I love YouTube. At this point, I probably watch more YouTube videos than actual television. My dream job would be to make YouTube videos and get paid for it. It’s an excellent platform for free quality and diverse content. I watch let’s plays, educational videos, beauty tutorials — you name it, YouTube’s got it, and I’m their ideal viewer.
But there’s one staple of YouTube that drives me crazy, and that’s the “Haul.”
Most of the time, the haul video — usually from a beauty and/or fashion vlogger — consists of the YouTuber speaking to the audience about a particularly exciting shopping extravaganza they had. They hold up each item of clothing, makeup, or skincare product to the camera and talk about how much they love what they bought.
I’ve watched a fair share of haul videos from my favorite beauty vloggers and the question I ask myself every time is “How much did this all cost?!” It is immediate followed by “I wish I could have all of that.”
Successful YouTubers can make a lot of money. For example, Zoella, the Queen of the Haul, one of YouTube’s most successful beauty and fashion vloggers, lives in a stylish home, was granted a huge advance for her book, and has her own beauty line in the UK. Not to mention the sponsorships and advertising money she makes from her videos. The girl is loaded and can probably afford to shop at high end fashion lines. But we, the viewer, often demand of the vlogger more affordable and relatable purchases of the vloggers, so often these hauls are from cheap, fast fashion stores like Forever 21, Target, Primark, etc.
Then, take me for example. I do not make a lot of money. I try to make my purchases with intention. And yet I find myself making purchases that I wouldn’t normally make after watching these videos. I sit in front of the computer screen, drool a bit, and quickly move to my closest mall to spend $50 bucks on cheap crap at Forever 21 that I’ll never wear but look oh-so-pretty in my closet. And, for a second, I’ll feel like I’m Zoella.
Now, I love Zoella’s videos. I think she’s charming and her makeup tutorials are spot on. She seems super nice, sweet, and genuine. This is certainly not a personal attack on her, and I think she has every right to be as successful as she is in an industry that she loves (which is a very American way of thinking, by the way). But should she and every other fashion vlogger and blogger take more responsibility for the economic, social, and environmental problem that is fast fashion and materialism? Yeah, I think so. Because what exactly is the cost of promoting consumerism and fast fashion? Turns out, it’s pretty high.
Globalization and cheap labor have made fast fashion a juggernaut of an industry, making rampant consumerism available to more people, draining wallets everywhere, while exploiting people in parts of the world we often never consider. Dirt-cheap labor is essential to fast fashion. And with dirt cheap labor comes dirty and unsafe conditions, conditions that killed over a thousand men, women, and children in Bangladesh in 2013.
Environmentally, cotton production counts for a quarter of pesticide use in the USA, and polyester is made from petroleum, and is energy intensive to produce. Also, it produces hazardous waste.
Financially, I think we all know cheap clothing that you can only wear a few times before having to go back and buy it again (and again) is not a good investment. But we buy them because they temporarily (and cost-effectively) fulfill a desire to be a new person, have w new style, and change our wardrobe on a dime. They are the aesthetic choice without the financial impact on us personally — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bear an extreme impact on the rest of the world.
Hauls are a form of media that is devoted almost solely to materialism, and are not subject to reflection on the financial, environmental, and human cost of what makes them possible. We live in a culture of waste where clothing is considered disposable. Our grandparents and great grandparents, who had to tailor and mend their clothing when it ripped or no longer fit, would be horrified.
But ultimately, it’s the viewer — me and you — who holds the most responsibility. If you’re like me, a person with a terrible impulse purchase problem and a very low paycheck, it’s best to avoid these types of videos no matter how addicting they can be. Because that’s what YouTube haul videos are, addicting. And it’s why they’re so dangerous. It’s consumerism that we think we get to experience without spending money. Until, of course, you get to the mall and are suddenly confronted by a Forever 21, see that skirt you saw in a video, and oh that low, low price tag.
We can’t all be perfect, but we owe it to ourselves and rest of the world to make our purchases with thought and effort. It’s hard, and it takes time, planning, and mental energy, but if we can consume less we can actually do some good.
And if you can close your laptop, sigh, and treat the video as just a video, congratulations, you’re a better person than I am.