Yesterday on Instagram, 17-year-old fashion bomb Kylie Jenner posted two pictures from a recent photo shoot that gained her accusations of promoting or using “blackface.”
Jenner is featured from the shoulders up in silvery-taupe body paint and violet-blue eye contacts and futuristic style makeup. At first glance, the youngest of the Kardashian franchise looks a lot more Avatar than minstrel show, so when the controversy of blackface struck, we wondered where those who viewed it as insulting were getting it from? Is there a historical context behind the shimmer and blue-black hair that’s truly fair to pinpoint? Or was this just another case of “Let’s hate on the Kardashians” that runs rampant on social media?
There are definitely attributes of the Kardashians and Jenners that could be up for debate and even concern (such as their influence on society), but can we just be honest and admit that these photos with Kylie are actually pretty cool? Photographed by Marcelo Cantu, hair by Chris Dylan and makeup done by Kardashian family friend Joyce Bonelli, Jenner actually gave great face here.
We are all entitled to the reactions we have to the vast expressions of art and photography, but the backlash that transpired here is, frankly, a bit of an overreaction. This is blackface? Since when? Blackface is a distinct use of makeup or products that when applied to the face and body are meant to mimic the skin tone and features of those that are Black or of African descent, and done in a mocking and hurtful manner. What about Jenner’s shoot was disrespectful? And what person of color has silvery skin that glitters? We know that when it comes to blackface, there can be levels to this, as the often insensitive fashion industry has shown through their photo shoots, like the esteemed magazine of Numero did. But these Jenner photos? Really?
The backlash Jenner received was simply unfair. Because to throw around the term blackface so loosely with every photo that features a person in body paint of a neutral tone is reckless. Especially considering that in the past, people have literally used black tar paint or imitations of it from makeup brands to dress up as a Black person.
You may recall Julianne Hough‘s Halloween outfit as “Crazy Eyes” from Orange Is The New Black? The actress has since profusely apologized for it (and rightfully so) and admitted to feeling ashamed of her decision to paint brown makeup on her face to look like a popular TV character that was Black. But what in Jenner’s photos was evocative of that?
Before the slew of hate tweets and comments swamped Jenner’s page, one initial supporter included Disney star Zendaya (as we know went through her case of the cultural tug of war when her faux locs were reduced to “patchouli oil” and “weed” on E!’s now on hiatus Fashion Police). She liked Jenner’s pic and wrote “Eff it up” with clapping emojis. Almost immediately, her fan-base let her have it, saying it was a blackface photo shoot. The young star seemingly felt coerced after that to backtrack on her statement, “admitting “I didn’t see it like at [first]. That’s crazy” on Twitter.
Jenner has defended the pictures and even took one of the pics, only to re-upload it and state “This is a black light and neon lights people lets all calm down.” She had originally captioned the picture: ‘Yes, In another world I wish I could have pink hair & blue eyes & covered in sparkles.”
We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to race relations and recognizing the difference between artistic freedom and disrespectful imagery. But in the meantime, we cannot afford to go crazy with accusations because it only road-blocks the progress we’re trying to achieve in racial sensitivity and attacking the real culprits of hate. Cultural appropriation is entirely lame and no one over here is condoning it. Kylie Jenner may have had her moments of “Columbusing” when it comes to the fandom her fashion and makeup choices have received. But these photos right here are not appropriating anything.