Since the dawn of time, of at least since like 2006, beauty vloggers have dominated and shifted the cosmetics industry. In 2016, beauty vloggers received over 55 billion views on YouTube and collectively have a way larger social media following than major beauty brands.
If you’ve been on the internet, you know the format of these videos, which is what makes it even funnier when you see one of Sailor J’s videos.
JJ Smith, known as Sailor J online, has taken the formula of the traditional beauty vlog, and created hilarious political commentary on gender and appropriation. And while she’sfairly new to the YouTube scene, only starting her channel in October of this year, she’s been given quite the warm welcome with one video even receiving over a million views.
If you’ve seen Sailor J’s content before, you might have been introduced to her from her “Contouring 101” video that includes catch phrases like “If they find out we can shape shift, they’re going to tell the church.” or“Beautiful women don’t have foreheads if you have too big of a brain, it means you have ugly things like opinions and thoughts of your own.”
It’s this social critique wrapped up in slightly self deprecating humor that I think makes Sailor J so engaging to wide audiences. But according to Sailor J, she felt viral “when it got more than like five shares, I was so excited.”
I was lucky enough to chat with Sailor J via Twitter and she explained that having a YouTube channel wasn’t really part of the plan. In fact, it seems even some of her videos are unintentionally political.
“Some videos I’m like, ‘this is definitely commentary. I’m here to shake the fucking table’ but other times they just come out as I’m speaking.”
One of her most popular videos about Thanksgiving and cultural appropriation was actually only intended as a gift to one of her subscribers, “I didn’t think it would get as big as it did. She’s Native American so she was sort of venting to me and she sort of sarcastically was like, ‘I’d die if you could make a video for me to throw at all the appropriators.’”
Although I think the topics of her videos are relatable, I don’t think they are the main reason she’s interesting to watch. Rather, there are a few personal things that I think set Sailor J apart from other channels.
For one, she reminds her viewers over and over again that she isn’t going to be like other YouTubers, “Before you get your comment’s ready, I already know that my room’s not up to par. I watch some different YouTubers they all have the same headboard. I’m not buying that shit.”
Unlike other YouTubers that make a brand off of having an enviable lifestyle, Sailor J is your girl she’s your best friend that’s always ready to talk shit over some tea. And although she makes content about topics we’ve seen covered before, her style of comedy makes them uniquely memorable.
After talking to Sailor J, this seems very intentional. “I’ve always told myself I don’t want to become a generic YouTuber there’s nothing wrong with that, they’re making crazy money and have huge fan bases.”
“But when I make videos, I think of who I want to laugh at them. They’re not for 12 year olds and they’re definitely not for racists or misogynists,” she continued.
This is what makes her so significant as a content creator and why it’s so important that she’s repurposed the template of the beauty influencer.
Popular YouTubers spend a lot of time trying to not make political statements as to not divide their fan base. By extension, what ends up happening is that they end up making content catered to the cultural majority. Sailor J has made a channel for specific groups of people, the often forgotten people.
“I hope the channel continues to grow, and I hope people who maybe aren’t as conventionally attractive can see that they deserve to be in front of the camera too,” she recently told me,”they can gain confidence, and they can speak out about things they care for.”
Sailor J is just getting started and she mentioned a lot of ideas for the future of her channel, including book reviews and a genuine attempt at learning and teaching makeup techniques.
She mentioned that she doesn’t want to shy away from uncomfortable topics, but she also wants to create things that can just be humor and nothing more. But whatever she grows into, it’s safe to say that watching Sailor J’s videos will always feel like an act of self care.