It's easy to wake up one day, throw in your job, and decide to be an influencer. Posting photos, filming videos, travelling round the world and showing it all off to your thousands of followers. It seems pretty simple, doesn't it? But a new article has uncovered the struggles behind the hugely popular beauty vlogging industry, begging the question: how much does it cost to be a beauty blogger?
After scouring eBay and noticing that empty bottles from premium brands were being sold for a rather hefty price, the Daily Mail has concluded that some bloggers are struggling to keep up with the costs that come with their modern profession.
You've seen it. Picture after picture showing a beauty blogger's bathroom shelves or the contents of their make-up bags. What do they all have in common? Bottles upon bottles of products from luxury brands. But is it all just an illusion? Several items available for sale on eBay seem to suggest so. One blogger is selling an empty 30ml bottle of Jo Malone's Pomegranate Noir cologne. The filled-up version will set you back £45 but this eBay seller is hawking an empty one for just £5.99 plus shipping.
"I use this as props for flat lays and to make my dressing table look beautiful!" the seller writes. A further deep dive shows a bottle of Aesop mouthwash listed for £11.70 that's "ideal for bloggers, photo shoots or refilling", a £13 empty vial of Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle perfume, and, most impressively, an empty jar of Crème de la Mer's very expensive moisturiser for less than £3. The full thing is sold for £120 with the eBay advert describing it as "a prop to pretty up your Instagram feed" and a way to "get more likes and followers without spending a bomb on beauty products!"
So yep, it looks like some people are actually shelling out money in order to fill their shelves with props. It's perhaps not surprising when, according to social media statistics company SocialBlade, some of the most lucrative bloggers are able to earn close to a million pounds a year with their tutorial and swatch videos.
While some of the most successful YouTubers and Instagrammers are sent new products before they even hit the shelves, people who are looking to emulate their careers must start from the bottom. Unfortunately, zero followers means zero freebies. And the only way to build your following is seemingly to make out that you're already doing it.
Any beauty blogger knows that partnering with brands is the way to make money. A famous blogger — who wished to remain anonymous — told the Guardian that "you need 10,000 followers to make a living on Instagram. But unless you're at the top, you won't get rich because the costs can be extortionate."
These costs come from having to buy expensive cameras, lighting equipment, and editing software. Not to mention having to hire someone to ensure your online presence is looking the best that it can possibly be. Along with all of those basics, a blogger needs products to show off. A luxury lipstick, for example, usually costs around £30. Bloggers tend to show off an entire shade range, meaning they need to buy the full set. Now, that can start eating a huge chunk into your bank account very quickly.
In 2016, Mic asked a variety of beauty bloggers how much they spent maintaining their businesses. The prices ranged from a lot to, well, a lot. Vlogger Arieh Simon — who actually quit YouTube last year — admitted to spending around $2,500 (£1,932) a year on make-up alone, adding that only 20 percent of the products he featured in his videos were sent to him for free. Similarly, British YouTuber Becca Lammin said she spent £200 a month on cosmetics to create enough content for her 135,000 subscribers.
Take that into account and it's easy to understand why people are opting to buy empties. Yes, they're still spending money but they're spending a lot less. A more affordable amount, if you will (although I still can't quite get my head around spending a tenner for a glass bottle with nothing in it).
Make-up artist Lee Pycroft told the Daily Mail that a sense of aspiration exists with high-end brands. "Premium products tap into the need each human has to feel that they have status and significance," he explained. "It's not uncommon for bloggers and influencers to market themselves to show the edited highlights of their life, as they are essentially selling their skills and services, and to make themselves attractive to brands that will collaborate with them."
However, Pycroft rightly brings up the issues that come with such posts, commenting: "Young girls are often influenced by peers more than their parents and the exposure to relentless images of perfection and these premium brands can amplify their expectations for how their own lives 'should' be."
A recent study carried out by the University of Technology Sydney found that comparing yourself to others on social media can ultimately end up hurting your psychological wellbeing. Researchers interviewed 900 university students from Singapore to find out what people were posting on social media, how they were using various platforms, and how all of it made them feel.
The results showed that photos or videos posted with the sole aim of showing off someone's purchases (think beauty hauls) triggered feelings of low self-esteem and increased anxiety. "Feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem and anxiety in some cases led to uncontrollable spending sprees — seemingly in an effort to close the gap between the students’ own lives and what they see in their news feeds," wrote researcher Hillbun Ho.
This goes some way to explaining why some beauty bloggers are resorting to filling their beauty routines with props. They probably spend hours watching their competitors, seeing what they're using and longing to be able to afford the same. The fact that most high-profile influencers are given tons of freebies escapes a lot of people's minds.
I, like many others, am constantly envious of those who manage to make a living through social media. But now people are finally showing how hard it is to get to that 100,000 follower mark, my jealousy is slowly fading away. It's up to all of us to remember that not everything we see on Instagram, YouTube, and the like is real and to support those who document an authentic lifestyle.
Perhaps then we can help budding bloggers realise that they don't have to promote products they can't actually afford to be accepted into the influencer economy. Here's hoping.