YouTube beauty guru Weylie Hoang is talking about how makeup can change a woman’s mood drastically. Her tone is somewhere between general enthusiasm and the kind of measured patience high school teachers use during grizzly sex ed lectures. It’s not like Hoang is irritated with my blazing ignorance; but really, isn’t it obvious that lipstick can make you feel instantly better? Hoang speaks with the confidence of someone who lives within every shade of eyeshadow and every application of lip gloss. She talks to me about makeup the way I talk to people about Batman. And just when I realize how out of my depth I am, Hoang starts in on the practice of applying makeup evenly as dictated by the thickness of a makeup brush. Where is the Dark Knight when you need him?
In 2007, like most teenagers, Hoang was bored. But instead of shoplifting or destroying public property (lousy teens), Hoang started her main YouTube channel iLikeWeylie. “It definitely started out as more of a hobby,” Hoang explains. But six years ago YouTube was a very different place. The partner project had just launched and people were starting channels for the hell of it, no one was rich yet, and multi-channel networks were years away. Hoang got the idea to start a channel from a beauty vlogger operating under the YouTube channel name fafinettex3. “I watched her all the time. I was obsessed with her and she really inspired me to start making my own [videos],” says Hoang.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Hoang started gaining YouTube notoriety, which as she explains, was difficult at times: “I did get discouraged because I was still in high school at the time and people would say mean things, I would take it really hard.” Three years later and Hoang is still getting trolls, but she has learned to take them in stride. “I had a friend that told me that we need to start looking at [YouTube] as a career versus a high school thing. Now I just look at it as, well, this is my business and in business people aren’t going to like you all of the time,” says Hoang.
Business and the concept of business seems to be on the forefront of Hoang’s thoughts as we speak. She tells me about her plans for the future, which include plans to launch her own line of beauty products in the style of Michelle Phan, a contemporary of Hoang who earlier this year launched her own line of beauty products with L’Oreal. “I went to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) so I could major in beauty and have my own beauty line. That was my dream,” says Hoang. That dream, as Hoang explains, is close to fruition. Currently, Hoang is taking pre-orders for her first line of “essential” makeup brushes.
Hoang spoke about launching her product line with brushes, saying, “I felt like those were the basics. Everyone needs a good set of brushes to do their makeup. In the future, I want to do false eyelashes because that’s so like my thing.” For Hoang, while a makeup line is her end goal, even more important is making that makeup line affordable to her audience of 13–17 year olds. “I want to be in Target or drugstores because I feel like my audience is all teenagers. I want to have a line that they can have access to and afford.” she says.
It’s this type of concern for her audience that has made Hoang such a smash success on YouTube. With her audience in their early teens, Hoang says she feels like a “big sister” to them: “Before I used to see it like I was your friend in high school. Now that I am older, I see it more like I am an older sister.” Part of that big sibling vibe comes from Hoang’s younger sister whom the beauty guru gleans information from regarding the day-to-day trials and tribulations of teens. “A lot of times I get my ideas from her because I feel less connected to teenagers now that I am older,” says Hoang.
Feeling disconnected from your audience is a huge problem for YouTube creators who, for the most part, bank on their personal relationship with their audience. Luckily for Hoang, however, she has her little sister to run ideas through: “I usually talk to my little sister and ask her ‘what do you think about this?’ And once she starts telling me about the drama she goes through, it reminds me of the things I used to deal with and I try to figure out what I would tell my teenage self.”
Hoang’s dedication to makeup and beauty is staggering, even if I don’t understand half of what she is saying. When I ask her what she would be doing if YouTube didn’t exist, she tells me that her life would be more or less the same. She would work in the makeup industry, she tells me, it’s as simple as that. For her, this world of blush and lipstick and eyeshadow isn’t even second nature, it is her essence.
“Every girl, even if we are sick or having a really bad day, if we just put some lipstick on, that just completely changes everything for us,” Hoang explains. In her eyes, something as simple lipstick can whisk away insecurity. It’s a prozac pill that won’t form a habit or alcohol without the ugly side effects. Makeup, it’s the ticket to instant nirvana.