CULTURE

How Influencers Are Harming You: Kylie Jenner and Toxic Beauty Products

Criticism that Kylie Jenner's new "walnut face scrub" is unsafe only points to a symptom of the wider problem of social media influencers becoming mouthpieces for companies who don't care about consumer safety.

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Another member of the Kardashian-Jenner clan is promoting a dangerous beauty product.

From "fat burning and weight loss" tea to vitamins that promise to transform your hair into a unicorn's mane, the extended Kardashian family has promoted toxic beauty products for years. Now, Kylie Jenner's preparing to release her own skin-care line, Kylie Skin, on May 26, but the early promotions for her first product, a walnut face scrub, have already alarmed consumers with its health risks. In truth, the most shocking aspect of the backlash is the implication that anyone expects a reality TV star and Instagram celebrity like Jenner to promote a beauty product that isn't dangerous.

The 21-year-old beauty guru followed her family's usual pattern of using Twitter and Instagram to advertise. She posted, "Walnut face scrub. My secret to a fresh face. Xo, Kylie."

GirlStyle

In 2016, a widely-publicized lawsuit against the skincare company St. Ives brought attention to the damaging long-term effects of walnut powder, the key ingredient in Jenner's product. Critics, including both consumers and dermatologists, immediately pointed out that walnut powder can cause "microtears" in the outer layers of the skin, causing inflammation, long-term damage, and bacteria growth deep inside pores. While the case was later dropped by a judge, who said "plaintiffs haven't shown that the alleged microtears themselves are a safety hazard," the Kardashians' own dermatologist suggests "avoiding exfoliants with almond or walnut shell powders, as they may contain sharp, uneven particles that are too harsh on facial skin."

But even if Jenner was aware of the dangers of her simple facial scrub and she promoted it anyway, hypocrisy wouldn't be the most offensive aspect of the reality star's new venture. After all, who truly believes that influencers use the products they're paid to promote (even the ones they stick their names on)? Rather, this latest criticism serves to highlight the health risks associated with online beauty culture at large. Every day, celebrities and "beauty gurus" promote products with less-than-safe ingredients and others that encourage dangerous dieting habits.

One of the most recognizable products, SugarBear Hair Vitamins, is a staple in the Kardashian-Jenner's social media feed, as Khloe, Kim, Kylie, and even momager Kris Jenner create sponsored posts for the company. Described by Kylie as "the most delicious vitamins," the gummies' sugary taste is their largest selling point, with experts attributing their appeal to the cultural health craze of the last decade, as well as celebrity endorsements. Recently, such profitable promotions even resulted in the cancellation of YouTube beauty guru James Charles, as bickering between him and fellow influencer Tati Westbrook over her brand of hair vitamins led to public condemnation of his character. Too bad hair vitamins don't even work.

The result from hair vitamins are merely subjective, as there's no definitive proof that a vitamin can significantly change one's hair condition, at least not any more than diet changes and sun exposure can. However, there is proof that Sugarbear Hair Vitamins contain an alarming amount of lead. Lab analysis has found that, aside from being inaccurately labeled in its percentages of nutrients, the lead content was "relatively high" compared to other dietary supplements. Specifically, the recommended dosage of two gummies per day contains 0.38 micrograms of lead; the legal limit of lead content in any product in California is 0.5 micrograms. Eating three gummies (as many testimonies report doing so since they're "the most delicious") makes the product dangerous. Arthur Grollman, director of the chemical lab at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, told BuzzFeed News, "Lead is not safe at any level. There is no way those pure vitamins could or should have lead. Just because California voters put a number on it it doesn't mean it's safe. I would not take anything that has lead in it."

Other staples in the Kardashians-Jenners' Instagram feeds are "magic" weight loss teas, like Flat Tummy Tea, Fit Tea, or Teamiblends. All products feature similar claims to be a "blend of all natural ingredients" that "promotes fat burning & weight loss," while it "improves your immune system" and "soothes & cleans your digestive system." Widely promoted by Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, among other reality TV stars from Teen Mom and even singer Cardi B, the teas are, of course, nothing more than snake oil products designed to cash in on weight loss trends.

