For once it’s not the Paul brothers that are making headlines for offensive YouTube content. This time, it’s a laundry list of popular beauty vloggers that are taking heat on the platform for past racism on social media.
Start sipping your tea now, because this saga is wild.
This week, beauty YouTube was sent into a tailspin when stans of vlogger Jeffree Star uncovered a series of racist and fat-shaming tweets from a fellow YouTube beauty celeb, Laura Lee.
In less than a month, she’s lost more than half a million followers on her YouTube channel, which once topped out at 5 million subscribers, and her products are quickly being pulled from shelves.
The since-deleted tweets were from 2012 and 2013, and the one that has sparked the most outrage read: “tip for all black people if you pull ur pants up you can run from the police faster.. #yourwelcome.” The 2012 tweet came just a few months after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by security guard George Zimmerman in Florida.
The most notable brand to cut ties with Lee in the wake of the controversy is Ulta Beauty, one of the largest beauty retailers in the U.S. On Thursday, the company tweeted that it “decided not to move forward with the launch of Laura Lee Los Angeles. Ulta Beauty values equality and inclusivity in all that we do.”
The CEO of Boxycharm, a beauty subscription service, also condemned Lee. In a video posted to Facebook on Monday, they stated: “We do not support that. We do not understand how someone can tweet something like this.” However, her products still appear on their website.
Diff Eyewear, which launched a sunglasses line with Lee, also halted their collaboration, pulling it from their site.
In a four-minute apology video Lee posted on Sunday, she cries into the camera and calls her own tweets “vile and hurtful” while saying that she was ignorant because she came from a small town in Alabama.
Alyssa Curtis, 21, is an Ithaca College student and avid follower of the beauty community on YouTube. She follows a broad array of beauty vloggers, mostly Latina and Black women, that match her own background.
Curtis told Youth Radio she wasn’t a huge fan of Lee, but did follow her content occasionally. She’s been following the beauty vlogger drama and Lee’s apology since it blew up a week ago.
“She was fake crying and then she jump cuts it to one tear on her face,” Curtis says. “It just didn't seem genuine. And just because you’re from a small town in Alabama doesn’t mean you can be racist.”
“In my opinion if someone was ignorant at one point, I can give them the chance to learn and grow from that and be better, but at the same time, her apology just didn’t seem genuine at all.”
This isn’t the first time that beauty YouTube has exposed racist comments from popular stars in the community. In fact, much of the sleuthing is coming from the camp of Jeffree Star in particular, who has also faced backlash for his own racist comments in the past — he once joked about throwing acid on a black woman's face to lighten her skin, among other disturbing comments.
Star is often seen as the king of the beauty vlogging community. Recently, he was featured in a five-part docu-series by another YouTuber who profiled his rise to fame over the course of a decade. Star acknowledged his own controversial history, and racist comments from 10 years ago as well as his many ex-friends and rivals in the beauty community.
Following the documentary, beauty YouTuber Gabriel Zamora Tweeted a picture of himself and fellow YouTubers Laura Lee, Nikita Dragon and Manny MUA, posing with their middle fingers up, with the caption: "B---- is bitter because without him we're doing better."
Many fans interpreted this as a subtweet to Star because of the documentary, and Zamora responded to the tweet saying: "Imagine stanning a racist? I could never.”
Of course Star’s own fans took this as a challenge and uncovered a 2012 Tweet by Zamora where he used the N word.
With no sign of the drama stopping, Star fans kept uncovering racist and offensive Tweets from other beauty vloggers, including Laura Lee.
Alexis Morillo, 21, is another Ithaca College student who follows the YouTube beauty community. She says the platform is a special place to watch the intersections of race, gender and inclusivity play out on the internet:
"There's just so many intersecting issues within it. In the beauty industry everyone looks different, there isn't one stereotypical idea of what a beauty guru looks like, which I think is different than a lot of the other YouTube communities."
But at the same time, she told Youth Radio, this presents a conflict between professed inclusivity and the real actions of the YouTubers:
"[Racism] has been coming to light a lot in the beauty community specifically because you'll have people talking about how a certain foundation doesn't have enough shades for marginalized communities and things like that, and you'll have this conflicting situation where like [beauty vloggers] say they don't like a product because they don't have inclusivity within the range or complain about not having enough concealer shades for people of color in general, but will have said racist things in the past."
As for why the drama is blowing up now, Morillo says it has to do with the DIY nature of YouTube: "In YouTube in general, in this weird semi-celebrity status we have now, it's so much easier to find sketchy things that people do because they don't have people hired to make them have like this amazing image for their entire career."