With all of the monumental news that 2020 has brought with it, influencer controversies still managed to make headlines.
Last year’s explosive fight between beauty influencers James Charles and Tati Westbrook were in the news once again this summer, when Westbrook posted a viral video claiming she was manipulated into starting the fight by influencers Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson.
Star, never one to shy away from influencer drama, was involved in his own controversy when he caused an uproar over his new makeup collection called the Cremated Collection, which fans felt was insensitive given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
From an update on the feud between Charles and Westbrook to Something Navy’s Arielle Charnas and WeWoreWhat’s Danielle Bernstein’s COVID-19-related snafus, here are the biggest influencer controversies of 2020.
Danielle Bernstein and Jade Myers – January 2020
In mid-January, sustainable fashion influencer Jade Myers of @fashionwithouttrashin and the owner behind Poshmark resell account Ornamental Stone took to her Instagram to explain that We Wore What influencer Danielle Bernstein was threatening to shut down her business over an internal error that led to Myers acquiring unreleased samples from Berstein’s upcoming collection with Onia.
She explained the conflict started when she acquired the unreleased pieces from a local charity, where an Onia employee had accidentally dropped off the samples for donation. When Myers uploaded the pieces to her Poshmark site, Bernstein reached out in an Instagram message asking Myers to take down the pieces. Bernstein offered to repay Myers for the pieces.
Myers, who had already used her own funds to photograph the pieces and store them in her inventory, asked Bernstein to pay the resale value of the pieces to cover her losses, which Bernstein initially agreed to, according to screenshots of their conversation that Myers had shared. Bernstein then put Myers in contact with someone from her team to coordinate the payments.
She then pulled all 100 of the unreleased samples from her site and gave Bernstein’s team the total cost, which ended up being more than Bernstein had thought. Bernstein responded, saying that she believed there was some confusion between the two.
“I am not paying you for the retail value,” Bernstein wrote in an e-mail to Myers. “I’m paying you for the cost of what you paid for the goods, which I was actually under the impression that they were very cheap.”
Myers went on to explain to Bernstein that she would be at a loss of profits given that she paid a model to wear the looks and an employee to list the pieces and put them in her inventory. She also reminded Bernstein that she had initially agreed to pay the resale value.
Bernstein was under the impression that Myers had acquired the products through a local Goodwill because that’s where the Onia employee accidentally dropped off the samples and was confused by the hefty price tag Myers was demanding. During the dispute, Bernstein also stated that she was in contact with Poshmark’s chief executive officer about having Myers’ shop pulled off the web site.
At that point, Myers began posting the e-mail and Instagram message screenshots to her Instagram Stories after receiving an e-mail from someone who appeared to be an attorney representing Bernstein. The e-mail included the subject “Poshmark: Trademark and Copyright Infringement” and asked Myers if she had counsel that could represent her company or if they could communicate to her directly. The screenshots caused a social media uproar with many upset over what they deemed to be bullying tactics by Bernstein.
Both influencers, shortly after, released statements on their Instagram accounts stating that they were working together to resolve the issue.
Myers shared a lengthy post on Instagram on Jan. 24 with their agreement, stating that she met with Bernstein without any lawyers. She stated that Bernstein apologized for the misunderstanding and that she would cover the costs associated with Myers listing and removing the products from her shop. Myers also received new items from WeWoreWhat’s current Onia collection that she could sell through her shop.
“I have seen a lot of misconceptions, stories and gossip that have been untrue and/or hurtful,” Myers wrote. “I tell you all the truth so you don’t have to wonder about these things, this is part of why I am open with you!”
Arielle Charnas and COVID-19 – March 2020
Something Navy influencer and founder Arielle Charnas had one of the most explosive influencer controversies of the year due to the handling of her positive coronavirus diagnosis.
The influencer first made headlines in mid-March when she used connections to get a COVID-19 test while there was a shortage of tests across the country. She documented the process on her Instagram Stories, which caused the initial uproar.
She informed her 1.3 million Instagram followers on March 18 that she tested positive for the virus. She listed the ways that she would be handling her diagnosis, including quarantining and self-isolating and notifying family and friends that she had been in close contact with over the last two weeks.
Just a few days later, Charnas’ Instagram Stories showed that she had decamped with her family to the Hamptons, which went against quarantine and self-isolation guidelines set by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for those with the virus.
She received an immense amount of backlash from what she was posting on Instagram, which showed her taking walks around her neighborhood and her nanny taking care of her kids. Several media outlets called out Charnas for her disregard of health and safety measures.
