Alright, this post is going to be a ltitle different than my typical LifeStyle sections posts. It’s part review: I have a bunch of products that were released in celebration of June being LGBTQ Pride month. I want to show you some swatches and tell you my thoughts. I love rainbow palettes, I love bright palettes, and I love glitter so most of these collections are totally right up my alley! But now that Pride month is officially over, I also want to explore the idea of “charitable capitalism” and engage with whether or not these kinds of makeup collections (or really, any kind of charitable action tied to consumer products) are a good thing, or just good lip(stick) service that exploit queer people.
Here’s a look at the goodies that I picked up:
Morphe 25L: Live In Color Palette
Makeup Revolution London Spirit of Pride Palette
Makeup Revolution London Express Myself Face Paint Palette
Tarte let It Rain-Bow Palette
Tarte Treasure Pot Glitter Gel in Pride
Urban Decay Glitter Gel in Party Monster and Dreamland
Urban Decay Hi-Fi Lip Gloss in Hot Love
So before we get to the fun stuff and playing with makeup, let’s talk about how capitalism and shopping interact with things like Pride celebrations. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little put off with the slick, corporate feel of big city Pride celebrations. Don’t get me wrong – I love that corporations are willing to throw some money at a big ol’ party for the queers (as that hasn’t always been the case) and I remember a time when there wasn’t nearly as much media representation and corporation relationships were not quite so easy to forge, but it does take away some of the more organic, community-based feel of smaller Pride celebrations.
Kimberly Clark recently popped back on to YouTube after a year or so doing other projects, and she posted one of her famous Anti-Hauls all about Pride and corporate pandering. I will say that I don’t agree with everything in the video, and a lot of what I’m going to write about in this post is sort of an argument against a lot of what she says, but I think it’s an interesting video and it’s a good place for people to start when thinking about how corporations and traditionally exploited communities interact. It’s not going to be a point by point discussion of Clark’s video, but I’m going to reference a few of the topics she brings up, so it’s worth watching it if you haven’t to get more context.
I had some of the same issues with this video that I had with a documentary I watched about all of the marketing around breast cancer awareness; as someone who lost someone very close to them to breast cancer, I have purchased my share of pink ribbon products over the years and while it presented some interesting ideas there was something about it that seemed a little short-sighted and reductive.
First there are those who say that you shouldn’t purchase charitable products because it’s not as effective as just giving a donation to a charity directly. Well…duh. Of course it isn’t. And if there are actually people out there who say, “Oh, I was going to give a hundred bucks to this breast cancer charity, but instead I’ll just buy this pink ribbon yogurt! That’s the same, right?!” then we have a real problem. No one is suggesting that you should buy products that have a charitable aspect to them in place of any other charitable donations you may be doing. That would be ridiculous.
Instead, it’s saying, “Hey, if you already buy this certain type of thing anyway, why not buy the one that also gives a donation to a charity you like?” It’s a win-win. Debbie still gets her morning yogurt, and a breast cancer charity gets 30 cents or whatever for their programs and research.
That’s how I feel about a lot of the Pride collections that have come out: I already buy a lot of makeup, and rainbow and brights palettes are always at the top of my list, so why wouldn’t I buy from a company that is also supporting a cause that I care about and affects my communities? That’s a win-win. I mean, it’s not a win-win-win, because my bank account continues to be empty and alone, but that’s the case whether I’m buying charitable makeup or non-charitable makeup – I just plan for a certain amount of my disposable income to go to purchasing makeup. And maybe that sets off some people’s feelings about anti-consumerism in general, but that’s ok. They don’t pay my bills, so they don’t get to say how I spend the rest of my money. The only person that has to consider and evaluate and come to terms with my spending is me. And if you don’t buy charitable products because you’re trying to reduce your consumer footprint overall, that’s great! I’m proud of you – but that’s about your spending habits, not about the companies who offer these charitable products. Make sense?
