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Instagram’s Face Taping Trend Is A Cause For Concern

Artwork by Kristine Romano.
When did we become so obsessed with chasing a certain look? From Instagram’s selfie culture to how young women really feel about ageing, in our series Changing Faces we'll take a frank and poignant look at the complex and often strained relationship many of us have with our appearance — and how this has been exacerbated by social media over the years.
There are many things that I have trained my eye to look out for while scrolling through Instagram. They include wobbly lines around celebrities' waists (obviously photoshopped) and sneaky lash inserts in mascara ads (misleading to say the least). Lately, one of the main secret subtleties I've found myself scouring each photo for is face tape.
For those who don't spend their time playing detective on the internet, face tape is the beauty industry's latest and arguably most popular makeup tool. Two sticky pads are attached to the side of each eye and the tape is connected via an elastic band at the back of the head. It is typically used to create a taut, pulled-back eye look.
It sounds like a bizarre practice but over the last few years the use of face tape has grown among makeup artists, models and beauty enthusiasts in every corner of the internet. Designed to remain unseen on photoshoots and red carpets, the clear sticky pads work to create an illusion of naturally rubber-band-tight skin. Its popularity can also be attributed to the tape's propensity for creating clean eyeshadow lines, a wrinkle-free eye area and lending a 'snatched' look. Although face tape is mainly used by celebrity makeup artists on social media, the effect of seeing subtly enhanced faces like these is rarely discussed, particularly in regard to our self-esteem.

The use of face tape emphasises the falsehood that there is only one type of face to aspire to, which can only have a detrimental effect on self-esteem.

Teamed with bright ring lights and flash photography, face tape is often undetectable unless you know how to look for it. This is especially insidious. When photos and videos make use of well-placed hair around the face — and oftentimes post-production photoshopping — it's easy to be fooled into thinking that tight, unwrinkled faces like these are natural, normal and beautiful.
Bella Hadid is arguably the most famous poster girl for the snatched face look. In a recent Vogue interview she revealed that her notorious pulled-back brows have nothing to do with filler or Botox, like her fans and followers suspected. Rather, she stated that the results are thanks to tape, even calling the makeup technique "the oldest trick in the book". Many have questioned the veracity of Hadid's claims, with some people on Twitter comparing the revelation to Kylie Jenner's infamous lip filler denial (she maintained that her plump pout was simply the result of over-lining her lips using lip liner). Hadid's quotes emphasise that face tape is widely used and accepted in the fashion, beauty and entertainment industries — and that it has us all fooled.
At the time of writing, #foxeyemakeup has 36.7 million views on TikTok and the hashtag produces never-ending pages of makeup tutorials and references. Tagged videos such as this one with 12 million views show how face tape can be used to pull back the skin around the eyes. Whether you have a TikTok account or not, you've probably spotted @chloewaterz's viral video (7.5 million views and counting), which shows her enlisting tape for a face transformation which had people questioning whether she had used a skin ageing filter. Another video, which has amassed 12.4 million views, shows the same TikToker taping her "jowls" – this time, it seems, without a filter.

More and more women are seeking surgical treatment such as face lifts and PDO threads to permanently achieve the taut face look.

