Deceitful, Problematic, Or Benign? The Case For And Against The New Crying Makeup Trend

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Bloodshot eyes, puffy lips, glistening cheeks—crying gives us a distinct look that, for most of us, would not be one we want to show off to the general public. But according to the wellspring of information that is TikTok, “crying makeup” is one of the latest, hottest makeup trends. 

The name essentially speaks for itself; this makeup look is all about achieving that fresh-from-a-cry-sesh face. While straightforward in theory, the trend poses a few underlying concerns that are far more complex. Does this look romanticize poor mental health? Is it deceitful? Or is this all just one big overreaction?

We got our tissues and dove deeper into the issue, breaking down the origins of this trend and its possible benefits and pitfalls.

Breaking Down The Teary-Eyed Trend

“This one is for the unstable girlies,” began @ZoeKimKenealy on TikTok. “If you’re not in the mood to cry, here’s how to get the look with makeup.” Kenealy outlined how she achieved her perfectly pouty look, including puffy soft lips, pink eyes and cheeks, glistening lash lines, and wet Cupid’s bow.

While this look is certainly distinct, it’s not quite as original as Gen Z might like to think. But we’ll forgive them, of course, because they also thought skorts were invented last year. However, we’ve seen this heavy-eyed look before.

Fiona Apple, Mazzy Star, and even nihilistic cartoons like Daria—these pop culture icons of the late ’90s made it cool to be crabby. This look, which i-D writer Rayne Fisher-Quann aptly dubbed the “dissociative pout,” has been around for decades.

Just think back to the exaggerated “sad” eyebrows of the 1920s or the dead-eyed gaze of 1960s couture. So what makes this so particularly concerning to some and empowering to others in 2022?

Performative Cosmetics?

As Kenealy explained to The Guardian, the reactions to this makeup trend have been divisive. While some commenters eagerly asked about products and shades to replicate the look, other spectators weren’t as impressed.

“People—mostly men—have been commenting ‘Amber Heard’ on my video,” Kenealy said. Those commenters are referring to a widespread belief, held mostly by Johnny Depp fans online, that his ex-wife, Amber Heard, was fake-crying on the stand about Depp’s alleged abuse. They, in turn, are accusing Kenealy of doing the same.

RELATED: How Amber Heard’s Demonization Amid Johnny Depp Trial Shows Toxicity Of Social Media Towards Women

Moreover, there’s the argument that makeup looks like these only serve to romanticize poor mental health. Dissociation, anxiety, and depression have all been co-opted by the greater online community as being trendy. “We’re all traumatized,” these trends seem to shout, “and you have to be, too, to fit in with us.”

Of course, that argument could be countered with the benefits of erasing stigma. By bringing these mental health topics into the collective zeitgeist, it can (ideally) be easier for those suffering from these issues to seek help. It provides a sense of community, turning the messaging into, “We’re all traumatized, and there’s nothing to be ashamed about.”

A Pushback On The Patriarchy?

Indeed, some writers are quick to point out that this type of communal acknowledgment is a fundamental pillar of these “emotional” makeup trends. Fredrika Thelandersson, author of 21st Century Media and Female Mental Health, studies online cultures and communities, particularly through the lens of the female experience.

Thelandersson argued that while the makeup might be performative, it’s still serving the purpose of connecting others through similar experiences. “That’s a sort of belonging,” she told The Guardian. “You can make fun of that as much as you want, but it’s still kind of hopeful in a way.”

And as stated earlier, this really isn’t a groundbreaking trend. It conjures up lyrics from Fiona Apple (“Me and everybody’s on the sad, same team, and you can hear our sad brains screaming”) and Garbage (“I’m only happy when it rains, pour your misery down on me”). And according to artist Audrey Wollen, a woman marinating in her own sadness can actually be a form of protest. 

RELATED: No, You’re Not Hysterical: Why Women’s Anger Is Important And Necessary

Wollen, who coined the term “Sad Girl Theory,” argued to Nylon that “the sadness of girls should be witnessed and re-historicized as an act of resistance, of political protest … Girls’ sadness isn’t quiet, weak, shameful, or dumb: It is active, autonomous, and articulate. It’s a way of fighting back.”

It’s Your Party, You Can Cry If You Want To

While some might call this look performative, isn’t that all makeup to a degree? We use makeup to outwardly express our personalities and attitudes. We use white eyeliner and mascara to look (read: perform) like we’re more awake even if we’re dead tired. 

@ecemcelenli Credit @zoekimkenealy 🥀 Crying Makeup aka Pretty when You Cry Makeup 🥲 #makeuptutorial #StemDrop001 #makeup #easymakeup #beginnermakeuptutorial ♬ Pretty When You Cry – Lana Del Rey

And if sadness is the attitude you want to lean into, then who’s to say you shouldn’t? All beauty trends, from simple no-makeup looks to full-on glam and everything in between, are superfluous in nature. We don’t need any of them, period. But we choose to use and wear what we like—and most of the time, those choices are cyclical and predictable. 

And furthermore, in a society where women are vilified for showing negative emotions and constantly told to smile, leaning into the exact opposite is kind of punk rock. Misogynistic naysayers, the likes of whom compared Kenealy to Amber Heard, would likely find any reason to condemn their female counterparts. Crying makeup is just the latest object of derision. 

To cry or not cry: That’s the million-dollar question. Whether you want to give a teary-eyed middle finger to the patriarchy or you like how you look rosy-nosed and glistening, the look seems harmless enough to us. Is it understandable? Er, kinda, though we won’t be rocking the look ourselves anytime soon.

Still, the trend is benign just the same. If you disagree, you could always cry about it.

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