Confessions of a beauty influencer: ‘There’s still a huge gray area’

December 22, 2017

The role of the beauty influencer has become a formidable career path, with some of them, like the Instagram-famous makeup artist Nikkie Tutorials, collaborating on collections with brands like Too Faced, and others, like the YouTube star James Charles, scoring major campaigns with the likes of Covergirl. The highest paid beauty influencers out there, like Huda Kattan (20.5 million followers) and Zoella (11.1 million followers), are said to make $18,000 and $14,000 per post, respectively.

But for most beauty-fiends who have a sizable following on YouTube or Instagram, scoring big partnerships or a six-figure salary is a long shot, and the road to getting there isn’t all buzzy partnerships and glamour shots.

For our latest confessions, in which we grant anonymity to someone in the industry to speak openly about their profession, we spoke to one of these influencers, who has maintained a personal beauty blog and YouTube channel for five years. She weighed in on everything from murky disclosure rules to the superficial nature of her job.

What’s the dirtiest secret about being a beauty influencer?
Even though the Federal Trade Commission has started cracking down more on the need to disclose partnerships and sponsorships, there’s still a huge gray area when it comes to freebies. Companies regularly offer to send me a bunch of free products if I’ll post about them in some capacity, and if it’s a brand that interests me, I’ll usually take that offer. But to avoid overdoing the #ad posts and pissing off my followers, I tend not to disclose those, and I know that I’m not alone — it’s basically the relationship that beauty editors have with brands today. My feeling is: If they don’t disclose those exchanges, why should we?

But doesn’t taking those freebies, in lieu of cash, come back to bite you?
No, because the reality is that certain big brands just aren’t going to pay me to feature their products — they simply don’t need to. They’re probably already paying a few influencers and if I don’t post their products for free, a million other people will instead. So if I can, at the least, get some really great free shit from them, then I’m going to go for that. It’s a small perk.

Then where does the bulk of your money come from?
I started my career as a graphic designer, and I still do that as a freelancer to maintain my lifestyle. That’s a big chunk of my income [more than half], but I always try to have some brand partnerships running as well — the longer-term they are, the better, usually. I’ve had months-long partnerships, which are nice, but my goal is to become a full-fledged brand ambassador because that comes with a different level of security, and of course more money, too. I’ve also done some one-off sponsorships [where you are paid to feature a product once, or only for one week] but they don’t pay much and can get a negative reaction from fans for being disingenuous, so I try to avoid them now.

What do you wish more people realized about being a beauty influencer?
It’s a lot tougher than people think, especially in today’s landscape where there’s endless competition — someone “better” pops up every day. I have to force myself not to look at my phone or computer for certain periods of time, otherwise I will keep working forever out of guilt that I’m not doing as much as everyone else.

There’s always something to be done, whether it’s editing videos, responding to endless e-mails and comments, writing new blog posts, taking photos, posting across multiple social feeds or reaching out to any of the brands that I want to partner with. On average, I spend about 4-5 hours a day on my blog/platforms.

If you’re not huge, with a follower count well into the millions, you constantly have to chase after work to stay afloat, and that comes with a ton of anxiety. There is a small group of people who have seen massive success and have a full team to help them out, but that’s not the reality for most of us.

Is it difficult to be in a role that lends itself to constant critique?
Absolutely. I’ve had many days where it feels like I can’t do anything right and I think seriously about giving it all up. I’ve had my appearance and intelligence insulted, I’ve dealt with fans angry over certain partnerships I’ve chosen and I’ve even been judged by friends and former boyfriends because of what I do. It might seem fun or glamorous from afar, but there’s still a stigma attached to it — a lot of people refuse to see it as anything other than superficial.

And, yes, it can be superficial, but that’s because a breakout isn’t just an annoyance for me, it’s a potential roadblock to my success.