From Dita Von Teese to Avril Lavigne, #Growingupgoth often meant looking up to a select number of figures who gained recognition and appreciation for interjecting a different kind of femininity into mainstream conversation. One of these key women was no other than tattoo artist and makeup mogul Kat Von D. Like many spooky Millennials, I first learned of Von D through her rise to fame on TLC’s Miami Ink spinoff, L.A. Ink – a reality show capturing life inside her shop, High Voltage Tattoo. While client stories and drama-laden plotlines were entertaining enough, Von D’s magnetic presence stole the show. Sporting sky-high chunky heels and colorful eye looks accompanied by the stars etched across her temple, Von D was quite literally a walking piece of art. Heartagrams spotted in the background of frames also indicated her spot in the larger ethos of 2000’s alternative culture. Yet, simultaneously, Von D was so much more than the sum of her appearance. Cool and commanding, but also explosively passionate, Von D was the alpha artist/entrepreneur that we so desperately needed in a particularly vapid decade in pop culture.
With an arsenal of captive young people who grew up ogling her eye makeup on TV, launching a cosmetics line seemed like Kat Von D’s next logical move. In 2008, she brought her avant-garde makeup looks to the everyday consumer in packaging adorned with her own designs. I was just a broke high school freshman at the time, yet I coveted her products from afar. I only experienced the fantasy-for-sale vicariously through a friend, who admitted she had spent far too much on her Von D-branded eyeshadow palette after I had unknowingly complimented her look. While Sephora-housed makeup lines did not enter my budget until much later, the symbolic power of having Von D’s likeness in malls across the world was nothing to belittle. Displaying the face of a heavily-tattooed woman of Latina descent played its hand in normalizing aesthetics silenced in beauty and fashion during the decades (hell, centuries) prior. Economically-speaking, she also demonstrated that she could master the traditionally male world of tattooing while also making a mark on the historically female cosmetics sector, turning gendered business models on their swollen heads.
Was there anything Kat Von D couldn’t do? The answer was a definitive no for those of us watching. Heroes of alternative culture seem to be tightly grasped because there just aren’t as many alternatives. The problem with putting people on pedestals is, of course, that no one is perfect, thus making a fall from grace unsurprising, even inevitable. One of the first signs that matters might be amiss was when Von D publicly disowned her former friend, makeup artist and ex-MySpace musician Jeffree Star. In the infamous 2016 video “It’s so much easier to do the right thing,” Star, who has also gained notoriety for launching a successful makeup brand and revamping his social media presence, was essentially accused of using artwork on his packaging for which he did not pay. Star quickly clapped back with a level-headed response video suggesting that Von D was not only spreading misinformation but speaking for another artist who did not want to be dragged into a public controversy. Once the first flame had been lit, the fire was almost impossible to put out. Soon it became apparent that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Without a doubt, Jeffree Star comes with a sordid past. After inappropriate racial remarks came to light in the form of unearthed MySpace videos, commentary from the broader YouTube community began pouring in. While Star can never take back the hate he transmitted into the world, he did the only thing you can possibly do in such a situation – own up to your shit and use your public platform to do better. Star addressed the incidents in a video entitled “RACISM,” which is among one of the better-received YouTuber apologies. His 2018 docuseries with “Oprah of YouTube” Shane Dawson also fleshed out the incidents, placing them in the perspective of his identity as a makeup-wearing gay man. Star has since become an advocate for more color-inclusive makeup shade ranges, ripping Tarte’s Shape Tape foundation a new asshole for providing 50 shades of beige. Does Star deserve forgiveness? As a white woman, this is a question that I do not feel like I can adequately answer. What is more certain is that Star could perhaps give a lesson in restitution to Von D, whose uncomfortably ambiguous status as an anti-Semite has largely been swept under the rug.
Of course, we cannot provide heart surgery on Kat Von D and see if any hate lies inside. We can only judge her by her actions and associations, which, beg valid questions to which she has not provided adequate answers. The elephant in the room is that she remained loyal to Star throughout his racist past – it was only when he allegedly wronged one of her friends during a business deal that she chose to renounce him (speaking of renouncing, Star was among the earliest to call out Dahvie Vanity’s abuse of underage fans). Von D also has a track record of associating with questionable individuals in her romantic sphere, such as TV personality Jesse James, to whom she was once engaged. James has been photographed doing a Nazi salute while wearing coordinating regalia. That being said, who really knows why she was with this asshole, and maybe it is not fair to speculate. What speaks the loudest is Von D’s own work. In 2015, it was announced that one of her new shades of liquid lipstick would be called Selektion – a German word that was used for exactly what it sounds like in the days of concentration camps. The shade was only renamed after public outcry continued following Von D’s denial of allegations of racism, which left the word in question unaddressed. Yet, the pot was not yet done being stirred.
