Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What I'm Not Buying: Morphe X James Charles

Morphe "I can't sell anything without influencers shilling it" Cosmetics has teamed up with influencer James Charles, who is utterly adored by 12-year-olds. And they have created a palette that they are marketing to children. 

And I obviously won't be buying. 

To start this post, I want to say that I am very much not in James Charles's target demographic. So, absolutely nothing about him appeals to me. While I'm sure people of all ages watch his content, his main demographic is very young girls who don't find it mind-numbing, immature, and painfully gimmicky that he calls quite literally everything "sister." But, I've been 12 before, and I remember desperately wanting to be like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, so I'm not trying to make fun of his young audience who are literally children acting like children.  

But I do find most makeup marketing to be incredibly manipulative, and influencer marketing—especially to young children—is downright predatory. 

At 19 years old, James Charles himself is barely not a legal child. He rose to popularity by Photoshopping an outtake from his high school yearbook photos, and became extremely popular when he was dubbed the first male Covergirl. 

And this is a tangent that I absolutely need to explore. The VAST majority of makeup and beauty CEOs are men. In a market that is largely dominated by women consumers, there are very little women in power. When James Charles became the first male Covergirl, I was not excited. Yes, men wear makeup. And yes, a significant percentage of the men who wear makeup face an incredible amount of hatred and bigotry for doing so. And yes, we can all agree that men look fantastic in eyeliner. However, makeup companies market toward women. Women are the majority of consumers. And yet, in makeup, the few men who are involved rise to success at a much more rapid rate than women. 

So, no. I don't think that a teenage boy who was trying to get famous was a great choice for "Covergirl" over other women who had been working for a significantly larger period of time. 

I also don't care for James Charles because of the way he treated Marlena Stell, founder and CEO of Makeup Geek. Marlena made a comment about working with Netflix, and James made a really dumb and immature response:

Recently, Marlena exposed that some influencers charge upwards of $60,000 to feature a product in their video, and for some reason it surprised a lot of people to learn that influencers are only in this for the money and are incredibly manipulative. 

With that said, Makeup Geek has been failing for a few years at this point, largely due to unsuccessful, unoriginal, and inconsistent releases. Marlena has openly discussed her many personal issues, and it seems obvious that all of those issues negatively impacted her business. Makeup Geek was founded on duping/copying MAC shadows and selling them at a fraction of the cost, but whenever Makeup Geek has had to come up with original makeup, they've failed. 

But, James is an immature kid, and Marlena did build a once-successful international brand. Saying she "knows nothing about the industry" is delusional and really speaks to his young age, lack of tact, and lack of experience. 

And if you need any more proof that he is an attention seeker who just wanted to be famous:

So that's why I don't like James Charles. And if you've been reading my blog for a while now, you'll know that I also don't like Morphe and think they are one of the worst offenders in manipulating consumers. 

Let's look at the palette:

There's a lot going on here. This is a 39-pan eyeshadow palette, and it has a lot of colors. There are greens, yellows, blues, purples, mauves, golds, pinks, and browns. Personally, this palette just doesn't excite me. It looks like the colors have been somewhat divided into quads, which helps the color scheme from feeling too overwhelming, but it's just not one that speaks to me. 

I don't like the layout of this palette, and I really don't like when a brand makes different sized eyeshadow pans because they are essentially telling the consumer what shades they will use the most. I think if you're a young person who doesn't own much makeup, a color scheme like this can be really good. There are a lot of options, and there is a lot of opportunity to explore and be creative. Given his exact audience, I think this is a good color scheme. 

But given that it's Morphe and the quality is very likely not good, this palette should be more in the range of $15, not $40. Because for $40, you can get a mid-range palette of actually good quality. For $20, you can buy the BH Cosmetics Zodiac palette, which is of fantastic quality. Spending that much money on a mediocre palette is so unnecessary, especially when the people buying it are children who have little to no money. 

This palette looks like the Sephora Pro Editorial:

Juvia's Place Masquerade:

Too Faced Chocolate Gold:

Urban Decay Born to Run:

And for the young people Morphe fans, it has a lot of similarities with the Jaclyn Hill palette:

And the 39A:

Honestly though, writing this post feels a bit like a fruitless endeavor. Because the main people who will buy this palette are the James Charles fans who will buy anything that he attaches his name to. 

