Snitchery talks black-fishing accusations and what her Blackness means as a biracial influencer.
Like many beauty enthusiasts, 23-year-old beauty influencer Eleanor Barnes (widely known as Snitchery) found her love for make-up in middle school— "maybe a little too early," she joked.
She continued to foster her interest and skills over the years, though in private. During her suburban North Virginia upbringing, she wasn't focused on building follower counts, not even on MySpace. It wasn't until she attended Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts in 2014 that she innocently discovered social media and its ability to create connections and friendships.
She said, "Okay, if I want to make friends in college...this is the way to do it—I'm going to do the social media route." As a make-up lover and early selfie queen, Eleanor began posting aesthetically-pleasing looks on her Instagram, with perfect lighting and solid background color tones.
"Because I didn't grow up with social media, I didn't know being an influencer was a thing; I didn't know [this] job existed," she said. "I kind of thought people on Instagram who had a lot of followers were just really popular. I didn't realize they were actually making money."
Understandably, this was the thought process of many early users on the Internet. Social media marketing really got started in 2010 when Amazon partnered with Facebook and began using algorithms to suggest products and services to "friends."
During the summer of her sophomore year at Emerson (majoring in Media Studies and Art History), while working in the crafty aisles of Michael's, Eleanor first realized her influencer aspirations and decided to turn a passing hobby into a full-time career. She quickly began making more money than any average 20-year-old college student.
By 2017, she was completely financially independent, creating make-up looks, tutorials, and eventually (as a self-proclaimed "nerd at heart") leaning into cosplay.
Dating back to the beginnings of her well-curated Instagram, Eleanor posted make-up looks that were heavily inspired by brightly-colored animated characters.
Eleanor's early talent for dramatic make-up routines naturally collided with her other loves: anime and Disney. She grew interested in cosplay as an outsider, not actually wearing full-blown outfits or going to conventions. However, she took the spark of her small interest and ignited it into a unique make-up style.
Her shift to cosplay was "natural progression," she said. She began stepping into more outfits (including props) in her photos, while still keeping her approach make-up focused. In October 2018, she began doing costume make-up, and her followers' positive reactions were more than what Eleanor expected. Thus, she became an active part of the cosplay subculture of the beauty industry.
She channeled her inner anime enthusiast into creating characters from Studio Ghibli and classic Disney princesses with a modern twist. Her passion and love for anime can easily be seen through her tutorials and detailed looks. When we spoke about what anime means to her, she reflected that many beloved series (HunterxHunter being a fave) returned adults to near forgotten lessons we learned from fables and even religion, like "friendship is important" and "don't underestimate yourself."
"I kind of treat [anime] as modern-day fairy tales, in a way," she said. This love translated to another business venture. Eleanor created her first merchandise collection of hoodies, sweatpants, beanies, and dad hats inspired by Japanese lettering and designs.
Eleanor's follower count jumped from thousands to tens of thousands in just a couple of years, helping her solidify fan bases in both the beauty and cosplay communities. But, as the old Hip-Hop adage goes, "mo' money, mo' problems." During her rise, Internet scrutiny rose and an infestation of self-appointed cancel culture police searched for names and profiles to include in popularized buzzwords, and all this eventually caught up with Eleanor.
"Blackfishing" accusations quickly circulated around late 2018, pinning white beauty influencers as perpetrators of using deeper-toned foundations or tanning for longer than necessary, leading them to be regularly mistaken for ethnic women. If this phrase is new to you, look at any Kardashian sisters' early social media photos compared to those of today. More recently, Kim has reawakened the blackfishing conversation with her unveiling of her controversial skincare routine.
Eleanor soon received her own mix of accusations. Given her sudden growth and notoriety and the public's very limited knowledge of her personal and family life, beauty enthusiasts accused the biracial influencer of blackfishing.
"It was weird," she remembered, not understanding the initial accusations. Growing up in a predominantly white suburb of Northern Virginia with her white mother and Black father, Eleanor's experience as "the Black family on the block" was profound.