The other part of this kind of criticism that seems – I don’t know, naïve maybe? – is that it’s like the people who criticize these kinds of charitable products don’t really understand capitalism. They do on a rudimentary level, but in the end, their criticism just ends up being “corporations are bad, and they don’t really care about you!” Well, yes, but that’s what businesses exist for. Any business, no matter how large or small, cares about people up to the point that they can convert people into customers. That’s the whole reason that boycotts are effective: businesses care about your feelings when your feelings start having an impact on their profits. You can have all the good intentions in the world, but at the end of the day if you don’t make some money you aren’t going to continue existing. Corporations are not charities. They are not non-profits. So why do some people seem to expect that they are going to just start giving away all of their money? Charitable capitalism is about taking some of the money you make and funneling it to organizations and causes that are important, either to your customers, to your employees, or to the decision-makers on the corporate board.
And in the end, the blanket “corporations are bad!” mantra just falls a little flat. Yes, I’m absolutely on board with supporting independently-owned queer businesses and small creators – I am one, after all! – but it’s so much more complicated than that. After all, if someone is going to Target to buy all of their laundry detergent and paper products and everything around the house, but then they only complain when Target celebrates Pride with a collection of rainbow merch, then what’s their real impact? Business 101 says that companies aren’t going to invest a lot of money on products that don’t sell. So if everyone scoffs at the Pride merch, Target might assume that LGBTQ folks don’t shop at their stores and stop carrying it – but they’re still getting all of our queer money for everyday essentials! So we aren’t doing anything to change the corporate culture at Target except encouraging them to have LESS representation of queerness in their merchandise. I remember when large corporations wouldn’t touch a rainbow with a 10 foot pole. We used to go to cities and find the local queer bookstore to get our rainbow stickers and our books and our tshirts and our sex toys. A lot of those stores don’t exist anymore. Cue the “See, corporations are bad!” reaction, but when people say that corporations like Target and Walmart run small, independent stores out of business, there seems to be a lack of understanding – and accountability – for how that happens. No one from Target or Walmart goes to those stores under cover of darkness, holds the owners at gunpoint, and forces them to declare bankruptcy. They went out of business because we queers stopped shopping there. I’m not saying that there aren’t some sketchy business practices out there, because there absolutely are, but at the end of the day, if we care about something and feel that it has value, we should be willing to spend our money on it.
If you take away the identity politics, that’s how business has been changing for a while. I worked for Waldenbooks for 10 years. You won’t have to search far to find some internet screed about how Amazon** killed Waldenbooks, Borders, and B. Dalton as well as any number of small, independent bookstores. Certainly Amazon was a game-changer in the book business, but let me tell what it was like working at Waldenbooks the last couple of years before our store closed. Waldenbooks was the smaller concept of Borders, similar to how B. Dalton was the smaller concept of Barnes & Noble. Smaller stores, smaller selection, but a great resource for communities that didn’t have one of the larger stores. People were always coming in and asking about obscure books, or odd textbooks, or books that were popular 7 years ago. An author would come out with a new book, and people would expect that we would have that author’s entire back catalog of titles. Why did they expect that? Because they could go online and see them all on a website. They didn’t think about what it costs to purchase and ship and house books in a brick and mortar location. They just saw that these books were available and they were disappointed when our stock didn’t match what they could see online. And we could order just about anything that was available online, outside of some really small presses or self-published titles. But why order from us when they could order it online? They might get a discount; even if they paid the same price, they saved themselves a trip to the mall, right? And then there were those people who expected us to have things in stock so they could come in and look through it and decide whether or not to buy it without ever having the intention of buying it from us. They wanted to see it and touch it and preview it in person, and then pay the online price. They expected us to be the showroom, and then funneled their money online. So who really killed all of these bookstores? If something has value to you, you invest in it. For too many people, the extra costs associated with brick and mortar bookstores were not worth supporting. As much as people want to portray corporations as moustache-twirling villains in a melodrama, there’s a pretty simple truth: they ain’t sellin’ what we ain’t buyin’.
