A Breakdown of 2019’s Biggest Influencer Controversies

Hair vitamins, defective lipstick, body shaming and a bribery scandal.

These are just some of the catalysts behind 2019’s biggest influencer controversies that have captivated millions of followers on social media, launching a number of think pieces on “cancel culture,” the limits of sponsored content and society’s overall fascination with influencers and social media.

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From Olivia Jade’s involvement in the college admissions scandal to a feud between Something Navy blogger and designer, Arielle Charnas, and actress Amanda Seyfriend, here is a breakdown of all the influencer drama this year.

Olivia Jade – March 2019

While Olivia Jade Giannulli — known on the Internet as just Olivia Jade — was already a well-known influencer with 1.3 million followers on Instagram, she was catapulted into the spotlight thanks to her famous parents, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli and “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin, who were charged in the now infamous college admissions scandal, where more than 40 adults allegedly used bribes to get their children admitted to elite colleges.

Jade’s parents are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and honest services fraud and money laundering for spending roughly $500,000 in bribes to get her and her older sister, Isabella Rose Giannulli, admitted to the University of Southern California. They pled not guilty in April to the charges, but face a maximum of 40 years in prison each if found guilty.

It is unclear if Jade was aware of the alleged bribery before the news broke, however she has experienced a number of setbacks to her influencer career because of the scandal. Many fashion and beauty brands have dropped their influencer partnerships with Jade, including Sephora — which collaborated with Jade on a now-discontinued highlighter palette — The Estée Lauder Cos. and Australian retailer Princess Polly, among others.

Undeterred by her parents’ legal drama, Jade is still planning her comeback by successfully reapplying her trademark for a namesake beauty line.

Giannulli and Loughlin’s cases are still ongoing, however, Jade is slowly making her social media comeback. In December, Jade posted a two-minute video titled “hi again” where she explained that she can’t talk about her parents’ legal case or about the college admissions scandal.

“It’s really hard for me to say this just because I know that it’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said. “I didn’t know exactly when I should come back to YouTube but the reason for that is just because I’m legally not allowed to speak on anything going on right now.”

Jade has since been using social media more regularly, posting frequently on Instagram and uploading a makeup tutorial on YouTube.

James Charles and Tati Westbrook – May 2019

James Charles and Tati Westbrook had one of the most explosive, and public, feuds of the year, all because of hair vitamins. During the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Charles posted an Instagram Story promoting beauty ingestible brand, SugarBearHair, which is a direct competitor to Westbrook’s own brand, Halo Beauty.

After Westbrook posted content on Instagram Stories saying that she felt betrayed by an unnamed friend, she posted a now-deleted, 43-minute YouTube video on May 10 expressing her disappointment in Charles. “Fame, power and a fat bank account will change almost anyone, and if you don’t have people who will tell you to your face that you’re doing the wrong things, then you will change,” she said. “I tried to be that person for you James, I really tried. I don’t think there’s any getting through to you and I don’t want to be friends with you. I don’t want to be associated with you and I need to say that very publicly so that this chapter can be closed.”

She also stated that the feud isn’t just about his promotion of SugarBearHair and accuses him of regularly acting as a bully toward other influencers and sexually harassing men.

Charles replied by posting a short video apology on his own YouTube channel the next day — where he said he only posted the SugarBearHair Instagram Story because the brand’s security helped him when the crowd at Coachella became unsafe — however the damage was relatively already done. According to a live tally video streamed by YouTube account, Tea4Real, Charles lost roughly 3 million YouTube subscribers, while Westbrook gained about 4 million fans. Since the feud has subsided, as of July Charles has regained most of his lost follower count, reaching 15.7 million, and Westbrook’s follower count has fluctuated, decreasing to 9.9 million as opposed to the 10.5 million she previously had at the height of the feud in May 2019.

Other big influencers got in on the drama, too, including Jeffree Star, who also accused Charles of acting inappropriately toward his boyfriend and called Charles a “danger to society” in a since-deleted tweet, and Nikita Dragun, who posted screenshots of her text conversation with Charles during Coachella, which show Charles asking Dragun to connect him with SugarBearHair because he was “getting attacked” in the festival’s VIP area. The screenshots were presented as proof that Charles didn’t have any prior plans to work with Westbrook’s competitor and didn’t have any malicious intent toward Westbrook with his sponsored post.

