Getting Political on Youtube via Makeup, Contouring, and Comedy
You may or may not have heard of her, but I’ve recently developed a hearty admiration for Sailor J. Slightly newer to the scene and sitting at about 206k subscribers, Sailor J is the “beauty guru” / content creator we’ve only dreamt of until now. She’s witty, smart, funny, and incredibly adept at bringing political and social commentary to the YouTube medium.
Sailor J, or JJ Smith, makes lifestyle vignettes about everything from fandom to the astrology. I first stumbled upon her channel when GETTING A MAN 101 made its way into my inbox—but let’s pause right there, it’s not what you think. Usually guised as a makeup tutorial, Sailor J puts together a satirical manifesto as she openly mocks archaic views about women and ignites a conversation about intersectional feminism through an overly familiar format. “If it rubs off on anything…they’re going to know you’re a witch,” she exclaims to the viewer while buffing foundation across her cheeks.
But, she has something else to say.
The video, just under five minutes, takes you through the steps any beauty guru would. She glenty swipes a light champagne-colored eyeshadow across her lids, but she’s using the gesture to challenge the false perception that women wear makeup for some ulterior motive—to please or attract the opposite sex. In the same vein, How to have Bedroom Eyes takes us through a similar formula. She talks about shading and blending—but it’s more than just creating depth by smudging a dark shade of eyeshadow across the curve of your brow. Whether she’s talking about contouring or criticizing some women’s need to put down other women, Sailor J is combining satire and very real, relevant conversations on an often quiet side of the platform.
Beyond social commentary, tackling political conversations on Youtube can be just as difficult as in the classroom or at work and is something that we seldom see in the beauty and lifestyle corner of YouTube . She caught the attention of sources like Allure when she put out a video titled How To Do Thanksgiving Makeup That Has Nothing To Do With The 566 Federally Recognized Tribes. While writing #NODAPL across her cheeks and mocking Disney’s Pocahontas, Sailor J points out a disturbing trend in “native-inspired looks” that pollute Youtube and social media each holiday season, using makeup as a form of appropriation. “It’s all about your (the white, female content creator’s) convenience, not the wellbeing of a traumatized nation of people.” It’s a conversation that we’ve been been having, but her utilization of the same platform as a direct combatant to the conflict is ingenious.
Sailor J says what we all want to say, what we need to say. She’s gritty, even giving this gamer’s salty vocabulary a run for its money, but she’s right. Content creators, regardless of medium, have the ability to use their platform to build on ideas. From her makeup tutorials to her book reviews, Sailor J is a refreshing light coming from a void where we need better representation and smarter conversations. Makeup can be makeup, there doesn’t need to be a deeper meaning behind which color you choose to blend into the crease of your eyelid, but seeing Sailor J utilize that not-so-basic gesture and turn it into critical commentary on society is something that we need more of. Even shown through the lens of satire, these faux-lifestyle guides and tutorials aren’t as jocular as they may seem, because, rather than mocking the genre, Sailor J is leading an attack on objectification and discrimination. While you might pull a spit-take or two at her jabs and jokes, she truly is, in her own way, guiding us to live a better lifestyle: one where we’re loud and counter the toxic perceptions that we face each day.