In her video, Kimberly Clark calls out Starbucks for a donation of $250,000 to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. She compares that amount to their company’s annual profit and found that it was only .006% of what they make in a year. She acknowledges that this amount might make a huge difference to the charity who benefits from it, but still takes issue with the percentage. And that is a low percentage. If it were the only charitable giving that Starbucks did through the course of a year, then it might be worth some collective action to find out why it was so low. But it isn’t. Like any other huge corporation, Starbucks has a whole portfolio of corporate giving to a wide variety of organizations. They have a certain amount of money that they want to donate in a year (and let’s be real, for a lot of corporations that amount is pretty closely associated with the amount that will still net them a tax break – it’s still a business, y’all!) but instead of just selecting one cause or organization, they are spreading it out to help more people related to more issues. So while Lady Gaga’s foundation only gets a donation equal to .006% of the company’s annual earnings, no one is talking about how many organizations are also getting an equal amount – or a bit more or a bit less, you get the idea.
The final point that I had some contention with in Clark’s video is about the idea of “undeserved praise.” This is the part that feels the most petty to me. She seems to take issue with the fact that by doing these charitable products and collections, by making donations to LGBTQ organizations, these companies hope to get a bump in sales from queer folks that will offset or even surpass what they give. Again, maybe it’s just me being old and crabby and remembering the days when most corporations wouldn’t touch “my kind of people” at all, but shouldn’t we support businesses that make the effort to encourage and represent us? It just feels hypocritical: if a company donates to an anti-LGBTQ charity, people are up in arms and planning boycotts and publishing opinion pieces, swearing to never shop there ever again. But when they support us and represent us…nothing? So we’re willing to punish a company for bad behavior, but not willing to reward them for good behavior? That’s not how loyalty and support actually work. Seriously. It’s the same sort of non-sensical argument I hear about shade ranges for foundations: if a brand releases a non-inclusive range they are racist and should be cancelled, but if they release an inclusive range then they are just trying to exploit people of color to make money. Again, I feel like I’m being “that guy,” but it seems odd to accuse a business of exploitation when they offer a product for sale to a specific type of customer when the type of business they are engaged in is one that literally only exists to offer products for sale to customers! YOU as the consumer get to decide whether or not to purchase those products, and you can feel however you want about why that company is doing what they do (or don’t do), but stop acting like this is some weird conspiracy to steal people’s money. Stores sell things; if you don’t know that, they maybe you shouldn’t go into stores until you’ve figured it out. Hard truth time: slick marketing or expanding a shade range to try to capture a larger market share on the part of a business does not absolve you as a consumer of responsibility for making your own spending choices.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Kimberly Clark even if I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the points in this video. I think that as a whole, our culture doesn’t encourage a lot of accountability – we are quick to blame companies and corporations for things that are, at the core, our decisions as consumers. It can sound sort of Pollyanna-esque to say that “we vote with our dollars,” but I mean it in the most bloodless, utilitarian way possible. If we as consumers don’t buy things, companies will not provide them. Culture may shift and cause specific consumer demands to change, but the law of supply and demand is still very much alive and well.
Alright, enough of this Ted Talk – are y’all ready for some makeup?! (There will still be some discussion on charitable consumerism throughout, but there will be much more glitter involved!)
Let’s start with the two palettes I picked up from Makeup Revolution: Spirit of Pride and Express Myself
The shades don’t have names, and I just did finger swatches because half the palette is shimmer and half is pressed glitters, and pressed glitters are known for being a pain in the ass with a brush. The top photo is my studio lighting without a flash; the bottom photo is the same lighting with my phone’s camera flash. For these two palettes I didn’t use a primer.
The Spirit of Pride is a fun palette and overall I enjoyed the performance of these shimmer shades. They are all nicely pigmented and smooth, and they all applied pretty evenly. Makeup Revolution shadows have a reputation for being hit or miss, and I found these to be hits. The glitters have a nice base that isn’t too greasy, but I would still recommend a glitter glue to get the most out of them. The colors make a nice rainbow, and I love that the 8 shades represent the 8 bars of the original Pride flag from 1978.
The Express Myself Face Paint Palette was less impressive, but I honestly wasn’t expecting that much as it was a “face paint” product. I’ve had a couple of these from brands like Wet N Wild, and while they aren’t without their uses they generally end up being a base for something else to go on top of. They aren’t really pigmented enough to do true face painting; each of these swatches is two full passes to get even that much opacity, except for black which I had to dip into no less than 5 times to even get it as good as it is. It’s a fine, cheap option for cream bases is you want, but if you’re oily like me, these might feel too greasy and might tend to crease on your eyelids. I’m not sad about the $8 I spent, but if they had had a tester I probably would have skipped it. You take a chance, and sometimes it doesn’t work out.