After more videos and other influencers offered their two cents on the squabble, Westbrook posted to her Instagram Stories stating that she had been in communication with Charles through an intermediary and asked that her viewers and community “put this matter to rest.”

While neither influencer commented on the feud or their meetings after Westbrook’s last post on the matter, both went back to their regularly scheduled programming as of June, posting makeup tutorials on their respective YouTube channels.

Jaclyn Hill – June 2019

One of the year’s most highly anticipated makeup launches was Jaclyn Cosmetics, the namesake line from beauty influencer Jaclyn Hill. Despite her large and dedicated fan base with nearly 6 million subscribers, Hill’s line of 20 nude lipsticks was been met with controversy and allegations of contamination.

Shortly after the brand launched at the end of May, customers took to social media to share pictures of their Jaclyn Cosmetics lipsticks, many of which appeared to have tiny hairs, holes and round particles attached to the bullets.

Scores of fans cried out on Twitter, calling out Hill for the poor product quality, some even claiming that the defective products contained mold. The brand responded to the allegations on Twitter, explaining that the irregularities were either caused by exposure to high temperatures or because the products weren’t blended adequately. The company made a point of saying that only 0.1 percent of customers were experiencing these defects. The brand asked for customers with defective products to contact them for a refund.

The drama then escalated in a matter of days as other influencers began calling out Hill for the products, including @RawBeautyKristi, who posted a 52-minute video that had her using a microscope to give viewers a close up look at the lipsticks to reveal holes and hairs on the bullets, and Marlena Stell, founder of Makeup Geek Cosmetics, who posted an hour-and-a-half-long video to her YouTube channel calling Hill dishonest for her lack of transparency regarding the defective products.

In the video, Stell revealed that a few years ago she was using the same cosmetics lab that Hill was working with to formulate her lipsticks. Stell said that the products the lab created for her also had similar defects to what Hill’s lipsticks currently have, and she ultimately decided to switch labs before launching the product for Makeup Geek Cosmetics. It is unclear if Hill stayed with the lab to launch the brand.

On June 22, the brand posted on Twitter that it would be refunding all of its customers, stating: “Jaclyn Cosmetics takes consumer feedback very seriously. We’ve reviewed the quality issues related to our So Rich Lipsticks and believe our production did not meet our brand standards. We’ll be issuing a full refund [including] shipping charges to everyone who purchased the product.”

Hill has since deleted all of her social media accounts, except for YouTube, and has not commented further what the future of the brand is.

As of July 23, Hill returned to her YouTube channel with a video titled “Where I’ve Been,” apologizing to her followers and customers for the drama. In the 19-minute video, Hill explained why she’s remained quiet on the issues and what she’s doing to fix her brand. “I’ve wanted to create and own my own cosmetics brand since I worked at MAC Cosmetics at the Woodfield Mall in Chicago when I was 20 years old,” she said. “That’s always been my dream and that’s why this whole thing has been so hard for me because I completely failed. I say it every day and I still choke on those words.”

She claims that her overconfidence aided to the brand’s problems and states that she didn’t hire a big enough quality control team to examine the products before distribution. Hill states that she has fired and rehired much of her staff and has switched cosmetics labs to recreate the lipsticks and the other products in the brand’s pipeline.

Hill has also reactivated her Instagram account, however her Twitter account remains deactivated.

A few months later, Hill revealed that she is relaunching the brand on Nov. 26 with a holiday collection of highlighters, pressed powders and brushes.

In an interview with WWD, Hill talked about the relaunch, stating: “The first launch sucked, but everybody deserves a second chance. That was the first time I’ve ever done anything where it was me, my team, my brand and it wasn’t a collaboration and it did not go how it was planned to go. If people are upset about what happened the first time around and they don’t want to buy this collection, I totally understand. But I’m gonna keep going and proving myself.”

Marissa Fuchs (aka The Fashion Ambitionist) – June 2019

Marissa Fuchs, the director of brand partnerships at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and the blogger behind @fashionambitionist, set Instagram into a frenzy during a quiet weekend in June when her now-husband, Gabriel Grossman, launched a viral and international scavenger hunt in order to propose and marry her all within the span of four days.

Fuchs painstakingly documented every step of the scavenger hunt on Instagram, posting more than 300 Instagram Stories over the weekend from locations like New York City, the Hamptons, Miami and Paris.

