Quick question: What do Brad Pitt, Addison Rae, Lori Harvey, Harry Styles, Ariana Grande and Scarlett Johansson have in common? They, along with a few dozen celebrities and personalities, have come out with a skincare or makeup ‘brand’ in the past couple of years. What started as a way to reinvigorate the beauty industry has mutated into Ulta shelves stocked with 30 versions of the same product. Let’s talk about it.
Sources credit Rihanna’s successful launch of Fenty Beauty in 2017 as what revitalized the concept of a “celebrity as a commodity” and a wake-up call for other celebrities to enter the beauty and skincare space. However, celebrities today consistently omit the key factor that made Rihanna successful: innovation. Fenty Beauty asserted itself as the first inclusive beauty brand complete with a 40-shade foundation range — something that was virtually unheard of at the time. As for brands created by Alicia Keys, Halle Bieber, Kylie Jenner and Cindy Crawford, how many overpriced creams and serums do we need before enough is enough?
As consumers, we have to take some responsibility. Money goes where money is made. This sudden influx of celebrity beauty products is partially due to the commercial success pre-existing brands experience, even if that success is short-lived. But why do we keep buying these products? One reason is the simple power of celebrity. Sure, social media has desensitized us to the allure celebrities once had, but we still gravitate towards products that appear backed by individuals that we trust, relate to and aspire to be like. Authenticity is a key part of marketing, and a lot of these new brands feel authentic because of the familiar faces tied to them.
This, however, does not excuse the fact that these celebrities are perpetuating capitalism. The profit margins in the beauty industry are insane; it can cost as little as $2.50 to produce a tube of lipstick, but it would be a miracle to find anything under $10 at makeup stores like Sephora or Ulta. Yes, celebrities are people too, and they deserve to be compensated for the work that they do like everyone else. However, when lines like Fenty Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics and Honest Beauty make millions of dollars yearly, but the workers mixing formulas and packaging products are still criminally underpaid, I think it’s fair to say these figures have gone beyond working for survival and into a lifestyle that is excessive and unsustainable.
A common excuse celebrities use to explain entering the beauty space is a way to supplement their income; it is not unheard of for a celebrity to talk about feeling the pressures of maintaining success in their respective industry. Lil Yachty has been honest about constantly needing to “chase a bag,” or find work, to afford his lifestyle. While he doesn’t have a skincare brand (yet), I think we can use his logic to critique the entirety of celebrity culture and the practices it encourages, like creating a beauty brand to serve as another stream of income. If millionaires are struggling to make ends meet in a capitalist system, what does that tell us about capitalism? If capitalism doesn’t work for those it’s meant to, how can we expect to make it work living on less than a quarter of their income?
Celebrities want us to remember that they are human beings, but it would help if they acted accordingly. Until then, we need to recognize them for what they are: capitalists. Instead of living in a world where the wealthy and influential focus on solving real issues, they exploit naïve fans with overpriced exfoliants that they probably don’t use. The solution, you ask? Well first, consider investing in sustainable, quality products created with consumers, not profit, in mind. Additionally, consumers must recognize the extent of our collective power. Like I said earlier, money goes where money is made. Our likes, comments and follows carry real value in our digital world, and it’s time we used that to our advantage and demanded better for ourselves. Only then will we begin to develop a system that works for everyone.