OK, but Who Is Tati Westbrook? Everything You Need to Know About the Influencer Who Turned Beauty YouTube Upside Down
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by Billy Nilles | Tue., May. 21, 2019 11:14 AM
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A lot can happen in a week. Just ask Tati Westbrook.
A little over a week ago, it was very likely that, unless you're a member of Gen Z and spend your free time perusing make-up tutorials and beauty product reviews on YouTube, you'd never even heard the influencer's name. And then, following a week that saw the arrival of both a royal baby and the latest Kimye baby, not to mention the Met Gala, she became all anybody seemed to want to talk about thanks to the feud she ignited with another YouTuber, the endlessly problematic James Charles.
With a 40+ minute video entitled "BYE SISTER," Westbrook took aim at her former protege, laying bare the myriad reasons she'd chosen to end her friendship with the 19-year-old, citing not only his apparent betrayal of his former mentor by endorsing a supplement line that directly competes with her own, Halo Beauty, but his alleged questionable behavior towards straight men he finds attractive. The video made Charles a public pariah, causing his subscriber count to enter into free fall and forcing him into a bit of hiding after he posted his apologetic response video. It got so bad, in fact, that Westbrook had to return to the platform she'd essentially lit ablaze with her accusations to call for a ceasefire on the hate being lobbed the poor kid's way.
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"I don't hate James Charles. I don't want you guys hating on him… It's painful to watch someone that you have cared for be dragged and to know that this started because of me," she said in a new video on Thursday, May 16, before announcing that she was planning to take a prolonged hiatus. "I don't think anyone deserves that. I think people deserve a wake-up call and people deserve to be called out for actions. I think someone's got to do it. I hope that this inspires parents to have more conversations with their kids, because we are losing that."
She continued, "I can't say this enough, I love James Charles. I loved him from the moment I met him. He was like this underdog kid that everyone took a s–t on. That's how I felt for a long time. So I felt like I needed to help him somehow, like I needed to help him because it was helping me. I know a lot of people aren't going to understand, or they think this is fake, or that they think that there was this big agenda or anything. There's not."
"If I could give all of the new success back, and the new subscribers back, I would," Westbrook added.
In a note share on Twitter over the weekend, Westbrook went on to further explain herself, writing, "Over the last eight years, I built my career based on honesty, integrity and trying my best to do what I thought was right. The toxicity and chaos that ensued over the last 10 days was absolutely not my goal, as it was a fight I was almost certain to lose."
"Although I do not regret raising my concerns, I completely regret the way I went about saying them, I could have and should have found a better way. Even in this moment, I still have so many things I'd like to clear up, however the continued call for 'receipts' is nothing more than a call for never-ending bloodshed," she continued. "To my audience, I need you to know that I'm blessed to have your support and love making videos for you guys. I'm truly sorry for all of the hate it brought to our doorstep. I love you and look forward to returning to my regular content soon."
While it seems there has certainly been a ceasefire here in this War of the YouTube Stars, there's no denying that Westbrook has certainly received a bit of an elevated profile out of this whole mess. But there's still a good chunk of people wondering to themselves, "Who the hell is she?"
While Westbrook is commonly referred to as an OG YouTuber, having begun her channel on the platform, then under the name "glamlifeguru" nearly a decade ago in 2010, her career didn't begin on the streaming site. And that's because, at the current age of 37, she's a bit older than many of her peers on the platform who tend to devote themselves to building channels when they're closer to Charles' age or in their early 20s. "I get a lot of really strange hate about being a little older and doing YouTube," she noted in a video shared all the way back in 2015. "If you think I'm old and you want to unsubscribe, go ahead."
