Kat Von D is currently under fire for naming a lipstick from her Sephora line “Underage Red”—a term that she claims doesn’t mean what we all think it means. But, well, she’s wrong.
When you hear the word “underage”, what’s the first thing you think of?
Someone who’s too young for a beer, too young for a movie, too young to consent…there are a host of possibilities. But the word itself seems pretty clear-cut: the person described by that term is too young for a specific activity.
So when the word “underage” is paired with something like lipstick, I’m not sure what I, as a consumer, am supposed to think. According to tattoo-artist/entrepreneur Kat Von D, her line of Sephora makeup shouldn’t have to take all of our social context into consideration: a lipstick named “Underage Red” has nothing to do with someone underage being sexy.
Under fire for the lipstick’s suggestive name, Von D stated, “I clearly remember wearing a variation of this shade when I was 16 years old. I also remember the feeling of wanting so badly to go see a specific concert at this age, and not being able to get in to [sic] the venue because I was underage. Back then, I was already deeply in love with punk rock music, and although in the eyes of many (including my parents), it may have been inappropriate for me to be wearing lipstick. But I did.”
“‘Underage Red’ is not a girly, pink shade. It is not a sophisticated, deep red either. It is an unapologetic, bold red. To me, ‘Underage Red’ is feminine rebellion…Anyone who knows or follows me, is very aware of my personal lifestyle choices which include celibacy, sobriety, conscious living and…human rights.”
Sometimes our memories feel like things everyone should intrinsically know about us. That an “underage” concert experience was the inspiration for something is not surprising–we all have our histories, and people have to get ideas somewhere. I don’t think Von D had any intention of labelling the lipstick something in poor taste on purpose.1 But I also don’t quite see how I’m supposed to connect her “Underage” lipstick to wanting to go to a concert, though. I connect a lipstick’s name with what it is: lipstick. Not concert tickets. And why would I? As she rightly says, I don’t know her. So who cares if she wore this color when she was 16? It doesn’t matter. Without that level of context which nobody should be expected to know, the name of the sexy red lip color means something else.
And speaking of the color, who cares what shade of red it is? The shade of red is a red herring. Any shade of red would be inappropriate, because the problem isn’t the shade, it’s the name and its pairing with the product itself. Save for those of you currently starring in Wicked, makeup is inherently about sex appeal. Unless of course Sephora and Von D would like to go on record as saying their makeup is supposed to be unsexy and unappealing.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a f—- lipstick,” Von D reportedly Tweeted, according to Business Insider.
No, Ms. Von D. It’s not “just a f___ lipstick.” It’s a terrible name for a makeup product, because words mean things. Not everybody “knows” and “is aware” or your personal lifestyle views–all we have is what you give us to see, and what you’ve given us is a lipstick called “Underage Red.” Your personal stories don’t matter, the shade of red doesn’t matter–all of those things ignore the larger context of the word “underage” and makeup’s role in society.
Here’s where I could write a few paragraphs about how it’s AWFUL and HORRIBLE and INCREDIBLY DEPRESSING how we sexualize children who, being children, do not have the agency of an adult, but those are things I think we all already know. Instead I’ll say this: at the rebellious age of 16, Von D might have felt like she had agency and should have been allowed at an adult venue, but the truth is, she could be as bold a feminine rocker as she wanted and she would still have been too young for the activity she wanted to engage in. Being a rebel punk-rock lover didn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, she was still “underage.”
Consent laws don’t just apply to kids who dress one way and not another, or are preps, or rebels, and the reason for that is that it doesn’t matter what you wear or do: a 16-year old who’s a punk-rock rebel is just as much a 16-year old as the one at a Taylor Swift concert. They might feel 22 wearing bold red lips and Lolita sunnies, but they still are minors.2 It does a grave disservice to young women to imply that if they’re BOLD and REBELLIOUS that they have more agency than a young woman who isn’t, because doing so supports a system where people start treating them like they’re older than they are.
If Ms. Von D truly cares about things like human rights and conscious living and not being a terrible person, then when called to task about such a problematic product, why not admit it was a lapse in judgement and move on instead of going into rebel-mode and insisting words don’t mean what they mean and all context is void? Instead, why not tell your story about your concert tickets, admit you made a mistake, and change the lip color’s name. Done and done. If you want to make a bold statement, be bold enough to admit a mistake.
Photo by: RVA Family: Seeing red
- Though you’d think she’d have learned from the time she named a lipstick “Celebutard”–maybe someone needs to take over her naming rights since she’s now a repeat offender. Or, maybe she’s doing it on purpose because controversy sells. ↩
- Don’t get me started on the Lolita sunnies. Wildfox’s copy for their Lolita Sunglasses reads, “All you need is love”. I…don’t think that was the theme of Lolita. ↩