Why This Mega-Popular Influencer Is Speaking Out About That “COVID-15” Joke

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Why This Mega-Popular Influencer Is Speaking Out About That “COVID-15” Joke featured image

The 12ish Style’s Katie Sturino is so over the “COVID-15” joke—a play on words on the “freshman 15” theory that all college students automatically will put on weight their first year of school. Before the entire nation was under “Safer at Home” orders, there were memes, social media posts and countless ribbing about weight gain during quarantine. Sturino, a fashion and beauty influencer, has been vocal on her own social media channels about the damaging effects of this socially- accepted body shaming.

She’s also the owner of Megababe, a beauty brand that makes “smart beauty” products that women really need, like her Thigh Rescue balm, Bust Dust Anti-Boob Sweat Powder and the ultimate essential in our current climate: their Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer. We caught up with Sturino to find out why that COVID-15 joke isn’t funny anymore and what it’s like to be ahead of the curve on the hand sanitizer front. 

NewBeauty: What have you been doing during quarantine to stay sane?
Katie Sturino: Okay, what I’m doing to stay sane, which sometimes is impossible and you do feel insane, but what I’m doing is I try to move my body every day. What I’m tying that into right now is much more about my mental well-being, endorphins and feeling good and strong, which I think should be our workout belief in general, right? Working out is very much tied to an aesthetic, and if that’s what you want, I’m not saying you shouldn’t and can’t want that. I just feel that the aesthetic angle is pushed down everyone’s throat with exercise. And I’m also doing more comforting stuff like watching movies. I think it’s also important to try new things to keep your brain busy. I think it’s so funny because Tik Tok is like a random platform, but it’s also a new way for me to engage my brain. So, I’m learning Tik Tok right now as a “professional.” 

NB: Right when the country went into self-isolation, within the first few days there were already so many memes and posts online about gaining weight in quarantine and the “COVID-15.” You were immediately outspoken about how damaging these jokes are. What triggered you to speak up?
KS: Right in the beginning I saw something from another influencer, The Blonde Salad, and she and her husband did some Photoshopped videos that were meant to be funny about how their post-quarantine bodies were going to look. The “after” shot felt a little personal because it looked like my body shape was the butt of the joke. Then, there is this other idea that we need to diet, starve ourselves or control our food intake while we’re in quarantine which is very troubling to people with eating disorders, or even people without eating disorders. I noticed right away an influx of direct messages from my followers saying things like, “I feel so insecure right now,” “I’m so nervous about this,” and “Everyone’s joking about getting fat and I don’t know what to do.”

NB: Yeah, it’s like pre-body shaming and for anyone who has a history of yo-yo dieting, there is so much anxiety and shame attached to these “harmless” jokes. 
KS: Totally. It just felt ridiculous to me that in the middle of the worst thing that has happened to us in so long, a completely unprecedented event, and here we are talking about beach bodies and saying stuff like “I need an extension on my beach body prep.” I just think it’s so ridiculous for us to be worrying about this while there are so many more important things going on. 

NB: Just to switch gears a little, Megababe makes an amazing vegan hand sanitizer. What has it been like having one of the most highly coveted products of 2020 in your line? 
KS: When my sister had a baby she became this hand sanitizer freak. We were sanitizing our hands all of time, but they reeked of alcohol and my hands would end up feeling cracked and dry. I knew we needed to make something better than the stuff that was out there. I preferred a waterless hand wash, but those aren’t always guaranteed to kill the germs, so what’s the point other than they have a better smell experience. It was important for me to create one that has moisturizers so that your hands don’t freak out, a great scent experience, and plant-based alcohol. What I found through developing this formula is that a lot of manufacturers take shortcuts when formulating hand sanitizers. After the alcohol, they just usually combine it with garbage, or filler, essentially. I wanted to make sure that we were creating a product that doesn’t have any of that filler in it. Just the good stuff. 

NB: What happened when we had a big rush for hand sanitizer a few months ago?  
KS: So, we had our hand sanitizer in stock and it was selling fine. People liked it. And then when the pandemic started coming towards us, we sold out and were immediately talking to suppliers about getting more. The price of the raw materials went up, but we didn’t raise our prices. We did have to set a limit to the amount of quantities that you could buy on our website because we wanted to get hand sanitizer to the people who needed it. We also started an initiative called Megababe Cares where if you can’t find it and you’re a healthcare worker or have a compromised immune system, we’ll just send it to you.

NB: Oh, that’s amazing. Have you been sending it to a lot of people?
KS: Yes. We’re a very small team, so we’re getting it out to anyone who needs it as fast as we can.

NB: Thank you for doing that. I’m sure you’ve helped a lot of people. 
KS:  Yeah, it’s really cool to get photos from frontline workers and people who have gotten the product and, I don’t know, it just feels so good. I’ll tell you what having hand sanitizer in this time has done—it’s given me something where I have some control and feel like I can contribute versus just feeling super helpless. 

NB: You’re in a unique position because you’re both an influencer and a brand owner so you’re seeing how the pandemic has affected us from different sides. Do you think we will be seeing long-term changes in our industry ?
KS: Yes. It’s really hard as a business owner to look at the future, but as an influencer and a human and a consumer, I hope people slow down. I hope the production of things like fast fashion and, well there is no fast beauty, but I hope we reevaluate the need for some of those things. The thing about beauty that I will say as a as a small business owner is that environmentally-friendly packaging is not accessible for small businesses. It’s so hard to get and you have to beg your suppliers and I would like to see a shift towards more accessible eco-friendly packaging. If that became the industry standard, then it would be more affordable and easier to find and get. I also think we will see more options with essentials like hand sanitizer, in the same way that like four years ago people were just using the big brand name toothpastes or deodorants like Secret or Dove, and now we’ve got a whole buffet. I feel like this is another “essentials” category that’s going to have more options down the line.

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