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Kat Von D has always been a personal provocateur, but last week she made a statement that is potentially more serious for her beauty brand than, say, disinviting a Trump supporter from a launch party, a thing she has also done. She is not afraid to be polarizing.
Just days after her wedding in early June to Prayers singer Rafael Reyes, with whom she is expecting a baby, she announced in a long post on her personal Instagram that she would be ditching her doctor and having a home water birth with a midwife and doula. Von D, a longtime and outspoken vegan, said she will also raise the child vegan. Both are decisions that only potentially affect her and her family. But at the end of the long post, she tossed in the phrase “without vaccinations.” Cue her latest controversy.
I knew the minute we announced our pregnancy that we would be bombarded with unsolicited advice. Some good and some questionable - unsolicited none the less. I also was prepared for the backlash and criticism we would get if we decided to be open about our personal approach to our pregnancy. My own Father flipped out on me when I told him we decided to ditch our doctor and go with a midwife instead. If you don’t know what it’s like have people around you think you are ridiculous, try being openly vegan. And, if you don’t know what it’s like to have the entire world openly criticize, judge, throw uninformed opinions, and curse you - try being an openly pregnant vegan on Instagram, having a natural, drug-free home birth in water with a midwife and doula, who has the intention of raising a vegan child, without vaccinations. My point being: I already know what it’s like to make life choices that are not the same as the majority. So your negative comments are not going influence my choices - actual research and educating myself will - which i am diligently doing. This is my body. This is our child. And this is our pregnancy journey. Feel free to follow me on here if you like what I’m about - whether it’s tattooing, lipstick, Animal Rights, sobriety, feminism, ridiculous gothiness, black flower gardening, cats, or my adorable husband. But if you don’t dig a certain something about what I post, i kindly ask that you press the unfollow button and move the fuck on. So before anyone of you feel inspired to tell me how to do this, I would appreciate you keeping your unsolicited criticism to yourself. More importantly, for those who have amazing positive energy to send my way, I will gladly and graciously receive it with love! X
Some high-profile people in the industry have come out against Von D’s vaccine statement. Respected beauty blogger Christine Mielke of Temptalia didn’t name names but posted a series of tweets about vaccines, along with a link to the Gates Foundation vaccination initiative. She wrote pointedly: “Fans encouraging you to read & research further isn’t hate, by the by, especially when they’re linking to said research!” Caroline Hirons, a UK-based blogger who is also highly respected in the industry, posted a blistering Instagram message to Von D. Hirons’s son had been diagnosed with mumps and almost died when he was 23.
Reddit forums have also lit up with the debate, with one subreddit keeping a running tally of which influencers are supporting Von D and which came out in support of vaccines. Von D’s Instagram post has almost 78,000 comments. Many have condemned her statement, but quite a few have expressed support for her stance on vaccinations, which is concerning.
There is, of course, a growing movement against vaccinations in this country, and it’s only been gaining momentum. These so-called anti-vaxxers believe that vaccinations are toxic and can cause things like autism, and they traffic in conspiracy theories that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and big pharma are in cahoots against babies’ health in order to make money, hiding important information about the dangers of vaccines. (Read Vox’s comprehensive list of vaccine myths from a few years ago for good information on all this.)
We’ve already seen the influence that celebrities can have on this topic. Jenny McCarthy became the de facto face of the anti-vaxxer movement a few years ago thanks to being given a platform on shows like Oprah’s. McCarthy only has a little over 1 million followers on Instagram; Von D has almost 7 million followers on Instagram and 12 million on Facebook. Her post announcing her pregnancy choices got 217,000 reactions and almost 25,000 shares on that platform; usually her posts get merely hundreds of shares. Because she has fans from her reality show days, from the tattooing world, and from the beauty community, her reach is large and hits a pretty diverse group of people.
So can we expect a new palette upon the birth? Asking for a friend pic.twitter.com/GDumA2WyQp— Harleyjennmua (@harleyjennmua) June 9, 2018
Choosing not to immunize children can have effects outside of the small circle of one’s immediate family. Yes, vaccines will help prevent individual kids from catching life-threatening illnesses like meningitis and polio. But vaccinating children also protects people at risk in the community who can’t receive vaccinations.
Vaccines work within a larger population to protect those at risk because of a concept called herd immunity. If a large group is vaccinated and the disease never shows up in a population, it can’t infect those who are susceptible. This susceptible group includes babies who haven’t yet received their vaccinations and whose immune systems are still immature; older people; and those who are immunocompromised for various reasons like disease or cancer treatment. Vaccinating a population protects individuals and communities in general. This is a science-based fact. (Yes, vaccines can have side effects, but serious ones are rare.)