Charnas addressed the controversy in a 10-post slideshow and a tearful video on her now-private Instagram on April 2, apologizing for hurting or offending anyone with her actions. She explained that she initially began posting her health updates to “share with my followers what I was feeling in case it could possibly help others get in touch with the right health professionals or know they were potentially contagious.”
She explained that her family had quarantined in their Manhattan home for 14 days since they first started experiencing symptoms, and left for the Hamptons after receiving their doctor’s permission. She stated that her daughters’ nanny was also sick and decided to stay with the family to not infect others.
“All around the world we are learning to adjust to the realities of life during a pandemic, and my family has made the decision to do so in the Hamptons,” she wrote. “I know that a lot of New Yorkers have made the decision to do the same, and that this decision has faced legitimate criticisms in its own right. I can only speak for my family when I say that our standing concern lies in whether or not we are continuing to put others at risk.”
Despite the controversy, Charnas went on to launch her stand-alone Something Navy fashion label on July 13. She has since released multiple collections under the label.
Jeffree Star’s Cremated Palette – May 2020
Beauty influencer and makeup brand creator Jeffree Star was embroiled in another scandal involving his Jeffree Star Cosmetics company this May.
Star was met with criticism when he revealed a new makeup collection, dubbed the Cremated Collection, over what social media users deemed to be an insensitive theme amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The collection includes a 24-pan eye shadow palette made with gray, black and earthy tones embossed with images of urns and tombstones with shade names such as “Grave Digger,” “Death Certificate,” “The Morgue,” “Mausoleum” and “Casket Ready.”
Star also produced a photo shoot for the palette at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where he posed outside a mausoleum with models dressed in black.
The influencer responded to the criticism in a 20-minute video posted on his YouTube channel on May 20.
“Nothing ever comes from a bad place, so if you were thinking that, absolutely not,” he said in the video while sporting a gothic-themed makeup look created from the palette. “My brand, I created this to make people smile. I created a brand for all the weirdos and the people that didn’t really feel like they fit in, so in no way was this created to be offensive ever.”
He went on to state the collection had been in the making for over a year and that his trademark was approved last September before the COVID-19 outbreak. Star stated he already delayed the collection’s launch by a month and a half, but made the decision to go forward to not disrupt his launch schedule or sell expired products to his customers.
“There were some people saying, ‘Jeffree, it’s a little weird timing, there’s a lot going on in the world,’” he said. “But for me, this is art and I never come from a negative place you guys. My own father who passed away and my two dogs that passed away last year are all cremated and it is a tradition in my family.”
Despite the criticism, Star launched the collection — which also includes lip gloss in shades named “Coroner’s Kiss,” “Heaven’s Gate,” “Funeral Parlour” and “Six Feet Under” — on his web site on May 22.
According to Tribe Dynamics, a software company that quantifies consumer social media engagement with its term “earned media value,” the Cremated Collection recorded $3.4 million in earned media value, which accounted for roughly 15 percent of the brand’s total earned media value in May.
James Charles and Tati Westbrook Feud Update – June 2020
Beauty influencers James Charles and Tati Westbrook had one of the most explosive fights the influencer space saw in 2019, when Westbrook publicly ended her friendship with Charles and called him out for alleged inappropriate behavior.
After a year of not commenting further on the feud, Westbrook posted a 40-minute YouTube video on June 30 titled “Breaking My Silence,” in which she apologized for starting the fight with Charles and accused Jeffree Star and his close collaborator, Shane Dawson, of manipulating her into lashing out against Charles in the first place.
“For over a year now, every time this scandal is revisited either in the mainstream media or through social platforms, I become the number-one target of relentless hate while remaining voiceless,” she said in the emotional video, reading from a statement she said was approved by her lawyers. “I’ve lost over a year of my life terrified of social media and terrified of speaking out against the people that used, coerced and manipulated me into uploading my video of May last year.”
The feud started in May 2019 when Westbrook uploaded a video titled “Bye Sister” in which she ended her friendship with Charles after he promoted products from SugarBearHair — a competitor to Westbrook’s Halo Beauty — at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. She also accused Charles of bullying and sexual harassment. The influencers posted videos back and forth during the heat of the fight, and other influencers such as Star, Nikita Dragun and Gabriel Zamora got in on the drama with their own videos.
In her “Breaking My Silence” video, Westbrook stated she started the fight with Charles because of the “heinous lies that were fed to me by Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star,” which included allegations that Charles was abusing and harassing minors. She said the pair claimed they had evidence to back those claims and told her victims would come out after she posted her video, which ultimately did not happen.