"I was always the token Black girl," she confessed. Reminiscing about her childhood as a darker-skinned, curly-haired kid, she remembers being asked by a soccer teammate if she was adopted when she was picked up by her white mother. These moments gave context to her experiences of being racially ambiguous in white spaces.
"I was obviously read as Black for 18 years and [realized in college] for the first time I was going to be read as completely white," she said.
In college, Eleanor surrounded herself with Black people and those who looked like her by joining select clubs geared towards Black students and Black women specifically. "For the first time, I felt I was having the culturally Black experience just because I hadn't had the opportunity to have Black friends before," she said. She joined Black and brown organizations on her school campus and attended many protests and rallies surrounding Ferguson and the unjust gunning down of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
"I was approaching these issues as a Black woman because that's how other people saw me and that's how I saw myself," she said.
The accusations of blackfishing eventually prompted the YouTuber to take to her visual platforms to discuss the conversation around her Blackness, and also to open up about her biological background.
As a racially ambiguous woman of color, Eleanor makes it apparent that she understands the nuance of identifying as a Black woman, while acknowledging that her Black experience is a story that thousands of other mixed people identify with.
"I never want to take more up space than I feel is appropriate and I never want to talk over people, but there is a lack of biracial stories in the media," she shared. After sharing her background, she received literally thousands of direct messages from biracial fans who also felt displaced from their communities - not being Black enough for the Black spaces and being too Black for white spaces.
As part of an industry that favors racially ambiguity, fuller lips, and deeper tanned skin, Eleanor is not ignorant about her position in beauty and makeup spheres.
"I own up to every way that I move through life so privileged in a lot of ways to be read as racially ambiguous and white, but that doesn't change the fact that I wasn't read that way for 18 years," she said. Opening up these conversations, helping some find comfort, and educating others about the nuanced experience of ambiguous Black bodies was not an intentional move for Snitchery, but it was a necessary dialogue that received overall positive reception.
The IG Baddie
The beauty industry is a $600 billion machine that feeds on physical insecurities. Beauty influencers are glittery cogs in this massive system, and they do their part accordingly without deviating too far from the demands of advertising agencies and corporations. While many influencers are choosing to take the "safe" path, participating in dramatic disputes ("We're talking about makeup and [the industry] is 80% drama and 20% tutorials," Eleanor points out) while being coy with their followers about their beauty additives, Eleanor has attempted to be completely transparent with fans about what she does and does not do to enhance her looks.
"Everybody's face is starting to look the same, which is a little scary," she said. "For the average person who is interested in beauty, [there] probably is something damaging about having all of your influences having a very, very similar face, that they've all built and that they all paint on everyday. I don't know if that's the healthiest thing in the world."
While the "IG Baddie look" looks great on camera and video, at one point, Eleanor noticed that the look that she'd been doing for years was no longer fitting her face. The almost plastic-looking aesthetic of being flawless no longer served her.
So she began diving into styles from other time periods and from other countries. On her YouTube channel, which has over 300,000 subscribers, Eleanor began experimenting with what worked best for her face terms of eye shape, cheekbone contouring, and highlighter.
"I think it's silly to think one particular makeup style can be universally flattering on everybody. And we've gotten to a point in Western make-up where only really one style is being presented to us," she said. Through her personal expansion beyond Western beauty norms, Eleanor was able to find more of what works for her; she's dropped almost 50% of her "IG baddie" makeup routines.
"I'm never going to knock anyone's makeup style, but I just realized wearing that much makeup [daily] was not for me," she said. By teaching herself how to do her makeup intuitively, instead of checking Instagram to see what's trending amongst the beauty girls, Eleanor found new looks and trends that fit her face and daily routine more organically and fluidly.
