"Celebutard" disregard

When product names go beyond cheeky, to insensitive, an apology is in order. Cosmetics retailer Sephora recently pulled Kat Von D’s “Celebutard” lipstick from shelves and online and issued a public apology, following customer complaints about the product’s offensive name.

“Celebutard”, at first, appears to be inconspicuous enough as a compound word – but it’s basically Von D’s combination of the words “celebrity” and “retard”, and her way of poking fun at stupid celebrities whom she disdainfully sets herself apart from.

Yet the celebrity tattoo artist and television personality refuses to show any sympathetic ownership for the naming of her product. She reportedly tweeted, “At the end of the day, it’s a f**king lipstick”, which she soon after deleted.

Von D, best known for her TLC series LA Ink, has always been notorious for her heavy eye make-up and metal bad girl look. So a controversial reaction to negative publicity is hardly a surprise.

Developmental disability groups and parents of children with special needs are rightfully taking issue with the name of this lipstick, especially as it represents political incorrectness and insensitive inconsideration.

Some come in defense of Von D, saying it’s just a lipstick and the name hardly matters. If you’re offended, don’t buy it – but is it really as simple as that?

Sephora made a step in the right direction by pulling this product: to dismiss offensive product names would mean to promote the use of derogatory language that promotes a stigma around learning disabilities and special needs individuals.

“Celebutard” shows a serious oversight about the potential offensiveness to an especially vulnerable group, one that can hardly be expected to articulate their own desires for respect and human decency.

As one !E online commenter points out, it’s as offensive as if you named a product “nigfuschia” or “homopink”, which gestures towards the way in which slurs directed as insults should never find acceptance in our everyday language, yet alone on our retail shelves.

MAC made a similar blunder with their 2010 Rodarte fall cosmetic line with products named “Juarez”, “Factory”, “Ghosttown” and “Sleepwalker”.

Naming a nail polish after the impoverished and violence-beset Mexican town of Juarez hardly fares well for public approval.

It perpetuates an ignorance of the true trauma and violence suffered by victims of rape and murder within that small border town. The very makeup itself in the campaign permeates with an undead, zombie feel, which hints at a glamorization of femicide.


The adverse reaction from beauty bloggers with online petitions and on Twitter, with users speaking out against MAC using #rodarteMAC, prompted the retailer to make a quick PR move.

MAC and Rodarte made the right decision in issuing an apology, showing that the art or artistic inspiration cannot be separated from the context, especially a context steeped in tragic violence that led to thousands of lost lives. In essence, we shouldn’t aestheticize real violence.

MAC quickly retaliated by publicly announcing they would be donating proceeds of the Rodarte line to the women and girls affected in Juarez. They later renamed their products.

They may not have set a global precedence and they could have generated much more awareness, but the donations itself come as a surprise from the high fashion industry.

There may always still be contention though – MAC could have launched the Rodarte line and donated all the proceeds to improving the lives of Juarez women and girls, instead of a pittance of $100 000. Despite this small donation from such a powerfully global corporation, MAC displays the murky undertones of a social conscience.

It never hurts to forget that apology never means erasure. Almost four years later, with Sephora’s most recent beauty blunder, Von D has definitely shown a defiant stubbornness, where tattooing Miley seems to be more up her alley than PR and product naming.

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