Hell, the palette hasn't even launched, and it already has a 5-star rating at Ulta:

Not surprisingly, the "reviews" are all from James Charles fans who are likely incredibly young:

And, as I've said before, there is not much that can stop a preteen fandom. 

But, this is a very expensive palette of mediocre quality. There are better palettes with these same shades. No, that palette won't have James Charles's name on it, and if that's the one thing that matters most to you, there's not much else I can say. 

For everyone else, if you are susceptible to hype, I'll warn you now that you will likely see a lot of influencers using and shilling this palette in the coming weeks. And that is only because people want to stay on people's "good side," and there is a lot of stroking egos that happens. But that doesn't mean you also need to have this palette. You already have colors that look like this, and if you don't, that's because you haven't wanted to buy them. So, don't make hype the reason you do now. And if you truly do want to try these colors, buy them in a palette with better quality. You'll still be spending the same amount of money, but you'll be getting more for it. 

But, on a different note, as a consumer and member of the beauty community, I am just really sick of all of this. I'm sick of Morphe palettes that are low quality and overpriced. I'm sick of all influencers. I don't want to see another influencer collaboration or influencer brand. I'm tired of lackluster makeup releases that are lazy because companies know that people will just buy them because of social media culture. 

I'm also tired of the makeup industry leaning younger and younger. Every person ages. And there are some industries, like the toy industry, that have to stay within their targeted age group. But the makeup industry has long been associated with adult women. And that's because there's a lot of cultural and misogynistic roots in the cosmetics industry. 

Wearing makeup—for a lot of women—has long been about needing to look attractive to men at home, in the workplace, and in the world at large. Some women believe they are ugly without makeup. Some women say they won't even leave the house without—at the very least—foundation and mascara. Some women won't wash the makeup off their face before they go to bed because they don't want their husbands to see them without makeup. 

There is a certain expectation that women will wear makeup and that women need to wear makeup. And if they don't, they are either deemed ugly, plain, a "tomboy," or a weaponized version of "feminist." 

This is something that I personally struggle with. I love doing my makeup, and it feels creative and fun for me. But sometimes, when I really think about it, I ask, "Why am I painting my face?" If the answer is "I want to look more attractive," that's not something that I am comfortable with for myself. But, my answer is usually, "Because it's fun and I like playing with colors."

Given how layered the relationship between women and makeup is, it is especially disappointing that most brands are owned by men, that men in makeup are easily given opportunities that women in makeup are not, and that the marketing is now leaning so much younger. 

Makeup, in a lot of ways, ages and sexualizes children. Kat Von D had a red lipstick called "Underage Red," and when people criticized the inappropriate name, she said she named it that because she would wear red lipstick to appear older to get into clubs. 

So having a lot of makeup themed around unicorns, mermaids, My Little Pony, and Disney—and having packaging that looks like play makeup or literal toys—sends a very complicated and potentially dangerous message. 

Relating all of this back to James Charles, I don't think he tells his young audience that they need to wear makeup to make themselves more attractive to men. If anything, I'm sure his channel celebrates having fun and playing with colors, which is what I myself like about makeup. But he is so young, and he has been on YouTube since he was an actual child. And the main people watching him are actual children. 

And he is a man—with an audience of mainly female children—who sought out the makeup community for fame and attention and who actively puts down other women in beauty. 

So, as an adult woman, I find it really disheartening that this is the direction the industry is currently heading. I would much prefer women getting these kind of opportunities, especially women of color. The beauty industry doesn't need an overpriced, poor-quality palette with colors we've already seen targeted at children. It needs to give opportunity to those who have been consistently shut out and excluded. 

Preying off of a preteen female fandom to make money isn't new—just look at the Justin Beiber line of perfumes. Because I'm so sure that 17-year-old Justin was truly passionate about selling a fruity scent called "Girlfriend." And I can guarantee that if Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio or Justin Timberlake came out with an overpriced, crappy makeup palette, I would have begged my parents to buy it too. But just because it isn't new doesn't mean that it isn't predatory. And James Charles promising to be everyone's best friend and wanting everyone to "support" him and buy his palette while sitting in his mansion isn't any less predatory. 

