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Sailor J/YouTube
It’s not just her eyeliner that’s on point.
SHARP LOOKS

This YouTube beauty tutorial is a sharp satire of political indifference to tragedy

By Noël Duan

In her latest beauty tutorial, the 21-year-old vlogger JJ Smith—Sailor J on YouTube—starts by giving an overview of the products she will be using: “Highlighters right here, contour kits right here, mascara, eye-liner, blush…”

She’s pointing at an empty spot on her carpet. The invisible beauty products, from a nonexistent cosmetics brand called “Thoughts & Prayers,” are a reference to the promises of “thoughts and prayers”—instead of substantive policy-making—following national gun-related tragedies.

“You probably see a lot of rich, indifferent people in Congress tweet about it often, usually after a national tragedy like the Parkland shooting,” she says in the video. You can’t see the makeup “because you’re not strong enough in the spirit,” she explains. There is a highlighter called “Money” because “that’s all our country fucking cares about” and a blush called “The Blood of Our Children.”

“I’m just gonna dab that [blush] here so we look flushed with embarrassment like the rest of our country,” she deadpans.

The  “T & P Makeup Look” is the latest biting piece of social satire from the vlogger, who has accumulated over 9 million views since launching her channel in March 2015.

Smith, who is serving in the military, has brilliantly used the makeup tutorial format as a vehicle for her witty takedowns of societal hypocrisy. “Getting a Man 101” advises “the first thing you want to do is hide the fact that you have human flesh.” “Makeup is for women who want husbands,” she pronounces in “Contouring 101.” “Contouring is for women who want to leech the souls of their dead lovers.”

Her makeup tutorials are satirical, but her Instagram account, which has over 14K followers, demonstrates that she does indeed know her way around a contouring palette. (Quartz reached out for comment but has not yet received a reply.)

Beauty tutorials as satire are a niche genre of their own, from a viral parody of the “meninist” movement by Sabrina Cruz (aka NerdyAndQuirky) to Ames Geliebter’s “depression makeup” tutorial, which calls out stigmas associated with mental health issues.

It’s a sign of the ascendence of the platform: YouTube makeup and hair tutorials have emerged as ways for women, people of color, and the gender non-conforming, to share their honest tips for beautification without the intimidation of approaching a department store beauty counter, where you are expected to buy products after a makeup lesson.

Beauty vloggers are an undeniably influential force—in 2015, US president Barack Obama famously sat down with a trio of YouTube personalities, including the fashion and beauty vlogger Bethany Mota. After a group selfie with Mota and the other two vloggers, Obama told her, “I’m so proud of what you guys are doing.”

But though these videos have huge audiences, they are also sometimes startlingly intimate and personal. Shot from messy bedrooms with webcams, the videos tend to start with a bare, freshly-washed face. The transformation revealed at the end of the video is the satisfying payoff. They are honest forms of entertainment, simple and enjoyable in their own right, and in themselves a sort of blank canvas for expression—be it identity pride or social satire.

In the “T & P Makeup Look” video, Smith rebukes the emptiness she sees in the promise of “thoughts and prayers” by rallying her millions of viewers with a call to action: The video features a link to a GoFundMe page to provide support for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida.