My lovely friend Lex (@talontedlex) flagged up this on Twitter today from Smith & Cult. As beauty reviewers, we’re often asked to reinterpret ‘artistic’ ideas so that they make some kind of sense.. but I cannot make any sense of this. Spastic is a very old fashioned word for Cerebal Palsy and I can bet you any kind of money you like that Smith & Cult would never have named an eyeliner that.
Smith & Cult are an American brand so maybe – on the off chance – that it didn’t have the same meaning in the US. But they did know exactly what the meaning was (they gave a statement – I’ll be back on that). I checked the Wiki definition just to see, because that’s available to everyone and here it is:
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of permanent movement disorders that appear in early childhood. Signs and symptoms vary among people. Often, symptoms include poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, and tremors. There may be problems with sensation, vision, hearing, swallowing, and speaking. Often babies with cerebral palsy do not roll over, sit, crawl, or walk as early as other children of their age. Other symptoms include seizures and problems with thinking or reasoning, each of which occurs in about one third of people with CP. While the symptoms may get more noticeable over the first few years of life, the underlying problems do not worsen over time.
That paragraph, and it’s only the first paragraph in a very long definition, defines a ‘spastic’. Because that’s on Wiki too. A portion of the definition ‘Spastic’ on Wiki includes, However, the word began to be used as an insult and became a term of abuse used to imply stupidity or physical ineptness: one who is uncoordinated or incompetent, or a fool. It was often colloquially abbreviated to shorter forms such as “spaz”.
Smith & Cult’s defense is that they’re an artistic brand that used the word because ‘art comes in many forms… as an artistic brand, Smith & Cult chooses its shade names based on experiences or memories from the protagonist behind the brand… the name Wax Spastic is directly referring to a sentimentality and longing for our youth’. They go on to say they don’t intend to ‘come off as offensive’. Yes, yes you did. You knew it and thought artistic license in naming an eye liner would somehow see you through it.
When brands get so inward looking that something like this seems like an amusing idea as part of a wider creative, it’s time for that brand to take a long old look at themselves. I feel embarrassed for them to be honest, just when I thought they’d started to do more interesting things. Cerebral Palsy is a horrid, life limiting condition where people truly suffer. There never was anything whimsical or sentimental about it: it was as debilitating when it was known as being ‘spastic’ as it is know by its current name. I’m so angry about this when disabled people fight day and night for equality and recognition and not to be defined by a condition but to be an accepted and integrated part of society, and a beauty brand uses such nonsense for an eyeliner. Literally embarrassed.
I think the main stockists, Cult Beauty and Net a Porter need to take a look at it too – it’s as inappropriate for them to be selling it as it is that it exists in the first place. If they didn’t spot it at the buying stage, they know it now. If they did spot it and thought it was fine.. well.. what to say? Do leave your thoughts. Lex’s blog, by the way, is HERE and it’s awesome. I’m sure she will have plenty to say herself so do follow.
As an update (the following day): the brand has apologised unreservedly and removed the product from sale.
All products are sent to me as samples from brands and agencies unless otherwise stated. Affiliate links may be used. Posts are not affiliate driven.
Utterly repugnant behaviour. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I won’t be buying from this brand ever.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m from North America or because of my age (older millennial) but I never associated a spaz as anything other than being klutzy or forgetful in almost a cute way (eg “I totally spazzed about that meeting”). And I have never heard it being used about people with disabilities of any kind. But reading your explanation actually explains the root of the word use and is really terrible.
The Smith and Cult comment does make sense though as I haven’t even used this term since my childhood in the late 90s when it was a popular word. For a certain group of North Americans, there is probably a nostalgia to the word that has no bad connotations.
I think if Smith and Cult had no prior knowledge then it would be an understandable mistake they should acknowledge and do something about (proceeds to charity, change the name on future production, etc). We can’t be preemptively “woke” on every meaning of every word or action in every single country or culture in the world. It’s not sustainable. In this instance, I would never have known. But given Smith & Cult was advised of the connotations in the UK, they should have changed it. It’s inexcusable. No eyeliner has to be called “waxed spastic”. There’s literally a million other cheesy names or phrases that would not be rude or hurtful to any group that is already suffering. Why is it so hard even today to get through to people???