And while this is Morphe, which is only a thing at all because of influencer shilling, and I don't expect anything more from them, I hope this is a trend that the beauty community at large—and the adult women who make up 99% of the consumer base—are able to break. 

I'm not in James Charles's target demographic, so no one is trying to sell me this palette. Nonetheless, there is not much about it that I like or would want to support. So, I'm not buying. 

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  1. This post deserves an applause! Once again, very well put

    1. I want to applaud too! I love your blog and this post is ON POINT!

      You make Soo many great points, and this reminds me a lot of how I feel regarding Kylie Cosmetics (its creepy AF) and my own conflicted feelings about loving to play with make up but hating the toxic misogyny that created it.

      Keep up the great work! We need more like you.

    2. Thanks very much! And thank you for reading.

    3. I have a ton of feelings on Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Jenner on the whole, and I find all of it problematic and predatory.

      Thanks for the kind comment and generous compliment. Thank you for reading.

  2. This is such a great post. I also wanted to add, Kat Von D has products beyond just 'underage red' that are problematic, that is just the most obvious.

    Heck, she has a whole line worth of products called Lolita.

    While the beauty industry has been doing the sexual/edgy names for a while, when they are combined with anything to do with children it just is so unsettling.

    1. I forgot about the entire Lolita product range—you're so right.

      The sexual names in makeup are even more unsettling when you realize that they are from brands run by men. I love NARS blushes, but I will never be okay buying and wearing a blush a man named Deep Throat or Orgasm.

      Combining this world with children is very dangerous. People criticize child beauty pageants, but there doesn't seem to be equal outrage toward companies marketing cosmetics toward children.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. I have so many thoughts about this. The marketing to teens and tweens is gross. When I was a teen the only brands that I recall being marketed to a young audience were drugstore brands like Jane and Bonne Bell. But at least it was inexpensive brands promoting an ok product. Now it is brands promoting expensive products and not delivering on quality.
    The extreme amount of unprofessional behavior from influencers would give me pause about having one associated with my brand if I were beauty industry executive. James Charles has demonstrated this with his actions repeatedly. He can't be grateful for the opportunity that he has been given and has to be publicly bitter about the opportunities offered to another person and then acting in a misogynistic way towards Marlena about it all. All of the recent influencer feuds, tea spilling, and drama in general is just cringeworthy.

    I don't think Marlena exposed anything that most of us hadn't guessed already. When Jen Luvs Reviews talked about a brand having her remove a sponsored video and then refusing to pay her (although she was later paid by the middleman), it was clear to me that a significant amount of money must have been involved. While Marlena has made her share of missteps with her own brand, she does know what it is to create something that generates buzz. Hindsight is always 20/20, I would imagine even she wishes that she had made different choices regarding the brand when she was going through personal issues.

    In general I just miss the early days of the social media beauty community when it was reviews, hauls, favorites, and tags.

    1. Me too. I remember watching tutorials and trying to make do with similar stuff that I already owned and, most importantly, not being told that I had to buy one specific product to achieve that look.

    2. This comment is way late, but I remember first really being inspired by makeup because of Kevin Aucoin's Making Faces book - which followed that same idea. Use this item in this type of color in this way to do this thing. It didn't matter what brand it was - a bone eyeshadow was a bone eyeshadow. A red lipstick was a red lipstick. Teenage me obviously didn't have the skills, but I could still try out the ideas with whatever cheap versions I could easily get my hands on.

      NGL, I really miss that sort of tutorial that's more tutorial and less product review.

  4. You made so many amazing points in this article- some I had never thought about it. The sensationalizing of males in makeup is so interesting, especially because a lot of them bully the women in the community around them and make them feel small or disrespect them.

  5. Thank you for this, and your blog generally. I read it all the time even though I'm not much of a commenter, and I feel guilty because I still find myself susceptible to hype, but your blog helps me be a more educated and wary consumer, and you articulate behaviours and patterns I wouldn't otherwise consciously notice. Thank you :)

  6. Recently found this blog and I am so happy I did. I need the reminders of how much I DON’T NEED most new makeup.

    But what prompted me to post is the lovely round of applause in the comment section for this blog. I agree and with everyone above. What a refreshing intelligent group of comments.

