It was no surprise to anyone in Victor Ramos’s family that he became famous. When he was growing up, his parents and sister — especially his mom — knew he was going to make it big. They just didn’t know why or how, and they definitely didn’t think it would have anything to do with beauty.
But Ramos admits they were indirectly involved. When he was in high school he over-tweezed his eyebrows and then was devastated to notice that the beauty world was moving more toward thicker eyebrows, courtesy of model Cara Delevingne’s rise in popularity.
“My mom and my sister were like, ‘Whoa, like, what’s going on? Like, what’s going on with your eyebrows?'” he said. “I saw this article about Anastasia [Beverly Hills] — it [said] Kim [Kardashian] and J.Lo and these people use this [brow product]. And I was like, you know what? Let me get some of this stuff. And that’s how it started.”
As he got more into styling and shaping his brows, Ramos was introduced to what he calls the “real OG beauty people” on YouTube, like Michelle Phan. At the time he also noted that walking around New York City with a full face of makeup was no longer exclusive to celebrities. People wanted to have full glam every day.
“People would be like, ‘Oh my God, what do you use for your brows? Your brows look good,'” he said. “I was like, maybe I could do [what Phan did], but on Instagram.”
Even today, the beauty influencer space can feel like it’s dominated by women. So when Makeup Forever reached out to Ramos in 2016, around the time he hit 10,000 Instagram followers, he thought he was being pranked.
“I thought that email was fake or trying to scare me — this is not really Makeup Forever,” he recalled. “I thought I was getting scammed.”
The influencer industry is king when it comes to selling beauty. The majority of shoppers look to influencers before buying anything. But in 2016 Ramos remembers that it was rare to see anyone but Hollywood celebrities modeling for big makeup brands. As an Afro-Latino man, he said he’d never seen anyone who looked like him in a major beauty campaign.
“I didn’t feel the pressure necessarily, but I did think that it was important for me to just do it and try to do it as best as possible,” he explained, “not even just being a male, but being a person of color and a Black person, especially at that time before things started to open up and people started to have open conversations [about race].”
Since then, Ramos has gone on to star in campaigns with the likes of Smashbox Cosmetics, NYX and MAC Cosmetics. While he said he never intended to set out and become a role model for other young boys interested in beauty, he’s had some incredible fan interactions that have helped him realize his impact went beyond fulfilling his own dreams.
“A lot of Black male beauty influencers will be like, ‘Oh my God, you were like the first person that I saw, like on a campaign when I would go to Sephora and I would buy makeup,'” he said.
Ramos also mentioned that his first fan interaction was when a boy came up to him at the Apple Store in Santa Monica, Calif. Ramos was only visiting and didn’t think anyone outside of his hometown of New York City would recognize him.
“I didn’t have many followers at the time either, but someone was like, ‘Victor?’ and I was like, ‘Huh?'” he said. “This boy was like, ‘Oh my God, I follow you. I love your makeup.'”
The beauty industry still has ways to go. Even though the beauty industry is dependent on shoppers’ spending, the racial inequality that still exists fails Black consumers and Black beauty brands. Americans, more than ever, are more likely to prioritize their social values when choosing what brands and products to follow.
“Most retailers will need to make changes to meet the needs of inclusive consumers,” a McKinsey report says. “In the years ahead, millions more consumers will likely join the ranks of inclusive consumers, rewarding businesses that pursue inclusion and avoiding those that don’t.”
“I do see certain improvements, but I definitely like to be super realistic [and] I feel like it’s a little bit more superficial changes,” Ramos said. “II think two years ago, everyone was kind of speaking up, but I think now I can observe around me that that the pressure isn’t as on people, people are starting to get a little bit relaxed.”
But while there is still work to do, Ramos is reveling in the changes that have been made since he was a high school student in 2014.
“I’ll go out and I’ll just see a boy in full glam, and I honestly think that’s so cool,” he said. “That’s the moment where I’m like, wow, I’m actually getting older because I remember the days where you would … see a boy in full glam and people would still stare and be kind of confused. But nowadays, it’s nothing.”
Don’t expect Ramos to be kept in a box, though. Despite his beginnings in the beauty space, his real interest right now is the intersection of pop culture commentary and social media. His Instagram is devoted to scene recreations where his makeup abilities and sense of humor take center stage as he’s able to transform himself into any character.
In a sea of laugh-crying emojis — seriously, there are hundreds — one commenter summarizes why tens of thousands of followers still return to Ramos’s videos: “Please help me! I’m addicted to you and I don’t know how to stop!!”
Despite moving on from beauty, the driving forces behind Ramos’s success — of proving people who doubt him wrong and of opening up conversations for people who are usually left out — are still there in his work ethic.
“Entertainment is always something I’ve wanted to do, so I have like a clear kind of sense of what I want,” he said. “My absolute dream is to have a production company and give access to people who normally [has] their ideas brushed off by someone who couldn’t relate or people who just can’t see a vision because they haven’t experienced it.”