Type “makeup tutorial” into YouTube’s search bar and a barrage of images appears on the screen. Beauty gurus of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages use the platform to showcase their contour and highlight skills. While technique and products may vary, playful banter remains a common thread throughout the videos. Beauty industry jargon affords content creators an air of professionalism, and oftentimes a censored curse word and borrowed queer slang offer personality.
“We use language to create identity. We do that on a cultural basis and we do that on an individual basis. I would say our use of language is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, important tool,” said Dr. Andrew Pantos, sociolinguist and professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Borrowing of slang is a natural function of language that occurs across cultures. Dr. Pantos attributes higher visibility as a factor in a new word’s range and longevity. The more mainstream the crowd, the increased frequency of access and context that their lingo has with the rest of the world.
From RuPaul’s original Viva Glam MAC campaign in 1994, and its reincarnation in 2013, the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the beauty community is a close one.
Variations of queer black slang can be found in tutorials; terms like “beat” and “slayed” litter the typically two-to-20-minute video lessons. A notable current word is “snatched.” Urban Dictionary defines “snatched” as “a popular term in the gay community referring to good looks, fierceness, or something good.” #Snatched has over 350, 000 accompanying posts on Instagram. Beauty gurus recycling of the word is very similar to this definition, but is most often used in videos when referring to contouring. You can have a snatched nose, snatched cheekbones, or even a snatched forehead.
It is an innocent enough statement when a guru like Christen Domonique proclaims to 1.5 million viewers that she wants her cheekbones “snatched like an alien.” Still, it is important to know when the catchy words that we love and use come from marginalized folks. Not only does this knowledge open the door to a larger conversation and audience, it also presents the opportunity to properly credit.
Mileena Lové (aka Jaime Mejia) has been performing drag in Colorado for a year and six months, and last year was included in Westword’s “Meet 2017’s Thirteen Freshest Faces of Denver Drag” roundup.
“I have a strong connection with the beauty community. Makeup and cosmetics are so interesting to me and how one can change their appearance with a flick of a brush,” Lové said.
That connection includes a YouTube channel under the username Mileena Lové. The channel currently focuses on performances at Charlie’s, but Lové hopes to expand it into the beauty realm as well. She hopes to use tutorials as a means to inspire and teach in the same way that she has been inspired and educated during her journey as an entertainer.
Currently, Lové feels that the LGBTQ community is “heavily represented” on the platform as a whole, but not necessarily drag queens. She would also like to see more representation of the drag community in the mainstream beauty community with brands like Tarte and Too Faced.
Being a member of the drag community, Lové believes there is a very fine line between borrowing and appropriating. She uses the example of wearing braids during a performance when impersonating an African American artist. In relation to cis YouTube beauty gurus using LGBTQ slang, though, Lové finds it more helpful than harmful.
“Oh honey, I live for that. If we can get any sort of representation in any community it will help us come together more,” she said.
With more than 300 hours of content uploaded every day and viewing hours sitting well over a billion, YouTube’s reach is just as far and possibly more direct than that of traditional media. With that kind of power, criticisms of the platform and its content feels appropriate.