LA BeautyCon took place this weekend. It’s a three day convention for makeup artists and beauty enthusiasts. I know we’ve put this to rest, but I wonder if people brought up the James Charles and Tati Westbrook feud from back in May. Neither of them was on the roster for BeautyCon’s talent, and it looks like neither of them attended, but the rumours must’ve abounded?
Someone who did draw attention was Priyanka Chopra during a Q&A session on Saturday. Priyanka is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and she posts regularly about various causes on her Twitter and Instagram. At the event, a woman named Ayesha Malik accused Priyanka of being a hypocrite, based on a tweet she sent back in February after the Indian Military launched airstrikes in Pakistan.
“Jai Hind” roughly means “Victory to India,” and is a phrase that is thought to have first appeared back in 1907, in relation to India’s struggle against British Colonial rule. While it’s still in use by many as a patriotic celebration of India, it also has a history in partition, when it was contrasted with “Pakistan Zindabad” (Victory to Pakistan). Both terms were used by supporters of India and Pakistan respectively during the conflict.
I’m not here to discuss the complex geopolitical situation between Pakistan and India, or even whether Ayesha’s criticism was warranted. I want to talk about Priyanka’s response, and the tone with which it was delivered.
This irks. A lot. Listen to the way she starts her statement: “Whenever you’re done venting.” Look at her body language. She’s already talking down and disengaged from the conversation from the start. She then continues to say that she has “many, many friends from Pakistan”, which apparently absolves her from any wrongdoing, just like saying you have black friends absolves you from racism. She also apologizes, but insincerely because in the same sentence, she says, “I’m sorry…but...” A real apology shouldn’t have qualifiers!
Here’s the kicker. At the end, instead of defending her stance or even providing some counterarguments, she instead chooses to say, “The way you came at me, right now? Girl don’t yell. We’re all here for love. Don’t yell. Don’t embarrass yourself.”
Priyanka’s response is disappointing for a lot of reasons, but especially because she’s been an advocate for women in the past. Remember her YouTube special? Yet here, Priyanka is using some of the same tactics used by others to silence women who speak up. Women are often painted as “too emotional” during arguments and calling Ayesha’s comments “venting” is a page out of that playbook. It categorizes a criticism as an emotional outburst instead of a coherent opinion.
Then, rather than addressing the issue directly, she instead polices Ayesha’s tone. “Don’t yell.” Tone policing was a big issue back in 2015 when Nicki Minaj called out Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. #MileyWhatsGood Rather than attacking the content of someone’s argument, tone policing attacks the way they presented it, feigning a commitment to politeness and civility as opposed to grappling with the more complicated aspects of what’s being discussed. And almost always, the discussion is a criticism of someone’s behaviour so it’s an easy cop-out to avoid talking about your actions. Which is exactly what Priyanka did here.
This is part of a larger trend where celebrities don’t feel like criticisms of their work or their behaviour are valid. That it’s just the “haters” who will hate. Remember the whole thing with Olivia Munn and the Fug Girls? Or Tarantino refusing to answer a question about Margot Robbie’s role in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. Even Lizzo fell into this trap, claiming that only musicians should review albums.
Part of me gets it. Celebrities get a lot of hate and a lot of criticism. I imagine that at some point, you’re done with that sh-t. You’re exhausted from constantly having to defend yourself (not you Kevin Hart). At the end of the day, they’re humans too. Some people on Twitter argued that Ayesha’s comments were unwelcome at a convention about beauty, blaming her for bringing up an irrelevant issue at the con. During these panels at these kinds of conventions though, they’re routinely expanding on the definition of “beauty” and discussing feminism, activism, and women’s work.
The other part of me wonders if this is part of the job requirement. Fame comes with notoriety, fortune, power, and influence. But every job has a downside, and perhaps dealing with criticism and extra scrutiny is one. And if that’s the case, then shouldn’t they just have to deal with it? Is it so damaging and wrong to admit culpability once and a while?
What I’m afraid of, and what we’re already seeing happening, is that valid criticisms get grouped with the rest of the toxic sh-t that flies around the internet, and we quickly lose the ability to hold celebrities accountable for their actions. That rather than dealing with the content of the criticisms, we deal with how they’re presented. Priyanka isn’t the first celebrity to do this, but she’s one I didn’t expect it from.