Content warning: some of the names in this post are pretty gross and offensive, but there is no actual discussion of triggering subjects.
Recently, I added a bit to my about pages and pitches about how my approach to beauty and perfume includes my perspective as a lesbian and feminist. It has a “feminist conscience,” if you will. (And for the record: I’m not arguing beauty products themselves can actively be feminist; I don’t actually think that, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.)
What exactly does that mean, though? For me, it means two things: 1) I will not assume that everyone interested in my products is a white, feminine-presenting, heterosexual, cisgender American female, and 2) I abhor the trend of naming or marketing things offensively, such as the “China Doll,” etc.
Let me give you some examples.
I used to subscribe to Birchbox and I still follow them on social media. Recently, they highlighted a product: a nail polish called Stockholm Syndrome.
Um, what!?! Stockholm Syndrome is a syndrome that refers to when someone who is held captive or abused begins to sympathize with and even form affection towards their captor. Usually, but not always, that also includes the dynamic of a female victim and male abuser. It’s not a cute thing. What does that have to do with this nail polish or with this shade? Why was that the most appropriate name they could think of, the one they decided that they just had to use?
Now, I don’t mind cheeky or un-pretty names. In fact, I love them. Illamasqua’s Load nail polish is in my collection. Urban Decay has an eyeshadow called Mildew, and OCC’s lip tars have names like Super NSFW. The makers of that Stockholm Syndrome also have a polish named Gay Ponies Dancing in the Snow — that one I like! And I couldn’t leave out BPAL, whose latest Lupercalia collection includes names like Bright Red Dildo and Blossoming Vulva. Would I want to tell a stranger the name of what I was wearing? Probably not, but they’re still funny!
So it’s not a matter of being proper or respectable. And I don’t know that beauty product names are prominent enough that I would blame them for directly contributing to these things, but they certainly normalize them (and keep perpetuating the myth that “Lolita” was a seductress and not a victim of a pedophile, but ya know).
I think the easiest question, the easiest way to decide where the line is, is: Could someone genuinely be hurt by what I am deciding to call this or what imagery I am choosing to use?
These products are supposed to be enjoyable and make people (usually women) feel good!
If you can reasonably imagine a teenage girl or young woman coming along, picking up your product, and being hurt by the name, you’re doing it wrong. If your name conjures up images of your customer being abused, or other very real violence against women, you’re doing it wrong.
And even more simply, if the way you choose to present your product hurts them by exclusion (i.e. only heterosexual-focused names, only white models, etc), you’re also doing it wrong. We live in a big, wide, diverse, and increasingly global world, and while of course some products might cater to one group or another more, there’s no excuse for acting like they are your only consumers.
These names aren’t funny and they aren’t just cute and cheeky. It shouldn’t be considered hard, or overly PC, or any of those other complaints, to avoid offending your customer base or making light of abuse and racism. If you are profiting off jokes about domestic abuse or statutory rape, how are you any better than someone we openly despise, like, say, Eminem? Just because you sell makeup instead of music?
There is an actual callousness involved in knowing your customer base is made up of teenage girls and young women and then choosing to name something “Underage Red” or “Asphyxia” (that one’s courtesy of Urban Decay).
It’s common sense too, to me–I don’t see how naming something “Abused” is going to gain you customers, but it certainly will lose you some in disgust.
I think perfume is probably one of the rarest culprits here, but I’m sure there are still some pretty terrible perfume names out there (I’ve heard tell of one named Song of the South…). That’s what keeping a feminist conscience in this venture means to me though, along with keeping in mind my customers who delight in perfumes named after lesbian poets.
What are some of the worst offenders of offensive product names that you’ve seen? Have you stopped purchasing from a brand (or changed your mind about trying one) because of them?