The Girl Who Can Change Her Face

The Girl Who Can Change Her Face

by Rianne Akindele

When I get on Facetime with 23-year-old Eleanor Barnes (known to the world as Snitchery), she's taking a break from packing up her New York apartment, and will soon head home to Virginia to ride out the rest of COVID-19. The pandemic has proved quite literally transformative for the 23-year-old. When lockdown began, she downloaded TikTok (or, as she calls it, "the kiddie app") to pass the time. After sharing a flattering selfie hack and going viral, she asserted herself as one of the platform's biggest creators.

But Barnes has been creating content on the internet for years now. Her longtime screen name stems from a Nicki Minaj lyric, not the often-assumed golden snitches of Harry Potter. After posting headshots of her anime and Disney-inspired beauty looks on Instagram during her freshman year of college, her passion grew into a YouTube channel where she uploads makeup tutorials and discusses personal topics like her hair journey and growing up as a biracial woman in a predominately white town.

Barnes, who has always thought that cosplayers were "the coolest fucking people on the planet," first started experimenting with pop culture-inspired looks for Halloween 2018. Since then her channels have shifted into the "beauty-based cosplay" the Savage x Fenty ambassador is now best known for. Dating her love of anime to childhood, when her mother would take her to the video store to rent Studio Ghibli films, her favorite show as an adult is Hunter x Hunter. She credits the additional time at home over these past few months to perfecting her cosplay looks, executing ideas based on favorite characters from childhood as well as current shows. With that freedom of expression comes a bit of creativity: like her "Sexy Waluigi" look, that features booty short overalls and a mustache. Barnes admits she actually feels the most confident posting a photo of herself on the internet when dressed in a "ridiculous cosplay" that deters male fans who sexualize her other costumes.

Barnes' journey to online fame hasn't always been easy. She's struggled to find her space as a biracial woman ("there's no biracial culture — it doesn't exist"), and has faced repeated blackfishing accusations by fans who don't know she's half Black. She's not bothered, understanding that the criticism doesn't come from a place of malice, and is circumspect about her online popularity in general: "The brain literally cannot fathom hundreds of thousand of people perceiving you at once, so it honestly feels like I'm just posting into the void."

Though at the top of her selfie game, Barnes slyly hints at her desire to one day disappear from the internet entirely, perhaps in full circle — her first steps into social media were on an old Tumblr account that she ran anonymously. After seeing her ability to change her look completely with the pat of a makeup brush and the securing of a new wig, I think she can pull it off.

So, taking it back to your childhood, you've mentioned that you had a scene phase, and also ran a secret One Direction Tumblr blog back in the day. What else were you interested in growing up?

My mom says I have an obsessive personality. I was into everything at one point. I ran the Tumblr gambit as a fan of everything — Supernatural, Dr. Who, Glee, you name it. I also played sports and have been a huge weeb since I was a little kid. I remember when I was around eight years old, I used to go to the video store with my mom and she didn't really know anything about anime. Like, Perfect Blue and Blue's Clues were the same thing in her head, so I was introduced to some pretty adult anime at a young age.

Your hometown in Virginia is a predominantly white community. As you were in the minority being biracial, what was that experience like for you?

I grew up in Northern Virginia in a very preppy, white, Liberal, upper middle class area. When you're a kid, you don't realize that you're different from other kids especially when you're around everyone who looks the same. You think that they perceive you that way too, but they don't. I realized that very quickly when I was getting questions about whether or not I was adopted when my mom would pick me up. Then, it turned into this thing where growing up I was the de-facto Black friend because I was the closest anyone knew to a 100% Black person.

Did those identity and perception shifts continue as you grew up and left Virginia?

Once I exited that bubble and went to college, that was so not how I was perceived in the world. People saw me as biracial, ambiguous, or "ethnic", which was kind of a weird shift to have to navigate in my head. I got pretty lucky though to have a roommate who was Black and white biracial like me, which was such an incredible experience. Before that the only other biracial person I knew was my brother. I also joined a poetry group at college that was full of all Black women and it was great. It was interesting how I left the suburbs and was no longer perceived as Black, but that's also how I got in touch with my blackness — by being around other Black people for the first time. I understand that to the average person, I'm not gonna translate as white, nor will I be seen as Black, but it was nice to be seen as Black by other Black people.