In May of last year, Kat Von D announced that she was expecting a son. After dating a string of famous fuckboys like Dave Navarro and Deadmau5, it seemed as though she had finally found her happy ending. A lengthy Instagram post soon followed, and it started off like many addressing public pregnancy. Von D had allegedly been on the receiving end of a lot of unsolicited advice. Fair enough. But if you are one of us who read until the end, you know that one piece might actually have been understandable: please vaccinate your kids. Yes, Von D was outed as a vaccine skeptic. Let’s first get one thing straight: mothers—particularly those with an internet presence—are relentlessly judged, or “mommy-shamed.” Kim Kardashian West was called a terrible mom for letting her daughter, North, wear a shade of eyeshadow that matched her turtleneck and Hilary Duff was labeled as inappropriate for having the audacity to wear shorts while picking up her son, Luca, from school. The magnifying glass of the internet is bananas, but due to its major implications for public health, any degree of vaccine skepticism is in a league of its own. While my editor and nurse-on-call, Robin, can probably offer more specific facts and figures to anyone who is wondering, the trend of leaving children unvaccinated has led to the reemergence of diseases that have been virtually removed from the radar of industrialized nations. Toting pseudoscientific beliefs with a large social media following is particularly insidious. Unlike a pair of shorts, polio is everyone’s problem.
As the shock of Kat Von D’s pregnancy wore off, one major question remained – wait, who’s the daddy? The answer is her now-husband Rafael “Leafar Seyer” Reyes. Seyer is an author, half of electronic group, Prayers, and the founder of the cholo goth movement – a subscene that channels the everyday pain, uncertainty, and devotion of living in a gang-run region through the macabre nature of gothic culture. Indeed, despite certain stereotypes, the legacy of Christian Death is certainly not just the white man’s domain. My first reaction after learning of Seyer was that I was a huge piece of shit for having been ignorant of his influence. Perhaps that reality still stands, but there are some details that I have since learned about Seyer that made me hold the phone. YouTuber Ready to Glare recently released a detailed video series on Seyer’s, uh, disappointing relationship (or lack thereof) with his daughter from a previous relationship. In short, Seyer’s daughter “had sex” with some of his friends. Seyer interpreted this act as a great betrayal by both parties and used his music to cope with the emotional fallout. One detail that was brushed over in his account is that his daughter may have been underage when this situation occurred, turning the alleged “sex” into rape.
This information came to light as the timing of books and interviews detailing the incident did not seem to match up. In a 2018 interview with KO63 Music, Seyer states that his daughter was, at the time of writing, 21. However, he also alleges that his 2011 book Living Dangerously was another coping mechanism for incident-related turmoil. If you consider that this is a seven-year timeframe, that means that his daughter was 14 or younger when the incident occurred. For what it is worth, Seyer’s Wikipedia page has her birth year listed as 1994, which would have made her 16 or younger. While 16 is the age of consent in many places, there are generally laws that place a four-year age cap on sexual partners until the individual turns 18. For example, if you are 16, then the oldest person with whom you can consent to having sex is 20. While it is unclear how old Seyer’s friends were at the time, it can be assumed that he was not associating with a host of teenagers as a grown ass man. Even if his daughter was 18 when this mess occurred, it does not seem completely outside the realm of possibility that some degree of manipulation was involved due to the inherent power imbalance of paternalistic romantic relationships (speaking from experience). While the situation is uncomfortable no matter her age, communication feels like the more mature response than isolation, or, in the worst-case scenario of her being underage, victim-blaming. While Seyer is entitled to his hurt feelings, life perspective, and moral relativism, it is disappointing that Kat Von D is along for the ride.
Maybe it is not necessarily surprising that Kat Von D has been knocked down a peg in our cold black hearts. What is more startling is that the reasons for this Plinko Game have grown increasingly bizarre. From here, there are a couple of key lessons to be learned. While many love to hate the famous-for-being-famous Kardashians, having immense talent does not automatically make an individual worthy of devotion, glory, and a large, unchecked public platform. Further, just because someone looks like Janis Ian, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a little Regina George in them. Hell, I write and have a lot of tattoos and I’m still a piece of shit. I ghost people on the regular, I’ve been the other woman on a few occasions, and I even put glue all over a girl’s chair in the first grade for no other reason besides the fact that I was jealous. That being said, I only have 600 followers on Instagram and I’m pretty sure at least half of them are cat accounts who have only stuck around because I followed back. Von D, on the other hand, has 7 million fans and friends (and, to be fair, probably a few spam accounts) at her fingertips. YouTuber Tana Mongeau has pointed out that everyone makes mistakes – what makes hers different is the fact that they are carried out on a public stage. The problem with this analysis is that it paints an incomplete picture. Earn a fandom and your consequences start spreading like whooping cough.
Tune in next week to Thirsty Thursday for more from Jenna.
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