maintenance vlogs
Beauty

This YouTube Trend Shows the Everyday Lengths We Go to for Beauty

Can’t stop watching maintenance vlogs? Us, too.

Any beauty enthusiast worth their salt knows that maintenance vlogs aren’t new. A few years ago, the trend emerged when YouTubers started documenting the days when they cram in each of their beautifying rituals, like a morning mani-pedi, followed by an afternoon lash extension refill, topped off with an evening of injectables and a lace front install. The structure can be compared to "follow me around" or "day in the life"-style videos that tend to flood our YouTube and TikTok feeds, where viewers are passengers along for a stylistic, smooth ride. In a maintenance vlog, there’s no plot, conflict, or denouement—just appointments.

@jazturner16

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For me, watching these videos has always been akin to ASMR: a surface-level and sedative sensation that’s painless and predictable. The only tension is in wondering which color the YouTuber will decide to paint their nails and how they’ll decide to style their wig. I simply turn the videos on, sit back, and settle into a parasocial paradise. How long will her Botox take to settle, I wonder. But underneath the maintenance vlog’s mindless, manicured, highly enticing veneer, there’s much to consider about what these videos imply.

In a 2019 vlog of her own, beauty guru Jackie Aina described these videos as exemplifications of “all of the things that YouTubers pay for to stay pretty. Not even just YouTubers, regular women that happen to just vlog the experience and post about it.” In one clip, she clarifies, “I do more than the average person, but I do less than the average YouTuber.” Set over the course of a week, the video follows the industry titan (Aina has over 3.5 million subscribers on the platform) getting a facial, laser hair removal, and a pedicure, all totaling $7,000. “Being pretty does not always translate to money. It’s not about that,” she says in a 2021 vlog. “And pampering yourself doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money.” In this video, she documents a pedicure appointment, an at-home brow lamination, laser hair removal, a facial, and a lymphatic drainage massage—this time with a $3,000 price tag.

At the bottom of my maintenance vlog wormhole, I found myself at an impasse—what is to be taken away from watching an incessant reel of in-depth, expensive, elaborate beauty routines? Is it a celebration of self-care or an embodiment of impossibly high expectations for how women should look? I find deep joy in my own beautifying rituals and understand that shaming people, particularly women, for going to such lengths for the sake of beauty is a stale argument (that really doesn’t hold any weight anyway). But, it would be remiss not to recognize what I’m actually watching.

After hours and hours (and hours) of immersing myself in these videos, I can see that they’re a window into how extensive and laborious it can be to adhere to beauty standards. In essence, every vlogged hydrafacial, filler appointment, and sew-in installation captures the zeitgeist of what it means to be beautiful in 2022. The name alone suggests an urgency—is it implying that without each of these appointments is one unmaintained or unkempt? The editor’s note in Aina’s video was hard to come across with other users. There’s nothing objectively wrong with maintenance vlogs, but what’s often missing is the asterisk clarifying that YouTubers often follow these routines in order to stay camera-ready since that can be considered part of their job. But, it would be naive to assume that those who live off-camera lives are exempt from these standards. Especially now, when celebrity is democratized, and we’re all incessantly online.

When writer Jia Tolentino wrote about "The Age of Instagram Face" in 2019, she described the self-coined phenomenon as a “gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face.” The attributes she associates with Instagram face include “poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones … catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes…a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.” Tolentino’s article focuses squarely on plastic surgery, but it’s not a stretch to see how the frequency, intensity, and cost of beauty routines that we see in maintenance vlogs express a more subtle yearning for this type of look. This genre is an in-your-face way of saying, ‘it takes all this to look like this.’ In this respect, it’s radically transparent, which is refreshing.

But, perhaps it comes down to semantics. If these videos were framed as self-care days or as me-time, my outlook would be different. But, they’re not—maintenance implies duty and folding duty into our beauty routine can sour the intent. Why is it important that we look done, and what happens when we don’t? Each step of my personal "maintenance" regimen makes me feel good, even if it physically hurts. Does the pleasure come from knowing that I’m closer to what I’ve been conditioned to consider beautiful? For all my questioning, I’m still an active participant in this subconscious exchange. So, instead of pondering deeper, I open the YouTube app and watch a woman get her armpit hair lasered off.

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