Jackie Aina/YouTube

Beauty vlogger Jackie Aina, 30, is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve and has 2 million YouTube subscribers and counting. Averaging around 600,000 views per post, her funny and frank videos, like “Bougie and Bad on a Budget” and “Edges Slaughtered,” bring the real on the makeup tip, touching on issues of race and money in ways that make viewers laugh as much as they learn.

The Glow Up caught up with Aina a few days after she made history as the first social media star to receive the coveted NAACP Image Award. She told us:

Ten years ago, when I started my YouTube channel, it was hard for me to find darker-skinned black women that did makeup the way I like to. I was used to hearing that things “don’t look good on you” or “you can’t wear that kind of makeup.” I struggled with being a woman who—people see you with makeup on and dressed nicely, people assume “she doesn’t work very hard because she doesn’t have to”; [it] made being taken seriously a struggle.

Obviously, as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Aina is no stranger to hard work. She said that “women who enjoy makeup and feeling good, there’s often a lot more to it,” citing the example of women recovering from cancer learning to put their eyebrows back on, or women in uniform, like herself, who want to assert their individuality.

“I’m a double minority as a black woman, so I fight through a lot in that regard,” she said. As a woman in the military, “people think we’re tomboys or slobs; they say, ‘You’re too pretty; how could you be in the Army? Whatever that means.”

During our conversation, the question Aina seemed to be wrestling with is why women’s motives and values are in question when they want to be at their most presentable: “The message I want to get across is that whether you want to wear makeup or not, it’s OK to go the extra mile to look your best.” Passion mounted in her voice as she said that she never wants stereotypes about women in uniform “to overshadow the fact that some of us are artistic and creative; we are multifaceted—wearing lipstick and lashes doesn’t make us any less hard workers.”

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For Aina, being beautifully turned out represents “being knowledgeable; people come to me for help, and I know I’m good at it.” She pointed to prejudices surrounding beauty, like the now defunct “Take Her Swimming on the First Date” memes, where men were urged to take their date for a dip in order to remove the mask of makeup and discover how truly attractive or unattractive she really is. Aina said:

I don’t think people realize that women genuinely enjoy it. I can go all up and down Instagram and see women with murals literally painted on their faces. Obviously, it’s not ideal for work, but it’s about the fact that we’ve gone way beyond thinking of makeup as a way to hide or to cover up. It’s a form of expression for not only me but a lot of people.

Being a black person pioneering in any business—Aina has been a vlogger for more than a decade now—has its perks. If you’re good, being first to market can mean not only capturing market share but also defining the category, as she has done. But outliers like Aina also face challenges. In a post called “I Don’t See Color,” she explores questions of race through the lens of the beauty business. She tells us:

I’m not ... just a black beauty blogger. I have dark skin and that shapes my experiences. Being that I’m an African blogger who considers herself Nigerian first—my mother is African American and my dad is Nigerian—I never kind of feel African enough or Nigerian enough. I never know where I kind of fit.

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It’s a struggle that most blacks in this country feel on some level every day: that our black cards could be revoked by anyone for not achieving the impossible task of representing the entire black experience as just one person. Aina said:

One thing that I’ve brought a lot of attention to on my YouTube channel, if you are racially ambiguous—like you skew Asian—it can be a lot easier. When people see more than black, they see mass-market appeal, [and] are more willing to give you a chance.

People look at me, and they only see black. It means that people think my content isn’t enjoyable to people who don’t have the same color skin as I do. When it comes to buying foundation and cultural experiences, we want someone who we can relate to ... but I bet that people who won’t give people who look like me a chance on YouTube have pretty homogeneous social and professional circles, too.

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Aina urges us “to switch it up and be supportive of other people of color in our industry—[they] can be Latin or Indian, and I enjoy their content.” To this end, she actively seeks out other vloggers who are the polar opposite, not only of her skin color and skin type—Aina has oily skin and can advise women of all skin types—but also to learn what’s on the market and to get further inspiration about what makes women feel beautiful.

In February 2018, Aina received an NAACP Image Award, the first social media star to hold the honor. She told us: “You know, I never thought that social change could come about through makeup. All I want to do is enrich the lives of other people.”

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It is an acknowledgment that this makeup artist—whose collaborations include becoming a Global United Nations change ambassador in partnership with YouTube, and a line of makeup highlighters with Artists Couture Cosmetics—counts as “the most important thing that’s happened to me and honors all the creators out there that are often overlooked.”

In her role as a U.N. change ambassador, Aina’s mission is twofold: to close the gender pay gap and to reach out to people and make them feel seen “so that the way they see themselves changes the world sees them.”

Jackie Aina, we definitely see you.