Jackie Aina doesn’t do failure. It just isn’t an option. Take, for instance, her eyeshadow.
Specifically her limited-edition, 14-shade eyeshadow palette collab that dropped on August 6, 2019. Almost a year earlier, Jackie was locked in a months-long back and forth with one of the biggest beauty brands in the world—Anastasia Beverly Hills. The company, valued at $2.5 billion, had reached out to her about 12 months earlier working together and they were now in the throes of developing an eyeshadow palette. Jackie wanted a palette where every single shade popped on deep skin tones; Black girls know: There’s always one eyeshadow shade, or a row of shades, that you can’t use. Jackie didn’t want anyone to have to settle when they pulled out her palette. She wanted perfection. The brand kept telling Jackie that the purple and green shades she wanted were hard to nail—achieving a super-pigmented finish didn’t seem possible. She told them to go back and fix it. There were months and months of sampling, swatching, and swiping shades to nail the color and the texture. Jackie wondered if she should settle, but that sort of thing just isn’t in her DNA.
And it’s a good thing, too. The palette gave everyone every option—the combo of pressed pigments, shimmers, and foils didn’t lean too warm or too cool—and with shade names like “Lituation” and “Zamn,” the shadows speak to Jackie’s personality. The fans loved it. Just take a look at the comments on her video announcing the launch: “Auntie!!!! I’m broke but imma scrape up some coins just for you🙌🏾🙌🏾 congratulations!”; Your hair is so cute❤️ ! Finally colors that compliment darker skin tones with no Jergens needed 🤣😂”; “The [palette] is beautiful! I just ordered mine. Thank you for creating this [palette] especially for women of color❤️”
See, this was why she got into the beauty-content-making YouTube game in the first place—in the same video, she says that the palette was “an ode to my chocolate girls, my chocolate boys, and everybody that just wants to say that they have a lot of colors to choose from.”
Jackie Aina and I are members of the same club: eldest daughters of African immigrant parents. As we grew up, we took on chef duties while our parents worked and operated a slightly-illegal child care center for our siblings. We learned to be independent and extremely solution-oriented, while suppressing our feelings in order to stay strong for others. We don’t like when people complain because when you’ve heard as many “When I was your age” stories as we have, excuses aren’t really in your wheelhouse. And yes, we’re know-it-alls—because we had to be. There’s a pressure to amount to something; if you don’t succeed, the sacrifices your parents made for you were all in vain.
“I feel like there should be self-help groups for the oldest of African families,” she says. I tell her I’m in therapy because of it right now.
“I’m in therapy too, honey,” she laughs, swirling around on her stool. She’s on our Zoom call bare-faced, without a trace of makeup—the same way she starts most of her YouTube videos—and her hair is slicked back into a low-ponytail with a white scrunchie.
Jackie’s path veered from the Good Immigrant Daughter narrative: she dropped out of college, joined the military for eight years, got married at 20 and divorced at 21, and decided to make videos on the Internet, instead of becoming a lawyer or a doctor. She’s been pressing against the boundaries of what’s expected of her since day one; it only makes sense that she would do the same in the beauty industry.
Jackie started her YouTube channel in 2009 to fill two voids: the depression she dealt with while she was in the army and living in Hawaii, and there was no one who looked like her doing makeup the way she did on the platform.
Her earliest videos were…for lack of a better word, amateur. They have big PowerPoint slideshow energy—she doesn’t speak in them, the images are blurry, and she doesn’t detail the steps. Here’s the thing about YouTube: you can’t sit around, waiting for people to notice you. You need to put on a show. Subscribers = success, and in order for that number to increase, you have to form a community. Jackie had to tell her story in order to change it. She started being more open with her followers, sharing stories about her divorce, her boob job, and how she feels like she doesn’t fit in the beauty world. She also injected more of her personality into her videos—well-timed jokes, twerking in her chair, goofy-but-still-cute facial expressions, videos with titles like “Yo Skin DRY AF! Here’s Why!” and the JackieJackieJackie theme song. She figured out the influencer blueprint—spontaneity and authenticity—and formed relationships with her viewers. She replies to tweets, likes their IG comments, and they call her “Auntie Jackie.” When I ask her about her loyal followers, her eyes well up, and she carefully maneuvers her coffin-shaped, white press-on nails to avoid poking herself while wiping her tears.
