How YouTube Makeup Tutorials Helped Me Survive High School
Before I began ninth grade, my family moved. I'd spent the first 14 years of my life in the same house, same neighborhood, and, from first through eighth grade, same school. But when we moved to a new house in new state, I began freshman year completely new to all my surroundings. This sort of thing is never easy for a kid (or for an adult, for that matter)—it’s terrifying to have to start over, to have to make new friends from scratch. It normally works out for the best within a few months, but unfortunately, that’s not what happened for me. At least not in the way I expected.
I made a couple friends that ninth-grade year, but because so many of them knew each other from as far back as pre-K or kindergarten, they mostly had their own circles, and those only solidified further come 10th grade. I tried so hard to find people to connect with. I did everything you’re supposed to: I joined basketball, crew, theater. I even tried my hand at keeping score during volleyball games. Quite honestly, I really didn’t find a place where I felt like I fit—I couldn’t squeeze my way into any of these tightly knit groups.
What didn’t help was that this was 2010, a year when websites like Formspring (remember?) were cropping up all over the place. These sites allowed teenagers to send messages to one another anonymously. I don’t know who approved that or thought it would be a good idea, but let’s just say I was getting far more mean messages than nice ones. My life at this new high school definitely left something to be desired.
Any day I felt lonely after school or on a weekend, I could turn to watching a [makeup] video … to make it better.
Luckily, something did stay the same amid all this change: my love for art. I was always doodling during academic classes and painting during art. I came to school with my nails coated in a spectrum of Sephora colors, changing the shades out weekly (my anxiety caused me to peel off the polish every time).
After school, I passed the time by starting to collect and experiment with makeup products. My collection was small at first, consisting mainly of old Clinique makeup from my bat mitzvah: a purple eye shadow palette, blush, and red lipstick. I enjoyed the aspect of creating and transforming that makeup granted me, and I liked that I could explore alone. I didn’t need friends to do it.
One night at home while poking around the web, I somehow landed on one of Ingrid Nilsen’s YouTube makeup tutorials. The 20-something brunette beauty guru had long hair, inviting brown eyes, and a relaxing video setup—she filmed right in front of a camera in her bathroom. She explained how to create makeup looks and which products to buy in order to achieve them. She talked to the camera like I, a viewer, was her friend. The first video got me hooked, and I immediately subscribed. Watching Ingrid’s videos felt like hanging out with an older, wiser friend who shared a hobby with me—something I seriously lacked while in school.
Ingrid’s instruction guided my creativity, and her channel introduced me to other YouTubers, like Tanya Burr and Fleur de Force. The three of them were relatable and friendly, and their videos gave me the handbook on what makeup to buy and how to apply it so that I could feel creative and confident. Any day I felt lonely after school or on a weekend, I could turn to watching a video of theirs to make it better.
My makeup collection grew thanks to their recommendations. Ingrid swore by the Nars Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base as the best primer for her oily lids. I attest to its magic to this day. Tanya taught me how to use the Urban Decay Naked Palette, creating looks for any time of day or event (for me, that meant the mall and movie theater). I admired Fleur’s high-end collection and saved up to get the Shiseido UV Protective Liquid Foundation, which she used to get her dewy, glowy skin.
Makeup became part of my identity, something everyone knew me for.
My fascination with beauty vloggers persisted through high school, and as my collection of beautiful products took up more and more space and I got better at my makeup skills, I stopped caring about things my peers thought about me. Makeup gave me the confidence to express myself. While so many other girls either stuck to a more fresh-faced look or a simple swipe of black eyeliner, I wore Urban Decay Mildew eye shadow, a shimmery green-and-gold color, all over my lids regularly. It complemented my dark brown eyes, so why the hell not?
This hobby got me through a lot—when the two-years-older boy I liked stopped texting me, I played with makeup. When I stayed home from prom, I wore a killer eye look and enjoyed a delicious dinner with my family. Makeup was something I could turn to that simply allowed me to create. I could jam out to the Jonas Brothers and High School Musical songs or concentrate silently and make art on my face in whatever way I wanted. There was no messing up—even the extreme winged eyeliner served as practice for what I didn’t want, for when I’d eventually want to wear the look somewhere.
My passion persisted through college. When I got a bad grade and didn’t want to deal, I’d watch a tutorial, go to Sephora, or build a new look. Thankfully, I found friends in college, and they often would ask me for product recommendations and to do their makeup for our sorority events. I would match my makeup with my mood, varying from traditionally subdued and natural to dark, edgy, don’t-talk-to-me-right-now kind of looks. Makeup became part of my identity, something everyone knew me for.
I really appreciated that one of the main messages from the beauty vloggers I watched was the emphasis on makeup as self-expression. When I was in high school, that was the exact message I needed. No one harped on fixing physical attributes, hiding yourself, or covering up. Makeup, to my favorite gurus and to me, was simply about putting yourself out there even more. It was about saying to the world, I’m here and you can’t ignore me. While I felt invisible in many aspects of my high school life, makeup gave me the tools to find confidence and express myself—key traits for anyone emerging adulthood. So thank you, YouTube. Thank you, gurus. Thank you, makeup.
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
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Has makeup ever helped you get through a hard time? Tell us your story in the comments below!