Westbrook's path to YouTube and the world of beauty influencers was a winding one. And it's one the began in Seattle with a family that had little to offer her to help make her dreams come true. "My family had no money. Let's just start there. I was not brought up in a glamorous setting…That was not my life at all," she explained in a 2016 video. "Being that I'm not a teenager and I am a woman—I am in my 30s—I have a lot of jobs before YouTube. Make-up artistry has always been a strong pull on my heart…I have freelanced quite a bit and that was something I was really proud of. When people say what did you do before YouTube, 'Oh, I was a make-up artist.' But that doesn't mean that that's always how it went down. I moved out on my own when I was 18. I've had every random job out there. I've had to do thing that I'm not really happy about to make ends meet. That sounded really sketch. Not sketchy…but I've had to do what I've had to do to pay rent and to support myself and I come from a family that is very loving, but we don't come from tons of money and it's not like I could call home and be like, 'Hey, can you pay my rent?'"
"I don't have a college degree and, in fact, I never went to cosmetology school…I always want to go to make-up school. I wanted to, I did not have the funds," she explained. "I could not find the money to go to school, so it was always really hard to have to work a job to support myself, feed myself, clothe myself, pay rent. There wasn't much left over to put aside for school. There were times where I didn't really even have a car. There's just been so many ups and downs in my life."
Growing up in Seattle, Westbrook originally dreamed of a different sort of spotlight. "When I was a kid, I had this very professional mindset. I knew what I wanted out of life, I thought I was going to be famous from the time I was three," she explained. "I thought that I was destined for success in the acting world. I was a dancer…In Seattle where I grew up, I actually did a lot of musical theater. I sang the anthem at a lot of games, skating shows and at the mall. I just was that kid, bouncing around town performing. I wanted to be on a stage at all times."
"I did that until a casting director quote-unquote discovered me and we moved to LA when I was 13. My mom packed us all in a van, my parents were going through a divorce, and we just kinda got out of there and moved to LA," she continued, explaining that after arriving in California and getting a bit of work in commercials, she got burned out and became homesick, eventually returning to Seattle to live with her dad. "That led me to my very first job, because I was like, I've got to make some money," she explained.
From there, she found herself bouncing from job to job—greeter at The Gap, bartender and dog groomer, to name a varied few—while also bouncing back and forth between her hometown and her adopted home of California. "I have this tug of war with California-Seattle, California-Seattle because all my family's in Seattle and I'm super close with them, but there's something about California that just I can't do without," she explained. "I need the energy here, I need the sunshine. I need everything that California has to offer me and that kind of makes me crazy because I go back and forth quite a bit."
"It's kind of embarrassing the number of jobs that I've had," she added. "I've always survived, so I'm proud of that. But I have had a lot of jobs. I don't know if that's such a good thing."
Through all the odd jobs, though, a passion for make-up began to cultivate and she found freelance work wherever she could. "I have to say in between all of these jobs, there were photographers that I worked with that I would occasionally get hired to do headshot make-up. There were indie projects that I would offer my make-up services for free, but I never had a ton of ongoing clients," Westbrook explained. "It's really tough freelancing. Unless you're picked up on a television show or movie, it's just very very inconsistent. And it's so expensive living here in California that it's a tough, tough industry to make it in. Especially back before Instagram and YouTube and all this."
Despite the inconsistent opportunities and the lack of access, she never gave up on the dream, always keeping a most important lesson in the back of her mind. "If there's one thing my mom taught me, it's 'You're gonna survive. You'll find a way. Make it happen. Don't sit around and wait for things to be handed to you. Get off your butt and go make it happen,'" she explained. So she first put together an "image consulting group where trainers, nutritionists, make-up artists, hair stylists would do full makeovers," she said. "And it was a service…That was kind of a little bit when a lightbulb went off of, 'You know what, I want to do something bigger than this.' I wanted to do something where I could speak to people, teach, and just be really interactive and help people feel good about themselves."
Around the same time, she went on a fateful first date that would change her life. If only she could find the right restaurant to meet her future husband at. "I met this guy on the internet, which was interesting. I was very nervous because you never know what you're gonna get," she said in a 2012 video on her channel, shared on the two year anniversary of the night she met James Westbrook. "I went to Katsuya, got that part right. But I went to the wrong location and sat outside and got all miffed that he was late. But actually I screwed up and was at the wrong restaurant."
