The Murder Mystery and Makeup Phenomenon

Image from MakeUp A Murderer Cosmetic Bundle

This month has been hard for many women. We all saw the awful statistic stating 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed, released shortly after we saw Sarah Everard do everything women are conditioned to do in order to stay safe to no avail. This was swiftly followed by the arrest of a Met police officer charged with her kidnap and murder. However disheartening, this month has seen women stand together, taking to the street in protest against those that refuse to protect them.

These horrifying, fear inducing statistics and stories remind women of just how common the worst-case scenarios are. And it’s because of this horrifying daily reminder that we’re currently in the midst of a true-crime story-telling boom. The cause? Women, and maybe fear. A 2010 study, the only one of its kind, showed that women are overwhelmingly responsible for the popularity of both fictionalised and factual true-crime content.

A lot of true-crime documentaries feature triggering content, spooky sound effects, jump scares, emotional stories from victims and even dramatised re-creations of violent crimes. For many, like me, these are interesting to a certain extent, before the telling of the story becomes too disturbing and needs to be turned off. For those who are interested in true crime but cannot mentally handle the intense style of storytelling that defines this genre of documentaries, how do they scratch their true-crime itch?

The answer comes from YouTube. The quickly growing video genre - mainly dominated by young, female storytellers - allows viewers to learn about details of various crimes without being subjected to the gory pictures and, by adding trigger warnings throughout the video, these content creators allow people to skip the possibly triggering details that they’d rather not hear.

This YouTube genre is headed by the likes of Eleanor Neale and Bella Fiori, both young women with an avid passion for true crime. Their videos, uploaded multiple times a week, can be up to an hour long and break down various crimes spanning the past and present.

Then along came Bailey Sarian, a 32-year-old woman from California who accidently changed the game. Her channel steadily grew thanks to her make up artistry, but after she posted a ‘Get Ready With Me’ video in which she casually spoke about her interest in and theories on the Chris Watts case. Viewers flocked to her channel asking for more of her thoughts on various different true-crime cases, leading Sarian to create the nearing iconic ‘Murder, Mystery and Makeup Mondays’.

As an avid true-crime enthusiast and an admirer of makeup I was delighted that someone had decided to merge the two to create a somewhat more relaxing insight into the horrors that happen in the world and it’s clear that many others feel the same way - in less than a year, Bailey Sarian had amassed over 1M subscribers on YouTube, and she currently boasts a whopping 3.4 Million.

Though it may seem like novelty viewing, Bailey Sarian has used these make-up videos to bring light to issues such as corrupt police systems, systemic racial history, and unfair incarceration. One story covered recently, followed the case of Rocky Myers, a US citizen currently sitting on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. Sarian’s video brought media attention to the case and she urged her three million followers to sign the petition fighting for his release.

If, like me you have watched a good majority of true-crime documentaries that can be found on both Netflix and YouTube you will notice a running theme - many of the victims and occasional survivors are women, and the miscreants, men. This avalanche of videos featuring predatory men hunting out female victims mirrors the real-life statistics. November 2019 saw the United Nations publish the grim statistics showing that a staggering one in three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime and that violence against women is as common a cause of death for the female population as cancer.

The female fascination in true-crime crosses over mediums too. The popular podcast My Favourite Murder see’s hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark discuss various crimes laid out as cautionary tales to warn their predominantly female audience of the worst-case scenarios they could encounter. But like most of these female orientated true-crime shows, the tone is kept relatively light while touching on these serious topics, ‘My Favourite Murder’ signs off each episode with “stay sexy and don’t get murdered’ - this dark humour cushioning the traumatic subject matter.

When you hear stories of the real-life situations people have found themselves in, the scariest part is often how unsuspecting the victims are. You’re reminded about that time you were drunk and left alone at a party, that one night stand you had with a stranger you met in the bar or that one night you forgot to lock your door. All seemingly innocent actions on the surface but upon further reflection you realise how much danger you could have been in. By hearing of the ‘mistakes’ made by victims in these stories, are we subconsciously learning how to keep ourselves safe, how to spot the bad guy and take him down?

It’s not a new thing, women preparing themselves for the worst. We’re taught about never taking our eyes off our drinks, never walking alone at night, not to wear our hair in a ponytail on a night out or to put your drunk friend in a taxi alone - the list goes on. “I think it’s primarily women consuming true-crime content because women are the victims in so many of the stories. It’s as if women learn vicariously through the experiences of other women and feel as though they’re better able to avoid becoming victims themselves.” - Erin Parisi, a Florida-based therapist, and self-confessed true-crime addict, told Laura Barella for a recent article.

I'm not suggesting that women are watching documentaries and simultaneously taking notes, consciously planning a 10-step plan to avoid being murdered. However, there are certainly factors driving more women to consume true crime related media. Self-preservation being one of those. The idea that ‘knowledge is power’ and that by hearing these stories we realise our fear, we learn about it, dissect it, and confront it. The majority of women invested in these tragic stories are intelligent, educated and rational people who, in a culture that victim blames, have been almost forced to protect and prepare themselves psychologically and physically in order to feel safe.

Another theory offered up to explain the female fascination in true crime poses a different view. After years of society conditioning women to be passive and agreeable in the face of male aggression, seeing men punished by the criminal justice system offers some type of comfort or satisfaction. We’re now seeing the murder mystery phenomenon take off in many different formats. It’s not good enough to learn about these cases anymore and true crime addicts now have access to many different mediums in which to satisfy their obsessions. Subscription boxes allowing you to solve ‘crimes’ like a true detective are circulating, murder mystery dinner party packs being sold and even crime scene makeup collections being released. We’re starting to see more female orientated detective shows with in-depth, female protagonists in positions historically reserved for men. Maybe this true-crime boom led by women can not only satisfy the women consuming the content, but could also make more space for women in the genre.

It’s a scary time right now and it’s overwhelming to come to terms with the truth of what horrors can happen. If you're struggling with topics spoken about through this article, or you just need someone to talk to, HERE you can find some numbers to call if you feel they would help.

Article by Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse