why are people actually smashing make-up on the internet?
Between cutting up lipsticks and melting expensive powders, the beauty industry has found a new way to interrogate itself about consumerism, waste and excess.
Screengrab via YouTube.
At the end of last year, a new beauty trend swept YouTube. It wasn't a perfect cat-eye or metallic lip, but a deluge of destruction. Vloggers who usually handled palettes and brushes like scared artifacts began hacking and smashing them, all for the hypnotic enjoyment of millions of viewers. In the month since the shimmery wave hasn't receded, but rather grown and grown, leading to the obvious question: what's going on here?
For anyone not familiar, in their most basic form these videos usually show cosmetics — often very expensive ones — being cut, crushed, and ripped to shreds. The initial appeal is understandable, they're amazing to look at. They exist in a similar online space to shimmering ASMR delights, and are just shocking enough to keep you watching. But as the trend stretches on and the community grows they've also come to serve as a way for those within the the beauty industry to self examine.
In an email to i-D, vlogger Rich Lux admits that his initial attraction to the videos was simple, "I find them oddly satisfying very ASMR stress relieving." But as he continued to make them, he noticed the response was about more than seeing an $80 eyeshadow palette be decimated. "I think the subliminal message of it is beauty comes from within, not from any pallet or powder. Some people see it as a big ha to consumerism," he mused.
The clips provided a similar outlet for vlogger Sajida Manir, who also found herself reading more personally into the trend. While she admits it is initially enjoyable to destroy products, she's dually drawn to seeing "how things work from an engineering point of view," noting there's an additional "guilty pleasure" in breaking something "designed to enhance beauty."
Across countless accounts and posters, perhaps the most conscious and poignant examination has been lead by Kat and Haley of hugely popular channel Beauty News. The Melbourne based beauty writers posted their first destruction video at the end of last year, and are often credited with starting the wider trend. Their first post wasn't an intentional call to interrogate the way we view and use cosmetics. Rather they found themselves wondering what to do with a Jeffree Star highlighter they had reviewed but didn't intend to keep using.
"Kat and I don't actually like wasting make-up," explained Hailey. "We buy a lot of make-up but we also like to use it up." After observing a lot of online chatter claiming the make-up's pan was too thin and caused the make-up to crack, they decided to deconstruct the whole compact to see for themselves. Figuring it wasn't going to be used anyway, they may as well sacrifice it to answer the internet's question. They posted the video — spoiler alert, it was really thin — and were blown away by the response. At the time of writing, the video has over one and a half million views. "There were people who were very angry at us, obviously, but it was really well received. So we thought, why don't we do it again and see what happens? And the rest is literally make-up destruction history," Hailey says.
Today they have a whole series on their channel dedicated to destruction, The Make Up Break Up. But unlike other vloggers, their intentions are clear and fully realised. For them the destruction of these products is part of a larger investigation into what we buy and why. After they break apart these often very expensive luxury items they weigh the contents without the packaging to see what consumers are really paying for." A lot of people get really offended (saying) that we don't respect make-up. But we're actually the ones that covered make-up and we're the ones that are the prime customers for, oh this is so pretty, it's limited edition you have to drop a hundred dollars on it. When we started this series, it kind of was cathartic because it made us see the make-up for what it is," says Kat.
As their knowledge and understanding of products grew with each post, so did their motivations. Breaking these products down allowed them to further understand the ingredients and design that informs them. After several viewings, it's shocking how little separates a pharmacy basic from a luxury line. In one video they grind down Guerlain's famous illuminating Meteorites and are able to ascertain how much of the luxury item is made up of talc and cornstarch.
Their findings are reflective of wider reaching conversations that are beginning to piece together the online make-up community. Sajida Manir noted that she believes the popularity of these videos is partially due to a desire to understand what we're paying for at the beauty counter. "It helps to educate people as to how much profit companies are making when you show that behind the marketing campaigns it's just something very simple and no different to a budget brand."
But perhaps the most interesting theme to emerge between these videos is waste. Trawling through these clips you start to wonder how many thousands of dollars are being destroyed for you to enjoy the strange bliss of watching someone cut up a lipstick. Are we so entangled in mindless consumer culture that this is what pleasure looks like for us? Or rather, are bloggers so spoilt by companies that the products that were once prized are now worthless to them.
When pressed on this issue, Kat is quick to expand on what waste means to her as someone in the industry: "We come from the point of view of make-up reviewers, I literally have draws of make-up I haven't touched in years, in general the make-up community is very wasteful." But she stresses that their role is to "investigate" make-up, not just consume it. They want viewers to make informed decisions about what they buy and use. Referring to a recent video that showed an eyeshadow palette was only delivering two-thirds of it's advertised weight she continues, "it's not just about people wasting things, we're actually trying to do it to provide more information." As beauty fans they feel there is nothing wrong with buying into a brand's constructed fantasy, just do it consciously.
While they take issue with claims this trend is wasteful, they are more critical when examining the growing culture of waste and consumerism among YouTubers at large. "In general, when you look at the make-up community — big YouTubers and video bloggers — who literally swatch a palate and then put it to the side, that's more wasteful than people destroying a palate for shock value."
It's an interesting point, and one that begins to digest the impossibly complex idea of value. Recognising the enjoyment that can be gleaned from these videos, a lipstick being cut up without comment seems to hold a new validity. Is it less wasteful for a product to be destroyed in front of millions of people or to be used once in a 'how to' and then discarded in the back of a draw forever?
Not surprisingly they're questions that have have punctuated the consciousness of the women who sparked them. "It definitely has changed the way we're perceived and the way we perceive the industry as a whole," concludes Kat. "I don't buy as much make-up as I used to. We buy make-up for the series, and try to restore as much as possible so we can then use it. But these days I'm more focused on using up what I have because that new fancy thing is no different to the 15 I already have." Good advice for anyone, whether you spend your days taking a scalpel to a blush palette or not.
Text Wendy Syfret