But not blend in. This is how the influencer with millions of followers distributed over Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tik Tok and the world in general presents himself. And it couldn't be a more perfect description.
It's this sort of slogan, “Blend, but not blend in”, that can synthesize without a margin for error what the 21-year-old seems to advocate in the eyes of the world: he blends, every day, shades, products, styles, genres. He blends with brands and public of all kinds (he manages to impact twice as many people who see Fox News, CNN and MSNBC together, said one of the many articles on the personality in 2019, if that gives you an idea of his influence, which, meanwhile, took off in 2020). He blends social platforms, like his Youtube channel, which he launched in 2015, and mixes conversation with some of the most revered faces in Arts and Cinema, having been invited to the restricted MET Gala last year, for instance. But he does not blend in, as in, he is not just another face within the crowd. Standing out for his talent for make-up, with an extra layer of attention for the fact that he is a masculine face amongst the realm of Beauty, being just one more in the group is something that will not work for the American who has had so much popularity as well as bullying on social networks, experiencing first hand everything that the Internet in the age of social media has of good, bad and ugly.
He was the victim of defamation on YouTube, due to a video published by influencer Tati Westbrook, filled with damaging accusations - namely, that “he used the privileges he had to play with people's emotions” - something that made him lose millions of followers; the youtuber restored the truth, contesting the defamatory short, but it took months to recover from cyber damage. Though he did it. Along the way, he conquered more followers, conquered borders (he was the first man to be the face of a makeup brand, CoverGirl, in 2016 - and he was only 17 years old), conquered audiences, as the host of the reality show Instant Influencer and, and in general, James Charles has conquered a place in the sun of the optical fiber of this parallel world with very special rules called the Internet. Today, we have no doubt that he will break it with his first cover ever, and it couldn't be a better one: Vogue's.
A cover - or better yet, two covers - not thought of in vain: for those who see a young person swimming in protagonism, we see an entrepreneur, a visionary, constantly juggling between those who love him and those who love to hate him, those who adore him and those who adore his popularity. We see a role model that suffered the harassment of the Internet and that came out on top, not without first asking the world to question the impact of cancel culture and to ask where justice ends and bullying begins. We see a man who is always attentive to maintaining its relevance, working hard for the content he knows best - the make-up that he daily (re)invents and publishes on his video and photo platforms - while fighting to fulfill dreams. Like having his own makeup line. It actually debuts in this Vogue's editorial shoot, with the promise that it is coming soon, but that he still can't reveal much. We blended the person with the influencer - it wasn’t really necessary, they are one, nothing in his image of social networks intends to be a persona beyond what he is in essence, with more or less makeup - and we questioned the New Yorker about his love for make up art, the meaning he gives to the word “imperfection”, and the overwhelming power, both positive and negative, of social media.
Beauty of imperfection is the theme of our upcoming issue - do you believe imperfection is beautiful? In what way? Without imperfection, we’d all be same, and that’s boring. Imperfection is impossible to define. What one person might find “less than ideal,” another might find completely beautiful, it’s truly all about perspective. Imperfection is what makes us all special and unique, and that is the most beautiful thing about humans.
Make up is your trade: what’s your view on the concept of make up? Because you always have a fun and artistic approach to it, and is never something that’s there to “perfect” your face according to social standards. Do you feel beauty is more to enhance your features, have fun with it, rather than something to “mask imperfections”? I don’t wear makeup to cover imperfections or feel more confident; I wear makeup to express myself to blend, but not blend in. As a social media influencer, it is my responsibility to show my followers that beauty is not a checklist, but a feeling that comes from within. That feeling is confidence, and I try to empower my followers with that whenever I can. Makeup washes off at the end of the day which is why I always encourage my followers to experiment and find what makes them feel confident. If you want to wear a nude lip, wear a nude lip. If you want to wear a blue smokey eye, wear a blue smokey eye. If you want to cover your eyebrows and paint on a full drag transformation, go for it! The most important thing though, is to still love your blank canvas when it all washes off.
