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How TikTok Has Spotlighted Beauty Flaws As Features

With over 1 billion monthly active users globally, TikTok has exposed beauty enhancements traditionally seen as beauty issues or flaws and has helped drive a new beauty trend with its ‘flaw filters.’ The app allows users to record themselves using various filters – there are many for pure fun (see yourself as a guy filter for girls, the mermaid filter, the drag queen filter, the unicorn filter) and many others that enhance one’s appearance (jelly look , scarlett, rose, nightfall, etc). But what’s really popping these days are the “flaw” filters that show what a user would look like with a unibrow, tooth-gaps, faux freckles, under-eye circles, crying eyes, my fave freckles, and light eyebrows.

What most women spend time on daily trying to cover up/get rid of (and plenty of cash on beauty products), now seems to be cool, per the Gen Z kids, as witnessed on TikTok.

From freckles to flyaways, nuanced depictions of beauty aren’t a new trend; Vogue published its first issue about achieving ‘fake freckles’ back in 1967. Diana Vreeland, the iconic Vogue editor, was known to make the most of imperfections in her muses, choosing to photograph a young Cher in a way that elongated her neck or photographing Barbara Streisand in profile to magnify her prominent nose.

Perhaps instigated by famed makeup artist Pat McGrath who painted subtle specks of freckled beauty for a Maison Martin Margiela show in 2017, an of-the-moment makeup trend depicting intentionally nuanced beauty is gleaning unexpected, albeit notable attention on TikTok and other social channels. Growing over the past two years, intentional under-eye bags and faux-freckles are taking on viral momentum. My 16-year old daughter who has no freckles gets henna faux-freckles in the summer; and two years ago, the “sick look” (described as a way to seduce men in Japan) complete with red under-eyes, purposely pale skin, no cheek color, etc. was all the rage.

When freckled, London-born “it” girl, Adwoa Aboah, with 1.2 million Instagram followers, donned the cover of British Vogue in 2017 — TikTok in its present form hadn’t even launched yet. So, what is giving this trend lift on TikTok today, and why are faux dark circles, freckles and almost invisible eyebrows having a moment?

First, the how-to format of social media promotes experimentation, and makeup artistry (#mua) allows just that kind of temporary exploration. The promotional nature of social media’s algorithms may make this more fertile ground for experimenting with beauty taboos and turning Glamor Don’ts into Glamor Do’s. In this, the long arc of inclusive beauty may have found the perfect accelerator in social media. Sara Carstens started the eye-bag/dark circle trend in 2021 and it quickly went viral with over seven million views and 1.2 million likes. She is quoted as saying “I myself know what it’s like to be bullied for insecurities, such as for my ‘big sticking-out ears’ – but just like my dark circles, I’ve decided to show everyone how beautiful they can be. ”

Today, ‘Post-Millennial takes on beauty’ may be reflective of these digital natives’ exposure to diversity and a surge in interest of social justice and inclusion. We see the celebration of up-and-coming models like Sara Grace Wallerstedt, that has been described as ethereal. Then, there is Aleece Wilson, a model that identifies her heritage as Native Indian, Black Canadian, Irish and Italian (whose Instagram handle is @oddfreckles, by the way). As a face that checks so many ‘boxes,’ she embodies a more modern visage of beauty, one that is reflective of the future.

In the United States alone, Gen Z is already the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in the nation’s history. In fact, demographers predict that by 2045 the United States will no longer have a racial minority – with our nation diversifying faster than predicted. This shift may suggest a culture that has shaped a new breed of beauty enthusiasts—one that views the category through ‘we-centric’ lenses of inclusion, social justice and sustainability than ever before. In fact, the tension between older and younger generations or what some have identified as the culture gap may be so significant that it flips the script for the entire beauty category.

Editorial note: On TikTok, view videos by using hashtags: #fauxfreckles #freckled #freckedgirl #frecks #darkcircles #undereyes #undereyesdarkcircle #mua

About the Author

Ms. Elenita (Elle) Morris is Senior Vice President of Global Strategy at Marks, part of SGS & Co., a brand experience agency delivering global vision with local relevance in North America, Europe, Asia and beyond. She is a recognized consumer packaged goods brand design thought-leader with particular expertise in beauty, haircare and skincare. Follow Elle Morris on LinkedIn.

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