Exclusive Interview: Snitchery Discusses Her Blackness, Transparency & Beauty Diversity
Snitchery talks black-fishing accusations and what her Blackness means to her as a biracial influencer.
Like many beauty enthusiasts, 23-year-old beauty influencer Eleanor Barnes (widely known as Snitchery) found her love for make-up in middle school— "maybe a little too early," she joked.
She continued to foster her interest and skills over the years, though in private. During her suburban North Virginia upbringing, she wasn't focused on building follower counts, not even on MySpace. It wasn't until she attended Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts in 2014 that she innocently discovered social media and its ability to create connections and friendships.
She said, "Okay, if I want to make friends in college...this is the way to do it—I'm going to do the social media route." As a make-up lover and early selfie queen, Eleanor began posting aesthetically-pleasing looks on her Instagram, with perfect lighting and solid background color tones.
"Because I didn't grow up with social media, I didn't know being an influencer was a thing; I didn't know [this] job existed," she said. "I kind of thought people on Instagram who had a lot of followers were just really popular. I didn't realize they were actually making money."
Understandably, this was the thought process of many early users on the Internet. Social media marketing really got started in 2010 when Amazon partnered with Facebook and began using algorithms to suggest products and services to "friends."
During the summer of her sophomore year at Emerson (majoring in Media Studies and Art History), while working in the crafty aisles of Michael's, Eleanor first realized her influencer aspirations and decided to turn a passing hobby into a full-time career. She quickly began making more money than any average 20-year-old college student.
By 2017, she was completely financially independent, creating make-up looks, tutorials, and eventually (as a self-proclaimed "nerd at heart") leaning into cosplay.
Dating back to the beginnings of her well-curated Instagram, Eleanor posted make-up looks that were heavily inspired by brightly-colored animated characters.
Eleanor's early talent for dramatic make-up routines naturally collided with her other loves: anime and Disney. She grew interested in cosplay as an outsider, not actually wearing full-blown outfits or going to conventions. However, she took the spark of her small interest and ignited it into a unique make-up style.
Her shift to cosplay was "natural progression," she said. She began stepping into more outfits (including props) in her photos, while still keeping her approach make-up focused. In October 2018, she began doing costume make-up, and her followers' positive reactions were more than what Eleanor expected. Thus, she became an active part of the cosplay subculture of the beauty industry.
She channeled her inner anime enthusiast into creating characters from Studio Ghibli and classic Disney princesses with a modern twist. Her passion and love for anime can easily be seen through her tutorials and detailed looks. When we spoke about what anime means to her, she reflected that many beloved series (HunterxHunter being a fave) returned adults to near forgotten lessons we learned from fables and even religion, like "friendship is important" and "don't underestimate yourself."
"I kind of treat [anime] as modern-day fairy tales, in a way," she said. This love translated to another business venture. Eleanor created her first merchandise collection of hoodies, sweatpants, beanies, and dad hats inspired by Japanese lettering and designs.
Eleanor's follower count jumped from thousands to tens of thousands in just a couple of years, helping her solidify fan bases in both the beauty and cosplay communities. But, as the old Hip-Hop adage goes, "mo' money, mo' problems." During her rise, Internet scrutiny rose and an infestation of self-appointed cancel culture police searched for names and profiles to include in popularized buzzwords, and all this eventually caught up with Eleanor.
"Blackfishing" accusations quickly circulated around late 2018, pinning white beauty influencers as perpetrators of using deeper-toned foundations or tanning for longer than necessary, leading them to be regularly mistaken for ethnic women. If this phrase is new to you, look at any Kardashian sisters' early social media photos compared to those of today. More recently, Kim has reawakened the blackfishing conversation with her unveiling of her controversial skincare routine.
Eleanor soon received her own mix of accusations. Given her sudden growth and notoriety and the public's very limited knowledge of her personal and family life, beauty enthusiasts accused the biracial influencer of blackfishing.
"It was weird," she remembered, not understanding the initial accusations. Growing up in a predominantly white suburb of Northern Virginia with her white mother and Black father, Eleanor's experience as "the Black family on the block" was profound.
"I was always the token Black girl," she confessed. Reminiscing about her childhood as a darker-skinned, curly-haired kid, she remembers being asked by a soccer teammate if she was adopted when she was picked up by her white mother. These moments gave context to her experiences of being racially ambiguous in white spaces.
