I have a complicated relationship with the beauty industry. On one hand, I find makeup is a fun creative outlet and one that makes me feel confident and happy. On the other hand, I acknowledge that those feelings don’t exist in a cultural vacuum and I may enjoy winged eyeliner so much because I’m being fed media messages that reinforce that opinion. So for my hack, I decided to focus on the aspects of the beauty industry with which I’m a bit more uncomfortable–namely, that the beauty industry puts forward an extremely narrow (and highly euro/anglocentric) definition of beauty, one to which only a fraction of percentage of the population can live up, solely so that it can sell products to help consumers conform to the standard it created. Essentially, the beauty industry manufactures insecurity, and then profits off of it. For as much as highlighter and lipstick are fun, this aspect of the beauty industry is extremely insidious, and I hoped to expose that cycle in my hack.
The premise of my hack is pretty simple. There’s a really heartbreaking phenomenon of preteen girls going on YouTube to ask if they’re pretty or ugly. I took screenshots and clips from these videos and juxtaposed them with advertisements for beauty products. Finally, I ended the video with headlines about how insanely profitable the beauty industry is. Companies are collectively making billions of dollars off of cosmetic products. The argument is pretty clear. First, appearance based insecurity is an absolute epidemic among women and girls. Second, this insecurity exists in large measure due to the media and corporations putting forward unattainable ideals. Third, people are making a frankly stupid amount of money off of these products. In short, it is in beauty companies’ best interests to make women feel inadequate. That’s the entire business model. No wonder young girls feel so awful about themselves; it’s an intentional scheme designed to make a profit. In fairness, I do think there’s probably a bit more to the beauty industry than that, but for the purpose of my video, I wanted to highly this side of the argument. The video’s title, “Your Insecurity is Worth Billions” is not an exaggeration. The video meant to say, “Listen, every time you look in the mirror and feel bad about yourself, someone is making money off of that feeling. And it’s not you.”
I specifically chose clips and screenshots with particularly young girls to try to highlight how much this phenomenon affects children. At twenty-two, I’m still pretty young, but I’ve developed enough media literacy to be critical of advertisements and corporate goals. Ten and eleven-year-olds, on the other hand, are at an extremely impressionable age, and often haven’t developed a critical attitude towards media. Seeing such young girls so insecure about their appearances was really heartbreaking to me. These girls are children, and they’ve already bought into the messages of cosmetics companies. I don’t think young girls exploring makeup is inherently bad (goodness knows I wore some frankly ridiculous black eyeliner in middle school as part of my own exploration of my identity), but the pervasiveness of “beauty gurus” on YouTube and Instagram is creating a really toxic makeup culture that’s more about conforming to an ideal than fun and self-expression, one that is affecting girls who haven’t even yet hit puberty. Therefore, I deliberately chose especially young girls for the video clips because I wanted to tug at the viewers’ heartstrings. However, I tried to do it in a way that wasn’t emotionally manipulative. I simply presented the videos as they were with some minor editing, but tried to avoid the ASPCA commercial route of really over the top emotionality. I think the videos speak for themselves, so I didn’t feel my usage of them was manipulative and tried to avoid what I feel is overdoing the pathos of an argument.
In creating this hack, I chose to break the rule about having to break a rule. The rule I toyed with breaking initially was the time period one, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought using advertisements spanning about a hundred years would strengthen my argument. Using a variety of time periods was meant to prove that this business model has existed for roughly a century. Since the dawn of advertising, cosmetic companies have created unattainable ideals to sell their products, and I thought the broad historical range from which I drew helped make that argument. The rule about various sources and media types was similarly practical. I used far more than the four sources necessary, but I once again wanted to show just how pervasive this business model is in the cosmetics world. I wanted to use various media types (text, image, video, and music) simply because I felt the hack required it. Taking out the videos that framed the context at the beginning or taking out the music during the image section left the hack feeling incomplete. Finally, while I thought it might be an interesting challenge to break the rule about making an argument, I didn’t think I’d be able to do that one successfully. I’ve taken enough English classes to know that readers can find meaning and arguments in texts without the author intending to put them there. Breaking the rule about having to break a rule seemed like the way to make my argument about the pervasiveness of the cosmetics industry’s business model most powerfully.
Finally, I think I need to justify my music choices. The “Can Can” is perhaps not the first song a person would think would fit such serious subject matter, but I chose it for very specific reasons. The first of which is that I feel the “Can Can” is a song that almost has a narrative arc or argument to it. The music builds much like a story or paper does and crescendos into a climax, and I felt that musical movement helped to reinforce my argument. I edited the video so that as the music intensifies, my argument becomes clearer and clearer and feels more urgent and serious. The second is that the song has very clear and strong beats, making syncing images to the music feel all the more powerful. The beats hit hard, and so does each image. Additionally, the music is playful and almost funny, which I felt was an interesting rhetorical choice for my video. I hoped the music would impart a darkly comedic tone to the video, saying, in a sense, “This whole cycle is absolutely ridiculous and almost hilariously transparent. Of course the beauty industry puts forward impossible standards. If no one can naturally achieve this aesthetic, then they’ll spend money on products to approximate it. It’s awful and exploitative, but so obvious and manufactured that you almost have to laugh.” I felt a playful song juxtaposed with these really heartbreaking YouTube screenshots of preteen girls feeling insecure would help to draw attention to the sheer ridiculousness of the entire enterprise. The final reason I used this particular song is simply that YouTube’s copyright algorithms are merciless, and I hoped using a song in the public domain would enable me to avoid my video getting flagged.
This hack was easily the most time consuming thus far, but putting it together was incredibly fun and surprisingly empowering. Video editing, although painstaking, is a very attainable skill, and being able to create a succinct argument about something I cared about to share with the Internet was a really good feeling. I have plenty of reservations about Internet communities (like the ability for preteen girls to post “Am I Pretty” videos on YouTube with a few clicks, for example), but the ability to create something and share it with the entire world is pretty amazing. Obviously this power can be (and is) used for bad as well as good, but watching everyone’s remixes showed me how powerful of a tool video can be for conveying an argument. I enjoyed creating this hack so much that I may continue editing together remixes in the future. Sharing my point of view with the world and inviting viewers to consider subjects more critically is a very appealing enterprise.
Bookmarking all my sources so I could put them in the credits. I used a TON of images, so making the credits was pretty tedious.
Syncing the beats of the song to the images was challenging, but not as awful as I had envisioned. The audio bar enabled me to visualize the music, which helped a lot.
I first heard about this phenomenon in a Ted Talk, and it was just heartbreaking to me. These girls are children, and they’re already caught up in the messages put forward by cosmetics companies. I found the trend so disturbing that I had to make a hack about it.