Asians Wear Clothes on Youtube: A Look Into Jenn Im (clothesencounters)

While reading Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet by Minh-Ha T. Pham, I thought a lot about beauty and fashion on Youtube. One Youtuber that I have been following since ninth grade is clothesencounters (Jenn Im). When Im first started out on Youtube, she focused mainly on thrifted clothing and alternative fashion. As her channel grew, her style morphed into a jumble of opposing qualities. Like Song, a super-blogger that Pham mentions, Im’s “style of dress and embodiment accommodates: it offers something for everyone while offending no one.” [1] She presents clothing that can be chic, girly, edgy, boho, while keeping the styles moderate in order to not alienate viewers. Although Youtube is a different platform than blogging, the concepts of the aftertaste and partial passing translate over from super-bloggers to beauty/fashion gurus.

From Im’s Instagram.
Im’s “jumble of opposing qualities,” in which she wears
various styles of clothing that fit different tastes.

Similar to super-bloggers, Im’s “taste practices are value-producing activities that generate a significant…amount of cultural, social, and sometimes financial capital for the blogger and for various entities in the fashion industry.” [2] With her styling videos, she attracts not only viewers but also companies seeking to use her influence as a Youtuber to expand their brand. Im receives financial capital with one sponsored video or an Instagram post advertising a certain item from a company. She also gets invited to events hosted by brands such as SK-II and collaborates with brands like Colourpop. How has Im grown so popular over the past six years? We can better understand Im’s influence and the role she plays on Youtube by using concepts posed by Pham such as partial passing and the aftertaste.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 2.02.09 PM.png
Advertising for the Samsung Notebook Chromebook Plus on her Instagram. Like other Youtubers who post advertisements on their pages, she is also receiving criticism.

In her videos, Im models clothing for different occasions such as “Back to School High School Outfits” or “Sweater Weather Lookbook,” and gives advice on what clothing pieces would look good in what contexts. By doing so, she demonstrates “her knowledge of and facility with popular fashion language as well as her conformity to normative presentations of identity,” [3] all of which is constructed through partial passing. As Pham explains, partial passing “does not involve fully claiming a white identity but rather “selectively ‘escaping’ the attributes of their Other identity.”” [4] As a Korean American, Im is considered ‘foreign’ compared to her white counterparts on Youtube and other social media platforms, but she presents herself in a way so that her racial difference does not disrupt the post-racial fantasy of late capitalism. In other words, Im markets herself as exotic but not too exotic to the point where she will leave a racial aftertaste.

For example, in “OOTD: Hsi Lai Temple,” Im poses in front of a Buddhist temple in a faux fur coat, pleather skirt, and a leopard print bag. These pieces stand out because these pieces are not usually associated with the schema of a Buddhist temple. She brings Westernized influences into an Eastern space, suggesting a post-racial reality in which the “Other” serves as the backdrop while images of the “West” are in the forefront. The concept of partial passing is further communicated in this video through short snippets of cultural artifacts, bringing in some aspects of the exotic while maintaining a safe distance from the “Other,” through longer, focused shots on her outfits.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 2.09.18 PM.png
Im in a hanbok for the new year. 

Im, a beauty/fashion guru on Youtube is similar to Song, an Asian super-blogger, because she practices partial passing in a similar way, which allows her to leave no racial aftertaste, helping her gain support from viewers and companies seeking to use her as a marketing tool. With these similarities between super-bloggers and beauty/fashion Youtubers, how do their racial identities as Asians influence the way in which they take up space and interact with the dominant fashion industry as opposed to other racial groups?


[1] Minh-Hà T. Phạm, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015), 96.

[2] Minh-Hà T. Phạm, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015), 5.

[3] Minh-Hà T. Phạm, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015), 95.

[4] Minh-Hà T. Phạm, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015), 94.

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3 thoughts on “Asians Wear Clothes on Youtube: A Look Into Jenn Im (clothesencounters)

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  1. I’m so glad you wrote about Youtube content creators because they are an influential part of internet culture. On a similar note, I want to discuss the recent video made by Michelle Phan. For the past 10 months, Phan’s account has been silent, no videos or other posts on social media. In the video, titled “Why I Left, Phan documents the beginning of her Youtube channel, continuing to the current to explain the reasons she went on hiatus. All in all her explanation ties into to the forgotten emotional labor involved in work produced by beauty bloggers, that we touched on in class. Additionally, Phan tells her fans she’s sorry about her absence but notes that it was crucial to finding her purpose on Youtube again. To conclude her video she states, ““Back then, I was just someone who was showing you how to look more beautiful. Now, I want to show you how to feel more beautiful.” This video by Phan shows the hidden emotional labor and the impact of living your life online, as these beauty bloggers essentially do.

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    1. yangyumin2 and tgainezz, you both bring up beauty vloggers that I have previously followed but now avoid. While you talk about Jenn Im and Michelle Phan in terms of their exploitation by society and the media, I want to bring up an issue that I have with these two vloggers.

      I think Im and Phan are both complicit in upholding white supremacist ideations, both in their snippets of performing “other”-ness and their everyday actions. As Asian women who grew up in the States, Im and Phan appeased white America’s taste for Asian superbloggers by dressing and styling according to Western fashion trends, as well as marrying white men. I don’t remember ever hearing them talk about issues around race, besides using their culture as props on occasion. I’ve also read that Phan made racist statements against people of other Asian races, as well as deflect feminism for “equality.” All in all, a lot of problematic actions conducted by these two women give me less sympathy for them, especially since their newfound wealth has basically blinded them from recognizing the systems that allowed them to even get to this point.

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  2. I found this post very interesting because I’ve been following Jenn Im on youtube since the earlier days of her YouTube career (back when she had around 100,000 subscribers; now she has almost 2 million subscribers). Like her, I’m a second generation East Asian female who grew up in California.

    I like how you mentioned how Im’s style changed as her success grew; as she gained more followers and ultimately more commercial sponsorships, her fashion changed from thrifted and “alternative”/”punk rock” styles to more accepted, mainstream bands that were more easily consumed and imitated. Many of her older viewer base has noticed, and often ask for more “thrifted” videos or non sponsored videos again. After watching one of her latest “thrift store” videos and comparing it with one of her first, I realized that Im was trying to emulate the “authentic” quality that was present in her low-budget, backyard-filmed older videos. However, because she paired the thrift store finds with her new aesthetic, often featuring her own jewelry line or her own makeup collaboration with ColourPop, it often seemed fake or just created opportunities to push her corporate sponsorships. While I don’t think she’s gone as far as Pham yet (having plastic surgery to reshape her chin according to white beauty standards, then lying about it), I believe that your point about Im marketing herself so her “racial difference does not disrupt the post-racial fantasy of late capitalism” is accurate.

    However, there’s the question of whether viewers of a beauty/fashion guru will want to listen to her talk about racial issues. In particular, the East Asian community has become complacent and silent on issues that do not directly influence them. Especially since a beauty vlogger’s income comes primarily from a strong viewer base, what are some ways that Im can draw attention to the structures that she has benefitted from?

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