Why what Kat Von D says matters

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

We're going to get a little bit controversial in this post. Controversial in the sense that I want to talk about the shrinking boundary (or perhaps false boundary) between politics and the beauty community. Every once in a while the community grabs on to something serious and bigger than eyeshadow palette releases whether that's racism, cultural appropriation, or sexism. Today, I want to talk about why what the big hitters in the beauty community say matters and how to demonstrate that you're listening.

If you managed to miss the stimulant for this discussion, I won't directly link you to the post but I'm happy to summarise that Kat Von D posted the above photo on her personal Instagram account with a long caption explaining how much scrutiny she's under as a famous pregnant vegan woman. She and her husband have determined how they are going to carry this pregnancy, and how they're going to raise their child, without consideration of what their online following will think and feel. Fair enough. Up until Kat Von D revealed that she would be raising her child vegan, meaning for her, without vaccinations. Chaos ensued.

The rapidity with which anti-vaccination stances went from absurd conspiracy theory to "legitimate" debate is startling to say the least. I have no patience for humouring an anti-vaccination opinion. Refusing to vaccinate yourself or your children is dangerous, ignorant, selfish, and lacking in compassion. Whether it's because you think they're a hoax or they cause autism, there is no counter argument to vaccination. For me, saying you're anti-vaccination is akin to saying you're pro-drink driving. It's incredibly unethical.

But that's not really why we're here. It seems the vast majority of people willing to respond to Kat Von D have been people who disagree with her decision and feel they need to say or do something. A large rallying cry has spread across Twitter and Instagram to boycott Kat Von D Beauty and revoke all support for both the brand and the namesake. Which calls in to question, is it Kat Von D Beauty's fault that the brand's namesake has made such a mistake? Are we funnelling our anger appropriately by withdrawing support from a brand that employs people who haven't done anything wrong?

It's the age old question of separating the art from the artist or, in this case, the corporation from its founder. Because Kat Von D is not Kat Von D Beauty. The makeup brand was founded and launched in collaboration with Sephora and it remains property of their parent company LVMH. But it would be simplistic to ignore Kat Von D's influence on the brand launched in her name. She forms the face of nearly every campaign and is heavily involved in the creation and formulation of new products. She is very proud of her place in the company and regularly draws attention to the incorporation of her illustrations and artwork in packaging designs and personal connection to product names. Kat Von D is inseparable from the production, marketing, and management of Kat Von D Beauty.

To purchase from Kat Von D Beauty then, is to cement your position as consumer of Kat Von D products and services, to lend your financial support to Kat Von D herself.

And why does that matter? Because it's the only leverage consumers have to make change under capitalism. If someone says or does something you disagree with or don't support, you stop giving them your money and you stop buying their products.

The lines get blurry when considering the employees of Kat Von D Beauty who haven't done anything wrong and will suffer under your boycott, as well. Employees aren't consumers, but they are also engaged in exchanging something with Kat Von D Beauty: their labour for a wage. This relationship doesn't have as much freedom as the corporation/consumer dichotomy, but they do have room to move and realign in a manner unlike the position of Kat Von D in her own company. In a nutshell, we're talking about a moral distancing between the employees and the brand, not a practical one. And if you're going to take practical action by boycotting a brand, you have to consider the moral sacrifices that entails.

But, returning to the question of why it matters: Kat Von D doesn't exist in a vacuum. While her actions in not vaccinating her child will have repercussions for her child, her family, and anyone who comes in contact with them, her choice to vocalise her position to her enormous following is also incredibly dangerous. I'm not arguing that people are sheep, I am arguing that people can be influenced by those they trust and respect into believing or doing something ultimately not in their best interest. It would be negligent to ignore the way celebrities, famous personalities, and business owners are able to influence their audiences, especially in the beauty community. Without online influencers the beauty community would be nothing like it is today. 

And beauty doesn't exist in a vacuum either! Everyone involved in the community contains a life outside of makeup and the overlap in mentality, decisions, and beliefs is real. Maybe you used to love and respect Kat Von D as a makeup artist, but over time you began to respect her as a person and a business owner, and her influence on your life blurred outside of the beauty boundaries. We're branching into hypotheticals here, but my point still stands: Kat Von D, like other huge beauty influencers, has a wider reach than makeup and the perpetuation of dangerous and ignorant ideas through their beauty channels is just as insidious as anywhere else.

The decision in how you're going to react to Kat Von D's announcement is entirely up to you. I cannot support someone spreading misinformation and endangering the lives of her child and everyone around her. Hence, I won't be mentioning Kat Von D products on my platforms any longer, and I won't be purchasing from her brand until something changes.

xx Julia

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