Kitty Fletcher can’t find her mascara.
“Sorry,” she says. She rummages around several makeup bags—all with designer names attached—“Free with purchase,” she swears—and groans when she can’t find the product she’s looking for.
“I’m doing a Plutonian Witch tutorial today and I really need this one mascara in particular to make it work,” she says, continuing to dig through the veritable arsenal of beauty products she’s accumulated over the past few years. Fletcher, now 17, started collecting cosmetics four years ago, when her parents finally gave her permission to wear makeup to school.
If you’re not familiar with Kitty Fletcher, you may be familiar with her work. Her signature style—makeup that seems to turn her face into something otherwordly—is being emulated by teenage girls across the world, who eagerly tune in to her video makeup tutorials, where she sits in front of a camera and leads her audience in a step-by-step cosmetic transformation, showing her fans tricks and tips that they, too, can do at home. Makeup tutorials are all the rage on the internet these days—with a quick search, one can learn how to “do a basic smoky eye” or replicate the red carpet makeup worn by their favorite stars. Fletcher’s tutorials, however, stand out, due to the remarkable transformations she makes on screen.
As of this month, Fletcher has 2,001,928 followers on YouTube, where she posts tutorials—instructional makeup videos that last anywhere from three to eight minutes—under the name KitCadet238 (“a stupid screen name I picked in seventh grade,” she explains. “Had I known two million people would be following me, I would have tried a little harder.”). For the last two years, she has posted two videos per week, covering techniques like perfecting smoky eyes and covering blemishes. She is perhaps most famous, however, for her Outer Space series, in which she imagines herself as the queen of Jupiter, or a mallrat from Mars, or, as mentioned earlier, a Plutonian witch, which Fletcher describes as “a mix of Elsa from Frozen and like, the girl from The Ring.” Her followers, most of them teens or tweens, gush over her techniques in the comment section, telling her how much she’s changed their lives for the better just by teaching them how to apply glitter to their eyebrows.
“It’s fun,” Fletcher says. “That’s the main reason I do it. Because I love it and it makes people happy. It’s not really a big deal. It’s just super fun and I’d be doing it anyway, so why not share what I’ve learned with others?”
Her obsession with makeup grew deep and quick; when she couldn’t afford new makeup (“babysitting money only goes so far”), she decided to get better at using the products she already had, learning to blend and contour and line just so. “After about a year of practicing, I was pretty good,” Kitty says. She credits much of her skill to Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces, a book she calls “second only to oxygen.” She claims the book made her think about makeup in a totally new way. “I realized I could use it to transform, to create whatever face I felt like looking at that day. There are days when I can’t stand myself and days when I feel invincible. Makeup lets me hide or enhance. It lets me wear a mask or basically point an arrow at my regular face, like, ‘Yep, these are my eyes and I like them, what are you gonna do about it?’”
“My mother grew up in the ’80s and was obsessed with blue eye shadow,” Fletcher says with a grin. “Like, all she wanted was to be able to wear bright blue eye shadow to school, because it was so dope at the time—and to be honest, I think it still is—but my grandmother was all, ‘No way, no daughter of mine is leaving the house like that!’ or whatever.” Fletcher laughs. “My mom ended up putting it on in the school bathroom and wiping it off before she got home. She said she didn’t want me to feel like I had to hide myself from her or anyone else, so when I started getting interested in makeup, she took me to the mall and let me pick out whatever colors I wanted.”
Finally, after 10 minutes of talking and rummaging, Kitty finds the mascara she’s been looking for. “Yes!” she says, holding the tube up to her face. “This stuff is nuts. It’s purple and the volume it gives is like, madness. I had to have it as soon as I saw it in the store. It was like, calling me.” She points the mascara in my direction and smiles. “You see? The wand chooses the wizard.”
Certain members of Kitty’s audience have their doubts about her motives. “I think she’s a terrible example for young women,” Mary Carpenter says. “Her videos give me the creeps.” Carpenter, 49, is one of the most vocal opponents of Fletcher’s viral fame, often using her YouTube handle, “madamTRUTH298” to leave disparaging comments on Fletcher’s videos. “That girl taught my niece Jenna how to look like some gawd-awful “Scientist from the Andromeda Galaxy,” whatever the hell that is. Jenna walked around for weeks with orange crap smeared on her face and blue lipstick. I mean, come on. And Jenna’s not the only one. Everywhere I go now, I see some teenager dressed like an alien in broad daylight. I find it very upsetting. Pretty sure it’s a cult. You know teenagers. They love cults.”
Carpenter is just one of many detractors who have come out against Kitty’s YouTube fame. In fact, there are groups popping up in every major city, determined to stop Kitty’s tutorials—and her ever-growing legion of devoted followers.
“She has millions of girls doing everything she tells them to,” says Phil Nowell, a 45-year-old father of three. “She goes on the YouTube and says, ‘Here’s how to look like a Princess from Mercury. And then I have to deal with my teenage daughter drawing circles on her face with bronzer eyesticker gel or whatever it’s called. I said to my daughter, I said, ‘Do ya have any idea how dumb that looks?’ and she says to me, ‘Dad, you don’t know anything about anything.’ Can you believe that? Well, at first I was furious. But after doing some research, I started to get scared.”
Nowell’s research led him to a website called “Kitty Fletcher: Space Invader,” whose proprietor—like Carpenter—swears that Kitty’s makeup tutorials are, in actuality, secret cult transmissions that only teenage girls can understand. The site, started only two months ago, is averaging 500,000 hits per day, and growing. The owner of the site, Jon Pocono, is convinced that Fletcher’s teen army is amassing for an eventual world takeover.
“It’s like, wake up sheeple,” says Pocono, a 33-year-old who describes himself as an “independent journalist.” When I press him on actual evidence, he has none, but says “the pageviews speak for themselves.”
“I believe in the cult thing,” says Pauly Weston, a 27-year-old bike messenger from New York City. “Just the other day I stepped out of my apartment and saw a whole crew of teenage girls with blue lipstick on their lips and silver squares around their eyes. They looked possessed. Like aliens, or demons? Or demon aliens? Anyway, they all went into Chipotle together—it was mad creepy.”
Kitty guffaws when I bring up the conspiracy theory that she’s ready to take over the world. “I’m just an ordinary girl,” she says. “If I were some alien trying to recruit teenagers to space, I’d spend less time on my makeup and more time on, I dunno, astronautical engineering.”
With that, she flips open her laptop and begins recording herself slathering on the purple mascara it took her so long to find. “What you want to do,” she says to the camera, “is to make it look like you have actual spikes coming out of your eyes. Like you can’t be messed with. Like you’re invincible, like you’re not from this world.” She turns to me and winks, and a streak of purple runs down her cheek, ending near her mouth, which is wide open and laughing. ♦