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Zoe Kim Kenealy TikTok makeup tutorial

Zoe Kim Kenealy and the rise of the hyper-niche make-up tutorial

From the ‘tired cool girl spa selfie’ aesthetic to the ‘elegant hot mess’ look of an ENFP, the make-up artist is creating extremely specific content that speaks to our main character mentalities

Have you ever wanted to capture the elusive quality of a main character in a coffee shop? Or master the ‘tired cool girl spa selfie’ vibe? Have you ever wondered how to achieve the aesthetic of a ‘vampy art hoe’ or a ‘chic one-night stand’ or an ‘espresso martini drinker’? The ‘understated academic’ energy of an INTJ, or the ‘elegant hot mess’ look of an ENFP? Well then do we have a video for you. Welcome to the hyper-niche make-up tutorial.

With millions of make-up videos across social media, it was inevitable that the beauty category would splinter off into subcommunities and sub-subcommunities. Add this fragmentation to the increasing individualisation of society and the pervasiveness of main character syndrome, and it’s not surprising that hyper-specific beauty looks are taking hold. Leading the way is 26-year-old Zoe Kim Kenealy, whose make-up tutorials exploring niche character archetypes have tapped into something we all love: being made to feel special and seen.

Similar to the way astrology, Myers-Briggs and attachment styles indulge in the impulse to belong to a group and to feel understood by others, Kenealy doesn’t just affirm your quirks, she tells you how to achieve the looks. It was her crying make-up look tutorial that kickstarted the sad girl beauty trend, and that perfectly exemplifies what she does: bring the play, fantasy and transformation back into make-up and make viewers feel like they’re the main character in a story of their choosing.

Kenealy freely admits she’ll never be the best make-up artist in the world. Nor does she want to be. “I don’t even really think of myself as a make-up artist, specifically,” she says. “And I don’t think that’s what my followers follow me for, either.” Introduced to the world of beauty through her mum, who worked as a make-up artist for films and TV shows in her 20s, she would use make-up as a way to feel more confident about going to school where she didn’t fit in. “That was my first experience of learning the joys of pampering yourself, experimenting with your look, and showing up looking your best even when you don’t feel like showing up.”

Dazed spoke to Kenealy about her tutorials, where she gets the inspiration for her niche aesthetics and her best beauty tips.

@zoekimkenealy The one night stand makeup look just in time for friday!! Lol jk - i was thinking of the rockstar girlfriend makeup tutorial when I did this look in some ways, but just a little more disheveled in the best way possible. The key to this eyes and the lips is the smudge. The eyebrows are messy as well #rockstargirlfriend #rockstargirlfriendmakeup #smudgedeyeliner #messymakeup #messymakeuplook #easymakeuptutorials #maccosmetics #benefitcosmetics #exabeauty #colourpop #oribe ♬ Love Me To Death - Ten Tonnes

When did you realise you wanted to be in the beauty industry?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: I made my first YouTube channel, Lovelypink93, in middle school. The 93 was to convince people I was older than I was because I thought no one would want to watch a 13-year-old! Among other things, I did make-up tutorials on there – I think I had one for Taylor Swift and a Miley Cyrus one, too [laughs]. I eventually stopped, but always wish I’d kept at it. After another failed attempt in college to start a beauty YouTube channel, I spent time working behind the scenes in influencer marketing, which I think gave me the confidence and insights I needed to finally make it work. 

I have a few theories, but I’d love to hear why you think these hyper-specific trends take off…

Zoe Kim Kenealy: If people can resonate with a hyper-specific video, specifically one based on their personality type, it could help them to see themselves in a different light – maybe through a more romantic lens. We’re so hard on ourselves. We constantly compare ourselves to others and spend hours every day consuming the curated lives of other people, so a hyper-specific video that gives you a few minutes to watch someone romanticise and understand, that makes you feel seen and admired is probably quite nice. But this is all speculation.

What’s your creative process like?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: It’s different every time. Sometimes it’s based on a scenario I’ve created in my head, a world, a memory, a character or even a story. And other times, I just want to recreate a look I’ve seen on an interesting person in a photo. But almost always, a make-up concept I do is based on some part of my life, past or present. A few months ago I was going through a low period with my mental health and created a look called ‘beauty in darkness’ which was supposed to be cathartic. One of the first comments was a troll saying, ‘All her make-up looks are the same.’ It’s pretty hilarious to put your heart into something and have a troll just totally crap on it in passing.

@zoekimkenealy Replying to @user026322852 #greenscreen how to do your makeup like an INTJ myers Briggs personality type! I created this person in my head to be a more casual take on dark academia, a little bit of French inspiration too for the makeup tutorial #frenchmakeuplook #nomakeupmakeuplook #naturalmakeuplook #effortlessmakeup #messymakeuplook #messymakeup #lancome ♬ Fuck Me Pumps - Amy Winehouse

What video were you most surprised about blowing up?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: I was very surprised to see the video I made about embracing chapped lips go viral. I was convinced I was going to get hate on that one. I get so many hyper-specific requests, you wouldn’t even believe. Most of the time, they’re clearly about the requester’s life, like ‘Can you do a make-up tutorial that represents sitting on the beach and having the sunset shine on your face and feeling good for the first time in a long time after a period of being down?” I can’t get through them all, but I love seeing them come in.

What is the one beauty hack you think people are sleeping on? 

Zoe Kim Kenealy: Blend everything on your hand with a brush before applying it to your face! Less is so much more when it comes to product and TikTok encourages people to use so much product these days. Your skin base will just look so much better if you’re not using your face as a blending plate.

For people who don’t know much about beauty, or who are the ultimate lazy girls, what’s your number one tip?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: A neutral lip liner to define your lips will take you a long way if you’re using nothing else.

@zoekimkenealy HOLIDAY SLEEPY EYES - this makeup look turned out so pretty I think. The glitter the glisten, a great contrast with the darkness from the sleepy eye look. I can do a more in depth tutorial on the sanpaku eyes / sad eyes look if you guys want 🖤 #sleepyeyesmakeup #sanpakueyes #sadeyesmakeup #holidaymakeuplook #partymakeuplook #glittermakeuplook #milanicosmetics #maccosmetics #aboutface #benefitcosmetics ♬ Dance In Room Song - Sipper

What products do you swear by or think everyone should own?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: The KVD Good Apple serum foundation, which just came out, is the best foundation I’ve used in a very long time. about-face Matte Fluid Eye Paints are so good, too. Get a few colours and get the white one. That way you can mix them and have all the colours you need.

What celebrity do people seem to be most obsessed with beauty-wise?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: Hmm. Hailey Bieber?

Be honest, does slugging work?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: Yes, it does! I think for obvious reasons… You’re literally coating your face in Vaseline. You shouldn’t do it in that outrageous clickbait way where you use half a tub though, just a small pea-sized amount.

What’s next for you?

Zoe Kim Kenealy: I think many of my followers are there because they appreciate what I appreciate, which is coming up with worlds and characters: the feelings behind each make-up look and telling stories. In that regard, working alongside brands on a creative direction front would be cool. I would love to play a role in beauty and make-up becoming a more personal, even immersive experience for the consumer. There is room for so much more storytelling that inspires you and makes you feel seen, and does more than just sell on the brand side.