MAC’s Beautiful Mistake
by Selicia Kennedy-Ross
I have always loved makeup. I loved it because I believe it is intended to make women feel beautiful and empowered. As a little girl, I loved trying on my mother’s lipstick and blush. Time did not dull this love, either. Even as an adult, I still feel that secret excitement when I walk into Sephora or belly up to a lush department store cosmetic counter – the anticipation of new colors and shades, the feel of the makeup brush softly dusting my face – it all adds to the sensual experience of buying makeup. It made me feel beautiful.
Then, my love affair with makeup hit a major snag when the beauty blogosphere exploded over a new MAC makeup line by the fashion house Rodarte which is set to debut in early fall.
I logged onto my computer yesterday morning – and woke up to the end of the affair.
The first blog I read was Chicago Now’s Chicanisima, http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicanisima/2010/07/mac-rodarte-makeup-named-for-juarez-is-not-pretty.html#more, which discussed a makeup line composed of pale shades created by MAC and Rodarte, which the creators contend was inspired by the landscapes and women in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, that has many in the Latino community seeing red. The creators, two sisters named Kate and Laura Mulleavy who say they are of Mexican descent, contend the line was inspired by the beauty of the landscapes of Mexico and its people.
However, I was shocked and appalled at what I saw, none of which was beautiful. The palette featured shades with names like “Bordertown,” “Factory,” “Badlands,” “Sleepwalker” and “Juarez.” One of the colors of the palette is a grayish hue streaked with red that resembles streaks of blood, tasteless considering all of the grisly murders that have taken place.
Then I saw the ad accompanying this limited edition line and I was even more distressed. It featured a picture of a model with dead eyes and a pale white, ghostly-looking pallor that immediately made me think of a corpse – tacky to say the least in this situation. Neither that model, nor the models in a similar picture appeared to be either Latina or of Hispanic descent, which would be fine except for the fact that this line is supposedly “inspired” by the beauty of Mexico and its people. Um, okay. You see, I’m a Latina of Mexican descent and I am pretty much BROWN, like most Mexicans generally are. The shades in the collection are also an odd selection, considering they are pale colors that don’t usually flatter olive skin tones, again strange since Mexico and the women there are supposed to be the inspiration.
The true nature of this controversy though, stems from the violence that has plagued Juarez for some time. For those not familiar with the situation there, Cuidad Juarez has been the setting for thousands of murders, and the violence there has escalated in recent years. Many of these victims are women who worked the factory jobs in this border city. It is recognized as one of the most dangerous cities in the world and largely due to the drug wars, has been the setting for more than 5,700 slayings since 2008. The brutal murders of at least 500 women have been well-documented in and around Juarez since 1993, and many of these victims were also raped, mutilated and tortured. Poverty is prevalent in the region and this city is well-known for its maquiladoras, factories that lure hundreds of women with the promise of work, but in reality merely offer low-paying jobs. Not all of these women are Mexican either, some are migrant Central and South American workers who follow the promise of jobs. These women work long hours for little pay, often traveling alone through deserted areas to work and sometimes working night shifts, just trying to make enough to live and send a little money home to their families.
As I started to read more about this cosmetics line, which appears to not only exploit the situation in Juarez but to make light of it, I became angry. The more I read, the angrier I became. In fact, I became so incensed and outraged I did not know what to do. So I ranted. I paced the floor. I wrote a sternly worded e-mail, which I did not finish because I was so upset. I fumed silently at work as I typed. But my anger, which often burns bright and quick, is also fairly quick to fade. Today, I am less angry and my mood is more pensive and sad, but still tinged with outrage.
But I am not alone in my outrage. These names and the makeup line drew fire not just from the Latino community but from many in the general public, especially among bloggers. According to the beauty blog Colorlines.com, it wasn’t even Latino activist groups who rang the alarm about this last week, it was the beauty and fashion bloggers and writers who received the press kits. Colorlines also reports that there is now a growing list, https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1knTaNYIB8xZvOisopRfMpn18AyFXgF_Eh2OAfKqwC88 of more than 100 bloggers who have noted their concerns about this MAC Rodarte line. The popular mainstream beauty blog, The Frisky, http://www.thefrisky.com/post/246-tasteless-but-chic-mac-names-makeup-after-impoverished-murdered-women1/ was one of the first to question the inappropriateness of this line. It was this public pressure that prompted the cosmetics giant to release the following statements of apology.
MAC Cosmetics Statement:
We understand that product names in the MAC Rodarte collection have offended some of our consumers and fans. This was never our intent and we are very sorry. We are listening carefully to the comments posted and are grateful to those of you who have brought your concerns to the forefront of our attention. MAC will give a portion of the proceeds from the M·A·C Rodarte collection to help those in need in Juarez. We are diligently investigating the best way to do this. Please be assured that we will keep you posted on the details regarding our efforts.
Rodarte Company Statement:
Our makeup collaboration with MAC developed from inspirations on a road trip that we took in Texas last year, from El Paso to Marfa. The ethereal nature of this landscape influenced the creative development and desert palette of the collection. We are truly saddened about injustice in Juarez and it is a very important issue to us. The MAC collaboration was intended as a celebration of the beauty of the landscape and people in the areas that we traveled.
According to nbcdfw.com, http://www.nbcdfw.com/around-town/fashion/MAC-Kisses-Off-Juarez-Inspired-Product-Names-98799069.html
both the design house and the Estee Lauder-owned cosmetics giant MAC issued a statement this week that they intend to rename some of the shades of the collection before the line’s September launch and will donate $100,000 from the sales to the needy in Juarez. Exactly which names are being changed, however, is unclear.
The NBC news-affiliate also reported that the design house issued the following statement this week through MAC:
“We recognize that the violence against women taking place in Juarez needs to be met with proactive action. We never intended to make light of this serious issue, and we are truly sorry. Helping to improve the conditions for women in Juarez is a priority for us, and we are thankful for all the comments calling attention to the urgency of addressing this situation.”
Of course, not all bloggers and publications agree that the line itself or the names of the products are offensive. Some like Amy Odell of the New York Post, think the whole flap is just hilarious. http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2010/07/nail_polish_slideshow.html#comments
Damn these brown people for being too sensitive, I guess. Lots of people agree with her too, most probably far-removed and possessing little actual knowledge of the situation in Juarez. Of course, it’s easy to jeer at something when it doesn’t affect us or anyone we care about, right? I guess some people feel it’s OK to laugh at the deaths of hundreds of people in another country.
I initially found it easy to react with knee-jerk anger and outrage at the whole situation. Now that my anger has cooled a bit, I find that I’m now left with unanswered questions. Why would MAC think this line would go over well with its pejorative names and models that looked more dead than alive? Fashion houses like Rodarte are in the business of being artful and edgy, of creating a mystique out of the mundane. But where does haute draw the line over humanity? Perhaps there was some irony intended in the line – to create something daring and beautiful out of something senseless and ugly like rampant violence? I don’t know. And if Rodarte and the Mulleavy sisters were so “inspired” by the beauty, poverty and tragedy of the region, why did they wait until now – only after the fallout to announce contributing money to help these people?
Yes, I’ve always loved makeup because has the potential to make women feel beautiful but I can find nothing to love in MAC’s new Rodarte line. All I know is that this line is at best, a tacky mistake that epitomizes poor taste. At worst, it is exploitative and downright ugly.
And there is nothing beautiful in that.
Selicia Kennedy-Ross is a freelance writer and award winning journalist from Southern California.