I put the Makeup Revolution products first because they are my favorite type of charitable giving: they are making a flat donation to the Human Dignity Trust that isn’t tied to any of the products themselves. They are also marching in the London Pride parade (this is a UK-based brand). This is my favorite type of charitable product to support, where the company says, “Hey, we’re giving a certain amount of money to this cause. That’s done. To celebrate, here’s some products to commemorate this donation, things that are targeted to your community, and we hope you enjoy them. But if you don’t we’ve already sent the check.”
Next up is the Morphe 25L Live in Color Palette
This $20 palette (as well as a $25 brush set that I missed out on *sigh*) were advertised as giving 100% of the proceeds to The Trevor Project, an organization that works for suicide prevention among LGBTQ people, especially youth. This is sort of the next level of support – the donation is tied to specific products, but they are giving 100% of the proceeds (usually the profit after expenses, though occasionally it may be more – think MAC’s Viva Glam line that donates every cent of the selling price for each unit purchased) to an organization. Morphe also created the “Pride Tribe,” a group of 12 queer, trans, and ally-identified people to feature on their social media and to raise awareness around what Pride means to different people. It’s not just about the products, after all – representation does matter!
The swatches for this are over the Crayon Case Glue Stick primer with the same lighting described above.
L to R: Milk, Pride, Heart, 1978, Liberation
Milk is a matte white, and it’s totally meh. It’s a bit chalky, kind of dusted and busted. You can get it to work, but it’s fussy and there are definitely better matte whites out there. Pride is bright peachy orange, and the closest thing to an orange that you’re going to get if you’re trying to do an actual rainbow with this palette. It’s nice enough, but it was a little dry for my taste and didn’t blend as well as I would have liked. Heart is a light baby pink, a little patchy but can be blended out. 1978 is a pretty lavender shimmer, pretty nice consistency and ok coverage, though it would pop better with a white or lavender base underneath. Liberation is a glittery shade that doesn’t have much base pigment but can offer some shimmer to a look. I would recommend a glitter glue for this.
L to R: Stonewall, Culture, #LoveWins, SF, Rise Up
Of course, part of the reason why we’re getting so much Pride-related merch this year is because of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall; I appreciate that this palette does look like it was put together by someone who actually understands some queer history, though I would have loved a shade named for Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera. But in this row we have Stonewall, a sheer shimmery gold, very glittery and flaky, would definitely be better with a glitter glue or foiled with a wet brush. Culture is a bright pastel peach, matte and lovely, and actually applies really smoothly. #LoveWins got a little weird with the finger swatch, but I was able to buff it a bit with the brush. The brush swatch was a little more sheer, but I think you could work with this to get some good color payoff. It’s not Sugarpill Dollypop, but it’s nice. SF is a berry matte that is a little patchy, but not unusable. Rise Up is a bright true blue shimmer, nice sheen and goes on smooth and evenly. Very nice blue shimmer option.
L to R: Sunlight, Life, Sexuality, Truth, Harmony
Sunlight is an ok matte yellow; both Sunlight and Life were really flaky and there was a lot of fallout. I had to go back over the yellow swatch (I swatch right to left) because some of the red got into it and darkened the swatch. So ignore the halo of orange/red color – I was doing a million swatches and I didn’t want to have to wipe it off, reapply primer, etc. The middle of the swatch is pretty true to color. Life is a little patchy, and it’s flaky af, but it’s an ok shade. Sexuality is an in your face pink with presence. I actually really like this – this is much more on par with Dollypop! Truth is a beautiful deep indigo that has more presence when applied than you get in the pan – don’t expect it to be that dark, more of the purple and blue mixture is evident when you start to apply it and blend it out. Harmony is a deeper blue shimmer; it’s pretty, but it feels like a yawn compared to the brighter shade, Rise Up.