Have any of these outer changes been a reflection of things that were going on in your life or just changes for fun?

A little mix of both. When I start getting stagnant in life is when I go through like a full body transformation. Even like going back to me being obsessive. I get hyper-fixated on these aesthetics and I have to perfect them within a week. I'll want to go from goth to prep or something so i'll donate all of my clothes and then go thrift shopping. It's kind of been something I've enjoyed as a hobby for when I'm bored and I'm like, "Okay, time to become a new bitch!"

Though you've been on the internet as a content creator for a few years now, I feel as though you blew up when you posted a Tik Tok about how to minimize distorted front camera selfies. What led you to post that tip? Were you expecting the response that you received?

During my first two years at university I was a film student, so one of the few things I remembered was about lenses. Weird as it sounds, I had always wanted a nose job because the front camera distorts your nose so much. Not even that it makes it look big - it makes it look like, not a nose. As soon as I realized you could pull the camera away, I was like, "Holy shit. That's my mirror face!"

I didn't even have a TikTok until quarantine because I was like, "What the fuck is going on? I'm not gonna get the app where it's like teenagers thrusting at you." Then I just downloaded it and started posting. That was like my fourth video and I was not expecting the reaction it got at all because I didn't even know how to work the app really.

You dish out your fair share of beauty hacks here and there, but cosplaying as some of your favorite animated characters seems to be your solidified niche. Has anime always been something you were into? What was it about anime that drew you in?

My favorite show from childhood was Death Note, but I started with movies. I'd be bringing home Princess Mononoke as a little kid from the video store and within five minutes of watching someone's arm was sliced off. I think I was just so enamored with adult content as a child I made it my shit for life.

What is it about anime that you love?

I have always had a hard time grappling with the fact that reality is reality. Reality is so boring compared to what people can think of in their heads. Like it pisses me off that New York City is not York New City from Hunter x Hunter. I'm so deeply fascinated that people can come up with these worlds and as someone who has studied art history and media it's the perfect blend of the fantastical and animation. Like Devil Man Crybaby has such sick animation! It lives in my head rent free. That's why I like cosplay so much, because it's the only time I can step into these worlds a bit.

What do you think of the criticism of Black people being told they shouldn't cosplay certain characters because their skin tone doesn't match the character they are dressing up as?

I don't get those comments beyond my facial features not matching a character's, but a lot of my friends in the cosplay community who are Black get just the most vile shit thrown their way. It's so ridiculous because it always rests on the axis of skin tone and it's like a White cosplayer is no more accurate to a Japanese character. Also, nobody's eyes take up half of their fucking head! Like people don't look like anime characters in any capacity. It's like, why would your skin tone be the point of inaccuracy when the fact that you're a human is what makes it inherently inaccurate?

Do you have any words of encouragement for people who want to cosplay but are afraid of the possible backlash they may receive?

I think the great thing about the cosplay community is that it's growing so much and it's full of so many cool and positive people who drown out all of the negativity. There is a ton of support to help block out the terrible comments from that little corner of the incel anime community. Also, getting shitty comments on the internet is something you can't avoid no matter what you do, but you'll find friends and a community working to lift you up more than those trying to bring you down.

Speaking of friendship, you and fellow beauty influencer Loey Lane seem to be quite close. How did you all become friends?

I was a huge fan of her and watched her back when I was in high school before I was even on the Internet in that way. Then, her manager reached out to me a couple of years into my career. At this time, I was so adamant about being self-managed because I'm such a perfectionist. I got an email from my current manager, Jake, and the opening line listed the people he already managed and when I saw Loey's name and I was like "Oh shit, that's my girl!" I ended up loving him and he introduced me to Loey. The first night we met I spilled Fireball all over her shoes because I was so nervous, but now we're best friends. We traveled together. We quarantined together. It's been nice to have some to kiki with about internet stuff because the rest of my friends aren't on the internet and I wanted to keep those worlds separate.

