Watching the YouTube influencer known as Patrick Starrr smack white powder onto the slight hollows under his eyes, it might occur to you that you are witnessing a kind of modern Kabuki. In one 15-minute makeup video, he transforms his pleasant brown, freckled face into a brightened blank slate that’s slimmer, radiant, spellbinding to look at.
Starrr – who in the real world is a 28-year-old Los Angeles makeup artist named Patrick Simondac – gestures triumphantly at his work. “Now,” he announces, “this is what you call snatched.” In other words, perfect.
Simondac is one of the internet’s many, many makeup gurus, although, with 3.9 million Instagram followers and 3.3 million YouTube subscribers, he’s among the most recognizable. What he’s known for, besides his woke understanding of gender politics and his sassy humour, is what he calls “the full-beat face.”
The full-beat face has become the ubiquitous face of the internet, a strange mirror of Kim Kardashian’s visage but also somehow just like internet influencer Huda Kattan’s and Kylie Jenner’s, too.
Instagram is awash in full-beat glory. The indie makeup brand ColourPop regularly shares gauzy selfies of young women wearing their popular matte lipsticks, fingers seductively held up to their mouths. Save for variations in skin colour and precise shade of shimmering eyeshadow, the women all look uncannily the same.
It’s the “Instagram look,” says Christen Irias, another Los Angeles-based makeup artist and YouTube star better known to her fans as Christen Dominique. “When you take a picture, you lose the dimension on your face. The light will wash it away.” Over time, savvy ‘Grammers realized that with a small mountain of makeup – a Patrick Starrr or NikkieTutorials video will regularly feature as many as 20 products – you could replace the shadows and the light and then some.
Dominique, who refers to the face as “full-glam,” ticks off what it requires: “An elongated eye, lashes, contouring, bronzing, highlighting, and sculpting,” she says. A theatrical set of drawn-on brows. And finally, it almost always features a matte lip so overdrawn that it can look like an allergic reaction, if not a syringe full of Juvederm.
Dominique, Simondac and other YouTube makeup artists have made minor fortunes posting makeup tutorials. Just one of Dominique’s “full-glam” lessons has 11 million views.
“It’s extreme in person,” admits Dominique. “But it looks great in pictures.”
And the pictures, of course, are what so much of modern life is about.
We all know that the internet has engendered strange subcultures. Peddlers and readers of made-up news and inspirational memes. Women recording themselves “unboxing” new Chanel handbags. Highly paid comedy bros such as Logan Paul and the Fat Jew. A 6-year-old who reportedly made $11 million from videos showing him playing with toys.
But it’s hard to find a sect more curiously influential than the makeup gurus. Some do nothing but review cosmetics, “swatching” shades of the latest Urban Decay eyeshadow palette on their wrists, while others specialize in the YouTube tutorial, chatting amiably as they demonstrate how to etch the perfect inky-black cat-eye.
Vloggers, as they’re called, emerged almost in tandem with YouTube. Michelle Phan, one of the genre’s first stars, started posting tutorials to the then-budding video service in 2007. Her first was a lesson in natural-looking makeup: She pats concealer below her eyes with her fingertips and traces her lips with a tube of rosy Revlon lipstick. It has been viewed 10 million times.
By today’s standards, this fledgeling tutorial – the blurry footage, the natural look, her homespun technique – is quaint. Now, such videos are full-scale productions, with lighting, editing and a litany of products, each costing several times the price of that drugstore lipstick.
Asked about the rise of the made-up face, Phan laughs. “I’m seeing 5-year-olds doing better smoky eyes than me,” she says. “Makeup has changed – even the behaviour, how people consume makeup and learn about makeup – because of digital. It transformed the market.”
Simondac, who got his start as a makeup artist doing seasonal work at Orlando MAC stores, remembers those old days when makeup’s purpose was largely “to hide,” he says. “Hide a little bit of this, a little bit of that. You wanted to make it look like you had nothing on.”
Now, the goal is to give yourself features you don’t actually possess: Brighter, bigger eyes, a narrower, daintier nose, eyes so fringed in false lashes that they look as if they can’t possibly bear the weight. “We’re a walking painting,” Simondac says.
But don’t expect to see any of this strutting down the red carpet at the Oscars, much less when you’re out to dinner. The full-beat face was born of the Internet and remains largely for the Internet.
It’s like runway fashion, says David Razzano, a New York-based makeup artist for cosmetics retailer Sephora. “How many people walk down the street in a couture gown?” he asks. “Not many.”
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With its dozens of micro-manoeuvres and new niche products, from highlighting powders to mattifying primers, the face has been a game-changer for the cosmetics business.
The current looks are “dramatic,” confirms Catherine Dougherty, senior vice president for communications for MAC Cosmetics. “It’s something we hadn’t seen the everyday consumer wear. But now we’re seeing it. And that’s because it’s great for photography.”
“I don’t think anyone can say they don’t see the effect that social media is having on the beauty industry,” adds Razzano. “It’s changing the clientele.” When a customer comes in searching for the perfect brow powder, they now bring along “images of YouTube influencers and beauty bloggers, rather than celebrities.”
The vloggers interviewed for this story have several business ventures: Dominique launched her own makeup line in January, while MAC has plastered Simondac’s face onto in-store posters and an ad campaign to sell its Patrick Starrr line of lipsticks, eyeshadows and setting powder. Phan is a co-founder of Ipsy, a subscription service that boasted more than 2 million subscribers last year; now, she has launched her own line, Em Cosmetics. Meanwhile, retailers such as Sephora and Ulta are soaring.
“We make these companies a lot of money. That’s without question,” says Simondac.
But the welcome disruption comes with uncertainty about the future.
Before, Brands such as MAC, says Dougherty, “were the ones dictating what products to use and what trends to look for.” Now, it’s as likely to be a young man shooting a tutorial from his Orlando bedroom.
None of this accounts for why makeup, and simply watching it being applied, has become the favourite pastime of a generation of young women and men. What does explain it is our increasing obsession with representations of ourselves in the online world.
“I see young Norwegian girls posting the same photo of themselves. So it is an international phenomenon,” says Jill Walker Rettberg, a professor of digital culture at the University of Bergen in Norway who has become a leading researcher in self-representation in social media, including selfie culture.
The selfie, particularly the glamorous, pouty-lipped full-beat face, she says, is “becoming more like a mask. It’s becoming ‘Who do I want to be?’ There’s a sense of figuring out ‘Who am I?’ as a sort of cultural expression.”
The face doesn’t need to be worn out in public to work its magic. It’s almost as if it’s enough, Rettberg says, to simply know you could look like Kim Kardashian if you wanted to.
She pauses. “You couldn’t do that before the Internet, could you?”