Though YouTube has long been a breeding ground for inter-vlogger drama and gossip, the community was shaken up once again this past weekend after prominent make-up and beauty personality Tati Westbrook publicly cut ties with her mega-popular beauty vlogger contemporary, James Charles, over numerous instances of problematic behaviour.
Charles’ history of questionable actions both in and outside of the YouTube beauty community – brought to light in a 43-minute video posted by Tati named “BYE SISTER” – saw the 19-year-old lose millions of subscribers overnight, sparking discussions and controversy amongst both fans and fellow members of the community. Even with a near-hourlong video, the feud between the two which led to the unearthing of Charles’ actions runs bafflingly deeper than any one vlog can contain.
Who is James Charles?
Charles, 19, quickly rose to prominence in the health and beauty community of YouTube. His online fame quickly translated to opportunities such as being named the first male ambassador for Covergirl, starring in music videos, and netting famous friends such as Kylie Jenner and Shawn Mendes.
Though this is the most high-profile scandal the YouTuber has faced, it’s far from the first. In February of 2017, Charles came under fire for making fun of Africa’s Ebola crisis while travelling there (specifically to South Africa, where the last reported Ebola case was 1996) and mistakenly referring to Africa as a country in his apology tweet. Charles was also accused of transphobia following exclusionary remarks the style guru made about his own sexuality earlier this year.
The Tati Westbrook fallout
Tati Westbrook, 37, is another popular beauty YouTuber who’s been on the platform since 2010. In addition to developing a close mentor-mentee relationship with James Charles early in his career, Westbrook is also known for her own health and beauty line, Halo Beauty, which the personality launched last year.
Anyone who’s dipped their toe even tangentially into the world of online health and beauty personalities, whether by way of Instagram or YouTube, knows the prominent role played by sponsored posts promoting other brands and products – which is exactly where this story starts.
Late last month, from the front-lines of the influencer battlefield that is Coachella, Charles posted an Instagram story promoting sleep vitamins – from a brand that’s in direct competition with his BFF/mentors’ Halo Beauty line. Though she didn’t name Charles directly, Tati immediately took to Instagram to post a story of her own to air her feelings of hurt and betrayal.
In response, Charles shared on his own Instagram that “I want to publicly apologize to my close friend, Tati,” elaborating that Westbrook “has been like a mother to me since my first days in this industry and has given me more love, support, resources and advice than I could ever ask for.” Charles’ apology, posted April 23rd, would go unacknowledged by Westbrook until this past Friday, May 10th, when she uploaded her aforementioned 43-minute response video calling out Charles.
In the video – its title a barbed reference to Charles’ catchphrase “Hi, sisters” – Tati details the close relationship she had with Charles and the role that her and her husband James Westbrook had in helping the then-emerging Charles arrange contract and brand deals, before publicly cutting ties with the personality.
Tati’s decision to speak out after two weeks of silence on her part apparently came after it came to her knowledge that Charles had been shopping around the details of his and Tati’s issues to various YouTube gossip channels, which she saw as an attempt at one-sided image control. “You sold me out, but you threw away our friendship. You lied to me, made up a story, you knew this would be embarrassing for me,” Westbrook vented.
The allegations of predatory behaviour
In addition to the hurt Westbrook expressed in her video, she also stoked further controversy by calling out Charles for his recurring inappropriate behavior toward straight men:
“The last phone conversation that James Charles and I had he said some things, telling me about a situation that happened in Seattle at my birthday, and it literally made me want to vomit. Oh my god. You tried to trick a straight man into thinking he’s gay — yet again — and somehow, you’re the victim. You know, it’s really disgusting to manipulate someone’s sexuality, especially when they are still, you know, emerging into adulthood and don’t quite have everything figured out.”
Westbrook went on to outline the problematic nature behind his actions, telling Charles that “You are using your fame, your power, your money, to play with people’s emotions. You’re threatening to ruin them. You’re threatening to embarrass them. And you’re doing that to have them behave sexually in your favor, even if they’re straight. And you know what, that’s not okay. That behavior is not okay.”
Since Westbrook’s claims blew up, others have shared their experience regarding Charles’ ignorance of boundaries when it comes to straight men, including a story shared by Swedish singer Zara Larsson and an apparent Tinder profile once used by Charles to try and match with straight men:
Throwback to when I lived near James Charles in downtown LA and he was trying to match straight guys on Tinder pic.twitter.com/3cy5Z6x0gD
— Barry Tobiason (@wangsttv) May 11, 2019
In the three days since Tati publicly aired her grievances against the 19-year-old beauty vlogger, Charles has seen his channel lose three million subscribers (with Demi Lovato, the Kardashians, and Ariana Grande among those who have jumped ship).
Charles responded to the controversy with a video entitled “tati,” where he apologized the sponsorship scandal that inspired this whole feud and reaffirmed his care for Westbrook and her husband – though the 2.3 million dislikes on his (comparatively-short) 8-minute apology video shows that his response may have been too little too late.
Since Charles’ response, both parties have been largely silent aside from Tati announcing yesterday via Twitter that she would be taking some time off:
There won't be a video tomorrow. My heart is still too heavy. I feel like I need to remind you that we can hold truth & inspire change without grabbing onto hate. Honor your blessings, don't abuse them. Celebrating pain will only bring it to your door. love you guys, see you soon
— Tati Westbrook (@GlamLifeGuru) May 13, 2019
Aside from Westbrook’s announcement and Charles’ apology video, neither have further acknowledged the issue, though something tells us this is far from over.