"I said that if this didn't work out, I was taking a year hiatus from men because I had gone on so many bad Match.com dates, I was sick of it. I was like, 'I'm done. I actually tried to cancel this date. I'm sorry. You seem like a nice guy, but whatever,'" she continued, speaking to James in the video. "And you said the same thing at dinner. You're like, 'Yeah, if this doesn't go anywhere, I'm taking a break too.' And then you said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if this was it?' And I'm sitting across the table like, 'You're a freaking psycho.' But I liked you right away."
While the two clicked right away, there was the small matter of winning over James' teenage son Taylor. "There was a year where it was hard," she recalled in a March 2019 video. "It was like, 'Hi, I'm your dad's special friend.' He was like 14 or 15 when I met him. He was a little pipsqueak. He was a moody teenager. He didn't want to talk to me and I got a lot of one-word answers. So to anyone that is navigating someone with kids, be patient. They'll open up when they're ready. But I am so grateful. I would not have it any other way. I love him. We have a great relationship and I'm so happy about that." (In fact, he now regularly appears in Westbrook's videos.)
With the relationship in its infancy but going strong, she decided she needed to take a leap. "And I had been with James for about seven months or so at this point, and I decided to do YouTube," Westbrook explained in 2016. "He was super supportive. I was just flailing everywhere…I knew I had gifts. I knew that I had something in me that I wanted to give the world that I wanted to do, and I wanted to reach people…I felt like it was already too late for me. There were so many channels that were already established. I was like, 'No one's going to watch me, but I'm going to do it anyway.' I just knew I wanted to do it. So I decided to do YouTube full-force. I didn't have a second job. I really put full-time hours into my channel."
While her channel was struggling to take off—"The first two years, I made no money. No money. The third year, I was like, ‘Oh, hey, I'm kind of making a little bit. Barely enough to survive. Not really, but I'll take it'"—her relationship with James was only growing stronger. On their two year anniversary, they returned to the scene of their first date—the correct Katsuya—and he popped the question with the help of a video stealthily uploaded to YouTube for all the world to see. Did you expect anything less?
But the road to saying 'I do' wasn't exactly an easy one. "We were engaged for a very long time. We've been together for a very long. We've been together, like I said, for nine years. There was a time where I thought everything was going to fall apart, I really did," she admitted in March. "We were just going through it with him losing his mom and very suddenly losing his very best friend. And his very best friend was going to be his best man in his wedding. And he was really emotionally detached, and I did not deal with that well. I was dealing with all my stuff and he was dealing with so much grief—the kind of grief that I can't even get into detail but it was unimaginable. And of course that affected him. So thank God for good therapy and thank God for a heart that wants to understand."
On the eve of her wedding, held in Maui in 2017 on the anniversary of that first date, she gave a bit more insight into the the torturous path to wedded bliss. "Things kept happening to kind of delay our desire to want to plan a really joyful event," she explained. "And then you wait long enough that you kind of kick it down the line and you're like, 'Well, I don't know. We're happy in our day-to-day. We're working. We're living together. Let's put it off a little bit more.' It just got to a point where we're like, 'This is dragging out like crazy. Can we just go and get married?'"
James said to me last night right before bed "Thank you love for 9 incredibly happy years" It made me panic a little, because… those 9 years came & went in the blink of an eye. When you worry about a lifetime not being enough… you've found the right love. I am blessed that I get to love this inspiring, crazy, funny, intelligent, giving, patient, phenomenal man. My James you have my heart. ❤️💋 Happy Anniversary! 2 years Married. 9 years by each others side.
A post shared by Tati Westbrook (@glamlifeguru) on
"And we almost did the last time we were on Maui. We were this close. We actually had everything set up and then at the last minute, I was like, ‘No, no, I can't. I need a dress and I want to plan this a little bit better!' And I was being a little crazy about it. So I had this idea that we would get married on January 11, our anniversary of our first date. And that we would go back to Maui and do that. And it would just be the two of us and we would elope. And then five weeks ago, because this is just how I am, five weeks ago the emotions hit me like a ton of bricks," she continued, adding that she knew she would regret it for the rest of her life if she didn't have her family and friends, her people, there. "So we quickly planned this wedding. It's going to be beautiful."