Eleanor and her Snitchery brand have come a long way from simply using social media as a way to find friends. At only 23-years-old, she is financially independent, an entrepreneur, a caring and compassionate human being and, above all else, a self-aware adult using her platform to spread awareness of mental healthcare, climate change, the importance of voting, human rights and much more.
While there seems to be a standard, popular look that's generally considered normal in the industry, Snitchery is working her way to changing this for the better, allowing everyone to live their truth. More influencers are moving away from fully-covered, face-tuned selfies and are getting back to loving their natural faces (or at least something close).
Thanks to all this, Eleanor has a major future in the beauty industry. With aspirations of reaching the million follower mark on Instagram (which is only months away); she's also in the early stages of development for her own product line.
"[There are] a lot of big holes in the makeup industry that product is not necessarily filling, and I'm going to be the one to do it!" she said.
We can only hope that popular influencers in all industries, from make-up artists to our favorite gamers, can understand and respect their position like Snitchery does, making transparency a requirement instead of an option.
Protest music aside, there is a slew of good underground music out today
An invigorating slew of protest music hit the shelves today.
Detroit-based emcee Tee Grizzley collaborated with Queen Naija and the Detroit Youth Choir to craft a melodic ballad that attempts to open up a dialogue with police. Meanwhile, alt-Jazz pioneer Terrace Martin took a different approach in his collaboration with Denzel Curry, Daylyt, G Perico, and Kamasi Washington, with "Pigs Feet" being more of an angry f*ck you than an attempt at communication.
“Now you can tell the truth and stop playing a part in my being exploited by a whole ass APP worldwide without my permission,” Jahkara Smith wrote.
"If the men find out we can shapeshift, they're going to tell the church."
That's one of Jahkara Smith's most memorable lines from her most well-known YouTube video titled "Contouring 101," which today has over 4.4 million views. "I don't know if you put your contouring on before the rest of your makeup or after the rest of your makeup, but it doesn't matter; because men are stupid," she quips in a mid-Atlantic accent. Her popularity defied expectations, The Mary Sue noted, "because three of the worst things you can be online are: a woman, brown, and loud." Similar features in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Allure, and Refinery29 praised her cutting commentary on the patriarchy, sexism, and racism, given while mocking the very forum she was using: beauty tutorials, which by their nature prop up an industry that's mostly run by white women and neglects women of color (despite the fact that black women spend up to nine times more on beauty and haircare than white women).
In 2018, she told The Mary Sue, "For whatever reason, I feel like I'm running out of time, or people will forget about me, and I won't have the same opportunities again. That kind of stuff." But at 21 years old, Smith, AKA Sailor J on YouTube, felt that she'd captured a moment to bring attention to society's ethnocentric beauty standards and the patriarchal implications that a woman only cares about beauty products in order to attract a man. "Men cannot know that we wear makeup. It will all be over for all of us. The universe will stop. Reproduction will cease," Smith says at the opening of her first makeup tutorial, titled "Getting a Man 101," which has accrued over 2.2 million views. The point, she says while beating her face aggressively with a beauty blender: "If you don't look like a white beauty blogger, it's over for you." To date, she maintains nearly 500,000 subscribers despite the fact that she no longer posts on her channel.
On TikTok, however, her videos have seen somewhat of a resurgence in popularity, with her online persona "sailorj" being used over 4.3 million times as a hashtag. The mostly Gen-Z–but increasingly millennial–platform is a hybrid of SnapChat and Vine, between video diary and sketch comedy, with users posting dance trends, challenges, tirades, or political commentary. At some point, the audio clips from several of Smith's videos were uploaded to the platform, where millions of users have lip synced to her satire–and to Smith, they're all "f*cking thieves."
YouTube “Sailor J"
In January 2020, Smith made it clear that she doesn't approve of any of her content being appropriated by TikTok users. "Absolutely no one on TikTok or any other platform has my permission to strip this video for any audio or visual purposes," she posted. When responses ranged from solidarity and promises to inform TikTokers of her wishes to criticism that she should be thankful for the publicity, she added, "And no, I'm not grateful that people are stealing because I don't make videos for the sake of having other people like them/me."