There’s always an amount of trial and error when you try on new looks. And that’s part of the creative process. To err is human - but to err is also creative, you think? How so? My entire makeup career has been trial and error that I’ve documented through my social media accounts. I never draw out or practice looks beforehand, so my face is always my first attempt. Through practicing, I have been able to adjust, try new techniques and have definitely become a better artist. That doesn’t matter though, because half of the fun is just trying new things and learning how to turn your mistakes into a masterpiece!
How do you come up with each beauty look you do? What inspires you? I never know how to answer this question. Inspiration comes from everywhere! I’m inspired by the world around me, my fans, other incredible artists in the beauty community, and most commonly, my own thoughts and dreams. Coming up with new looks is NOT always easy, but brainstorming the next mega makeup moment feels euphoric.
When you heard about this issue’s theme, what were your immediate thoughts about the beauty looks you wanted to do to go along with it? To “reflect it”? “The Beauty Of Imperfection” represents everything that I stand for as a creator. I would say that I AM a perfectionist, because I always push myself to work hard and strive to be the best version of myself, but I’m constantly showing my fans both on and off camera that perfection is impossible to achieve. On my stories, I give realtime updates about my emotions, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In videos, I constantly make mistakes and mishaps, but then explain how I overcome them. A set back is just a set up for a comeback. I chose multiple looks for this issue that walk you through my makeup process from start to finish. Starting with my natural freckled skin and slowly adding makeup until I have a complete rainbow painting on my face… No matter how “perfect” a final work of art may seem, the process of creating that art is imperfect and that’s what’s beautiful.
Is there such a thing as perfection? And what’s ‘perfection’ to you, as a personal concept? Perfection is a myth, an impossible standard that no one can reach. There’s a really popular saying, “Reach for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” As cliché as it is, it’s very true. I always aim for greatness, because it forces me to work hard, but it’s important to be okay with achieving something imperfect.
You’re the host of Instant Influencer, the show on Youtube originals. And The Guardian had this to say about it: “Instant Influencer, a new competition to find YouTube’s next viral make-up vlogger, might be 2020’s most transparent reality show.” Do you feel the whole world needs more truthful shows like this? What do you think this series brings to the table more than any other of its kind? I always tell people that creating, executive producing, and hosting Instant Influencer is the proudest moment of my career. It’s one thing to become an influencer yourself, but to be able to extend that opportunity to so many deserving smaller artists is a feeling like no other. It was important to my team of executive producers and me that Instant Influencer was transparent because that’s exactly how this industry is! Skill is only half the battle. The harsh reality is that the beauty community is a very saturated space, and there are a million skilled artists out there. No matter how talented you are, it’s very challenging to get noticed and establish your own lane. Becoming a successful influencer is really about personality, building your brand, and most importantly, how well you’re able to entertain and inspire others. THAT’S the real test we wanted to put our artists up to instead of just focusing on skill, and I think that’s what made it so unique. Most reality shows focus on drama or shocking eliminations (and don’t get me wrong, I love and watch ALL of those shows,) but we wanted to focus on education and transparency. We were able to give several small artists platforms that they’ve worked hard to earn, but also educate millions of viewers with secret tips and tricks to create success as an influencer, while also empowering people to chase their dreams.
You developed a couple of palettes with Morphe. Will the next step be your own brand? Would that be a dream? And if so, how do you envision it? I’ve always loved artistry and business, so developing my palettes with Morphe and seeing all of my Sisters (fans) unleashing their inner artists unlocked a spark in me to keep developing products. Creating my own makeup brand is the absolute dream. I can’t give too much away, but I will tell you that yes, it is in the works and will carry my values as a creator to always be yourself, and blend, but don’t blend in.
You were the first male spokesperson for CoverGirl, back in 2016. Do you believe that moment was bigger than a personal achievement? In what way? When I got the call about Covergirl, I truly couldn’t have imagined how big it was going to be. Of course I was honored by the opportunity, but I didn’t realize how the announcement would shock the world. There have always been incredible males in beauty, but to put it out there and show the world that men in makeup can be mainstream, was a huge step forward. Makeup has no limits and no boundaries. Makeup is for everyone.
