From Millie Bobby Brown’s ‘fake’ tutorial to Johnny Depp’s accusations of cultural appropriation, we reflect on a year of the industry’s controversies
With the rise of ‘cancel culture’ and social media flubs, it’s almost impossible for a year to go by without drama or controversy. However, 2019 seemed to be the year that drama and beauty became the ultimate bedfellows. Week after week, there was a new drama – from celebrities being called out to feuds, and shoddy beauty products to accusations or racism. As the year comes to a close – and because we’re all unashamedly messy and live for drama – here, we rank the top 15 beauty dramas of the year. So, sip your tea and enjoy.
15. THAT HARRY STYLES FACE TATTOO
Harry Styles fans can be a dedicated (read: intense) bunch. Remember the time the singer threw up on the side of an LA freeway only for the spot to become a fan shrine and the puke to be sold on eBay?
So, when singer-songwriter Kelsy Karter debuted a huge tattoo of Harry Styles’s face across one side of her own face in January, it seemed about par on course for the fandom. Asked about the tattoo on a New Zealand radio station, Kelsy said at the time she wasn’t afraid to express her love for Harry and that she doesn’t do anything half-assed. “I just wear my heart on my cheek.”
Raising our suspicions as to the authenticity of the tattoo, however, was Kelsey’s single “Harry,” which was released in tandem and lyrically centred around themes of female inflation and fandom, including lines like ‘Harry/ I’m gonna make you love me/ You’re gonna make me breakfast’” and ‘I’ll treat you better than the girls you’re hangin’ out with/ Take you to Heaven and I’ll show you all around it.’
Our suspicions proved to be correct when, a few days later, Kelsey revealed that her tattoo was, in fact, fake. In a video posted on YouTube, the singer admitted that the tattoo was a stunt her team came up with to help the new single “cut through the noise to get noticed.” The video ends with the message: “The tattoo is gone. All that’s left is the music.” (Alex Peters)
14. ZARA ‘UGLIFIES’ ONE OF ITS MODELS
Back in February, Zara caused controversy with its beauty campaign, featuring model Li Jingwen photographed close-up showing her freckles. On Chinese social media platform Weibo, users called out the image for ‘uglifying’ Jingwen and using an inaccurate representation of her that goes against beauty standards for pale, spotless complexions. A Zara spokesperson said the image was neither edited or unretouched and that they were taken in a “natural state.” Chinese filmmaker Maya Yu Zhang added: “Chinese people sometimes forget how diverse we actually are.” (Dominic Cadogan)
13. WAR PAINT PROMOTES FRAGILE MASCULINITY INSTEAD OF MAKE-UP
In May, a new brand of make-up for men called War Paint launched. Aggressively ‘masculine’ in its marketing, a video to promote the line showed a heavily tattooed man put on a skull ring before applying the make-up, which is never actually seen. Unsurprisingly, people on Twitter were quick to talk about the fragile masculinity of the campaign and asked why men need their own make-up anyway.
Blind to people’s comments, on its website War Paint addressed the controversy saying: “Although not all the coverage was positive it definitely helped us stir up the debate that men need their own cosmetic brand. 80 per cent of the backlash on Twitter received was from women and the other 20 per cent we don’t care about.” Nice one! (Dominic Cadogan)
12. NIKE AD FEATURING FEMALE BODY HAIR
In April, Nike dropped an ad on Instagram that featured a woman showing off her hairy armpits. In the image, Nigerian-America singer Annahastasia Enuke is pictured wearing a black sports bra with her arm raised and a small, perfectly groomed patch of armpit hair clearly visible. Sadly controversial (the post has over 80k comments), while some applauded the sportswear giant for celebrating female body hair, others called it ‘disgusting’. When we asked Enuke about the extreme reactions to her image, she replied: “I don’t see why it’s anyone’s opinion what I do with my body and I definitely wasn’t expecting people to be so ruffled by it.” Despite pissing off boring body shamers, the post itself racked up over 200k likes. (Felicia Pennant)
11. JEFFREE STAR’S SWEATY LIPSTICKS
Just a few months after Jaclyn Hill was called out for ‘mouldy’ lipsticks, Jeffree Star faced similar criticisms for his Mystery Box drop in August. Fans of the beauty YouTuber who purchased the drop took to Twitter to complain about receiving lipsticks that looked sweaty, with others covered in a mysterious yellow powder. There were other customers who didn’t receive their packages at all and had no luck with Star’s customer service team.