Though you are a cosplayer, you are also part of the beauty world. One thing I've noticed about you is how you fully disclose any surgical augmentations you've had done to your body. Why is it important for you to have that sort of transparency with your audience?

So I've had filler and botox done and I realized that it's such a point of fascination for people, but there's not much information from people who have gone and done it. Also, as a beauty channel I never wanted to come on with new cheekbones and have people think it was just makeup or something achievable outside of what I was explaining in the tutorial. I don't expect it from anyone else though. You don't have to tell millions of people on the internet what you've had done if you're not comfortable doing so.

You mentioned on Twitter how one year ago you decided to post a photo of your body online and now you're an ambassador for Rihanna's Savage x Fenty lingerie line. What pushed you to post more of yourself?

I've always thought I was cute. I thought my body was cute even through all of my weight fluctuations, but I know how women's bodies are treated on the Internet. I didn't want to give people the opportunity to comment. When my manager first told me about the opportunity it was so far out of my comfort zone I didn't think I could do it, especially because I was just posting headshots at the time. Then, I sat on it for a couple of days and was like, "Wait, I love the way I look. I wanna fucking do this!" Now, I love where I'm at with my content and I'm so glad I decided to take that route. I do get the comments I expected, but I don't care. In tandem with posting my body, I started showing more of my personality as well and I think it's something people who follow me have liked seeing. It's funny because I thought I was confident before, but oh baby, this has given me an immense sense of confidence because now I have all of my bitties and bits on the Internet.

Not only are you a makeup extraordinaire, but you also have a degree in visual and media art studies. Why did you choose this path and how do you hope to use it in life?

So, I went to school for film because I wanted to be a practicing artist, but I knew I wasn't good at painting or other mediums. Then, I realized that I didn't like compartmentalized filmmaking and that's when I fell in love with learning about other people's art.

Though I love this "selfie game" I'm in now on the internet, that was never the end goal. I hope to save up enough capital to start an art gallery or an empire of galleries. I feel like art is so hierarchical and pretentious for no reason. There are so many talented artists that aren't showcased because museums are filled with art from dead white people. So, my life goal is to dip off of the internet some day and then go into communities working to shine a light on artists from those areas so that people don't have to go to the Whitney to see who the fuck cares.

Do you have a favorite piece of art?

"Portrait of Ross in L.A." by Félix González-Torres. It's a pile of candy that they put into museums and it represents this man's partner who was dying of AIDS. They allow visitors to take a piece of the candy and I've always thought that was super powerful.

Your grandmother's words make frequent appearances on your social media accounts every now and then and she is a huge part of your life. What makes that bond with your grandmother so special?

My grandparents used to save up all of their money to be able to travel together. Sadly, my grandpa ended up dying pretty young around when I was seven and she didn't have anyone to travel with. When I was eight, my grandma asked my mom if she could take me to China and from that point forward, every year, she took me to a new international location. We have a great relationship because we had those hyper intensive experiences together. It's been such a privilege to see from a young age that my little world was not what the rest of the world was like.

You mentioned loving Robert Pattinson as Batman especially due to the eyeliner he dons for the movie. If you two could cosplay together, who would you want to cosplay as?

I would love to do a cosplay dream team of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure characters because the fits, the poses, and the characters are so iconic! Like imagine Robert Pattinson as a Jojo's character. It's everything.

Lastly, when COVID is finally under control, what are you most excited to do?

I'm really excited to travel again — whenever that happens. My ass is parked until there's a vaccine!

Also, since I've been grinding these last couple of months I've had time to see my future if I continue to be a workaholic. I've been putting more time into my friendships and gotten closer with my family which I didn't even think was possible because I'm obsessed with them. I'm excited to carve out more time to explore dating as an adult which is something I haven't done much of. I have total apathy towards potentially being embarrassed or being heartbroken in dating, because who cares?

I'm also picking up some projects that were put on hold at the beginning of the year, so I'll be dipping my toes into apparel!

Photos courtesy of Snitchery