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On TikTok, Sexism Prevails But Spon Is Evolving

This week's newsletter: Why the hate for Bella Poarch is steeped in something all too familiar, and why the latest e.l.f. Cosmetics spon campaign is too much branding, even in America.

Posted on October 2, 2020, at 8:01 a.m. ET

This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

The reason people hate Bella Poarch is more obvious and familiar than you think

TikTok / @bellapoarch

Let me start by saying I don’t know if Bella Poarch is a good person. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t, but this isn’t about her moral standing. This is really about the moral standing of the internet backlash machine.

Poarch is currently the holder of TikTok’s most-liked video, a short close-up of her lip syncing “M to the B” by Millie B. As I explained in an article, it’s not surprising that this video and a few others like it have blown up. It tickles our dumb human brains in the right ways to make for a viral, highly rewatchable video. Not magic, just a little science.

Yet, even though I think it may seem obvious, Poarch has been continuously hounded by hate. First, it was questions about how her videos, which were deemed “low effort,” were able to garner so many views. Then it turned conspiratorial, with questions about her age and “real” name and possible corporate backing.

It’s all very predictable and, frankly, tiring.

First, part of the backlash has been about her supposed racism in a Facebook post and an offensive tattoo that she (rather poorly) apologized for. I’m not here to question those, and certainly — based on those incidents or anything else — you’re under no obligation to support Poarch or even watch her videos. It’s cool!

What irks me is the rest of it, which frankly seems based in sexism and carried out by various young men who make a living by shouting into a microphone in front of a green screen.

Let’s do some debunking of sorts. One of the ~rumors~ around Poarch, if you can call it that, is that she’s lying about her age. PopBuzz says she’s 19, while FamousBirthdays says she’s 23. Because Poarch shared a screenshot to Twitter of her FamousBirthdays cameo (basically just to be like, “cool, I’m on FamousBirthdays”), people thought she was endorsing the age and therefore lying. But that didn’t happen at all. She didn’t say the age was correct and, in fact, hasn’t commented on much of anything to anyone. FamousBirthdays is a notoriously incorrect, clickbaity website. It’s just wrong. It’s not that deep.

People have also pointed out that a bunch of social media accounts named “Bella Poarch” all seemed to appear at the same time, and that old photos of Poarch in her Navy uniform have a different name written on them. Again, there’s no big mystery. How many countless influencers have changed their names when they tried to make it online? Do you think Lil Huddy’s legal name is Lil Huddy? And as for all her accounts being new, sleuths found Facebook photos from 2017, which completely contradicts that.

Another point that’s been brought up is that Poarch’s public email address is “bellapoarch@bas.media.” Bas.media takes you to an influencer marketing agency. Somehow people think this is evidence of some shady corporate scheming — but what’s more likely is that she got famous and an agency swooped her up, which has happened about every single time someone gets famous on TikTok or another platform.

So why are people so pressed? There’s one thing that I think reveals a lot. Poarch keeps getting compared to Belle Delphine, a young woman famous for selling her bathwater to gamer boys and who is an actual online sex worker. If you look her up, you’ll see Delphine recently posted a video on Twitter of a butt plug affixed to a fidget spinner inside her person. And, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly comparable to Poarch lip-synching and making anime-girl faces at the camera.

The comparison really only makes sense if you think women who get famous online don’t deserve it because they didn’t “earn” it. Because women are untalented and shallow. Because the dumb things men do online are inherently harder work. Because some people still think they’re doing something by lobbing the phrases “attention whore” or “thot.”

I think all that’s at play here is that a young, pretty woman did a cute thing, and that tends to get traction online. And the fact that women can only ever seem to get ahead if it’s based on looks is not the fault of women, but of misogyny.

Look, if it turns out Poarch is some sort of CGI robot designed for our consumption, I wouldn’t be surprised. Weirder things have happened. But for now, with all the information we have, what’s going on is exactly what’s happened a million times before, on every social media platform available. Welcome to the internet.

—Lauren Strapagiel

Holy crap, the new e.l.f. Cosmetics spon is brand overload

@elfyeah

Happy National @dunkin Day! 💖🧡 To celebrate, @sethobrien ‘s #eyeslipsfamous challenge has a Dunkin' twist 🍩 Did u get your free coffee today? ☕️

♬ original sound - elfyeah

Last week, makeup brand e.l.f. Cosmetics introduced a mock reality show on TikTok called “Eyes. Lips. Famous.” They tapped a few popular teen influencers like Madi Monroe, Avani Gregg, and Seth O’Brien to judge various contestants’ makeup looks. (Madi and Avani are not beauty vloggers, but sure!)

Each segment is very short — under 60 seconds — and closely follows the same structure of a competition reality show. The brand told me in a press email that this is “the first reality show to debut on TikTok” ever. That carries some weight and branding bragging rights, but the whole project just feels like one elaborate and expensive commercial.

Don’t get me wrong — as far as spon goes, it’s a pretty fun and kitschy concept. At the very least, some young people, who may be aspiring makeup gurus themselves, get to show off their skills and interact with some famous TikTokers. But it’s not really a reality show. Since it’s entirely backed by e.l.f., the judges have to maintain an uppity and positive attitude throughout. And 16-year-old Madi reacting with African American Vernacular English terms like “periodt” and “slayed” and not really saying much in her critique beyond “OK!” and “great job” is cringey. But I understand this content was not made for me, and I’m sure the bubbliness serves its audience.

The height of this spon was posted Wednesday, though, when the makeup company then added Dunkin’ to the mix. For the commercial Dunkin’ day, the hosts asked Seth to create a #Dunkin-inspired makeup look with e.l.f. products. The brand inception for the reality series was brand overload, and, dare I say, too much branding, even for America.

I must say Seth narrating his tutorial with quotes like he’s “going in with a bright Dunkin’ orange” and “just adding a little brown to the crease as an homage to coffee” is ridiculous and hilarious.

“This pink honestly reminds me of my favorite treat from Dunkin’,” he said about the company’s strawberry donuts. He then added shimmer to his eyelids as an “homage” to sprinkles.

At this point, content like this reads like a parody of capitalism. But it’s not. And I wonder what ceiling we’ll reach before someone (me) says “enough.”

ENOUGH!!!

Let us vulnerable people be influenced one brand at a time, please.

Until next time,

Tanya

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