You are one of social media’s most followed creators, what’s the biggest imperfection of social media.- and we don’t mean in a beautiful way? I think the reason social media can be beautiful is the same reason it is dangerous: The lack of privacy. By letting people into my life, I’m able to build a strong connection with my fans that celebrities weren’t able to make before the social media age. With that being said, nothing in my life is private. Every restaurant I eat at, every guy I talk to, every person I’m friends or not friends with becomes a topic of discussion and speculation. It becomes difficult to navigate when the world is able to criticize your every move.
Is cancel culture one of the biggest errors deriving from social media? And the consequent effect on mental health, as well? You’ve experienced it firsthand. How do you deal with it? I have said this many times before; Cancel culture is a parasite. It is completely ironic to ask people to grow and learn from their mistakes while simultaneously removing their platform and stripping them the opportunity to change. No one is perfect, and we as a society should be more empathetic of others willing to become better. For me, it’s about the person and whether their intention and their heart is in the right place. We all make mistakes and one day I’d love to see empathy being our first reaction online.
Do you believe that in a time of social media - or better said, social judgment, and you’ve experienced that first hand - there is no space for error, for being imperfect? Everyone’s just expecting you to make a mistake to judge and convict you? Why do you think that happens? The reason people are so quick to pick out the imperfections of others is because they can’t accept their own. We all need to focus on having empathy for mistakes, and lifting each other up, which is something I have been and will continue to work on for myself. It’s our responsibility to use our platforms to bring awareness to the injustices in our society and make a change for the better, not tear each other down.
Are social media haters getting too much power? If so, who do you think is enabling that? Us? Themselves? Social media “haters” only have power if you give it to them. Unfortunately, some people will always find entertainment in the downfall of others. In the beginning of my career, I felt like I always had to defend myself and address the hate but as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to focus on the millions of fans that support me instead of the opposite.
What’s the biggest toll social media has had on your life? And the biggest upside, to you? Social media has definitely had more of a positive impact on my life than negative. With my platform, I get the chance to directly reach, impact, and inspire millions of people that I never would have been able to without. As much as I am able to impact others though, the biggest upside is when my fans impact me. Just the other day, I retweeted a video on twitter of of a little boy telling his mommy “I want to be just like James Charles and do makeup!” Seeing my retweet, his mom bought him my palette the same day. Seeing the excitement on his face and getting to follow the looks he’s been creating are the exact motivations I do this job every day.
Is it harder to deal with all of it - good and bad -, as a 21-year-old? What do you find the hardest? I think my age is a blessing and a curse. It’s amazing being the same age as so many of my followers because we can relate on so much, but at the same time, growing up in the spotlight is very difficult. Relationships are for sure the most difficult thing to navigate. You never know people’s true intentions, so I always have to be super guarded. I’ve learned the hard way, and unfortunately the public way, but I’ve become a much stronger and smarter person when it comes to dating and heartbreak.
Upcoming projects: what can you tell us about what’s happening next and what’s on your bucket list, professionally speaking? I’m always focusing on entertaining and innovative content for my YouTube channel, always taking cute photos on Instagram, and always sharing my thoughts on Twitter, too. So many incredible things are in the works that I wish I could share more about, but I will say that there’s something big coming for my hardcore supports near Christmas.
You’re a role model to many - to millions. What kind of influence do you strive to have? If you could write your own legacy, what would you like it to say? I want to encourage every person that follows me to be themselves and love who that person is. Life is too short to play a character and hide who you really are. I’d be lying if I said I don’t hope to leave a legacy behind, but at the end of the day, I don’t care about being a legend, I care about inspiring future legends to come.
Is your life perfect? Not even close. My life is beautifully imperfect, and that’s the way I like it.
Translated from the original article from Vogue Portugal's The Beauty of Imperfection issue, published November 2020.
Full credits and story on the print issue.