Kendall Jenner called out for ‘cosplaying’ Mexican women in tequila campaign

·6 min read

Kendall Jenner continues to face backlash for her 818 tequila brand, most recently facing accusations that her skin tone was darkened in newly released campaign imagery.

The 25-year-old supermodel was met with claims of cultural appropriation when she first officially announced her business endeavor in February, as people across the internet shared their opinion on the "lack of respect" that the eldest Jenner sister showed to the culture of Mexico with 818's creation. Months later, it seems that Jenner and those behind her brand haven't done much work to redeem themselves, but instead face further disappointment from Mexican people who are offended by her latest campaign.

Kendall Jenner faces criticism for new 818 campaign imagery. (Photo: Drink818)
Kendall Jenner faces criticism for new 818 campaign imagery. (Photo: Drink818)

"Kendall Jenner and her team were really going for that Mexican aesthetic in the ad for their new tequila," Jackie Mayorga, a content creator and Latinx activist, pointed out on social media. "They had her riding and bonding with a horse through an agave field and even having her drinking tequila with Mexican men. Cause nothing screams authentic Mexican tequila more than Kendall Jenner wearing braids."

Mayorga explains to Yahoo Life that her critique of the campaign, which went viral on TikTok, pointed to both the obvious and subtle ways that Jenner was appropriating Mexican culture. Mayorga even says that it seemed like Jenner was "cosplaying" with props and through the use of filters that made her skin look darker.

"From the type of filter that they use, to the outfit that they made her wear, to the horse, to the hairstyle, everything was just made to seem like Kendall is a small town Mexican girl," Mayorga says, noting Jenner's braids in particular. "The hairstyle that she chose is really significant because in Mexico the indigenous women wear that hairstyle. And in Mexico, whenever somebody is being anti-indigenous, they usually wear that hairstyle as if they're mocking their intelligence, so it's actually a really big deal. Only around the holidays is when you see the main population of Mexican women wear their hair like that because they're trying to pay homage to our indigenous history."

Celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin posted photos of Jenner to her own Instagram page where she took credit for the hairstyling. However, she, like Jenner has with all 818-related content, blocked public comments from the post. Drink 818 didn't respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.

Amid Atkin's praise of Jenner as a female founder, Mayorga also points out that Jenner's role in the campaign video in comparison to that of the Mexican men beside her — who are presumably the agave farmers responsible for the creation of the tequila — was striking as well.

"The first thing that I noticed was how come there's no other women other than Kendall in this video? And the other part was how come they're only using these men as props in the background?" Mayorga questions. "The video is just Kendall as if she's the one that's actually working these fields."

The lack of visibility for real Mexican women within the female-founded tequila brand is also striking to Yola Jimenez, the founder of Yola Mezcal, which was created and is run with a female-focused mission in mind as a result of the gender inequities that exist within the industry as a whole.

"I saw firsthand how women were part of every part of the process and how much they worked on it and how much it's a family endeavor, but nobody talks about that. Women don't even get paid for the work. It wasn't even considered a job, it's just something that they had to do as a service of men and I really wanted to change that," Jimenez tells Yahoo Life of her namesake brand, which employs women only.

She goes on to say that Jenner's foray into the industry was a "huge missed opportunity" when it comes to supporting other women within it. "There are very few women in positions of power in the world, but she is one of them. They're even less women in positions of power in the alcohol world. This could have been a good opportunity for her to try to implement a little version of change," Jimenez explains. "Women in Mexico in this industry get paid not even half of the money that a man makes, if they're paid at all or if they have access to jobs at all. And it's something that apparently doesn't even cross her mind."

The value and necessity of employing female agave farmers and building personal relationships with them is not lost on Jimenez, whose grandfather bought a mezcal farm in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1971 and passed it down to Jimenez upon his death. Mayorga points out that small farms that employ and properly pay Mexican workers, like Jimenez's, are ultimately the ones that are most impacted by the uptick in celebrity-branded liquors.

"This is necessary to speak out about because of the severe impact that it has," Mayorga says. "Tequila and how it's made is really culturally connected to Mexico. And now that tequila has become so commercialized around the world, the quality is going down drastically and because you can only grow in a certain part of Mexico, people are being bought out of their lands. Small, actually authentic distilleries that have been doing this for centuries are going out of business because they simply can't afford to compete with these distilleries that are giving us like low quality tequila. ... It's making real tequila, which is 100 percent agave, die out."

Despite the controversy now surrounding 818, Mayorga says that the attention paid to the brand will ultimately pay off. "Kardashians believe any publicity is good publicity, you can turn it around. And they've been doing this for years. They've been getting called out for culture appropriation for years. They've never once taken down their posts, they use all of this publicity and they turn it around and they get their fans to attack whoever's attacking them and they get to profit off of it," she says.

Jimenez echoed the sentiment saying that Jenner will likely sell "millions more bottles than I ever will." Still, profit isn't her end goal. "We need brands with integrity and we need brands that are based in Mexico where Mexicans are rewarded for their work and their tradition," she says. "If you view the industry like we view it from our own backyards, you feel differently."

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