Max-Brown, a social media influencer and Michigan State University graduate, shared a sponsored post on 18 May as part of Bioré’s campaign for Mental Health Awareness Month. In the since-deleted TikTok video, Max-Brown spoke about her experience with anxiety since surviving the MSU school shooting in February 2023, which claimed the lives of three students.
The clip also showed off a box of Bioré deep cleansing pore strips, as she told her followers to “strip away the stigma of anxiety.”
“Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year – from a school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college,” Max-Brown narrated the TikTok video, which was reposted to Twitter. “In support of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m partnering with Bioré Skincare to strip away the stigma of anxiety.”
The sponsored ad showed clips of Max-Brown exercising, resting, and using skincare products as she spoke about the negative mental health effects she’s faced since the February shooting. “I found myself recently struggling from seeing the effects of gun violence firsthand,” she said. “I will never forget the feeling of terror that I had walking around campus for weeks in a place I considered home.”
The recent college graduate told viewers that “it’s OK not to have it all together” and to “know everything will work itself out,” before adding: “Join me and Bioré Skincare in speaking up about mental health.”
Both Bioré and Cecilee Max-Brown’s video quickly sparked backlash, as many social media viewers felt it was insensitive to reference the tragic school shooting in a paid post for Bioré pore strips. The ad was taken down on Friday, less than 24 hours after it was posted, but Twitter user @capt_thomas1492 received more than five million views on the app after reposting the video.
“If you were in a school shooting, you should try a Bioré pore strip,” they captioned the tweet.
If you were in a school shooting, you should try a Bioré pore strip. pic.twitter.com/QEc4OJEskI
— Thomas (@capt_thomas1492) May 19, 2023
The comments were quickly flooded by people asking whether the video was real, while others called it “dystopian”.
“Influencers need to be stopped at all costs,” said one user.
Another person quipped: “School shootings are scary. But not as scary as blackheads. Try Bioré pore strips today!”
influencers need to be stopped at all costs https://t.co/L3fX8lgF4B
— Will Tru🪓 (@TruAxe1) May 22, 2023
School shootings are scary. But not as scary as blackheads. Try Bioré pore strips today! https://t.co/T7J8Wd1jOG
— mrbrown (@mrbrown) May 20, 2023
Victims of gun violence also weighed in on the backlash, criticising the skincare company for using a school shooting as promotion for its products.
“I’m a student at this university. I’m a victim of this shooting. I’m literally wearing a shirt bought that funded the victims funerals,” claimed one person on Twitter. “The thought of using it as a promotion, a brand deal…it’s disgusting. I don’t get how people can feel comfortable monetizing it.”
“I don’t know why my therapist or docs didn’t tell [me] that Biore pore strips could have helped heal the bullet wound on my stomach, or my anxiety after being shot, or my fear of loud noises, or stop my nightmares, or help me feel ok at school,” added Saugus High School shooting survivor, Mia Tretta. “Firing them and buying in bulk!”
tw school violence
i’m a student at this university. i’m a victim of this shooting. im literally wearing a shirt bought that funded the victims funerals. the thought of using it as a promotion, a brand deal… it’s disgusting. i don’t get how ppl can feel comfortable monetizing it https://t.co/DhxoZxD5rP
— ✦ eyeles ✦ (@eyeles_alt) May 19, 2023
I don’t know why my therapist or docs didn’t tell that Biore pore strips could have helped heal the bullet wound on my stomach, or my anxiety after being shot, or my fear of loud noises, or stop my nightmares, or help me feel ok at school. Firing them and buying in bulk! 👀 https://t.co/cgPCo6TX2O
— Mia Tretta (@mia_tretta) May 20, 2023
Following the backlash, Bioré apologised for the “inappropriate” sponsored post in a statement shared to social media on Sunday. “We lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy, and our tonality was completely inappropriate,” the statement read. In the Instagram caption, the company also asked followers to direct their anger towards the brand, “not towards the creators themselves.”
“This is our mistake, and we own it. We let our community down and we let our creators down by not providing better guidance,” they added.
Meanwhile, Max-Brown posted an apology to her TikTok on Sunday, explaining that the partnership video was “strictly meant to spread awareness about the struggles that I have had with anxiety since our school shooting.”
She continued: “This partnership was not intending to come off as the product fixing the struggles I have since this event. Rather, partnering with a brand to spread awareness of what me and so many other students have been dealing with.”
“I did not mean to desensitize the traumatic event that took place as I know the effects it has had on me and the Spartan community,” her apology read. “I take accountability for this and will ensure to be smarter in the future.”
In an emailed statement to NBC News on Friday, Max-Brown said the TikTok “came off completely wrong.”
“I wanted the message to shed light on how I’ve been struggling with anxiety after our school shooting,” she said. “My only intention was to try and help other people that are going through the same experience, and not desensitize what happened.”
A Bioré representative told The New York Times that they’ve been in contact with Max-Brown “more than once” since the video was posted and planned to continue to provide her with support. The sponsored post was shared as part of Bioré’s “Strip Away the Stigma” challenge, which aims to normalise conversations about mental health.
Last February, three Michigan State University students were killed and five others were critically injured after a gunman opened fire at the East Lansing campus. Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner were named by MSU Police as victims of the shooting. The identity of the third victim was confirmed by family as 19-year-old Arielle Anderson.
There have been more than 230 mass shootings in the United States this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks gun violence.
The Independent has contacted Bioré and Cecilee Max-Brown for comment.