L to R: Healing, Activism, Make Magic, Peace, Gilbert
Healing is a bit of a mess – it’s way too chunky, and the finger swatch immediately gave me hard pan. It’s workable, but why bother? There are better golds out there, a dime a dozen. Activism is a winner, and not just because I love light, springy greens. This one goes on smooth and even, and it’s got a lovely shimmer to it. Make Magic is another pretty shimmer, a nice aquamarine with silver reflect. Peace is a pretty bright blue, very lovely and smooth. Gilbert is a deep eggplant purple, I love the reference but the shade is just so-so. It’s not bad, and it’s pretty smooth, but you have to fuss with it a bit to really make it even. Another one that would benefit from a glitter glue to really shine, or foiling.
L to R: Thrive, Nature, Art, Parade, NYC
Thrive is a swampy green that’s a little bit of a pain to work with but you can get it to work for you if you like the color. Nature sort of falls apart: it’s a lovely, bright yellowy green in the pan, but then it’s a dusted and busted mess when applied. I couldn’t get a decent swatch with either brush or finger, and it just took more work than I was willing to put in. Art is the saving grace of this row, a bright mint shade that is opaque and manages to be dry and blendable without being chalky. Parade is a teal shade that needs a little work, but the color is gorgeous – the effort is worth it! NYC is a matte black, and it’s extremely dry and had lots of fallout! It sort of ended up everywhere and I had to do a little bit of cleanup to do the rest of the swatches for this row. That’s right – look at how messy that is, and realize that that is how it looked AFTER I did some cleanup! Woof!
If you passed on this palette, I don’t think you’re missing anything spectacular. It’s a fun, bright color story and I appreciate that some actual effort went into naming the shades with things that are simple but that have actual resonance for LGBTQ history. If you picked it up, you’ll get some use out of it, but be prepared to do some work with some of these shades. But then, that’s like any Morphe palette, so at least that part is consistent, right?
Next up is the Let It Rain-Bow Collection and Pride Treasure Pot Glitter from tarte:
L to R: Risktaker, Ambitious, Hustle, Happening, You Can, Go For It, All In, This Is It
Tarte’s Pride collection isn’t a travesty, but it’s definitely an example of “Well, you tried…but next time, try harder.” In terms of the charitable aspect, this palette (which comes in a “kit” with a sample of their mascara) is done in collab with Jessie Paege; I’m not familiar with her, but it presents her as being a queer creator. Assuming that she actually is (no, I didn’t check – slacktivism at it’s best, y’all!), that’s pretty cool – it benefits a queer content creator directly. But the charitable aspect of this collection is pretty vague. Here’s a quote from the tarte site:
Jessie Paege (@jessiepaege) is an actress, author and YouTube creator who’s an advocate for self-love & confidence. In celebration of pride, she’s partnered with tarte to bring awareness to important LGBTQ+ issues & support her favorite organizations, like The Trevor Project.
Organizations *like* The Trevor Project – so I’m assuming they are getting some money? What other organizations? How many? Is it tied to the sale of the product, or are you making a flat donation? It’s not handled very well in terms of making people feel like this is a legit contribution to LGBTQ charitable concerns.
Unfortunately, the palette itself isn’t really any better than the quality of the information on charities. First of all, if you are going to do what is clearly meant to be a rainbow palette, why isn’t there an actual green shade? Not that toothpaste, minty green shade that’s somewhere between green and blue, but an actual green. I’m not saying you have to stay rigidly ROY G BIV with it, but something that is more representative of green would be appreciated.
Also, these shadows were a bit of a mess. The red shade is literally the driest, grittiest formula I have ever felt in any eyeshadow, ever. It’s a mess. It applied terribly with a brush (I only did brush swatches for these – I just wanted to do one single row because I knew going in I wasn’t going to be super impressed) and the matte shades stuck to the primer like a person stepping in cement. Granted, the Crayon Case primer has given me some troubles when it comes to swatching, but these are just so dry. The shimmers aren’t even that much better. I know that tarte can do beautiful matte shades, and I know they can do lovely shimmers (including a beautiful green shade from their Pro Remix palette – what, you’ll put out the same shade of beige 800 times but you won’t duplicate a green for the sake of the rainbow?!) so I’m not sure what happened here. The rainbow artwork on the cover is just a sticker, and it was already peeling when I took it out of the package.