According to oculoplastic surgeon Dr Elizabeth Hawkes, more and more women are seeking surgical treatment such as face lifts and PDO threads to permanently achieve the taut face look. Perhaps this is a result of seeing the trend online. Dr Hawkes reports: "The fox eye trend changes the natural shape of the eyebrow so that the outer one third of the brow extends upwards. This creates an unnatural look of the eyes with the eyebrows sitting too high. Patients are asking for 'fox eye' lifts or filler to try and emulate the look of celebrities such as Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner." Dr Hawkes adds: "Fox eye face lifts are billed as a pain-free 'tweakment’, however this is certainly not the case." She says that a large proportion of people don't actually realise that the distinctive fox eye look has often been achieved by using face tape.
Dr Hawkes explains that the procedure is risky and best not practised due to complications such as puckering of the skin (which may affect all areas of the face where threads are applied), proximity to the eye itself and how difficult it is to reverse if you don't like the result. Worryingly, Dr Hawkes says that an increasing number of face lifting treatments are going wrong. She has seen a handful of patients who need extensive cosmetic surgery to rectify the effects. "The national register of accredited practitioners, who provide nonsurgical cosmetic treatments, have seen an incredible 400% uplift in thread lift complaints since 2019," she says. "This demonstrates just how dangerous procedures such as these are and how important it is to consult a qualified and experienced medical practitioner."
While the majority of internet users don't go to such extreme measures to achieve the look, regularly seeing an impossibly lifted face still has the potential to cause harm. In particular it may exacerbate self-esteem issues like body dysmorphia. According to the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, the highest rates of body dysmorphia are among adolescent girls. The foundation reports that the proliferation of unrealistic images being viewed by this age group is causing harm. Face tape has very little stick IRL – it is mostly used for short periods of time and in non-active situations – but our brains are accepting these images as achievable looks. Outside of an industry setting, the average person would struggle to come anywhere close to replicating the effect. 
Celebrity makeup artists such as @patrickta and TikTok beauty enthusiasts like @dafineneziri regularly present clients with taped faces to their online communities of millions. One of the main issues? The people in the photos and videos are young, impossibly beautiful models. They are paid for having Instagram-worthy natural bone structure; with the use of tape, their faces become even further removed from the average person's. Much like Photoshop, the use of face tape has the potential to heighten comparison culture. It emphasises the falsehood that there is only one type of face to aspire to, which can only have a detrimental effect on self-esteem.
This hit home most recently when I decided to watch late '90s teen drama Dawson's Creek for the first time in my mid 20s. As I watched Katie Holmes and Michelle Williams graduate from teens to young adults, I became unhealthily obsessed with the movement in their faces. The lines on their foreheads were visible and the sun squint lines around their eyes were there for all to see. I was amazed at these very basic human features and came to realise that I felt this way because of the warped images and identical snatched faces I see online every day.

I notice how much I have internalised these unattainable beauty standards of smooth, youthful skin when I find myself panicking over forgetting my sunglasses or my eye cream.

I turned 26 last month and it's not lost on me that every item on my birthday wish list happened to be skincare-related. I wanted these products for no other reason than to quell my paralysing fear surrounding skin laxity and ageing. I notice how much I have internalised these unattainable beauty standards of smooth, youthful skin when I find myself panicking over forgetting my sunglasses or my eye cream on a weekend away. This anxiety is indicative of the era we are living in. How can it be that in my mid 20s I regularly feel provoked when I spot taping around the eyes of a model who is even younger than I am?
As you might imagine, this does nothing for my confidence and I'm certainly not alone. A poll of Refinery29 UK's Instagram followers revealed that wrinkles, crow's feet and the face "not being tight and lifted like in filters" are real concerns when it comes to ageing. Others pinpointed sagging skin and "feeling droopy" as things they worry about in regard to their appearance.
Our suffocating obsession with youthfulness is only the tip of the iceberg. The fox eye look has also been widely criticised for its blatant co-opting of East Asian features. The aforementioned TikTok hashtags serve up photos and videos of mainly white models and the comment sections emphasise the trend's fetishisation of Asian features. Underneath one video, a TikToker wrote: "I can't wait for this racially stimulated trend to go away, especially since I have slanted eyes naturally." In a Refinery29 article which touched on the fox eye look, photographer and podcast host Natalie Lam said: "It's insulting that Westerners can pick and choose things which are out of our control and just drop the 'trend' when the next one appears."
On the surface, face taping could be seen as a precision tool that helps to create intricate editorial beauty looks. Yet in a society that praises plump, youthful faces to a dizzying degree, it's no exaggeration to say that face tape is contributing to plummeting levels of self-esteem among many young people when confronted by the reality of ageing. In a world where the difference between a perfectly normal and an unnaturally snatched face is an £8.99 tape, it's no wonder many of us are accepting these images as truthful representations of faces rather than special effects makeup. It is both alarming and depressing.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel. Plenty of influencers such as Joanna Kenny, Charlotte Rose Hyatt-Willis and Rikki Sandhu are pursuing a more real approach to makeup and industry kingpins are following suit. The likes of MAC Cosmetics and Fenty Beauty are filling Instagram feeds with images of real skin texture, scarring and wrinkles in the hope that we can break down unrealistic beauty ideals.
Happily, it seems possible that our fixation with tight, frozen faces may lose traction eventually. It's high time we work to replace it with the individual, unique looks we see in everyday life, not on social media — for the sake of the next generation, if nothing else.

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