The 19-year-old James Charles is one of the biggest names in the world of makeup and beauty influencers. But after a fellow YouTuber and former mentor of Charles, Tati Westbrook, posted a video accusing him inappropriate sexual behavior and personal attacks against her, Charles has rapidly lost millions of followers over the past three days.
Charles started his makeup YouTube channel when he was 16, and was thrust into the national spotlight at age 17 when he became the first male brand ambassador for CoverGirl. Since then, Charles has been featured in Vogue, attended the Met Gala, collaborated with Kylie Jenner, and created his own makeup line.
He has more than 15 million followers on Instagram, and the apology video he posted on Friday has more than 35 million views and counting. Cable news shows like Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity get around 3 million viewers on a good night, and their YouTube videos average around 200,000 views. Of course, the variance in YouTube views is due to 12- to 14-year-olds, who make up a majority of Charles’ audience.
Charles has endured his share of social media scandals over the course of his influencer career, but none like the tectonic backlash he has received over the feud with the 37-year-old Westbrook. Charles has often claimed Westbrook was the reason he got into makeup. She took him under his wing and even flew him out to do her wedding makeup.
Things first got heated last month at Coachella when Charles posted an endorsement for Sugar Bear Hair gummy vitamins, the supplements seen all over Instagram and often promoted by Kim Kardashian. Sugar Bear Hair is a direct competitor of Westbrook’s vitamin company, Halo Beauty.
Charles’ Instagram post for Sugar Bear Hair included an affiliate link to buy their melatonin product, and Westbrook quickly responded with her own Instagram post saying she had been “betrayed” by someone. Charles responded with another Instagram story apologizing to Westbrook, saying she has been like a “mother” to him, and claiming that he did not receive any money for the post.
Countless YouTube channels known as “drama accounts” stirred up rumors and speculations about their relationship until May 4, when another prominent makeup artist, Gabriel Zamora, posted a video accusing Westbrook of being “immature” and having a “transactional” relationship with Charles.
On May 10, Westbrook published her own 45-minute video sharing details of their relationship and how she and her husband helped launch Charles’ career. The video, which now has more than 36 million views, also claims Charles is “manipulative” and has sexually harassed straight men who weren’t interested in him.
Westbrook also details conversations she witnessed with Charles and his parents, including discussing sexual acts with men, and a fight with his dad in which Charles claimed every man “is a little bit gay.”
Westbrook also explained how this was more than just doing a business transaction with a competitor. She claimed that Charles has previously declined to promote her company’s supplements on his channels because of his young, impressionable audience.
Charles responded with his own video on Friday, apologizing to Westbrook and addressing the allegations she made.
“A lot of most of my career over the last two years has been about me making mistakes and trying to learn and grow from them,” Charles said. “And I haven’t always done the best job of that. I can admit that, but I have always tried … I wish I could say this is the last time that I make a mistake, but it won’t be.”
According to Cosmopolitan, a number of celebrities have unfollowed Charles, including the Kardashians, Jenners, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Shawn Mendes (to whom Charles has also previously apologized for making unwanted advances).
In a social media universe where sponsored posts are abounding and no longer reserved for users with the largest followings, the drama over a single gummy vitamin affiliate link seems contrived, if not silly. But considering the millions of dollars that YouTubers are earning from their videos and brand contracts, one friend betraying another for a hefty payout is gross. And if YouTube celebrities are building fanbases and salaries comparable to other members of the L.A. elite, then the Me Too exposes sweeping Hollywood should be fair game for the enormous, and growing, beauty industry too.