“I definitely feel like there’s a small community of my viewers who genuinely care about my wellbeing,” she says. “It’s not all 3.5 million. But I definitely feel like if I say y’all like, I need a break, they won’t even question it.”
Now at 3.58 million YouTube subscribers—to be exact—Jackie has grown into a larger than life capital-S Symbol. Her most watched video is “Black Girls React to Tarte Shape Tape Foundation,” where Jackie and fellow beauty YouTuber Alissa Ashley call out the brand for not having enough shades for darker skin tones—“I’m shook and not in a good way.” She has a video about skin bleaching, one calling out the Kardashians for exploiting Black culture, a makeup tutorial that’s filmed in black and white to shut down the “I don’t see color” argument. Watching other people apply makeup is soothing; it puts you at ease. And Jackie’s aware that there’s a way she has to communicate in order to get her message across; if she just yelled and ranted, she’d fall into the Angry Black Women trope. So, she makes her message more palatable, coaxing viewers in with the makeup tutorials and her sense of humor. Jackie uses her videos to make room for Black women in the beauty space; young Black people looking for beauty icons who reflect their image can watch her videos and feel seen. It’s a profound, transformative feeling.
But it can be burdensome, too. Because when everyone looks to her to speak on every single Black issue in the beauty space, she becomes the end all, be all.
There was the drama with Jeffree Starr where she spoke out about issues with his anti-Black comments, and he responded by accusing her of tax fraud and sending his followers after her. She faced backlash from white people calling her a “reverse racist” because her ABH palette was made with darker skin tones in mind. She had a falling-out with beauty influencer, Jaclyn Hill, and tweeted that she would no longer be “reviewing/swatching Jaclyn Cosmetics, or anymore of her collabs/launches in the future.” And then there was the Petty Paige (aka Paige Christie) situation in 2017, where Jackie wrongly accused her of hacking her email and stealing money from her. She later apologized for letting emotions get the best of her.
Her emotions aren’t on full-display anymore. She doesn’t let people pressure her to speak out on issues anymore. She doesn’t even like to be called an activist (“I feel like it kind of takes away from what activism really is”). She dealt with enough Internet drama to realize that there are parts of herself that she can’t share. I can tell that she’s hyper-aware of every single word that comes out of her mouth; throughout our convo, she backtracks her statements, amends her words, alters the script because she knows first-hand how the meaning behind comments can be twisted.
Daughters of immigrants often feel like they’re navigating two worlds. Jackie felt the tug even more intensely: Her father is Nigerian, while her mom is African-American. “I always tell people that it felt like they were an interracial couple sometimes, because of the differences in culture.” The gap between the two worlds can get lonely; it feels like you have to explain who you are, where you came from, and why you have an extra freezer in your garage (I mean, where else would you put the goat meat?).
Jackie grew up in La Puente, California, a primarily Latino and working-class neighborhood, in a three-bedroom, one bathroom, 800-sq.-ft. home with her parents and six siblings. She’s been homeless twice before, and had to live in shelters with her mom and siblings until they could get back on their feet. Jackie dealt with the isolation, teasing, and casual racism that every immigrant faces growing up.
She’s not ashamed of her hardships; it’s part of the “started at the bottom” chapter of her story. The narrative goes like this: she used to be poor and through an unwavering faith and hard work, she’s found success. This was always meant to be, though, Jackie tells me. She grew up Christian, like many other West Africans, and always believed that something bigger was waiting for her. “I felt it, I just literally kept hearing it from God, and I leaned on it.” Her favorite Bible verse is Philippians 4:13—“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s in the description box of her YouTube videos and in her Twitter bio. I have the verse etched in my brain from when I competed in the National Bible Bee as a kid.