No offense to Ms. Paege, but if you are still thinking about some last minute Pride products, I’d give this one a pass…unless you’re her mom, in which case why don’t you already have this palette?!
If you absolutely must have something from tarte to celebrate Pride, go for the Treasure Pot glitter in Pride. It’s a lovely opalescent-leaning-pink chunky glitter gel that is colorful and bright and gets the job done. Is it of the same quality as Lemonhead LA? Not a chance, but that’s a high bar. This is pretty, and who doesn’t love glitter? 2019 is the year of glitter, after all…
The only rub with this is that, in typically vague fashion, it’s not clear if this product actually benefits anyone or anything. It’s in their Pride section, but it doesn’t have a statement like the one on the palette page. It’s possible that this product doesn’t have a charitable aspect to it, and they are just linking it on a “Pride” page to try to get your money. This is where I start to side with the Kimberly Clarks of the world – if you’re going to do a charitable product or products, be clear about what’s included, how the donation works, and where the money is going.
L to R: Heavy Metal Glitter Gel in Party Monster and Dreamland, Hi-Fi Lip Gloss in Hot Love
Alright, so Urban Decay’s summer collection represents my least favorite type of charitable giving: when there is an entire collection of products, but only one specific product or shade actually benefits the charity.
Urban Decay launched their Sparkle Out Loud collection with a bunch of rainbow, glittery products; although they didn’t call it a Pride collection specifically, it came out right at the beginning of June, was all rainbows and glitter, and one of the shades of heavy metal liner, Stonewall, was advertised as having 25% of the selling price benefitting the Stonewall Community Foundation. That’s great…if you like red glitter eyeliner. Because that’s the only shade in the whole collection of nearly 30 pieces that benefits that charity.
Now, I appreciate the thought and the effort, and I don’t think it’s bad that one of the shades is supporting a great organization. But I don’t like glitter liners in general; even if I did, I already have a red glitter liner that I got in a mystery box from OMFG Cosmetics. So I was really excited about this collection, and I picked up two glitter gels and a lip gloss, but I did so feeling a little disappointed that my purchase wouldn’t actually support the Stonewall Community Foundation. I’m not saying that it’s bad – I appreciate any sort of charitable efforts that companies undertake that support my communities – but it’s the least exciting and it’s the least likely to get me to support the brand. Yes, I purchased three products from the collection, but they are products that I honestly would have bought even if there wasn’t a charitable component to any part of the collection. And there were a couple of additional products that I might have bought if they were part of the donation program, but since they weren’t I gave them a pass. So while I think a positive impression of a business is warranted when they give to queer communities, it’s not enough to get me to buy products I don’t want just because I feel a little warm and fuzzy.
The Heavy Metal glitter gels that I got are fun. Party Monster is a blue opalescent that is almost invisible until the light hits it, and then you get this deep, blue flash that looks like it’s lit from within. It’s very unique and I adore it. Dreamland is a gold opalescent glitter that has a ton of sparkle. Hot Love is a beautiful red gloss that has rainbow opalescent glitter in it. And I don’t know if you have smelled these Hi-Fi glosses but they are amazing – very fresh and minty, but in a slightly sweet (not cloying) way.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this explosion of Pride-themed makeup is an annual occurrence or if it’s just riding the milestone anniversary of 50 years since Stonewall (which started Pride – if you don’t know about Stonewall, you really should do some research, it was a huge turning point for queer folks!). Either way, one thing is always guaranteed: I’m going to spend too much money on too many colorful makeup products, and I’m always going to have an opinion about it!
Let me know below what you think – are you living for the rainbow realness, or do you think it’s all just a cash grab? Were there any Pride products that you picked up, and what did you think? What are some of your favorite queer-owned makeup companies, Etsy shops, etc. Sound off in the comments!
**I generally keep my day job and my adventures as Janessa separate, and that’s how it should be. This persona is separate from that. However, in the interest of fairness, I feel that I should note here that I am currently employed by Amazon. Nothing in this article is meant to represent Amazon, my work, or anything other than my thoughts and opinions, and in fact most of these thoughts about consumerism and capitalism were formed long before I had the job that I have now. But people get weird if you don’t disclose things like this, and so I am. Sound good? Good.