The elaborate proposal — complete with products and mentions of a number of fashion brands, like LoveShackFancy, Ramy Brook and Tumi — had many speculating if the social media stunt was staged. A day after Fuchs began posting the scavenger hunt on Instagram, a pitch deck — usually used for advertising campaigns and to pull in revenue for various business opportunities — surfaced online, detailing the itinerary for each location with scheduled times for Fuchs to post on Instagram. The pitch also outwardly requested for brands to “align with this momentous occasion” (meaning pay or offer free product for promotion) and stated that the proposal will come to life “with the help of Marissa’s most beloved brands.” It was reported that the pitch deck was shown to brands prior to the scavenger hunt, likely in the hopes of securing sponsorships for the public display of love gone viral.

While many were enthralled with the jet-setting proposal, according to a source, Fuchs’ employer, Goop, wasn’t pleased. A source close to Goop told WWD that company leadership had no prior knowledge of the social media stunt and had no involvement in orchestrating the proposal. They were also surprised by Fuchs’ extensive branding effort.

During the scavenger hunt, Fuchs removed her job title from her Instagram bio, replacing it with the hashtag #WhereIsGabe. According to the Daily Mail on July 3, Goop has launched an internal review on how the proposal was put together. Goop’s senior vice president of communications, Noora Raj Brown, stated: “While we’re happy for Marissa, the proposal is only associated with her personal brand and entirely separate from Goop.” She went on to state Fuchs did not receive formal approval for the social media stunt.

Fuchs has been silent on her social media channels since her last post from the scavenger hunt in June. Her title at Goop is still listed on her LinkedIn page.

Arielle Charnas and Amanda Seyfried – July 2019

A harmless bikini selfie turned into a social media feud between Something Navy blogger and designer, Arielle Charnas, and actress Amanda Seyfried. On July 9, Charnas posted the bikini selfie on Instagram with the caption “proud of my body after two kids,” which Seyfried maintained promoted unrealistic body expectations for women.

The “Mamma Mia” actress posted a screenshot of an unnamed friend’s comment on Charnas’ Instagram Post, calling her out for not “acknowledging how [her] wealth made [her] workouts/body possible” and how the image is “perpetuating the patriarchal (totally unrealistic) notion that mothers should “bounce back” after childbirth.” Seyfried added her own comments in the caption, stating: “If we’re ready to get paid for flaunting our lifestyle (and inspiring some in the meantime) we have to be open to the discussions surrounding what we’re promoting.” She also calls Charnas a “semi-influencer” and states that she and her unnamed friend were both blocked from Charnas’ Instagram.

Seyfried then posted another photo on her Instagram, this time a selfie with the text: “Influencer equals power. And if you’re taking advantage of that — empower.”

Charnas’ husband, Brandon Charnas, defended his wife on Instagram on July 11, posting a picture with her in a bikini with a number of satirical captions, like “This body is not attainable,” “only ages 30 and older are allowed to view this post, youth must be accompanied by a therapist” and “please do not attempt to empower women by announcing publicly that you are happy with your own body postpartum provided further that under no circumstances may you post a bikini picture postpartum that you are proud of without clearly and conspicuously displaying these warnings unless you are overweight in which case a different set of rules apply.”

On July 11, Seyfried apologized for her “thin-shaming” remarks toward Charnas, posting a Robert Frost quote on her Instagram with a lengthy apology, one that does not reference Charnas by name. “If you know me or are familiar with any of my beliefs or stances you’ll recognize that it isn’t in my character to tear down anyone for ‘being who they are’,” she wrote. “Each of us has the ability and the freedom to say and do as we choose. However, as I’m acutely aware, there’s a price tag for the group of people who find themselves with a platform to stand on. You have to be aware of the message you’re sending and be able to back it up when faced with criticism (not just praise). Hold yourselves accountable instead of using the terms above. The only thing I’d take back is exactly how I started this debate. I desperately wish it hadn’t targeted (or blasted) one person (there are MANY who engage in this questionable messaging) and instead started a cleaner, general conversation. No one needs to tear anyone apart. And I regret that it’s present right now. To the lady in question: I’m sorry for the truly negative feels you’ve endured because of this. Aside from the messy detour? The bigger, important message seems to filtering through and helping a lot of women feel supported. And that’s the name of the game.”

Charnas has not commented on the feud herself as of July 11, rather she took to her Instagram to share her latest magazine cover, this time dancing around in a one-piece bathing suit.

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