Of course, Jackie Aina is human. I know this, but the YouTube beauty channel sensation is so much a part of the interwebs, I almost had begun to think that she lived online. That the camera-ready California native was, in fact, an avatar developed to produce viral makeup tutorials that touch on the seemingly disparate but impactful topics of popular culture, intersectional politics, colorism and the perfect consistency of liquid foundations for her 3 million YouTube subscribers and 1.2 million Instagram followers. And then there are, of course, the photos that accompany her first ever Essencedigital cover story, which would suggest that the Nigerian-American beauty has morphed into a silver-maned intelligent life-form dropped from the cosmos, dipped in glitter and laden with superpowers. Think: The “Storm” of online beauty tutorials.
But as I speak to the 31-year-old content creator, I learn that the woman has her feet firmly planted on planet earth—no matter the enormous amount of success the beauty junkie has seen since starting her YouTube channel in the summer of 2009 at the prodding of her best friend. It started with celebrity-inspired makeup how-to’s for dark-complexioned women but soon transitioned into providing refreshingly blunt and comical commentary on products, industry politics and the (un?)conscious bias that Black beauty consumers face. If that meant discussing which products made her appear ashy or revealing that she got breast augmentation, she went there. It should be noted that most of these conversations Aina was stoking were done pre–Fenty Beauty—which is to say, during a time when the idea of inclusive shade ranges and diversity was arguably not at the forefront of most brands’ minds. Though Aina came up against detractors who objected to her discussions around race and beauty, her frankness still won over legions of followers while stirring some pots (case in point: When Kim Kardashian didn’t tag Aina in an Instagram picture back in 2017, the online beauty community was up in arms) and securing deals with the likes of Too Faced, Anastasia Beverly Hills, and Dermalogica — as well as Google, Fenty Beauty, and Pat McGrath.
With that said, it’s interesting then to learn that Aina was reluctant about being in front of the camera, seeing as how much it simply loves her. Watch any one of her videos and notice how her high-wattage smile fills the screen while her rapid-fire wit can be used to scourge a brand—or sing its praises. She slips into accents, side-eyes the camera and breathlessly chants an infectious jingle before each episode (“Jack-a-jack-a-jack-a-jack-ee!”). She was made for this. But the content creator, who was named the NAACP’s YouTuber of the Year last year, tells me she was in a completely different headspace when she started out. “I wasn’t trying to start a YouTube channel,” Aina explains by phone. “I just liked watching YouTube. But my best friend was like, ‘You should just put your looks online.’ I was just saying, ‘No, not interested.’ And then finally I was like, ‘You know what? Why not? I’m not doing anything bold with my life. I might as well.’”
The self-taught makeup artist explains that she found herself stuck in an unhappy marriage, living in Hawaii, isolated from friends and family and working in the Army as a reservist. A fascination with beauty, makeup and social media offered her a “creative outlet” that came along at the perfect time—an escape route from her current situation. But in that same breath, she says she was propelled to make YouTube videos as a way to directly confront the inequities that she and other Black women faced when shopping for beauty products. “I couldn’t go to makeup counters and get the help that I needed. I would ask them like, ‘Oh, how do I apply concealer?’ Or, ‘How do I contour?’ And it was always like my skin tone was a deterrent to everything,” she recalls. “According to them, it was like, ‘Well, you’re dark. So you can’t really do that.’ It was just like, ‘Okay, I’m sure there’s a way around it. You just have to know what you’re doing.’”
Educating the billion-dollar beauty industry on the enormous discrepancies in the way it services Black consumers is a massive undertaking, but Aina began chipping away at the problem by addressing the issue of colorism head-on. It was nearly impossible not to. “This is a makeup channel. I’m going to have to eventually talk about the fact that my skin is dark,” she says matter-of-factly. “And then eventually I’m also going to tie in those experiences when I’m buying a product, as it relates to wearing makeup.” By making videos like “The Worst Beauty Brands EVER for POC!” Aina used her growing platform to call out brands that simply were not “chocolate-girl-friendly” or were not doing enough to create products that addressed the needs and wants of darker-complexioned consumers. But before we dismiss Aina’s outrage as simply an example of “cancel culture” or “dragging,” the content creator assures me she is focused on figuring out solutions to fill the voids in the market. “What good would my platform be if it was only negativity and blasting people all the time?” There is perhaps no better example of Aina’s philosophy than her 2018 collaboration with Too Faced on their Born This Way foundation line. It boasts 11 new shades, and Aina helped develop nine of them, working with founder Jerrod Blandino directly to create an inclusive range.
Still, as amazing as advancements in product development are, Aina also surveys the business structure of a brand and determines whether they have a comprehensive commitment to diversity before working with them. “‘Are you employing disenfranchised people? Are you employing black people on your social teams? Are you making it holistically from the ground up so your brand represents the very products you’re trying to sell on shelves?’” she probes. “I love when I see a team that’s just got everybody, that there are voices from every community because that tells me that behind the scenes you’re also walking the walk and you’re not just trying to capitalize and cash in on the movement.”
Aina’s scrupulous ideals remind me of another certain glamazon who reportedly walked out of a meeting with Reebok after seeing the lack of diversity on their creative team. Aina demurs, saying she’s never gotten up and left a negotiation like Beyoncé has, but she does say no to projects more often than not. “I just feel like you can tell when something feels right and when something is not quite there just yet.” And one thing the outspoken beauty guru would never want to portray to her online community is inauthenticity. Because no matter her success working within the mainstream beauty market, Aina won’t be quieting down anytime soon—far from it. “If anything, I’m just going to keep being more vocal because I have a little more leeway now. I’m just going to keep strong-arming this conversation,” she says.
Arguably one way to do so would be to develop her own brand—and subsequently her own rules. When I broach the subject, Aina plays her cards close to her chest, but she does reveal something big is in the works, and creating her own makeup and skin-care line is a huge priority for her, as is indulging her first love, fashion. In fact, she sees herself on Jessica Simpson mogul levels in the future. “I want to have merchandise. I just want to be in every lane,” she reveals. TV hosting is also an option, with red carpet reporting a dream of hers.
Whatever comes next for Aina, though, Black women are front of mind. Considering she is one of a few Black content creators who have amassed the following she has, she takes her role seriously as a spokeswoman and a thought leader in the online beauty sphere and considers this before ever posting. “With my content, I always try to think, Would it be harmful to my community in any way? Would this upset or encourage a stereotype in any way? As much as I want people to enjoy my content, it’ll never be at the expense of making other people look bad. I’m always trying to be mindful of that more than anything.” Her recent video on Jordyn Woods, for example, was not a salacious takedown of the influencer but instead “girl talk” amongst her followers where she not only discussed Woods’s enviable beauty routine but also the valuable life lessons one could learn from her very public falling out with the Kardashian family. It felt cool, timely and woke AF.
Which is what she ultimately wants for Black women and men in this space: to speak their minds and demand visibility. “I heard a quote once that stuck with me: ‘It doesn’t matter how oversaturated the market is. If God called you to it, there’s room for you.’”
Spoken like a real woman.
Photography – Adrienne Raquel @adrienneraquel
Hair – Stephen Hudson @sevenknows
Makeup – Danessa Myricks @danessa_myricks
Manicure – Gracie J @theeditorialnail
Writer – Marjon Carlos @marjon_carlos
Global Beauty Director – Julee Wilson @missjulee
Fashion Director/Stylist – Marielle Bobo @mariellebobo
Art Director – Rashida Morgan @inrashidasworldShare :