At the time, he did not respond to the complaints but did last month when he was criticised (again) for contaminated Conspiracy palettes. “It’s come to our attention that a few dozen people out of 1.1 million palettes produced have a few ribbon fibres embedded in their products,” he tweeted. “The lab has done a full investigation & we found the issue. I pride myself on quality and fully apologise for this error.” While Star did apologise this time around, he’s yet to comment on his years of misogyny and racist abuse. (Dominic Cadogan)
10. KYLIE JENNER PRETENDS TO WASH HER FACE
With her billion-dollar empire, it’s no surprise Kylie Jenner has had a few missteps throughout the year. Kylie Skin first faced criticism for its Walnut Face Scrub, with people saying it was too harsh on their skin. Then, the drama continued when she posted a tutorial of herself using the Foaming Face Wash. People – including her big sis Kim – were quick to point out the speed in which washed her face, as well as the fact she used a filter, and was wearing a lot foundation. “Lmao this is such lazy content! Sis has on a filter so you can't see her skin, washed her face for 0.5 seconds and has the audacity to have foundation on the towel and still post it!!!” tweeted one user. “The foundation on the towel after she “washed” her face has me screaming” posted another.
Joining in with the joke, Kim posted her own version, saying: “I’m gunna teach you guys how to do a tutorial on how to wash your face. And bitches, I only have 10 seconds, what do you want me to do in 10 seconds? I would've done the exact same thing.” The video then shows her with a baby face filter and she joke: “OK, so after that 10-second face wash tutorial, this is now what I look like. I have such a youthful complexion now. Kylie Skin is the fountain of youth people! All you need is three seconds. I didn't even need a whole 10 seconds!” (Jessica Canjemanaden)
9. SKINNY BITCH GOES TO AFRICA
In March, Skinny Bitch Collective (SBC) founder Russell Bateman posted Instagram pictures and videos from a fitness retreat in Kenya which showed the (all white) participants using Maasai tribespeople as exercise ‘props’. The women of the invite-only fitness collective were seen working out in the Maasai’s ancestral land, with members of the tribe in traditional dress jumping occasionally or stood still in the background. Bateman quickly deleted the content following a backlash, with multiple commenters calling out how disrespectful it was to the Kenyan people. But, fashion watchdog Diet Prada re-uploaded it with a caption criticising the “colonial mindset” of Bateman and the women on the retreat. Bateman said he was “distraught” by the reaction and issued an Instagram apology, accepting that the content “lacked appropriate cultural sensitivity by reinforcing colonial-era depictions of people of colour” before swiftly deleting the SBC Instagram account. The collective’s Twitter account also appeared to be deleted and the website went ‘down for maintenance’. (Felicia Pennant)
8. KIM KARDASHIAN RELEASES BODY FOUNDATION
When Kim Kardashian announced the latest product coming to her beauty brand KKW Beauty the reaction was mixed, to say the least. The Body Collection, which dropped in June, was made up of three make-up products for the body: a foundation, a powder, and a shimmer, as well as an accompanying brush to apply them. Announcing the news on social media, Kim said she had been working on the formulas for over a year and that she, herself, was an avid user of body make-up. “I’ve used it for years to cover my psoriasis!” she wrote. “The brand I used to use only had two shades and got discontinued so I am so excited for everyone to try this.”
While some people celebrated Kim’s latest offering, thrilled that they would be able to cover their own psoriasis, bruises, and discolouration, many others expressed concern about the message that body foundation sends – that our bodies are not good enough as they are and need correcting and covering. “Body foundation just seems excessive. I’m all for shimmer and glitter but colour/tone correction? Is this just going to exacerbate the pressure women already feel to make themselves look airbrushed ALL THE TIME?” wrote one Twitter user at the time.
