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Controversy over contour: Beauty influencers exposed in viral video

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

By: Jamie Bornscheuer

Popular social media influencers have been the subject of scrutiny after a viral video exposed controversial deals made by makeup brands and social media influencers.

Marlena Stell, founder of the popular makeup brand “Makeup Geek,” posted a video at the end of August that revealed the high rates allegedly demanded by influencers as well as the threats received when her company refused to pay the rate.

Stell estimated that a single video from an influencer that endorsed a makeup line could be upwards of $60,000 and a single Instagram post could be around $20,000.

She recalled a time when her company refused to pay an influencer what they were demanding and the influencer said she would speak negatively about her brand if they didn’t pay.

Stell received massive amounts of backlash from influencers who felt attacked in her generalizations about influencers.

Samantha Ravndahl, a beauty influencer, said in a tweet, “There is a whole community beyond that, flourishing with integrity and passion. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch.”

However, Kevin James Bennett, a makeup artist and cosmetic brand owner, responded to Stell’s video on his Instagram with his own experience working with influencers and called the business of the beauty industry “mob-like behavior.”

Bennett shared that an influencer’s management team gave him the starting fees for a brand deal as well as the $75,000 to $85,000 fee for a negative review about a competing product.  

“An influencer being paid to post negative reviews is just not right,” Katherine Niche,  a journalism student at Arizona State University, said. “People go to beauty influencers to get honest reviews and if we can’t trust their reviews then what’s the point of them?”

The exposure of shady background deals caused a new level of controversy in the beauty community for a lack of trust and transparency.

The lack of trust and transparency also stems from beauty influencers not disclosing their partnerships with brands, which goes directly against the Federal Trade Commission Endorsement Guides.

Breaking the FTC Guides could make the influencers give up the money they made from the advertisement and abide by “various requirements” in the future, according to the FTC website.  

Stell’s video as well as the problem of disclosing among influencers sparked various commentary from the beauty community including a video from popular beauty influencers James Charles and Tati Westbrook.

“The business of beauty is something that is really messed up on a lot of different levels,” Charles said in a Youtube video. “It’s a very broken system.”

Charles was also quick to explain to his audience that the seemingly high rates asked of influencers cannot compare to the rate makeup brands would be forced to pay for traditional advertising.

Charles explained that within the payment for an influencer to endorse products, the brand is also collectively paying for studio space, equipment, editing, videographer, models, etc. because the influencer already does that work for the brand.

“Influencer marketing, regardless of whatever your personal opinion on it may be, is a system that works… is very efficient… and is very cost effective,” Charles said. “I think it’s up to the public to educate themselves on it and not hate it.”

Header photo courtesy of Marlena Stell’s Youtube account


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