TikTok's beauty trends are often a bit left-of-field, but one that's really making headlines for its weirdness at the moment is the 'crying makeup' trend.
Scan through the app and you'll come across people adding subtle glitter under their eyes and red pigment to their eyelids and cheeks to give the illusion of a fresh sobbing sesh. It's really pretty, actually. It's also a bold move if you don't like people asking you if you're doing okay, but that's an aside.
Plenty of media outlets are analysing the trend, as we all do, linking it to depression or a general sense of sadness and malaise among Gen Z. The Guardian spoke to Lund University postdoctoral researcher and author Frederika Thelandersson about the trend, along with others on TikTok like #sadgirlwalks, and she associated it with a need for support. “Dissociation is a symptom of PTSD, and now it’s being picked up as an aesthetic. This says a lot about how people are not doing so well right now and need support, and social media becomes the place where they can find what they wouldn’t get from a traditional healthcare system.”
To be fair, the same article acknowledges that Girls Being Sad In Public Spheres isn't anything new, referencing '90s Sad Queens Fiona Apple and Courtney Love.
But I also would argue that the crying makeup trend, and even #sadgirlwalks, aren't signs that 'The Youth' is in crisis, either (for context, I'm a millennial in my 30s).
When I was a teenager, I had a lot of feelings. Thanks to a combination of hormones and a flair for the dramatic, I was definitely the girl who flung herself onto her bed when she wasn't allowed to go to a party, wailing about how much I hated my Mum.
When I was upset like this, I loved to get up after a good pillow cry and look in the mirror. I absolutely loved watching myself cry. I'd use that post-cry teary-eyed look and imagine that I'd been dumped by a boyfriend (at this stage, I'd never even held a boy's hand), or fantasise about having to move overseas, away from my best friend. Sometimes I'd sing sad songs like I was in a music video – Mariah Carey's We Belong Together was a regular feature.
It's the same energy as when you'd lean against the bus window with your headphones on, immersing yourself in a breakup track. Once, I even stood in the rain thinking about my crush like I was in a scene from One Tree Hill. It was fantasy.
Social media didn't exist then. In fact, I couldn't even take selfies or videos of my emotional performances unless I borrowed Dad's camcorder. That's a lot of effort and has a huge chance of backfiring if Dad ever found the tapes.
But god, would I have loved to. If I was a teenager today, I am positive I'd be acting out all of these Sad Girl Moments on TikTok.
It wouldn't be a cry for help, as I was never sad for long. I'd just be trying on heartbreak and pain, performing experiences I was yet to fully comprehend and had romanticised thanks to movies with great soundtracks.
When we're young, a lot of us are lucky enough to not experience real hardship. I definitely hadn't. I lived in a bubble of friends, crushes and a family that took care of me. I had no real problems. I'd never really been devastated by anything beyond my favourite TV character dying or my crush telling their friend to tell my friend that they didn't want to go to the school dance with me.
Still, in this little bubble I had some big feelings. Those teenage hormones really did a number on me. I loved it. I loved the euphoria and, on the flip side, the melancholy. They were so new and exciting.
That experience hasn't changed. Until we're faced with the realities of life, we're fascinated by sadness. We find it so romantic. Of course we're out here painting our eyes to replicate the look of a recent sobbing session. I often miss this blissfully ignorant period of my life – because you grow up, you get your heart really, really broken, and you lose that love for the full spectrum of feelings because, actually, sadness can be devastating.
The one criticism I am in agreement with is whether TikTok's crying makeup trend could support damaging arguments about women's mental health. Psychological wellbeing practitioner Noor Mubarak spoke to Glamour about this, arguing, "it’s even possible that trends like crying makeup could contribute to the stigma attached to mental ill health or the belief that young women struggling with low mood may be acting or exaggerating their feelings."
It brings to mind the discourse around Amber Heard's tearful appearance when taking the stand during the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial this year. There was relentless criticism of her emotional state – society really does love to tell women that their tears are fake. Could TikTok trends about sadness as an aesthetic work against us because of this?
Even if that's true, I'd argue that policing our self-expression because it might encourage the already-misogynistic to be even more staunch in their misogyny isn't the way to go. We know that we're not replicating tears to one day use a makeup look to fake an emotional response. We're just exploring our feelings and sharing that exploration. And honestly? If you ask me, that's absolutely fine.