It's not news that Instagram and YouTube personalities have captured the attention of both consumers and brands alike, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of beauty. Spend some time on social media and you'll run into a world of "Instagram eyebrows," extreme contouring and cut creases where everyone has worn ColourPop at one time or another. There are so many gurus doing this that they all start to run together after a while, sort of like a glowing, ultra-strobed Kardashian army.
Then there is Patrick Starr. Yes, he does many of the same things as the other social media mavens, but "I feel I'm so different. I'm a boy, I have a turban, I'm gay," Starr (not his real last name), 26, says. That pretty much sums it up, and yet it doesn't — not completely. Starr has 1.3 million Instagram followers and over 800,000 YouTube subscribers. He just landed his first-ever beauty collaboration, a nail polish collection for Sephora's Formula X brand, which features three pink polishes.
Starr obviously isn't the first guy to wear makeup on the Internet. Jeffree Star (1.7 million Instagram followers), who now has his own popular line of liquid lipsticks, has been doing it since the MySpace days, and popular YouTube makeup artist Wayne Goss often uses himself as a canvas. Then there are the legions of talented drag makeup artists, including Fashionista favorite LyleXOX. But Starr began his beauty career at a point where Instagram and YouTube were becoming vehicles for budding, ahem, stars, and he resonated with fans. He's funny, endearing, and a little bit self-deprecating. (See this no-mirror makeup challenge for evidence.) He also knows how to wield a makeup brush, which you have to admit is impressive, even if his beauty aesthetic is not your jam.
Growing up in Florida, Starr was the oldest of three boys in a tight-knit Filipino family with no other relatives living close by. "I don't have any sisters so I would practice on my mom, and then when I had no one I would just practice on myself," he says. "I never really came out to my family. My family embraced it. When I was younger they would tell me not to do things, but looking back I know it was to protect me rather than break me down. They're 100% supportive."
Starr has been dabbling in makeup since his high school days, and started Photoshopping makeup onto pictures when he went through a photography phase. He cycled through jobs at Panera, as a piano teacher, and assisting videographers, and had a stint as a nursing student before finally landing a temp job as an artist at a MAC store in his hometown during the holiday season. After the holidays they no longer needed him, so he decided to launch a YouTube channel in 2013. His first video was a tutorial on everyday glam; he did it on himself.
When Starr first started out, he had no idea who his viewers were, so he decided to figure it out. "I would Facetime my followers back in the day, when I had 20,000 or 30,000," he says. "I would ask them to leave their numbers in the comments and I would randomly surprise call them." Armed with a notepad, he'd start chatting with them. "It sounds crazy, but I was like, If I'm going to do this, I want to see who my audience is. I'd ask how old they were — like a little case study for a couple months. [They were] 15 to 24 and some moms who watched me after work." Now his audience is much broader.
Through meeting his fans, Starr formed a friendship with fellow boy beauty guru, Manny Gutierrez, who goes by the handle MannyMUA. "Manny was a superfan of mine. There weren't many boys [doing makeup on YouTube] at the time," Starr says. They started talking at an expo in LA in 2014 and struck up a friendship. "I had lost friends because of [being] 'Patrick Starr.' They said, 'Oh, you're too gay.' I wasn't ready for a new gay bestie." Now he calls Manny his "ride or die." He says Manny understands the struggles of being a guy in the decidedly feminine world of beauty vlogging. "We're boys and we get it. We have to work harder and do much more. They're prettier and they have boobs and pretty faces — we've got to really paint on a pretty face every time!" he laughs. The two now are inseparable. They do frequent fan meet-and-greets (Benefit is a big supporter of the two and often sponsors them at its stores) and they once managed to get themselves kicked out of IMATS, a huge makeup trade show, for drawing a large and unruly crowd of admirers. (Accounts differ about how and why this exactly happened.)
While Starr's followers are largely gushy and supportive, he has to deal with his fair share of online hate. "I just ignore it. This is a thing that I've carried with me since I started. If they talk shit or make fun of me online, I'm like, 'Hey, you're looking at me and that's the name of the game, to catch people's attention,'" he says. That's not to say he'll tolerate it, though. "I'll block them... let's say someone younger is looking at my [page]. I have a lot of moms who say their kids who are five or six watch me, and they say 'Mommy, he's really pretty.' I don't want kids to see someone cursing me out or calling me 'faggot' on there and to learn that. That's my space and I don't want that on my page at all."
Speaking of kids, Starr says one of his most touching fan interactions was with a tween boy named Arieh at one of his meet-and-greets. "There was a boy in line and he had the most beautiful makeup. He was so tiny and Manny started hysterically crying and I got super emotional. He waited five hours to see us," he says. "His totally masculine dad was with him. He had on dad jeans and a flannel. For his dad to be there… I was like, 'Manny, we are really changing the world.'" (For an account of this meet-up from budding guru Arieh's perspective, check out his video here. I defy you to get through it without bawling. I could not.)
Starr now has a manager full time and recently moved to LA. He says he once had aspirations of being a celebrity makeup artist, but is putting that aside for the moment to pursue the social media route. He tries to distinguish himself from the pack by doing tutorials which he calls "Makeup Transformations" on his site to showcase that he has the skill to do makeup on other faces besides his own — something not every online beauty guru can claim. "My expertise as a professional makeup artist adds to my credibility and trust with my followers. I know for a fact they love that." Just don't call what he does drag. When asked about the gender bend-y aspect of his work, he replied, "I feel my aesthetic is very glamorous. Drag taps into personification [and] identity, but my identity is Patrick. I'm a boy, I'm a brother, I'm a son that loves wearing makeup. That's just me."
I asked him what he'd like to see trend on Instagram in the future after everyone gets sick of liquid lipstick and contouring. "I would like to get back into beautiful, not over-the-top beauty. Red carpet makeup is beautiful," he says. "The no-makeup look is way harder to do than a glamorous makeup look."
Whether or not this will pass the Instagram test remains to be seen, but as a person who's got Insta-trend fatigue, I hope he tries it.