I think if you are an international brand, you have to be sensitive – I found it on Wiki.. so could they… and the connotations regarding klutzy and clumsy – that’s exactly how it used to be used here but the roots of that were from the same source as yours and very unpleasant no matter how innocently said.
I usually aim for being sensitive to these things, but I agree with you on this one, Nicole. Having been a surgical assistant and deputy coroner in the U.S., there are many kinds of spasms. To presume that everything “spastic” only pertains to cerebral palsy is an ignorant thought in and of itself (in the U.S.). I have muscle spasms constantly, and as an avid fitness lover, these “spasms” can be GOOD- they can signify a great workout. On the other side of the coin (or “pond,” in this instance) if a brand is going to retail internationally, it would be prudent to take cultural relativism into consideration.
Perhaps you can share further regarding spasms given that you have the benefit of in depth medical knowledge. I am sure other readers would like to know just as much as I would how to define it correctly.
I’m with you. The founder of s&D.C. Is the founder behind Hard Candy and she is also from our generation and to us, it meant ditzy, scatter brained and light hearted. It was not used as an oblique reference to anyone suffering from CP or was a”spastic quadriplegic” or any other horrible, debilitating condition. I own several of S&C polishes, love them and intend to buy more.
This is completely baffling! Not only is it offensive, it makes no bloody sense either. Calling to mind a younger time when you may have thought it was ok to call someone a spastic, should evoke a sense of shame at your naive lack of compassion & understanding, not sentimentality & longing.
Plus, it’s just a really shit name!
How wrong can you get?!
This is awful. How dare they?
Thanks for bringing this to a wider audience. I’ve liked the look of their nail varnishes I’m the last, but will now avoid this brand.
That should have said “in the past”
This is disgraceful. The three UK stockists need to withdraw this offensive item without delay. How could anyone with any sense think this is acceptable? Maybe in the youth of the “protagonist behind the brand” it was OK to use this term to insult people. Who is this fool or group of fools?
My boyfriends daughter has cerebral palsy and I can tell you it is NOT funny. This truly disgusts me. Well done for this piece.
I feel that even if a charity raising money to help with cerebral palsy had to change their name (from the spastics society) then clearly it’s an offensive word across the board. It’s not even relevant to the product.
There are no words to describe how appalled I was after reading this, how the brand can’t even seem to make a proper apology and change the name makes no sense. It’s not funny or clever in anyway to call anybody by this name and if a brand thinks it’s an ok name to call something than what sort of message does that send out to people. Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention.
I cannot believe a beauty brand could be this offensive in this day and age, it is truly disgusting. As a teacher I am constantly teaching pupils that words like this is totally unacceptable. I won’t be buying from that brand ever
What a vile self centred brand!
This is totally offensive!
US consumers would be up in arms if a UK Brand called it’s eyeliner Wax Redneck/Hillbilly/Stupid Yank.
Hmm I’m not buying their reasoning behind this ridiculous and offensive name. There are plenty of words that were bandied around when I was a child/teenager in the 70s and 80s, that were ‘accepted’ (which clearly I am not going to list here), but which we now know to be vile and offensive, and we would not dream of saying them. If we were to follow Smith & Cult’s excuse to its logical conclusion we could end up with makeup called all sorts of disgusting things, in the name of ‘nostalgia for a more innocent time’.
Not much shocks me anymore at my stage of life, but this certainly does. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember kids at school insulting each other with this word. It wasn’t funny then and it’s even less funny now. I have never bought anything from this brand and I won’t ever after this incident. Shame on them, they must be living in the Dark Ages if they think this is acceptable.
This word has the same meaning/definition in Greece. Thoughtless and sad.
S&C need to understand that in the UK that vile word causes a visceral response for most Brits, akin to someone using the N word to describe someone who is Black British. It is totally unacceptable
A friend on facebook referred to herself as a spaz in a post the other day and I actually recoiled from the screen – it’s such an awful thing to say and it really surprises me that this brand thought that they were arty enough to get away with it. And the “oh we meant it as lighthearted and klutzy” doesn’t fly. We used to do all sorts of really horrible things that we have learned better of now.