As we chat from inside our respective grainy windows, I spy a camel-brown Bottega Veneta Pouch Clutch resting on a white middle shelf in her custom-designed walk-in closet; a 2018 limited edition, multi-hued Lady Dior bag that was designed by Pae White, a visual artist, is nearby, perched on a higher mantel; and heeled knit thigh-high Fendi boots from their fall/winter 2018 collection, all eavesdropping on our conversation.
Jackie’s not shy about flaunting her wealth or unabashed ambition: there’s videos on her channel of her car-shopping for a Ferrari and pictures of her flying private. She wants to build generational wealth; the kind that ensures that your children’s children’s children will be able to summer in Ibiza, spend winters in Vail, and attend top private schools, all while wearing Chanel. This in-your-face drive, this unapologetic attempt to reach for something that you’re not supposed to have; it doesn’t align with the Good Immigrant Daughter narrative; but it’s something many Black women can relate to. In the popular BeautyGuru sub-Reddit, users called Jackie out for growing more inauthentic and disingenuous the bigger she gets: “I feel like it’s only with Black women, that when we start leveling up and doing nice things for ourselves that people have a problem with it,” she says. She gives me an example: there’s haul videos all over YouTube of women showing off their $50K bags. “But when I do it, it’s fake or I’ve changed,” she says, with an added eyeroll.
All that hate only moved another goal to the top of Jackie’s to-do list: change the narrative and show that Black women are allowed to reap the material and social benefits of this consumerist system. She launched a new lifestyle brand, Forvr Mood, that sells items like candles and silk pillowcases; and she started a new IG and YouTube account called “Lavishly Jackie”, along with a lifestyle website, to focus on her interests outside of beauty: self-care and luxury. She told me that you won’t see any more beauty collabs from her anymore; she wants to do her own thing, start her own non-beauty related brands. It’s understandable, of course. Not because it’s the natural next step for influencers looking to cash in on their virality in a more permanent way. But because can you imagine what living under the YouTuber spotlight is actually like? To be bombarded with endless racist comments and hateful commentary? It’s enough to break down even the strongest among us.
Plus, anyway, I don’t want to say she’s done it all in the beauty space, but she’s done it all in the beauty space. In 2018, she was NAACP’s YouTuber of the Year, WWD’s Influencer of the Year, and a nominee for the People Choice Award’s Best Beauty Influencer; she scored deals with Too Faced, Dermalogica, and Pat McGrath; she was the first YouTuber to be on the cover of The Knot, one of the most popular wedding magazines. And who’s to say YouTube won’t go the way of Friendster or MySpace? Might as well capitalize on your longevity now by creating a brand that could last longer than you do. It’s a typical move in the celeb world—Gwyneth Paltrow did it with Goop, Jay-Z did it with Ace of Spades, Oprah did it with…well, everything.
So, what’s next for Jackie Aina? She told me that TV hosting is a dream, and that she wants to release even more products. Right now, she’s currently producing a feature-length doc on Black beauty influencers. Regardless of all the shit she has to deal with being Very Online right now, it’s a means to an end. “I truly want to create more opportunities for people who come where I come from,” she says as we near the end of our Zoom call. “For people who look like me,” ensuring that her journey, wherever it takes her, will end at the same place she began.
Fashion by Manny Jay. Hair and makeup by Jackie Aina. Producer: Ruben Chamorro. Digital Creative Director: Abby Silverman.
On Jackie: Green look: Halpern dress. Amina Muaddi shoes. Anna Zuckerman Luxury earrings and rings. David Yurman rings and bracelets. Yellow look: Pyer Moss dress and shoes. Anna Zuckerman Luxury earrings and rings. David Yurman bracelet. White look: Bicholla dress. Telfar earrings. David Yurman rings and bracelets. JustDesi rings.