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Kat Von D “Underage Red” lip shade scandal and society’s dangerous “Lolita complex”

Recent controversy surrounds the Kat Von D. makeup brand.

Recent controversy surrounds the Kat Von D. makeup brand.

Eve Katz

Recent controversy surrounds the Kat Von D. makeup brand.

Eve Katz

Eve Katz

Recent controversy surrounds the Kat Von D. makeup brand.

Kat Von D “Underage Red” lip shade scandal and society’s dangerous “Lolita complex”

November 15, 2018

The “Lolita complex” is most popularly discussed in Japan, but many are quick to overlook its existence in American society as well. The complex refers to the sexual attraction, usually by older males, to much younger, often underage, females. American TV shows and movies such as Riverdale and Twilight promote excessive sexual behavior of teens and even attempt to normalize it, but Hollywood is not the only culprit. Tattoo artist and makeup developer Kat Von D has recently come under fire for her lipstick shade entitled “Underage Red”, which has lead to heavy criticism by those who find the name offensive.

The lip color is not new, and is in fact quite popular. The fact that this shocking shade has been practically flying off the shelves since it was released supports the idea that although the Lolita complex is seemingly ignored in American culture, where people don’t even bat an eye at scantily-dressed schoolgirls on TV or teen dramas starring excessively sexually active characters, it is a prevalent part of society that needs to be addressed.

“It has never been a goal of mine to inspire sexualization of any sort, let alone promote a destructive lifestyle,” Von D commented when faced with backlash over “Underage Red”.

“These wild, and horrific accusations proclaiming that any aspect of my makeup line would ever promote the degradation of women, statutory rape, sexual behavior, human trafficking, underage drinking, or even idealization of fleeting youth, goes against everything I stand for… So, please excuse me if I find those articles and comments appalling and inaccurate,” the popular makeup brand owner continued.

Von D had a very strong reaction to allegations of promoting the sexualization of those who are underage, and seems to be starchly against that idea. It is, however, interesting to see her outrage over the accusations when “Underage Red” is not her only problematic lip shade.

The Lolita complex exists not only within American society, but also, quite literally, in Kat Von D’s makeup collection. The brand has two lip shades entitled “Lolita” and “Lolita II”, directly referencing the sexualization of young girls despite Von D’s vehement claims that she would never do such a thing.

Lolita is also the title of a 1955 novel written by Vladimir Nobokov that tells the story of an adult man who is sexually infatuated with a 12 year old girl, so the name does not exactly carry a positive connotation.

Some have argued that “Lolita” the novel and its subsequent film adaptations are not actually meant to focus on sex, but rather morality and the story of how both Lolita and her adult lover meet horrible ends. Even so, the character Lolita is merely 12 years old and has many sexual encounters with the main character, Humbert Humbert, which is in fact categorized as abuse especially considering her age and that Humbert threatens Lolita by saying she’ll end up in an orphanage if she does not stay with him.

Whether the book is simply meant to center around the complexity of Humbert’s ethical downfalls while Lolita becomes a tragic heroine or not, it is safe to say that the novel “Lolita” is not exactly of the feel-good variety, and therefore not very appropriate for a lipstick shade.  Even if Kat Von D was inspired by the novel, which has not been confirmed, and felt Lolita was an important character to analyze beyond the erotic nature of the book, was it a good decision to reduce her to a makeup product? And if the book was not the inspiration, what was?

Furthermore, the novel “Lolita” is speculated to have been based on the kidnapping of Sally Horner, detailed in this New Yorker article that is written about a book entitled “The Real Lolita”.

The development of a lip color that carries the name of a fictional character who is raped and dies young, and is allegedly based on a real girl who was raped and died young, seems downright insensitive, although the significance of the name as Von D uses it has not been explained.

Kat Von D has not commented on her decision to use “Lolita” as a shade name, so her reasoning behind it is not clear. The fact that “Lolita” is the title for not one, but two lip products under Kat Von D’s brand is odd, though, considering she so strongly opposed the negativity surrounding “Underage Red” on the basis that people were claiming that it was sexual. The existence of “Lolita” seems to make that of “Underage Red” that much more suspicious.

Whether the decision was simply made out of ignorance to the meaning behind “Lolita” (although if that is the case, it seems peculiar that Von D would not fully understand a word she finds significant enough to name a product after), or if there is an ulterior meaning is unknown.

What does it say about society that even makeup is over-sexualized?

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