Perhaps in an effort to assuage this apprehension, in the following weeks, Kim demonstrated the various ways the foundation can be used, posting videos of herself using the foundation on herself to cover psoriasis on her legs as well as enlisting grandmother Mary Jo Campbell to show how effective the foundation is in covering veins. (Alex Peters)
7. MILLIE BOBBY BROWN’S FAKE TUTORIAL
When Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown posted a YouTube video entitled ‘Nighttime skincare routine with Mills’ to promote her new beauty brand Florence by Mills, eagle-eyed fans noticed that she was only pretending to use the skincare products. With a full face of make-up, already a red flag for a beauty vlog, Brown misted her face with the Zero Chill Face Mist and rubbed Get That Grime Face Scrub on her face. Or so she wanted viewers to believe – many fans came to the conclusion that, as she squeezed the product from the bottle onto her hands off-camera, there was nothing on her hands. @sadfta tweeted: “WHO IS SHE FOOLING????” which got over 14k retweets. What’s even stranger is no-one has questioned the product use in any of Brown’s other beauty videos. Unlike Kylie Jenner, who got dragged for a suspicious skincare video and teased by big sister Kim but didn’t address it, Brown posted an Instagram statement saying that she was “replicating” her personal process and that she appreciated the feedback. Using the products would be a good start… (Felicia Pennant)
6. JOHNNY DEPP’S DIOR SAUVAGE CAMPAIGN
In August, Dior’s Sauvage men’s perfume campaign was accused of offensively portraying Native Americans. Fronted by Johnny Depp, a non-Native American actor (and alleged domestic abuser), the images also featured Canku One Star, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Canadian actress Tanaya Beatty, a descendant of the Da’Naxda’xw Nation people also featured.
Dior promoted the campaign as “an authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding, and secular territory” and worked closely with Americans for Indian Opportunity (an indigenous advocacy organisation) to make sure the campaign was authentic and safeguard against accusations of cultural appropriation. But the ad still sparked a number of complaints due to its apparently stereotypical depiction of Native Americans. Particularly around the perfume’s name ‘Sauvage’, which translates from French as ‘savage’, a word that has long been used to degrade indigenous people.
As a result, Dior deleted all campaign posts and videos on September 2. Depp defended the campaign at the Deauville Film Festival days later, saying that the film was made with great respect and love for the Native American people. (Felicia Pennant)
5. JACLYN HILL’S MOULDY LIPSTICK
In May, Jaclyn Hill introduced Jaclyn Cosmetics with a collection of nude lipsticks. However, as excited fans began to receive their new purchases, news started to spread like wildfire that the lipsticks were out of date, crumbly, mouldy, and contaminated with everything from white hairs to small metal balls.
Amid growing criticism, Hill initially responded with a 14-minute video defending her products, placing the blame on white gloves in the factory and oxygen bubbles. "My lipsticks are not mouldy. They are not hazardous. They are not contaminated. They are not unsafe for you in any way shape or form. Every single ingredient in my lipstick is new and it is FDA approved," Hill says in the video.
However, a few weeks later, Hill returned to social media to announce that all customers who purchased lipsticks would be given a full refund regardless of whether the lipstick they received was faulty or not. Hill also apologised for the fiasco and shared that she had cut ties with the original lab. She then promptly deleted all of her social media accounts.
In August, Hill returned and in November Jaclyn Cosmetics dropped its next collection consisting of various different forms of highlighter. Hill also appeared to take aim at the backlash she received for the lipsticks with a, perhaps ill-advised Halloween costume reading: “JACLYN HILL IS CANCELED.” (Alex Peters)
4. SZA VS SEPHORA
Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing . We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy— SZA (@sza) May 1, 2019
2019 taught us that racism never sleeps, even when you’re a Grammy-nominated artist just trying to live your life shopping. SZA learned this when she was racially profiled and accused of stealing in Sephora’s Calabasas store and took to social media to air her grievances against the beauty retail giant. “Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing,” she tweeted, “Can a bitch cop her fenty in peace er whut.”
Sephora was quick to respond: “You are a part of the Sephora family, and we are committed to ensuring every member of our community feels welcome and included at our stores,” it said. Thankfully our queen, Rihanna, jumped in and sent SZA a gift card for Fenty. Call it coincidence, during the time of the controversy Sephora was working on an inclusivity campaign that saw it close all of its stores to train staff nationwide. In its new manifesto, Sephora wrote it was pushing, “Its commitment to creating the most inclusive and diverse beauty community, and to being a place where everyone feels welcome.” (Jessica Canjemanaden)
3. KENDALL JENNER DOESN’T COME OUT
I’m so proud of my darling @KendallJenner for being so brave and vulnerable. Seeing you share her most raw story in order to make a positive impact for so many people and help foster a positive dialogue is a testament to the incredible woman you’ve become. pic.twitter.com/rJUXdN2Wmq— Kris Jenner (@KrisJenner) January 5, 2019
When Kris Jenner posted a video of Kendall Jenner, stripped back in jeans and a plain white t-shirt, discussing an unnamed topic that she was finally ready to speak out about, alongside a promise that her daughter was sharing her “most raw story,” the internet knew what was coming – or at least they thought they did.
