Although we’ve become well accustomed to them as a fixture of the 21st century, the concept of the “influencer”—and the value of the influence itself—remain dubious. But while some YouTube stars were seemingly participating in the more opportunistic aspects of last week’s uprisings, one of our favorite beauty content creators and a 2019 Root 100 honoree Jackie Aina was continuing her mission to hold the beauty industry accountable for not only inclusion but appropriation; pointedly asking why brands that peddle and profit from an aesthetic originated in black culture remain silent when it comes to defending black lives.
“Hey, guys, I wanted to call attention to something that I’ve noticed,” she began via Instagram Live on Friday. “As we know, there are a lot of brands...a lot of brands who love capitalizing on black culture, black music, black aesthetics, but are dead silent when it comes to talking about black issues and black struggles in our community. So, just as much as y’all love hanging out with Ty Dolla $ign and Saweetie and Blac Chynas can y’all at least say something when black people are being brutally murdered by cops? Donate to families affected by this stuff? Revolve, PrettyLittleThing, Fashion Nova, the memes that you guys are posting on your pages is not going to cut it. Like, do more; don’t just be present when it’s time to be ‘lit on the ‘gram.’
As comments rolled in, Aina explained exactly why she felt the need to call out fashion brands that are undoubtedly among her fans’ faves.
“I want to make one thing very clear: The reason why I’m calling attention to these brands particularly is because, as I said, I do notice a particular aesthetic that they like—a particular vibe that they push on their socials,” she said, adding: “And I know that black people dying isn’t aesthetically pleasing for the feed—I understand that. But I do feel like it’s the least that you can do; you can’t just take—pick and choose the parts of our culture and not embrace all of it. And unfortunately, right now this is big, huge—it’s hard to ignore. I mean there hasn’t been a single Instagram battle that I’ve attended that I haven’t seen Fashion Nova and PrettyLittleThing tends to be pretty present in those, too...So how come when the even bigger elephant in the room is present, it’s crickets?”
Again addressing her commenters, Aina continued. “Guys, I understand sometimes philanthropy does not have to be announced. But right now, more than ever—considering how much influence these brands specifically have—it’s very important that you say and do something. Like, it’s the least you can do. OK? Thank you.”
Then, the coup de grâce:
“After you’ve done your part and at least donated to the families and raised awareness, tomorrow you can go back to posting your tanned girls who blackfish on your feeds,” Aina said with a smirk, specifically calling out “the ‘I only date black guys’ club” before adding: “Y’all know mainly black men are the ones being affected, right? Where y’all at? Where y’all at?“
And in a perfect example of how using your influence for good instead of apathy, brands began to respond. According to Aina, Fashion Nova reached out and, with her assistance, began to outline an action plan, as well as changing their social media.
Similarly, Aina began discussions with PrettyLittleThing in which she also urged them to change what many considered to be a trite and borderline racist “We Stand Together” meme featuring a drawing of a realistically Caucasian-toned hand and jet-black hand clasped a symbol of solidarity.
The brand deleted and replaced the image with one featuring illustrated tributes to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, captioning the imagery:
It is deeply saddening to see recent events that have occurred and that these horrific situations continue to happen. It has to STOP. We stand by the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the black community at this very difficult time. Our thoughts and condolences go to out to all those whose lives have been innocently taken.
We will and must continue to support this matter and the donations we are making to the victims families is just the first step in this fight together. We will always stand with you.
And while Aina never mentioned or presumably spoke to any of our culture’s most notorious and frequently accused vultures, the three Kardashian-Jenner sisters who helm beauty and fashion brands—in addition to having black male partners and biracial black children—appropriately all issued their own social media statements on the uprising, starting on Friday.
From Kylie Jenner, head of Kylie Cosmetics:
since watching the most devastating and completely heartbreaking video showing the murder of George Floyd earlier this week I haven’t been able to get his face and his words out of my mind. i’ll never personally experience the pain and fear that many black people around the country go through every day but i know nobody should have to live in fear and nobody deserves a death like George Floyd and too many others. speaking up is long overdue for the rest of us. we’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them. i fear for my daughter and i hope for a better future for her. my heart breaks for George Floyd’s family and friends. Don’t let his name be forgotten. keep sharing, keep watching, keep speaking out, because it’s the only way we can come together to help bring this much needed change and awareness. Rest In Peace, George Floyd. 🕊🤍
Older sister Kim Kardashian West, head of KKW Beauty and Skims shapewear, issued a printed statement that acknowledged her privilege and prior passivity, accompanied by a request for followers to “Text ‘FLOYD’ to 55156" and the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.
Khloe Kardashian, who co-founded the Good American apparel brand with black British national Emma Grede, also posted an extensive written statement urging change and recognition of what she questionably termed “superhuman resiliency in the face of constant adversity.” (Can we please stop ascribing superhuman characteristics to black people and just recognize our humanity?) She coupled the post with the caption: “Over the last few days I’ve written and rewritten this so many times. Words feel empty, or somehow not enough, but I can’t sit silently. #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd”
We’ll be among the first to admit that we’re rarely interested in what the Kardashian clan has to say (unless it involves freeing unfairly incarcerated folks). That said, we agree that words are hollow if not backed up with meaningful action—or, at least, financial support from ridiculously wealthy women who consistently profit from a beauty and body aesthetic pioneered by black and brown women.
But for those of you wondering exactly what accountability and active engagement might look like, look no further than millennial-focused beauty brand Glossier, which, to the best of our knowledge, has never been accused of cultural appropriation, but is nevertheless in full support of black lives, matching their words with a $500,000 contribution to be distributed across five racial and social justice organizations. The brand will also allocate an additional $500,000 to provide grants to black-owned beauty businesses—some of which will arguably be Glossier competitors—because we should all have the access and resources needed to win.
Comparing this clear and substantive measure to the well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual rhetoric of some of their counterparts, it’s worth considering where we spend our money in the aftermath of the uprisings. Yes, some form of supportive statement is undoubtedly better than none at all, but as we know from centuries of talk of “progress,” said talk is often cheap.
As for Aina, she just keeps giving us reasons to stan by using her influencer status to effect meaningful change, proving once again that pretty is as pretty does.