Models and actors once landed the lion's share of advertising gigs with major cosmetics companies, but, today, self-starters with digital cameras are in demand. On YouTube, over 180,000 "beauty gurus" rein in over 120 million channel subscriptions and account for 45.3 billion total views. Companies like Covergirl and L'Oréal have taken note, recruiting so-called vloggers to mug for advertisements and unveil new products. But while YouTube's top earners can make millions of dollars from the comfort of their own homes, that's not the case for most wannabe beauty vloggers, according to Brooke Duffy, a professor at Cornell University. In her new book (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, Duffy argues that beauty vlogging sells most women a false vision of entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.
Duffy depicts vlogging as "aspirational labor"—work that brings more celebrity to cosmetics corporations than vloggers themselves. In the meantime, vloggers expend valuable time and money to "make it": In 2016, YouTube beauty guru Jamie Paige told Mic that her work is "a non-stop 24/7 job," with videos taking anywhere from six to 12 hours to record, edit, and upload; some vloggers report thousands of dollars per year in costs. With labor experts estimating that, by 2020, over 40 percent of the American workforce will be self-employed, Duffy's work situates beauty vlogging in a burgeoning labor market, while also suggesting that contract work like Uber driving and Postmates delivering still isn't lucrative for most.
A version of this story originally appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.