There had already been quiet speculation about the sexuality of Kendall who, unlike her famous sisters, had always kept her relationships under wraps and online rumours had romantically linked her to Cara Delevingne and friend Lauren Perez in the past.
And so, despite Kendall having previously told Vogue that she didn’t “have a bisexual or gay bone in my body,” and “I’m not gay. I have literally nothing to hide,” when Kris tweeted praise for her daughter being “so brave and vulnerable” many people came to the conclusion that Kendall was, in fact, coming out as gay.
Of course, that wasn’t the case and Kendall was merely revealing she was the new face of acne brand Proactiv. Unsurprisingly, many people were underwhelmed by the announcement, with some accusing the star and her mother of queerbaiting. Neither Kendall nor Kris addressed the speculation, however, and Kendall has continued to represent Proactiv through the year. (Alex Peters)
In June, Bella Hadid caused outrage among people in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after a series of social media posts were perceived to be racist. It all started when the American-Palestinian model posted a screenshot on her Instagram stories of an opinion piece from the New York Times about the massacre in Sudan asking “Why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are backing military leaders who kill demonstrators.”
While the story was quickly deleted, the next day Hadid posted another image to her stories taken at the airport, in which her foot is propped up against a window with planes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the background. In Arab culture showing the sole of your shoe, which is associated with the ground and seen as dirty, is considered an insult and many perceived the image as a sign of disrespect from Hadid against the two countries.
The response to the image was swift and furious, with people taking to social media to express their outrage through the hashtag #BellaHadidIsRacist. There were also calls to boycott any fashion house that works with the model, as well as people throwing away, setting on fire, or otherwise destroying Dior products for which Hadid is a face.
Hadid apologised for the incident, posting on Instagram in English and Arabic that she never intended to offend or insult anyone. “I would never want my posts or platform to be used for hate against anyone, especially those of my own beautiful and powerful heritage,” read the statement in part. “The photo of my shoe on my Story yesterday had NOTHING to do with politics. I promise. I never noticed the planes in the background and that is the truth.” (Alex Peters)
1. JAMES CHARLES VS TATI WESTBROOK
Without a doubt the biggest beauty drama of 2019, James Charles vs Tati Westbrook not only seemed to go on forever, it involved almost all of the beauty YouTube community. After being friends for years, in May James posted a video promoting Sugar Bear Hair’s gummies – a direct competitor of Tati’s supplement brand Halo Beauty. Tati posted an Instagram story of herself upset, and James apologised. End of story? No, it was just the beginning.
Days later, James’s friend and fellow YouTuber Gabriel Zamora weighed in on the drama, shading Tati in a video of himself applying make-up and providing opinions. “I'm, like, confused because what did James do? Well, Sugar Bear Hair was around before her. Homeboy is exclusive to her?” Clearly pushing her over the edge, a week later Tati posted an epic 40-minute long video entitled ‘BYE SISTER’ in which she recounts the alleged betrayal and accounts of him coercing heterosexual men. Now deleted, it amassed over 34 million views and began what seemed like a never-ending dramatic saga.
Next, James responded with his own video, disputing the claims made and apologising once again to Tati. Then, Jeffree Star weighed in. Then Nikita Dragun. The drama continued to become more convoluted and James’s following on YouTube went into freefall. A live counter showed his subscribers in decline, while Tati’s grew by the second. Celebrity fans like Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and the Kardashian’s quickly dropped off.
After saying she wouldn’t post another video, Tati did, asking people to stop the hate. James followed this with another video, entitled ‘No More Lies’, that rebuked all of the claims made in Tati’s initial video with receipts to prove it. Tati responded again, this time via tweets that said she would be taking a break from social media. Then, she returned, and so did James, both thanking followers for their support and promising to move forward beyond all the drama. And just like that, the drama of the year was seemingly over. The current status of the pair’s relationship is still unknown but as a marketing tool – Tati significantly increased her following and James has gained all of his back, and more – it’ll undoubtedly change the beauty industry forever. (Dominic Cadogan)