On Instagram, Kylie abides by the Federal Trade Commission's policy to label sponsored posts as #ads, captioning selfies with, "I'm on day 7 right now... I have way more energy and it is like a magic tea to get rid of tummy bloat. I'm in love with their cute pink travel bottle💕. If you're looking for a natural detox, this is it." Meanwhile, experts like nutritionist Lisa Drayer have long pointed out, "If you take a really close look at it, these teas are just a bunch of herbs. Some contain caffeine; others may function as a diuretic or laxative. And so any of the weight loss that occurs is due to water weight, and it would quickly be regained once people either stop [drinking] the tea or start hydrating again."

Taken into context, Kylie Jenner's skincare products being "unsafe" isn't outrageous or even out of the norm. Sister Kim Kardashian West's KKW Beauty line was widely criticized for "egregious quality, including its exorbitant prices for very little product, the company mistakenly sending used products to customers, and the formula's tendency to flake off skin within 30 minutes of use. Even if she is knowingly encouraging her 135 million Instagram followers to scrub their faces with abrasive walnut shells.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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Jameela Jamil is best known for portraying the socialite Tahani Al-Jamil on NBC's The Good Place, but she's also been making waves online for her messages of body positivity and vehement protests against diet culture. Recently, she's been coming for some of the patron saints of body-shaming: the Kardashian family.

Every day, countless Instagram influencers promote various weight-loss supplements, such as flat-tummy teas or other sponsored (and usually untested) products. But few have the power of the Kardashians, who—between Kim, Khloé, Kourtney, and the Jenner sisters—reach over 453.5 million followers, and can be paid millions per sponsored post.

Over the past few months, each one of them has posted ads for various weight loss supplements. Jamil has often criticized celebrity endorsements of similar weight-loss products, and she held nothing back in a lengthy comment on Khloé Kardashian's latest ad.

"If you're too irresponsible to: (a) own up to the fact that you have a personal trainer, nutritionist, probable chef, and a surgeon to achieve your aesthetic, rather than this laxative product...and (b) tell them the side effects of this NON-FDA approved product, that most doctors are saying aren't healthy...then I guess I have to," Jamil wrote. "It's incredibly awful that this industry bullied you until you became this fixated on your appearance. That's the media's fault. But now please don't put that back into the world and hurt other girls the way you would have been hurt. You're a smart woman. Be smarter than this."

Just a few days earlier, Jamil had left a similar message on a Kris Jenner ad for a Flat Tummy Co shake. She later posted screenshots of the since-deleted comment, which read, "Flat Tummy Co side effects are cramping, stomach pains, diarrhea, and dehydration and it can impact contraception users. Eat fruit and veg to fill up and feel good kids. It's cheaper and safer than a non-FDA approved powder over the internet."�

Image from Metro.co.uk

At first Khloé, Kris, and co. did not seem receptive to the criticism. When the New York Times asked her about Jamil's comments, Kris Jenner stated, "I don't live in that negative energy space. Ninety percent of people will be really excited about the family and the journey and who we are."

Khloé also defended her post, telling The Times that she doesn't have a personal chef and she posts all her workouts on Snapchat—which is somehow redemptive in the weird world of Kardashian logic. "Well, listen, I am showing you what to do, silly person, 15 repetitions, three times, here's the move …" she clarified.

Kim also had plenty of excuses. "If there is work that is really easy that doesn't take away from our kids, that's like a huge priority," she said. "If someone was faced with the same job opportunities, I think they would maybe consider." Of course, Kardashian West has a net worth of $350 million and previously turned down a $1 million payout for a post sponsored by a Yeezy fashion rival. (Kanye reimbursed her).

Jamil wasn't about to let the whole thing go. Following the interview's publication, she reposted some of the Kardashians' comments on her own Instagram and added, "The Kardashians need to check their moral compasses, because they appear to be broken. This was the Kardashian response to being asked by the @nytimes about my calling for transparency and responsibility in their extensive work to promote diet culture."

Later that day, she tweeted, "Essentially, 'fuck the young, impressionable people, or those struggling with eating disorders, we want the money.' I have been given these same opportunities to flog this stuff, and I don't do it, so they don't have to. Thank you, next." She added, "Their pockets are lined with the blood and diarrhea of teenage girls."

On April 2, Khloe deleted her Instagram post, prompting another tweet: "Oh look. Khloé deleted her diet shake post....There is hope after all..."