The location was a matter of importance for the couple, Westbrook revealed. "That was one of James' mom's last requests in the hospital," she said "I can remember being there with Linda and holding her hand and she couldn't talk, but we were asking her questions and she could squeeze our hands and nod. And we knew that she wanted us to get married on Maui. She always did, from the second that we got engaged. She wanted us to get married there. But this was something that we promised her, and it's so wonderful. My heart is full to be able to actually go and do that is so cool."
Having already taken the other James in her life—James Charles—under her wing, he was on hand to do her make-up for the big day.
With the YouTube channel growing and growing, eventually turning quite a pretty profit without every accepting sponsorship money from the companies whose products she reviewed in her video, she turned to growing her family. And ran into some difficulties. "My body is my body and it wants to do what it wants to do," she explained in March, opening up about her difficulties getting pregnant. "Maybe we will adopt. I have endometriosis, I have mentioned this so many times. And it's really tough when you want a baby and you're not getting pregnant. That's tough…I'm married, I'm financially able to take care of a kid. It's not happening. It is what it is."
"I have dreams about my baby," she added. "That sounds weird, but I have dreams about my baby and holding my baby. I believe it will happen. In the right time, in God's time, you know?"
Her other baby, though—the one at the center of the drama with Charles—got off the ground in 2018 and has already proved to be more of a success than Westbrook could've ever imagined. And she was able to launch Halo Beauty thanks to the overwhelming success she's seen on YouTube. "I don't think a lot of people know, but I get between 25 and 30 million views a month," she said in March, before her profile elevated even further. "That is a lot. I'm very, very proud of that, and I've been able to maintain that throughout the years. [I] put ads in my videos and I'm so grateful when you guys watch them and don't skip over them because that is how I earn my living and how I pay my editor and how I am able to do all of this. And how I was able to invest in Halo without raising capital. I was able to do it on my own. It's shocking how money YouTubers can make."
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Birchbox
"It is doing so well, it is shocking," she added of Halo's success. "I'm incredibly proud of that. And I'm not someone that is boasting it around and doing a ton of interviews like 'Me, me, me, me.' Maybe as a business we should, and maybe as we grow, I will, but I could stop filming if I wanted to. If I wanted to just work on Halo, I could. We have been that successful in our first year and things continue to get better. It is just a dream come true."
She was also quick to point out that she's no mere figurehead, attached to the company in name-only. "I'm the operating CEO of Halo and I'm not a puppet CEO. I'm not just a name on the website or social," Westbrook said. "I am very hands-on in developing everything A-Z, in strategy with the company in what's going on in the directions we want to pursue. I make big decisions, you know? Halo could be in stores right now, there were a lot of offers. We were going to be in Sephora, Ulta if we wanted to, but said no. I do so much work behind the scenes, so I guess I do have a second job."
"I love that I'm successful on YouTube. I bought my dad a house for the holidays, and that was awesome," she shared. "If I did this being like, 'I don't care about money, I don't care about my job, I don't care what I earn,' I couldn't do those things. And I think we need to knock the shame off of that because that's not the problem. The problem is doing the wrong thing to get there."
And she's seen plenty of people doing the wrong thing.
"There's a lot of backstabbing and jealousy in this industry," Westbrook shared months before exposing Charles. "It's very competitive. And people like to frontface and say, 'There's room for everyone and no one needs to be competitive and we all love each other.' People can take from you and move on, and then you're kind of like, 'Wait, what?' I would rather have a handful of loyal, meaningful true relationships then a bunch of BS, you know?"
While her public calls for peace seem to have calmed the waters in the beauty YouTube world for now, what remains to be seen is what Westbrook does next with her ballooning subscriber count (at press time, over 10 million). But whatever it is, there's no doubt she'll do it with the same sort of integrity she's attempted to hold on to for the last decade.
"I am in this for the long haul though, and I'm not interested in making a quick buck," she told her fans in March. "I'm interested in making a great career and looking back and being really, really proud."
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