Social media has ruined celebrity relationships and built empires— from Chris Pratt to Kim Kardashian, tabloid culture has risen to explosive, new heights via Twitter and Instagram.
Irina Shayk and Bradley Cooper broke up after 4 years of dating, which included almost a year's worth of rumors about Cooper's friendship with costar Lady Gaga.
Gaga was eager to gush about Cooper, gazing breathlessly into his eyes anytime they were on a red carpet. Their on-screen love led to off screen speculation about their undeniable chemistry. A Star is Born's press run concluded with many awards and, honestly, has yet to entirely end. The pair's charm began to wear thin as people became annoyed by Gaga and put off by Cooper's hubris.
The movie's press run was reminiscent of older Hollywood tactics, when co-stars pretended to be in a relationship to promote their films and each other's careers. Nowadays, celebrity relationships can be mutually beneficial arrangements that not only increase the star's respective cultural relevance and fan bases, but offer the opportunity to building a corporate brand around their romance.
When famous couples do break up, fans experience a fraction of the star's heartbreak because of months or years of investment in the couple—following their relationships online, in videos, and on talk shows. One of the most notable couples in recent years to use social media to address their break up was Anna Faris and Chris Pratt. Anna posted a text message to her feed and Chris posted the same on Facebook, personalizing the PR announcement.
Social media has offered celebrities a way to directly talk to the public and vice versa. In return, fans can begin to feel like they know their favorite celebrities personally, beyond the voyeurism of magazine readers. Online, the public has a voice that intervenes in the real life relationships of celebrities. Now, social media allows fans to relentlessly weigh in on stars' personal lives with relative anonymity.
Months after her separation from her Pratt, Faris detailed her marriage's narrative, explaining how the rumors about her then-husband and his co-star, Jennifer Lawrence, made her feel "incredibly insecure" during the Passengers' press run, with tabloids constantly covering the chummy pair. The media's speculation over who is dating who can be rooted in truth, but can also have real world effects on relationships.
Similarly, rumors of a romance between Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson percolated for a long period. In turn, fans' obsession about the two became paralyzing for the friendship. Back in 2017, Tomlinson commented on how their hyper-analyzed interactions ruined their relationship:
"It created this atmosphere between the two of us where everyone was looking into everything we did. It took away the vibe you get off anyone. It made everything, I think on both fences, a little bit more unapproachable."
The public's ability to comment whatever whenever online escalates the power of the media to insert themselves into celebrity relationships. The stampede of opinions from journalists and online trolls can be suffocating and destroy relationships, like the many who theorize to this day about Shayk and Cooper. Eventually, Lady Gaga told people to "f**k off" after being heckled, once again, about Cooper, a reaction that almost certainly came from a place of exhaustion from the constant rumors.
Meanwhile, celebrities in secure relationships are able to profit off social media by building their image around their personal lives. Chrissy Teigen became an internet sensation through Twitter, molding a career beyond modeling while expanding her family with John Legend. Last year, the husband and wife began starring in ads together, the first being for Google Duo. The pair even hosted A Very Legendary Christmas together on NBC, which proved the couple's immense marketability. Their relatability and online banter are easy selling points for those who care about a more down to earth, famous family.
Before the dominance of social media, the Kardashians were some of the first celebrities to utilize the platform to elevate their fame by connecting with fans and bringing them a step further into their "lives." At the time, Kim's relationship with Kanye was one of the first to demonstrate the possibilities for A-List influencers. Their relationship propelled Kim into another realm of celebrity and exhibited how the internet can heighten celebrities' reputations. Each Kardashian has been able to increase their visibility due to the people they date or wed. While that is not a new concept, the direct accessibility to the stars through our personal devices increases individuals' investment in following celebrities' daily lives. In the meantime, celebrities take advantage of their devoted fans. With the saturation of ads and promotional posts embedded in personal content, it can feel like one can't escape capitalism: Celebrities want us to conflate purchasing their endorsed products with being a supportive fan.
Unfortunately, the difference between social media and self promotion is becoming more difficult to differentiate. With the rise of social media, celebrity brands are more cultivated than ever, and the means of promoting those brands are through rumors and publicity about high-profile relationships rather than artistic work. The subconscious reckoning of tabloid culture manifests in a more personal, somewhat inescapable way which can ruin relationships or increase net worth, all while staying in a field of vision consumers can enjoy by taking toxic pleasure in gossip.
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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.
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."
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.
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