  7. Thank you for this. I watched a couple of James Charles’s videos and realized that I’m clearly not anywhere near his demographic. His young fans are pretty rabid - the tweets during the Marlena debacle where horrible. Some of the YouTubers I like (albeit younger) have featured his palette. To me, it’s too big, too much work (pressed pigment- I don’t have time for that) and just TOO. I detest the whole “sister” thing. I have a couple of small Morphe brushes but other than that don’t own anything from them and don’t care to. Also not interested in collabs- most of them feature products I already have.

  8. This article is truly insightful and puts an intellectual perspective on a subjects that many people may not perceive as being intelligent. Generally speaking, when consider the beauty and fashion industry, along with the subject of cosmetics, they rarely consider this a BUSINESS and that, it is as socially and economically impactful as any other industry. Just like any other business it encourages consumers by making them believe that they are associating themselves with an image, or standard or, even a person. Likewise, these marketing professionals know that it is easier to target young people because young people are less likely to consider what they are buying and how they are consuming. I think that people are shocked and offended by the actions of the "Morphes" and the "James Charles" of the world because they think any industry that is traditionally female-centered or female-supported would also take on the mannerisms or personality of what has usually been attributed to being feminine--and being aggressive or self-promotion or even manipulative in business practices or advertising in nothing new or gender specific, it is just capitalism as usual. As to when and where and why we were makeup is something that needs to be looked at introspectively by each individual who wears it. Overall, we adults need to teach our children about the importance of making good purchasing choices and good money management decisions, for themselves.

  9. Excellent article! You put into words exactly what bothers me about James Charles (and some other male makeup influencers who are known to say terrible things about women and yet are almost worshipped by their fan base). I also am not in the demographic for this palette and it's easy for me to reject it, but I hate what it stands for.

    Good points too about many makeup brands who seemed to have stopped marketing to adult women and instead use mermaids and other fanciful themes to sell expensive makeup to little girls.

  10. This is such a great post.

    I didn't know who James Charles was before I saw his face on the Morphe website. But I immediately had the same reaction you did. Although I'm glad that we're entering a world where it's becoming more okay for men to wear makeup if they want to, I don't think a young man getting recognition and deals for makeup is revolutionary or empowering. Not when the industry is largely run by men and when many women, including women of color - as you mentioned - are systematically excluded from an industry that is largely marketed towards women. It feels like it's just more of men telling women how they should look.

    And I hate the "sister" thing. It seems like one more way for a man to try to establish some sort of "sisterhood" relationship with women while still telling women how they should look.

    I, too, am tired of the juvenile marketing of makeup. I remember when I was a little kid, makeup was something that seemed so grown-up and sophisticated. My mother didn't wear much but the little bit she owned all had sleek, elegant packaging (even the drugstore stuff, which was mostly what she wore). Now I see compacts and palettes shaped like seashells and mermaid tails and colored in bright pinks and pastels. Don't get me wrong - I like some of that stuff (I love unicorns!) and as an occasional release, it's cute! But when I walk into Ulta and it feels like a toy store exploded in there...something feels wrong. But I guess that's what they're selling because that's who they can reach through YouTube.

  11. I just stumbled on this blog and so happy I did. Your focus on careful consumerism and human rights is *desperately needed* in the makeup review space.

    You bring up so many great points about the appropriation of the femme beauty standard by cis men, the early sexualization of youth, the adherence to the Euro-centric beauty standard in new product formulation, etc. I think it's possible to be both a progressive, fun, smart consumer and a lover of makeup. Thank you for reinforcing that!

  12. Wow! I just want to say i found your blog and I'm hooked, ive binged all of it. A great point I would like to add is my little pony, disney princesses, lime crimes poly pockets are not only marketing to kids but also marketing to us adults childhood nostalgia, cause i would imagine the new generation no longer watches my little pony really, but a little bit of an older generation did and now are a common age to buy makeup. We have these pleasant memories pulling our emotional strings as soon as we see the package, and when we buy this makeup we relive them and almost get that excited giddy feel of being a child, an affect buying makeup can already have. I also want to say i have cried, laughed and connected emotionally to this, and feel like i have new insight to the manipulation i didnt even realize i was experiencing! Im also officially on a hiatis from purchasing makeup because what you have said has struck me so deeply! Keep writing. It reached someone like me and helped so much and I see so many having that experience from this blog.