Rihanna's Fenty Beauty pulls its 'Geisha Chic' highlighter after backlash from customers over its 'offensive' name

Mark Runnacles/Stringer/Getty ImagesFenty Beauty was set to release the highlighter in summer 2019.
  • On March 29, Rihanna’sFenty Beauty announced that it would be launching a red highlighter called “Geisha Chic.”
  • After the brand shared photos of the new product on Instagram, customers called the highlighter’s name “inappropriate,” and accused the brand of being racist.
  • On Instagram, representatives for Fenty Beauty told customers that the highlighter has been pulled “until it can be renamed.”
  • The same statement was reiterated to INSIDER by Fenty Beauty representatives.
  • Geishas have a rich history in Japan, and products inspired by them are often considered to be examples of cultural appropriation.

In the past, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty has been praised for offering cosmetics in diverse shades to suit multiple skin tones, but the makeup brand is now facing backlash from fans who say the name of its new highlighter “Geisha Chic” is offensive.

Photos of the highlighter, which Hypebae describes as a metallic brick-red” colour, emerged on social media in March alongside new Fenty Beauty products like the Sun Stalk’r Bronzer and Killawatt duo in “Afternoon Snack/Mo’ Hunny.”

The product was met with criticism from Fenty Beauty followers on social media, who felt the product’s name was “inappropriate” and accused the brand of being racist.

In response to one person’s comment on Instagram, Fenty Beauty thanked fans for “educating” the brand, and said the product would be not be sold until it was given a new name.

In a statement sent to INSIDER, Fenty Beauty confirmed that the product has been pulled “until it can be renamed.”

Trendmood, a verified makeup news account on Instagram, shared photos of the product on Friday.

Trendmood makeupTrendmood/InstagramTrendmood shared photos of the highlighter on Friday.

After photos of the highlighter surfaced, customers began criticising the brand

On Twitter, one customer called the product’s name “inappropriate,” while another accused the brand of being racist.



However, some fans stood by the brand, and said they didn’t have a problem with the product’s name.


After facing backlash, Fenty Beauty announced that it would pull the highlighter ‘until it can be renamed’

On Sunday, a member of the r/BeautyGuruChatter subreddit named elizabeth-bug shared a screenshot of a direct message she received from Fenty Beauty after leaving a comment on the brand’s Instagram page.

“We hear you, we have pulled the product until it can be renamed. We wanted to personally apologise. Thank you so much for educating us,” representatives for Fenty Beauty told the Reddit user on Instagram.

Speaking to INSIDER, representatives for Fenty Beauty reiterated the same statement, and confirmed the message was sent to Instagram users. The representatives did not comment on when the product will be renamed and released.

Fenty Redditelizabeth-bug/RedditReddit user elizabeth-bug shared this screenshot of a direct message from Fenty Beauty.

On Reddit, many said they appreciated Fenty Beauty’s statement, and applauded the brand for prioritising customer comments over profits

“I like this reply: short, straightforward and with an actual apology,” Reddit user PinkChampagne_ wrote.

“Good for them, not only apologizing but taking action, and giving no excuses,” Redditor 321ss said.

“This is a good apology. It doesn’t side step or make excuses. I’m super happy,” Reddit user SwimmingCoyote said. “It’s also a good sign that Fenty is willing to eat the cost of pulling an almost-launched product. Even if it’s just renamed, that will require a lot of money to relabel. I appreciate that Fenty didn’t just go forward with the launch while saying that they’d do better next time.”

Products inspired by geishas are often considered to be examples of cultural appropriation

The term cultural appropriation is used to describe the adoption of elements in a minority culture – typically one that has been historically oppressed or discriminated against – by members of the dominant culture, by those who wield power in a society.

For example, many have spoken out against Halloween costumes that draw on exaggerated and insensitive cultural stereotypes, such as “geisha costumes.”

Read more:
Fashion Nova is selling a ‘geisha’ costume – and it shows how dressing up for Halloween can be problematic

Critics have argued that these costumes – no matter the intention behind them, sexualized or not – should not exist at all, as they allow those who belong in a privileged group to “try on” a culture without experiencing or understanding the history behind it. Meanwhile, when people within that culture wear the same garment, they are often mocked for doing so, or criticised for not assimilating into American society.

That’s not to say that people can’t appreciate cultures outside their own, or that cultural exchange is inherently wrong. The difference between appreciation and appropriation, critics argue, is that appropriation results from ignorance, from a failure or unwillingness to learn about a culture, or to listen to those within that culture.

Geishas have a rich history in Japan

According to Tokyo-based travel company, Toki, female geishas became prominent in Japan between 1750 and 1780. They originally worked as assistants to the oiran, elite and “very expensive Japanese courtesans.”

At the time, according to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, strict government regulations forbade geishas from forming personal relationships with, or even sitting close to, the courtesans’ clients.

During Japan’s Meiji period, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, geishas replaced the oiran as the main “providers of hospitality and entertainment at dinner events for large companies and government officials.”

But in the early 1900s, according to Toki, US soldiers stationed in Japan following World War II incorrectly referred to a broad category of female Japanese workers – a group that included prostitutes and nightclub hostesses – as “geisha girls.”

This American mistake contributed to a global misunderstanding of what geishas are – a warped perception that persists today.

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