Subtly Racist, Viral Makeup Trends Are Not All Fun And Games

Offensive Makeup Trends

The makeup section of TikTok or Instagram FYP requires cultural sensitivity training. Yes, it allows creators to go beyond the basics and experiment with their craft, pushing the boundaries of traditionally wearable looks. The makeup hacks that pop up almost every day have been a saving grace for many, myself included. But, some makeup trends, especially those with celebrity backing, can be problematic at many levels. And given that the algorithm of these social media platforms traditionally suppresses diverse opinions, you get exposed to content without understanding the racist or cultural appropriation undertones lurking underneath. The past year has seen a spike in problematic makeup trends, encouraged by their shareable nature. Let’s look at some of the most worrisome trends in the recent past and what makes them so.

Subtly Racist

Dark circles, around which a billion-dollar industry of eye creams thrives, are now an actual makeup trend. It started gaining traction when creators showed the hack of blending a darker shade of concealer under the eye to give a grunged-out, barely slept effect. It was peddled one being accepting of their flaws, highlighting them to bring about awareness around them. But truth be told, none of the creators who went viral for the hack actually had dark circles. Outside of social media or the lifespan of the trend, they would never wear them again. This is especially troubling when you realise people prone to dark circles often get shamed for them. From “You look tired” to “That’ll probably need botox to fix.” People with dark circles are often subjected to comments served with deliberate shade. This is especially true for people of colour. We melanated queens cannot help but embrace our dark circles, so a trend like this is just dumb, to say the least.


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The Problematic Makeup Trend

Interestingly, POC features are most often appropriated by the online makeup community. It lacks big POC creators who can actually call out trends for being racist. The Fox Eye trend, popularised by supermodels like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, is created by concealing and contouring the eyes to look elongated and tapered upwards. Believe me when I say that Asians HATE this trend. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Assam (North-Eastern India) and studied in a homogenous school with kids from all over the country. I was culturally sensitive to words like ‘chinki‘ and ‘Chinese’. Kids as young as 11 were bullied for it. Such abuse towards North-East Indians is rampant in multiple parts of India. The recent spike in Anti-Asian hate globally fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic makes things worse for them. So for them to see their natural features turned into a makeup trend and innocently parcelled as ‘Foxy eyes’ isn’t fooling anyone!


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It’s not surprising that the online makeup community lacks perceptive towards Asian issues. Historically, fashion and beauty industry’s tendency toward cultural appropriation has been notorious. Faux dreadlocks and overpriced turbans have been turned into accessories for the runway. Off it, ethnic people who do don them are often discriminated against in the workplace and elsewhere. If a big brand like Victoria’s Secret can send European models in traditional Native American headdresses down the runway, what can a single creator do? The presence and cognisance of POC perspectives, thus, becomes crucial. 

TikTok and Instagram’s history of stealing content ideas from POC creators could just be the base of the problem. Most recently, the trend of Douyin makeup has got me personally shook. ‘Douyin’, which is actually China’s name for TikTok, is a makeup technique popular among Chinese and other East Asian celebrities. It focuses on glowing pale skin, doll-shaped eyes, soft lips and accentuated under-eye bags. The method has long been used by East Asian women to highlight their natural features. But when recreated on non-Asian features, the cringe sets in. At what point does cultural appreciation become appropriation? The worst part of it all? Original content creators are often not credited for their technique when a trend reaches viral status. The online space needs to do better!

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