The Subreddit Dedicated to Trolling Makeup Vloggers Will Make You Blush

​Far off in a hidden part of Reddit, a conversation about lipstick is about to turn ugly.

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May 6 2016, 12:00pm

The banner image from /r/muacirclejerk

Far off in a hidden part of Reddit, a conversation about lipstick is about to turn ugly.

The commenters have noticeably girly names, like "PrincessBatman," "BaroquePrincess," "KittenBeauty" and (ahem) "MindVagina." Above them is a banner decorated with a mildly deranged collage, like something a teenage goth would blu-tack inside her school locker. It features Minions, Urban Decay "Naked" eyeshadow palettes, and a picture of Ellen Pao with devil horns. The signature Reddit alien is there too, floating in the corner, its usually blank face accessorised with lipstick and a pair of severely arched eyebrows.

Reddit's /r/muacirclejerk is a community built on two values: a love of beauty products, and a dedication to relentless trolling. The result reads like Lord of the Flies, if it was set in a Sephora.

Its members seize on hyperbolic advertising claims and try-hard YouTube "beauty gurus," and mock the obsessions of beauty communities within Reddit itself, like /r/SkincareAddiction and /r/PaleMUA. They alight on the materialistic and the machiavellian, the flippant brand loyalties and the all-consuming narcissism of beauty guru culture, all while remaining a part of this community themselves. It's a weird, occasionally hilarious place, and an insight into the mind of the girl troll at her most self-aware.

Some beauty tips are a bit self-evident. Image: Reddit

In order to "get" /r/muacirclejerk's humour, you must already be steeped in online beauty culture. You will keep up with blogs, forums and Instagram accounts, and likely have spent hundreds of hours watching YouTube tutorials. Though this will help you understand the references to "Dip Dip" (cult product Anastasia Dipbrow Pomade) and "boyfie-built battlestations" (a dressing table, often assembled with the help of a boyfriend), it will more importantly help you to appreciate the truth at the heart of /r/muacirclejerk: that the online beauty community has become a joke itself.

Up until recently, social media served as a grassroots counterpart to mainstream beauty media, where writers were often obliged to give positive reviews to brands in order to please advertisers. Now social media has usurped its place at the top, with "beauty gurus" among the most heavily-sponsored and brand-affiliated contributors to YouTube (so much that the site recently launched a "school" for beauty vloggers).

In this landscape, /r/muacirclejerk operates as the online beauty underground. Like its close relative, Guru Gossip, it relies on a thorough grounding in the same scene it aims to critique. However, /r/muacirclejerk concerns itself less with public figures than with the behavioural quirks of their fans.

The result is a distinctly Reddit, right down to its name. "MUA" stands for MakeupAddiction, the most well-known beauty subreddit, as well as "makeup artist" (the irony here being that most members of MUA communities are not professionals, though they might act—and spend money on makeup—as though they think they are). Meanwhile "circlejerk", implying exactly what you think it does, refers to the long-running Reddit community dedicated to calling Reddit's own users out.

Dip Dip in its natural environment, the beauty vlog.

This makes for a curious mix of girly subject matter and trolling. Posts combine camp humour with an eye for ludicrous self-parody—many of members are also a part in the same communities they criticise. They address the delusional claims made by makeup brands for their products, and the dismal results when they fail. (Infamous makeup brand Lime Crime's best-known lipstick, "Cashmere", is referred to constantly as "Cashmere butthole" for the puckered, shrivelling effect it can cause on the lips.)

"I got the idea for it during one of those sort of 'bitchfest' threads on MUA (/r/makeupaddiction) where everyone whines about what other people post," said moderator ZEF666, speaking in Reddit messages about the origins of /r/muacirclejerk. "We all clearly took ourselves a little too seriously, and were all posting about the same dumb trends over and over (back then it was all about 'zOMG WINGED LINER' and 'WASH YR BRUSHES OR YOU'LL DIE!!!')".

Unlike sites like GOMI dedicated to bitching about public figures, /r/muacirclejerk aimed to provide an outlet specifically for makeup fans to make fun of themselves. Founded in 2014, the subreddit hit its first thousand subscribers within two months, then five thousand in four months. Membership currently stands at over 15k.

"It got a small amount of subscribers when I first linked to it, then it sort of blew up whenever there was drama.," ZEF666 wrote. "There were a few notoriously butthurt people who hated that their posts got parodied. They posted about it in MUA and everyone learned about it."

/r/muacirclejerk's memes can easily baffle outsiders, as they usually refer to the highly particular, frequently fleeting obsessions of mainstream online beauty communities.

These include the panic over parabens as ingredients, the "constructive criticism" of selfies, and the obsessive application of sunscreen. (Skin colour is a point of contention within beauty subreddits, with users frequently belying an underhanded racism with their obsession with "pale princess" skin, as well as a curious persecution complex around highlighting products being too dark.)

/r/muacirclejerk's obsession with porcelain princesses is a rebuke of the same obsession in some other beauty forums. Image: Reddit

There are protracted references to Mean Girls and Revlon's "Black Cherry" lipstick (an apparently "universally flattering" purple shade which leaves many a wearer looking like the undead). Most often you'll see references to "Dip Dip" ("Dip dip is key, brows are life..."), to the point that upvotes are called "updips" instead.

They also have a keen eye for excess, and cynical marketing. Posts parody meme culture and the very lucrative business of fandom, and challenge the assumption that female internet users demand the use of trigger warnings (users are, to all appearances, proudly untriggerable). The phrase "literally Hitler" is frequently used to describe anything bad.

"People seem to go through stages of liking the gurus and blogs," said ZEF666, who did not give their real name. "Then they slowly realise that half of them are paid to shill some shitty product. Then they get cynical and wise up, and start being a more 'conscious consumer.' MUACJ is definitely an outlet for those in the cynical stage."

At first, reading /r/muacirclejerk left me baffled, and occasionally a little grossed out. But I started to find it funny, and came back, I started to agree with their points. I stopped believing what beauty gurus told me, and started questioning their brow game. Perhaps this is what it means to be a conscious consumer.

Finally, I questioned my own biases relating to Reddit: Is it such an overwhelmingly "male" place after all? Their openly girly, troll-y tone struck me as contradictory at first. But who's to say men do most of the internet's trolling?

What's also unexpectedly clear with /r/muacirclejerk is that their community is a labour of love. For the products, the community they so militantly police, for themselves and for their selfies. You come for the Dip Dip, and stay for the self-reflexive humour.

Recently, a new story has shown up on the subreddit: In an act of sublime poetry, the makeup brand MAC have announced that they're producing a collection themed around "Trolls". They mean the neon-haired, crinkly-faced toys we remember from childhood, but it didn't take long for online beauty's troll queens to get in on the joke.