"I was obviously read as Black for 18 years and [realized in college] for the first time I was going to be read as completely white," she said.
In college, Eleanor surrounded herself with Black people and those who looked like her by joining select clubs geared towards Black students and Black women specifically. "For the first time, I felt I was having the culturally Black experience just because I hadn't had the opportunity to have Black friends before," she said. She joined Black and brown organizations on her school campus and attended many protests and rallies surrounding Ferguson and the unjust gunning down of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
"I was approaching these issues as a Black woman because that's how other people saw me, and that's how I saw myself," she said.
The accusations of blackfishing eventually prompted the YouTuber to openly address the debate surrounding her Blackness and also to open up about her biological background.
As a racially ambiguous woman of color, Eleanor makes it apparent that she understands the nuance of identifying as a Black woman, while acknowledging that her Black experience is a story that thousands of other mixed people identify with.
"I never want to take more up space than I feel is appropriate and I never want to talk over people, but there is a lack of biracial stories in the media," she shared. After sharing her background, she received literally thousands of direct messages from biracial fans who also felt displaced from their communities - not being Black enough for the Black spaces and being too Black for white spaces.
As part of an industry that favors racially ambiguity, fuller lips, and deeper tanned skin, Eleanor is not ignorant about her position in beauty and makeup spheres.
"I own up to every way that I move through life so privileged in a lot of ways to be read as racially ambiguous and white, but that doesn't change the fact that I wasn't read that way for 18 years," she said. Opening up these conversations, helping some find comfort, and educating others about the nuanced experience of ambiguous Black bodies was not an intentional move for Snitchery, but it was a necessary dialogue that received overall positive reception.
The IG Baddie
The beauty industry is a $600 billion machine that feeds on physical insecurities. Beauty influencers are glittery cogs in this massive system, and they do their part accordingly without deviating too far from the demands of advertising agencies and corporations. While many influencers are choosing to take the "safe" path, participating in dramatic disputes ("We're talking about makeup and [the industry] is 80% drama and 20% tutorials," Eleanor points out) while being coy with their followers about their beauty additives, Eleanor has attempted to be completely transparent with fans about what she does and does not do to enhance her looks.
"Everybody's face is starting to look the same, which is a little scary," she said. "For the average person who is interested in beauty, [there] probably is something damaging about having all of your influences having a very, very similar face, that they've all built and that they all paint on everyday. I don't know if that's the healthiest thing in the world."
While the "IG Baddie look" looks great on camera and video, at one point, Eleanor noticed that the look that she'd been doing for years was no longer fitting her face. The almost plastic-looking aesthetic of being flawless no longer served her.
So she began diving into styles from other time periods and from other countries. On her YouTube channel, which has over 300,000 subscribers, Eleanor began experimenting with what worked best for her face terms of eye shape, cheekbone contouring, and highlighter.
"I think it's silly to think one particular makeup style can be universally flattering on everybody. And we've gotten to a point in Western make-up where only really one style is being presented to us," she said. Through her personal expansion beyond Western beauty norms, Eleanor was able to find more of what works for her; she's dropped almost 50% of her "IG baddie" makeup routines.
"I'm never going to knock anyone's makeup style, but I just realized wearing that much makeup [daily] was not for me," she said. By teaching herself how to do her makeup intuitively, instead of checking Instagram to see what's trending amongst the beauty girls, Eleanor found new looks and trends that fit her face and daily routine more organically and fluidly.
Eleanor and her Snitchery brand have come a long way from simply using social media as a way to find friends. At only 23-years-old, she is financially independent, an entrepreneur, a caring and compassionate human being and, above all else, a self-aware adult using her platform to spread awareness of mental healthcare, climate change, the importance of voting, human rights and much more.
While there seems to be a standard, popular look that's generally considered normal in the industry, Snitchery is working her way to changing this for the better, allowing everyone to live their truth. More influencers are moving away from fully-covered, face-tuned selfies and are getting back to loving their natural faces (or at least something close).
Thanks to all this, Eleanor has a major future in the beauty industry. With aspirations of reaching the million follower mark on Instagram (which is only months away); she's also in the early stages of development for her own product line.
"[There are] a lot of big holes in the makeup industry that product is not necessarily filling, and I'm going to be the one to do it!" she said.
We can only hope that popular influencers in all industries, from make-up artists to our favorite gamers, can understand and respect their position like Snitchery does, making transparency a requirement instead of an option.