This small victory for Jamil comes after several other strongly worded takedowns of the Kardashians' glorification of diet culture. In May 2018, she criticized Kim for promoting appetite suppressing lollipops. "No. Fuck off. No," Jamil tweeted in response to the ads. "You are a terrible and toxic influence on young girls. I admire their mother's branding capabilities, she is an exploitative but innovative genius, however this family makes me feel actual despair over what women are reduced to."

She followed this with more posts and another tweet, advising Kim to "eat enough to fuel your BRAIN and work hard and be successful."

In an August 2018 interview with Channel 4 News, Jamil called the Kardashians "double agents for the patriarchy," stating that they're "selling us self-consciousness." She added, "The double agent for the patriarchy is basically just a woman who perhaps unknowingly is still putting the patriarchal narrative out into the world, is still benefiting off, profiting off and selling a patriarchal narrative to other women."

Jameela Jamil on banning airbrushing, the Kardashians and her traumatic teens www.youtube.com

A few months later, a fan Instagram account circulated a clip of Kendall telling Kim she was worried about her weight. "Like, you're so skinny," Kendall said, to which Kim replied, "Oh my god, thank you!" The interview was widely criticized for promoting anorexia, generating backlash from celebrities including Emmy Rossum and Stephanie Beatriz.

Emmy Rossum's post, via Entertainment Tonight

In response, Jamil posted a quote on Instagram that read, "How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took a seat on that bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan living under Taliban rule. You don't know? That's the right answer. Because it doesn't matter." She accompanied the post with the caption, "Dear the Kardashians. And every girl who looks to them for a reference of how to value themselves. follow @i_weigh for a dose of reality and self esteem."

"I Weigh" is the body positivity project that Jamil has been running since February 2018. It features hundreds of posts promoting body positivity and encourages people to judge their own worth based on who they are, not what they weigh.

It all started when Jamil posted a photo of herself, captioned "i weigh: lovely relationship / great friends / I laugh every day / I love my job / I make an honest living / I'm financially independent / I speak out for women's rights / I like my bingo wings / I like myself in spite of EVERYTHING I've been taught by the media / fucking KG."

The photo went viral, and later Jamil sparked a movement by reposting it alongside a call for others to follow her lead. "I'm fucking tired of seeing women just ignore what's amazing about them and their lives and their achievements, just because they don't have a bloody thigh gap," she wrote.


But Jamil didn't always have this level of confidence. Later in the podcast in which she called the Kardashians "double agents of the patriarchy," she spoke about how she suffered from anorexia throughout her youth until a period of recovery after a car crash forced her to gain weight and reevaluate her self-perception. "I am so, so aware of the damage the media does to a vulnerable mind, it ruined the first 20 years of my life," she wrote on her blog. "In this uprising of female power, we must realize we are being set absurd extra goals, thick and fast. The further we come as a gender, the more ridiculous the ideals we have to fulfill become. We are being distracted and exhausted and our eyes are being taken off the ball. Every minute you spend thinking about how thin or gorgeous you aren't is a minute you aren't spending on growing your life."

Naturally—it comes with the territory—Jamil has received some criticism of her own, especially for her own tendency to post beautiful photos of herself online. She's also been accused of putting down other women, an all-too-common phenomenon in a society that pits women against each other.

She certainly hasn't taken her eyes off the Kardashians; in January she came for Khloé again, this time to critique a post that read, "2 things a girl wants: 1) Lose weight. 2) Eat."

"This makes me sad," wrote Jamil. "I hope my daughter grows up wanting more than this. I want more than this. Sending love to this poor woman."

But Jamil has always been an advocate for women of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. If you reread her posts, she's actually never denounced the Kardashians' intelligence or capabilities, instead criticizing them only for their decision to promote dangerous products and body-shaming messages. Ironically, she even defended them on an early post on "I Weigh."

Overall, Jamil has become a heroine of sorts for legions of young girls—and people of all genders and ages—who are constantly overwhelmed by damaging pressures to look a certain way. These expectations are, of course, often created by advertising companies hungry to make a profit, regardless of the consequences of their actions; and they usually pander to heterosexual, patriarchal, and white supremacist norms.

Jamil is acutely aware of her mission's radical importance. "As a woman, being proud of yourself and believing you are *enough* as you are, is an act of social and political resistance," she once posted. If that's the case, her own work—not only believing in herself but inspiring others to do the same—is a full-on revolution.







Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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