TikTok is, as Wired described, "a copyright law nightmare." In many ways, the platform is designed for plagiarizing. With its participatory nature allowing users to respond to other videos or re-use the audio, it exists in a murky space of fair use and monetization. "TikTok isn't offering a new service and then scrambling to monetize it, it's cashing in on a culture other platforms frown upon," writes Wired. "The appeal (sometimes problematically) is in appropriating something that doesn't belong to you and tweaking it until it's your own—an infinite cycle of remixes of remixes, just like a meme." As a musically-driven platform (TikTok acquired the short-lived app musical.ly, after all), the company has partnered with record companies to license existing music, as well as new music from debuting artists for a low fee.
But while lip syncing to the app's library of licensed music avoids (for the most part) dicey copyright problems, millions of videos use sound from other creators. The problem with using Sailor J's material is that, as she pointed out to one commenter, she never uploaded her content onto TikTok–which means her material is completely outside of the company's terms and services. One reason TikTok gets away with encouraging lip syncing and monetizing meme culture is the way it sets out its terms, from protecting TikTok's own branded material to establishing 23 rules for "Your Access to and Use of Our Services," as well as extensive descriptions of User-Generated Content. Namely, if a creator has a TikTok account, then their material is free to use by other TikTok creators: "Users of the Services may also extract all or any portion of User Content created by another user to produce additional User Content, including collaborative User Content with other users, that combine and intersperse User Content generated by more than one user."
So what can Smith do about her unwitting and exploitative TikTok popularity? She can send TikTok a take-down request due to copyright infringement; in 2019, the company apparently received 3,345 such notices, according to their first ever Transparency Report. They say they complied with 85% of requests to remove content. "Now you can tell the truth and stop playing a part in my being exploited by a whole ass APP worldwide without my permission," Smith says in the comments to her contouring video. The YouTuber-turned-actress (and former Air Force servicewoman) has joined the cast of AMC's horror drama NOS4A2 and starred in season two of Hulu's Into the Dark. She doesn't have time to create content for her YouTube channel anymore, but the problems with being an influencer have only intensified with social media crossover.
"Makeup is a form of appropriation as well," she told The New York Times in 2018. Playing with identity and changing one's form is a fundamental aspect of the beauty industry, one that's often manipulated to exploit people's vanity, insecurities, and desire to slip into someone else's skin, if only under a chemical layer. Speaking on the intense backlash she'd received from her social critiques in her parodies, she said, "I don't want those kinds of people watching me anyway. The problem with YouTube is you almost can't be yourself if you want to make it career-wise." Now, with over 500 million users and 1.5 billion downloads, TikTok's estimated worth crossed $75 billion in 2018, making its owner, ByteDance, the most valuable privately held company in the world. With more than 1 billion videos viewed every day, hardly anyone online is really being themselves. But therein lies the appeal of lip syncing: someone pretending to be someone they're not, but in such a kitschy way that it's not inauthentic–it's mocking inauthenticity. Quartz calls this a delicious form of "cognitive dissonance" that's "unapologetically cheesy" while showcasing that "identity can be unapologetically fluid." Most pointedly, in an age when we're still fumbling our attempts to be inclusive but not overly corrective, reigning in cancel culture while still policing instances of cultural appropriation, lip syncing content "strikes an upbeat, nearly utopian chord of free lending and borrowing."
While that opens the terrain of creative property to play with while we're home on a sick day (just as Smith was when she filmed her first video in under an hour on a whim), content based on fluid play-acting means that original creators are more of an afterthought than ever, as users confuse content that's public to mean it's copyright-free. But, appropriately, TikTok's Terms and Services also includes this warning: "You acknowledge and agree that when you view content provided by others on the Services, you are doing so at your own risk."
- Jahkara J Smith (@SlaylerJ) | Twitter ›
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