She said that she realized Star and Dawson lied to her in order to ruin Charles’ career just as their docuseries aired and they released their highly popular Conspiracy Collection under Jeffree Star Cosmetics.
Westbrook ended the video stating that she is working with her lawyers to uncover evidence of Dawson and Star’s involvement with the feud and that she is within her statute of limitations to file a civil action lawsuit against them for recovery of damages.
On July 18, Star uploaded his own video response to Westbrook, refuting allegations that he blackmailed or manipulated her.
“I didn’t try to take anyone down,” Star said. “I’m not a villain in a movie. This isn’t a Netflix series with a crazy story line — I know it sounds like it, but trust me I’m sure I’d watch it as well — but this is my real life and a lot of things that are happening and being said are false. When someone tries to take someone else down or their career and it doesn’t work, you can’t just take a few more down with you. That’s not how life works. We have to all take accountability for our own actions and no one else’s and that’s what I will continue to do.”
He explained that he should have handled the drama better, like reach out to Charles about the allegations to clarify them rather than speak publicly without concrete proof. He then took time to apologize to Charles in the video.
Star went on to say that his lawyers are working behind the scenes on the issue, likely referencing Westbrook’s comment about how she might file a lawsuit against him.
Danielle Bernstein’s Chained Face Masks – July 2020
We Wore What’s Danielle Bernstein was embroiled in another controversy in July, this time over the creation of chained face masks that she was accused of copying from a small, Latina-owned business.
The controversy went viral when several Instagram callout accounts posted screenshots of Bernstein’s correspondence with accessories label Second Wind on June 29 regarding samples of the brand’s face masks embellished with a chain. The brand’s designer, Karen Perez, offered Bernstein a custom mask and to personally deliver it to her at Bernstein’s Hamptons home.
Screenshots from a few days later seemed to show that Bernstein had reached out to Perez to notify her that her Shop We Wore What label would also be making chained face masks, but that Bernstein’s “masks are a different shape.”
Bernstein revealed her brand’s masks on July 20, and social media users pointed out the similarities between her accessory and Second Wind’s, including the shade of the mask and color of the detachable chain.
The influencer responded to the allegations she was copying Second Wind’s designs on her Instagram Stories on July 21, explaining that she had been in production for the masks for a few weeks. She provided e-mail screenshots that showed production had begun in mid-May. She also stated she only recently found out about Second Wind through a friend.
A few days later, Bernstein posted several Instagram Stories in which she tearfully explained she had received a number of death threats over the controversy and that someone had showed up to her house to harass her.
She went on to state that even though she posted receipts showing she was working on the masks before reaching out to Second Wind, she will no longer be selling the chained face masks. Instead, she decided to donate the masks, plus an additional 5,000 surgical masks, to frontline workers treating COVID-19 patients.
Bernstein and her Shop We Wore What brand have since deleted all Instagram posts related to the chained face masks.
Charli and Dixie D’Amelio’s YouTube Backlash – November 2020
Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, two of the most popular influencers on TikTok, faced backlash in November for a YouTube video where they acted rude toward their family’s private chef.
In the video, the first episode of their “Dinner With the D’Amelio’s” series on their family’s account that included fellow influencer James Charles, chef Aaron May presents the family with a paella dish made with snails. Dixie D’Amelio picks at the snail, smells it and visibly gags. She asks the chef what the snail is, to which he replies, “it’s a snail, they’re kind of cold and it’s classic in paella and it’s actually an omen of good luck and fortune.”
After trying the snail, Dixie D’Amelio gets up from the table and throws up by her family’s pool. Charli D’Amelio responds to her sister’s reaction by asking her parents if they have any “dino nuggets.”
Another moment in the video that upset fans was when Charli D’Amelio, who is the most followed user on TikTok, complains that she hadn’t hit 100 million followers fast enough. She states, “I wish I had more time because imagine if I hit 100 million a year after hitting one million.”
Charles responds to her statement by asking, “Was the 95 million not enough for you?” D’Amelio responded with, “I’m just saying, even numbers.”
TikTok users didn’t respond lightly to either sister’s actions in the video and began unfollowing them en masse. Charli D’Amelio reportedly lost roughly one million followers in the week since the video was posted.
Both sisters apologized for their comments and stated the controversy was a misunderstanding. Dixie D’Amelio explained in a TikTok video that her team “knows I throw up a lot,” and “wanted to get a reaction out of her” with the snails.
Charli D’Amelio explained in a tearful Instagram Live that the controversy was a misunderstanding because she was planning a surprise for her followers when she hit the 100-million follower milestone.
Both influencers have since regained their lost followers.
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