VIVA Activism!
M•A•C VIVA GLAM Fund Celebrates Its Twenty-Fifth Anniversary with an Expanded Mission
by Lester Strong

In 1984 two men, Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo, co-founded M•A•C Cosmetics. In 1994, they had a vision: contribute to AIDS research and other AIDS medical causes through the sale of lipstick and lip gloss. In the words of Toskan: “We developed a great lipstick color we called VIVA GLAM. This little lipstick gave people dignity and saved lives.” In 2019 the M•A•C VIVA AIDS Fund celebrates twenty-five years of funding AIDS causes. With over $500 million raised and dispersed to organizations worldwide, it is the largest corporate non-pharmaceutical funder of AIDS causes around the globe. It is also looking to the future with an expanded mission and a new name.

In the words of Nancy Mahon, Executive Director of the Fund: “Through the sale of VIVA GLAM, M•A•C has been honored to serve the global HIV/AIDS community with nearly 10,000 grants and over 1,800 partnerships with groundbreaking organizations around the world. That’s real, roll-up-your-sleeves aid for tens of millions of people. While reflecting on these accomplishments during this marquee twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, we’re also turning our sights toward the future. Over the decades supporting the global HIV/AIDS community, we’ve come to know that ending the disease and stopping its spread is an intersectional, multi-faceted endeavor. It involves not just breakthroughs in healthcare and living assistance, but also ending stigma, creating equal rights for marginalized communities and opening access to resources for all.”

The new name: the M•A•C VIVA GLAM Fund. Its expanded mission: partnering with organizations whose focus is not just on health needs but also on educating and empowering those most vulnerable to the effects of HIV/AIDS, among other diseases. To kick off the Fund’s twenty-fifth-year celebration, it is honoring ten “heritage” grantee organizations, including God’s Love We Deliver, APLA, and Heartland Heath Alliance, with $25,000 grants each. And to jumpstart its expanded mission, it is partnering through grants with three new organizations: Planned Parenthood, which focuses on sexual health, GLAAD, which focuses on LGBTQ rights, and Girls, Inc., which focuses on girls’ development.

As in the past, the funding this year will come exclusively from the sale of the VIVA GLAM line of lipsticks and lip gloss. VIVA GLAM campaigns each year have had well-known spokespeople from the entertainment and fashion worlds, called “ambassadors,” to spread the Fund’s message. Those have included RuPaul [A&U, June 2005], k.d. lang, Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Elton John, Christina Aguilera, Pamela Anderson, Fergie, Cyndi Lauper [A&U, June 2010] and Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin, Nicki Minaj, and Boy George, among others. This year’s spokesperson is Canadian-born international model Winnie Harlow.

For the 2019 campaign, also known as the M•A•C VIVA GLAM 25 campaign, Harlow has recreated the RuPaul look of the original campaign in 1994, and the company is re-issuing the first-ever VIVA GLAM lipstick shade worn by RuPaul in that first campaign: brownish blue-red. It is also re-releasing the muted-mauve shade lipstick launched with k.d. lang in 1997 and the brown-plum shade launched with Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim in 2000. As usual, 100-perecent of the sales price will be donated to the VIVA GLAM Fund.

Winnie Harlow recreating RuPaul’s inaugural campaign

Winnie Harlow is certainly a good fit as spokesperson for a campaign related to a disease that causes problems with the immune system. Since the age of four she has lived with vitiligo, a chronic condition where parts of one’s skin permanently lose their pigmentation. The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, but it is thought to relate to an autoimmune response where the body destroys its skin’s pigment cells. Because of the way she looked, Winnie was a victim of bullying and verbally harassed by other children. She changed schools several times, eventually dropping out of high school. In 2011 she posted a video on YouTube titled “Vitiligo: A Skin Condition, not a Life Changer.” In November 2014 she spoke at a TEDx presentation, also available on YouTube, titled “My Story Is Painted on My Skin.” Because of her outspokenness about her condition and the effects it has had on her life, she received the “Role Model” award at the 2015 Portuguese GQ Men of the Year event.

In addition to Harlow, the campaign this year is introducing eighteen “MACtivists” who will participate in the the VIVA GLAM campaign. Comprised of influencers, artists, and activists, these individuals reflect the expanded mission to support women, girls, and the LGBTQ community by interacting with them through conversations on health and rights, discussing their personal stories and connections to the communities. The full cast includes Troye Sivan, Jacob Bixenman, Mari Malek, Aquaria, Princess Nokia, Dara Allen, Eileen Kelly, Deja Foxx, Lea T, Alex Mugler, Parker Kit Hill, Bradley Miller, Nisha Sirpal, Kiekie Stanners, Daiana Gonzalez, Allen Li, Carlisha Gizelle, and Schuron Womack.

The message from VIVA GLAM this year has some positive notes. As Nancy Mahon points out, the world looks much different on the HIV/AIDS front in 2019 than it did in 1994, when M•A•C created the VIVA GLAM campaign: AIDS-related deaths have fallen by fifty percent, over 21.7 million people have access to medication, and there are forty-seven percent fewer new infections globally. But the AIDS crisis is hardly over. For VIVA GLAM, it’s still selling “one lipstick at a time” to raise funds along with a greater emphasis than ever on the company motto shown on the M•A•C website: “all ages, all races, all genders.”

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Lester Strong is Special Projects Editor of A&U.