This can be seen as part of a mini epidemic lately of beauty brand founders being controversial. First and foremost is Deciem’s founder Brandon Truaxe, whose increasingly erratic Instagram posts included insulting followers and customers in the comment section and then highlighting those comments on the brand’s Instagram Stories. Jeffree Star, a YouTuber who launched a beauty line, has been accused of being racist and has frequent beefs with other people in the industry (including Von D, who cut ties with him last year).
Lime Crime’s founder Doe Deere has long been a target of beauty fans for her bad behavior, including once dressing in a Nazi costume for Halloween. And just a few weeks ago, social media darling and Kardashian hairstylist Jen Atkin, founder of the wildly popular Ouai hair care line, got some bad press for publicly attacking a small Instagrammer called Gel Cream, who criticized Kim Kardashian’s products.
The Von D controversy is different, though. It’s not about bad personal behavior per se, but a belief system that could be problematic for her parent company in the long term. Kat Von D’s 10-year-old brand is the best-known and largest of all these brands, and she definitely has the largest platform. Kat Von D Beauty is owned by Kendo, a beauty incubator that’s owned by the luxury conglomerate LVMH. LVMH also owns Sephora, and the brand is prominently sold and promoted at the beauty retailer. While the brand or Kendo hasn’t yet made a statement and almost never gets involved in Kat’s kerfuffles — Racked has reached out for a comment about this — the situation could be cause for concern.
Science is awesome. Pseudo-science is not, fear-mongering based on shoddy studies is not. Fans encouraging you to read & research further isn't hate, by the by, especially when they're linking to said research! https://t.co/WIuVp6VYNL— Temptalia (@temptalia) June 8, 2018
It’s still too early to know what kind of effect this will have on the brand and its sales. A #BoycottKatVonD hashtag has not yet taken off in a real way. But the beauty brand has been eclipsed lately by the Rihanna-fronted Fenty Beauty, also a Kendo brand, which means it could be vulnerable. Von D’s makeup brand is also no longer as unique as it once was, and dupes for her most popular products, like Tattoo Liner, are easier to find now. (Contrast this with Deciem, whose sales have not seemed to slow at all, despite Truaxe’s behavior. The truth is that super-inexpensive skin care, like what he offers via his brand The Ordinary, is just not widely available.)
Lime Crime made some executive changes and founder Doe Deere is not as visible as a face of the brand anymore, which seems to have helped the company’s fortunes a lot. Like Deere, Von D has done a lot of controversial things in the course of her career, including being accused of writing an anti-semitic message (she denied it) to an old boss and dating Jesse James, a person who liked to dress in Nazi uniforms. She once named a lipstick Celubutard, and picked fights with fans who called her out for only using light-skinned makeup artists in her Artistry Collective. But she weathered all those controversies.
Kat Von D and the company behind her should be concerned about potential fallout from this, not only to her business but also, frankly, to society at large.
Update, June 18th at 10:45 am:
Despite clearly stating that she would raise her child “without vaccinations,” Kat Von D walked back her original post a bit, stating that she and her husband “are NOT anti-vaxxers. We are not against vaccines. Just because we have hesitancies and valid concerns about injecting our baby with specific chemicals and toxins does not mean we are anti anything.” The post goes on to say: “Our personal medical records are no one’s business, and why we would feel it important for us to explore all our options when it comes to vaccinating our child, is also no one’s business.” She turned off the comments on this post. Read the whole post below:
My husband @prayers and I are NOT anti-vaxxers. We are not against vaccines. Just because we have hesitancies and valid concerns about injecting our baby with specific chemicals and toxins does not mean we are anti anything. As a soon-to-be-parent [and especially as a first-time-mom] I do feel it my responsibility to have questions, and to listen to my motherly instinct to question things, and do my research. What we have found is that sometimes it isn’t always so black and white. While we believe medications, including vaccines, are not all bad - we also can’t dismiss the fact that some may not be good for everyone. There are plenty of studies that show some vaccinations can work wonders. And there are also studies that show some people [including mothers, and babies] may be more susceptible to vaccine injuries more than others. It’s unfair for anyone to expect me [or any parent] to take the word of the pharmaceutical companies who have much to gain from and industry worth billions without question - and then have to dismiss any concerns of my own. Our personal medical records are no one’s business, and why we would feel it important for us to explore all our options when it comes to vaccinating our child, is also no one’s business - regardless of what I post on Instagram. So, perhaps before any of you feel inspired to harass us, spew hatred, or send ill-will our way, I hope you would try and understand that this is our first child together, and we are simply just trying our best. Lastly, I don’t plan on continuing this topic, and have no interest in fighting anyone. As much as I hate doing this, I will be turning off the comments on this post - and I think you would too, if you were constantly receiving death wishes onto your unborn child. I am sending extra love to everyone today. X