Female Asian American YouTubers: Final by Ariana Callan
This post is 3 of 4 in a series of posts on female Asian American YouTubers for my final.
Wendy Nguyen, the founder of Wendy’s Lookbook, is constantly putting out videos. Although her focus is mostly on fashion, she occasionally strays in order to makes videos on trips and other more lifestyle topics. Her fashion videos are always creative and fresh in both format and content. She has over 640,000 followers.
An example of her creative works is 10 Essential Closet Items with Magic!, which uniquely describes her closet staples. While YouTubers usually talk through these items, occasionally wearing the items shown in a spilt screen, she takes a different approach by showing instead of explaining. Nguyen does not fit into any Asian American stereotype prescribed by Gou and Harlow because she is so unique as the most common stereotypes like as a “model minority” or a “perpetual foreigner.”
Because Wendy is her own model in her videos, she is able to sidestep more conventional model looks, which is tall, thin, and white. While there are definitely Asian American female models who have been successful, the overwhelming majority of professional models are still white and thin women in the industry. But Wendy has been able to sidestep this by creating her own content- and she has been incredibly successful at it. Wendy has even been able to speak out about the subject on being different- well kind of. In 2012, Wendy’s Lookbook came out with the video “Be Your Shoeself,” which was about a flat shoe wanting to be a heel, but finally realizing that it was happy just the way it was. Heels are the more desired shoe for women, while flats are practical and therefore less desirable. The video was a hit, to the point where “teachers and parents us[ed] the film as a social-educational piece.” While maybe not the most political or direct video dealing with self-acceptance for Asian Americans, or really anyone who feels like they do not fit in, it still helps to bring attention to the issue. She is able to talk about it, but not actually bring it up, allowing it to be for anyone who feels like he/she does not fit into. Additionally it is interesting to note that Wendy is a rags to riches story; she grew up in the foster system, but later made all of money and success through with her blog and YouTube channel. And to this day she volunteers in the Los Angeles area helping incarcerated and troubled teens who had grown up in similar living situation as herself. So it is evident that Wendy has worked hard to get where she is today, because she truly started from nothing.
Michelle Phan is one of the most popular and famous YouTubers ever; she is the original “beauty guru.” Being a “beauty guru” means that she creates beauty videos, like tutorials on how to look like famous characters to how to have red lipstick last through out the day, and has a huge following. She currently has a little over 8.1 million subscribers. As Phan has grown as a YouTuber, her tutorials have become more complex. For instance, in the intro of her video on creating the make up look for Daenerys Targaryen, she looks just like the character by not only wearing the make up and wig, but by creating an accurate costume and setting- a lot of effort for a 20 second intro to a seven and a half minute video. In addition she also had a musical score, costume and CGI baby dragon specifically created for the tutorial. With all of the resources put into the video, it could be just like a short film.
Phan has been incredibly successful in her career as a YouTube “beauty guru” by not only have a successful channel, but also from many other ventures, like a separate YouTube channel, Fawn, a contract with Lancôme, and her own make up line named em. But even with her tremendous success, she has never been perceived as a yellow peril type figure. She is not treated as a threat towards other (white) women in the business.
While Phan has been incredibly successful in her work as, she is still limited in what she is produces. Her most popular videos are make up videos of her portraying white characters, like Barbie, and Zombie Barbie. Only one of those women she dresses up as are real, Lady Gaga, and yet even then her videos are creating caricatures that follow white standards of beauty. In fact the first ever video she did on emulating a celebrities make up look was Lady Gaga in Poker Face. And with her video on Daenerys Targaryen, Phan does not even look Asian anymore. Although maybe a powerful statement to her abilities as a make up artist, Phan completely changes herself in order to follow a specific white beauty standard. While as a business figure, Phan is very inspiring, she still follows white beauty standards- something that is kind of odd considering how powerful she is as a YouTube star.
Amy Lee, of Vagabond Youth, is the youngest in this grouping, at just 21 years old and already has 211,000 YouTube followers. While she is still young, Amy been able to create an influential following that did not exist for someone like her before: “ [now] decentralized citizens control as opposed to hierarchal, elite control” (Meraz). Lee is just one example of an ordinary teen have the power to create content that has become very far reaching. Lee has been able to create a platform without the help of managers or editors that exist in other, older forms of media and entertainment. She is a typical female vlogger in that she regularly posts hauls- where the creator shows off recent items they have bought with their audience- make up tutorials, lookbooks, and the like, but she is usually pretty creative in how she forms the videos. She has a youthful, edgy vibe to her videos that is not present in the two vlogger’s videos above. While a bit more typical in her content than Wendy, Amy has a unique twist with her video style and is always up to date on trends. She creates interesting transitions where they are not usually present. She also uses popular music in her videos. On camera Amy does not seem to fit any particular Asian American stereotype, instead she wants to be more rebellious and creative with her content.
Lee has also made content that specifically pertains to her being Korean American. Although not directly addressing her race, she has made videos about how she does her eye make up with monolids. The tutorials end up being more complex than the typical cat eye make up look. She also regularly uses Korean beauty products, which she recently made a video about. While Michelle Phan also uses Korean, or Korean inspired, skincare products, she also regularly makes videos that do not pertain to Asian culture. Lee is not exclusive in her videos, anyone can do the make up looks, but she still creates videos specifically for Asian American women who might be interested in style and beauty.
On the surface, Amy still fits into the model minority category, not so much for her video content, but because of her background. She is incredibly smart and hard working (both at school and on her videos) and is attending UCLA studying communications. She creates these videos on the side in order to partially pay for her college tuition. But her school work does not define her, at least on YouTube, where she has the power to show multiple sides of her personality. Amy does not fit into any one stereotype perfectly, and is able to create a nuanced online persona.