This is the second article in our new series The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry that explores the seemingly harmful and at times toxic stories that make the news. Here, we look at the YouTube drama between Tati Westbrook and James Charles that rocked the online beauty community.

Thanks to social media, we get a front row seat into our favourite celebrities and influencer’s fabulous lives. But as it is with everything in life, with the good comes the bad — and the ugly.

For two weeks in May, a very public feud between three prolific YouTube beauty vloggers — and former friends — Tati Westbrook, James Charles and Jeffree Star showed us the ugly side of YouTube’s beauty community.

So, what happened? And why is this feud important?

It comes down to “cancel culture”, a trend first seen in 2018 that sees online mobs jumping on users for making mistakes or comments that come across as offensive. The term refers to boycotting and publicly shaming someone (or cancelling them), typically on social media. This usually happens when a celebrity or public figure has been controversial or offensive.

This is showcased perfectly by the beauty community’s reaction to Tati and James’ feud.

In case you haven’t been following the YouTube drama, here’s a quick overview:

Tati Westbrook is an OG beauty guru on YouTube and founder of Halo Beauty. She started posting videos in 2010 and has become one of the most respected makeup channels on YouTube.

James Charles is the beauty wunderkind who has amassed over 16 million subscribers in the two years he’s been on YouTube. His high school yearbook photo went viral, and he has created a huge following with his “sisters” brand and ethos.

Tati recently had a public falling out with James that turned toxic very quickly. Fellow beauty vlogger Jeffrey Starr weighed in on it too and the YouTube beauty community went to war.

The drama started on April 23 after James posted an Instagram video about how he loves Sugar Bear Hair supplements after accepting a seemingly impromptu sponsorship deal with them at Coachella.

Tati, as the owner of Halo Beauty hair supplements, felt betrayed by James. She had acted as his mentor and helped him grow his YouTube channel and was upset he had advertised her competition.

So, she did what any grown woman would do (ahem) and posted an emotional video on her Instagram story.

Once James finds out that he hurt Tati’s feelings, he posts an apology on his Instagram story.

“This weekend, I did an Instagram story for sleep vitamins that I’ve been taking because the brand helped me with security when the crowd around me at Coachella became unsafe. I did not accept any money from this post. Tati has a vitamin brand, which I take on a daily basis, but in the moment, I did not think about the competition. I’ve supported Tati both online and off like she has done for me and am devastated that I hurt someone that I truly love and have endless respect for.”

On May 10, Tati released another 40-minute video, titled “BYE SISTER” saying the situation with James is actually about “way more than just vitamins’.

On May 12, Jeffree Star, a fellow beauty You Tuber, jumped into the drama with a series of tweets. After James’s younger brother, Ian, tweeted, “Why does everyone act so tough over the internet?” Jeffree replied with a now-deleted tweet:

Several videos and tweets were made between Tati, Jeffree and James, with the former two appearing to gang up on James, calling him out for his “predatory” and aggressive flirting. Jeffree went so far as to call James a “danger to society.”

On May 18, James released his own video that shot down all of their accusations with apparent evidence (including screenshots of conversations) that all of Tati and Jeffree’s claims are out of context and slanderous, with potentially devastating effects on his career. After all, he’s only 19 and a self-confessed virgin. His 41-minute video, “No More Lies”, defends his character and rebuts allegations that he’s used fame to manipulate men.

Jeffree appears to try and capitalize on the feud with a tantalizing Snapchat rant and threatens to show his “receipts” to prove James is lying before doing a complete 180, saying he doesn’t want to revert to his old self, and he admits that he regrets ever sending those “brutal tweets” and “vicious text messages” and apologized to Charles’ younger brother.

The Aftermath

Successful campaigns to boycott James’ channel saw his subscriber count plummet. Before the scandal, James had upwards of 16 million subscribers, that number decreased exponentially following the video upload by Tati and subsequent tweet war with Jeffree.

“James Charles has dropped below the number of Jeffree Star’s YouTube subscribers. This makes Jeffree Star the most subscribed to Beauty Guru channel on YouTube,” Pop Alarms declared on Twitter at the time.

At of the time of publication, James’ subscriber numbers have still not recovered to that of his pre-feud count.  However James Charles is back on top at 15,498,260 subscribers, Jeffree Star is at 15,227,808 subscribers and Tati Westbrook is at 10,032,515 subscribers. Notably, Westbrook gained upwards of four million subscribers since publishing “BYE SISTER”.  Ulterior motive, anyone?

All three eventually said they were in a “dark place” emotionally after being involved in the incident. A truce was called and all vowed to stay off social media for a while to heal and reflect.

So, what do we take away from this saga, and what can be done?

We all need to take individual responsibility for our online footprint. Think critically before joining the mob mentality. Is there evidence to support rumours, or is it just hearsay? Even if there is evidence to support negative rumours, the situation likely has more to it than you know. Do you really want to be the comment that pushes someone over the edge? According to dosomething.org, bullying victims are tw0 to nine times more likely to consider committing suicide.

What this recent beauty vlogger YouTube drama has highlighted is the need for restraint in our online communities. Just because we may appear to have a sense of anonymity online, our comments still have an impact in real life. Thinking before you type is as important as thinking before you speak.

If you or someone you know is the target of cyberbullying, contact Netsafe by emailing help@netsafe.org.nz, text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282, call tollfree on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723) or report online using their online form.

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