An advertisement for Bioré pore strips — a go-to for drugstore beauty shoppers — is fueling TikTok's latest controversy.
Last week, influencer Cecilee Max-Brown posted a TikTok sponsored by Bioré, which began rolling out a Mental Health Awareness Month campaign in early May. In the video, Max-Brown discusses struggling with anxiety in the aftermath of the shooting at Michigan State University, where a gunman killed three students and injured five others in February.
Max-Brown, who recently graduated from MSU, goes on to announce her decision to partner with Bioré – a skincare brand owned by Japanese cosmetics company Kao Corporation — to "strip away the stigma of anxiety." After presenting viewers with a box of Bioré pore strips, she encourages viewers to "get it all out — not only what's in your pores, but most importantly what's on your mind, too."
To many, the quippy slogan trivialized the gravity of Max-Brown's first-hand brush with gun violence. Critics' concerns are understandable — after all, the advertisement uses a school shooting survivor's trauma to peddle a beauty product.
On Sunday, Bioré apologized for the video. "For the past 4 years, we have supported mental health alliances, working with social media influencers who experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions to amplify their authentic, unscripted stories in an effort to help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health," a statement posted to the brand's Instagram reads.
"This time, however, we did it the wrong way. We lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy, and our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry."
Unsurprisingly, netizens are questioning how Max-Brown's video was approved in the first place. A spokesperson for Bioré told The New York Times that it reviews all creator content, but as a general rule does not "edit or censor" it.
Max-Brown, who has since deleted the video, issued an apology on her TikTok page. "I am so sorry about this partnership video... This partnership was not intending to come off as the product fixing the struggles I've had since [the shooting]," she wrote, explaining that she intended to raise awareness of the mental health issues she and her classmates are grappling with. "I take accountability for this and will ensure to be smarter in the future."
Offensive, yes, but Bioré's fumble isn't completely surprising. For years, beauty brands have positioned their products as a means of "self-care," a way to improve both the appearance and overall wellbeing of consumers. Gen Z, more likely to report having poor mental health than older generations, is particularly susceptible to these marketing tactics.
As writer Jessica DeFino told Highsnobiety during an interview on the increasing crossover between beauty and mental health earlier this year: "There are a lot of beauty founders who really do want to make women feel better, and are looking at the world that we're living in that punishes us for not living up to an ideal of beauty... They have great intentions, but they're working within a really harmful and predatory system."