for her demeanor in the apology video, with many commenters on the Internet calling her remorse “fake” and her tearful wailing “bad acting.” Her apology video currently has a 92 percent “dislike” disapproval rating from people on YouTube.
Lee’s close friend Manny MUA has also felt the sting of a massive public backlash. His association with Lee and his refusal so far to publicly comment on her offensive remarks have caused him to lose more than 313,000 subscribers (from August 15 to August 28, 2018, according to Social Blade) and announce that he is taking a break from social media. His YouTube subscriber base is barely hanging on to a range of 5 million.
Lee’s scandal came on the heels of Manny MUA making an apology video after old footage surfaced of him seeming to mock a female fan by rolling his eyes and laughing at her when she walked past him at a meet-and-greet. The fan, who happens to have a form of autism, had posted a video detailing how hurt she was by the alleged insult. In his apology video, Manny MUA explained that he was not mocking the girl but was embarrassed because she had bypassed him to hug fellow makeup guru Jeffree Star. Manny MUA’s apology video also has a majority of “dislikes” on YouTube.
Manny MUA also lost a lot of goodwill in July 2018, when his company Lunar Beauty botched sales of its first palette, Life’s a Drag, by mistakenly giving refunds to some PayPal customers after the customers received what they purchased. In an embarrassing PR move, Lunar Beauty then sent an email to those customers to inform them of the error, and asked them to send the money back. It’s unknown how many of the customers actually complied with that request, but the mistake was no doubt a costly one for Lunar Beauty.
Lee isn’t the first social-media beauty guru to have been hit by a scandal over offensive remarks made years ago. In 2017, Jeffree Star (a former friend of Lee and Manny MUA) was slammed when videos from 2009 showed him making racist comments, including using the “n” word and a video where he suggested throwing battery acid on a black woman’s face so her skin would be light enough to match shades of foundation.
Star, who owns his own eponymous makeup company, made an apology video where he said, in part: “In these videos, I say some really disgusting, vile, nasty and embarrassing things … I look at them and I see them resurface and it makes me sick to my stomach because I do not know who that person was . . . the person that said those horrible vile things, that person was depression, that person was just angry at the world, that person felt like they were not accepted, that person was seeking attention.”
Star, whose makeup is sold worldwide and at U.S. retailers such as Morphe and Beautylish, did not suffer any significant damage to his career, as his business partners continued to work with him. The difference between what happened to Star and what happened to Lee comes down to timing and the perception of sincerity.
In Star’s case, he addressed the scandal right away, and the feedback that he got from most people who commented on his apology video was that his apology seemed sincere, and people believed that he had evolved into a better person since those racist videos were made. Star has also gotten ahead of any other potential scandals by teaming up with with fellow YouTube star Shane Dawson to do a series of confessional videos where Star reveals secrets from his past, including his history of self-mutilation.
However, the #MeToo movement has ushered in sweeping changes in how people are punished for offensive comments and behavior, so if Star’s racism scandal had happened in 2018, he might not have recovered as quickly, even with the best apology.
Star has famously feuded with other beauty gurus such as Kat Von D and Too Faced co-founder Jerrod Blandino. But Star’s videos that show him self-exposing his vulnerabilities have endeared him to fans, and what appears to be his sincere ownership of his flaws has apparently made him more “forgivable” than the beauty gurus who are more reluctant to own up to their mistakes.
Kat Von D, who became famous as a tattoo artist on reality shows “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink,” started her Kat Von D Beauty company in 2008. In June 2018, she faced major backlash when she posted on Instagram that she and her husband would not be vaccinating their son because they believe that vaccinations are dangerous. Von D lost thousands of subscribers on Instagram, the social-media platform where she has the most followers (about 6.6 million), but she held firm and did not make an apology. According to Social Blade, in recent weeks she hasn’t been losing Instagram followers, but she hasn’t made any significant gains either.
Social media’s influence in the beauty and fashion industries cannot be under-estimated, as numerous beauty influencers have become multi-millionaires based on how they market themselves on social media, not from having any experience or training in the industry. The biggest example is reality TV star Kylie Jenner of Kylie Cosmetics, who has a net worth of $900 million, according to Forbes.
Beauty influencers with millions of followers on YouTube and Instagram usually command “sponsorship” fees to give positive reviews or recommendations of products. Those fees can be upwards of $60,000 to $80,000 for a YouTube video or $20,000 to $30,000 for an Instagram post. A typical beauty influencer posts hundreds of videos and photos a year, so it’s easy to see why people want a piece of the action to get rich.
With all that money to be made and with competition so fierce to gain new followers/subscribers, the gossip that has swirled around social-media beauty influencers has exploded and spawned a growing number of YouTube channels specifically created to cover the drama around these beauty influencers. The need to expose these influencers’ pasts in a tabloid-like manner is a sign of how much things have changed in how people react to YouTube stars.
In August 2018, a group photo of social-media beauty influencers Lee, Manny MUA, Gabriel Zamora and Nikita Dragun showing their middle fingers with the caption “Bitch is bitter because without him we’re doing better” caused an uproar on social media because people speculated that it was an insult aimed at Star. All of this “drama” over one photo actually caught the attention of several media outlets such as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Vox and Clevver News. Zamora also came under fire after it was exposed that he used the “n” -word racial insult in a past tweet. In an apology video on YouTube, Zamora said he was sorry for his past racial slurs. Zamora also admitted to adding the derogatory caption to the group photo without the other photo subjects’ knowledge, and that the caption was meant as an insult to Star, who accepted Zamora’s apology in a separate video. In the video, Zamora publicly ended his friendship with Manny MUA, whom he called “toxic.”
The apology worked for Zamora. After he posted his video on August 21, he gained 341,000 YouTube subscribers in one week, with more than 204,000 gained on the day after the video was posted, according to Social Blade. In the week before posting the apology, he lost more than 6,700 subscribers. As of this writing, Zamora has 778,700 subscribers on YouTube.
Reality TV has spawned its share of “15 minutes of fame” stars, but YouTube stars are a different breed. The biggest difference between today’s YouTube stars and today’s reality TV stars is that YouTube stars don’t have to rely on being cast in TV shows to keep their fame going. Unless they do something that gets them kicked off of YouTube and kills their careers, YouTube stars will have their YouTube channels, which they control, as their way to get the fame and money that most people don’t have. But as Lee, Manny MUA, and others have learned, with that fame comes the scrutiny of people who can’t wait to expose more scandals.