Teens on TikTok are drawing on under-eye bags with make-up and racking up millions of hits
It’s Christmas Eve 2016 and I’ve just been fired from my barista job in Bristol. The owner sits me on a bench and tells me that, among my many faults (I regularly put the salad in the wrong order, apparently), are the dark circles under my eyes. “It’s not presentable,” he says, adding, “you should put some make-up on, you look exhausted”.
Fast-forward a couple of years and I’m in the cramped kitchen of my east London office. The accountant, a middle-aged woman who we’ll call Jo*, appears around the corner, stopping dead in her tracks. “Have you been in a car accident?” she asks me in a tone resembling a cold call about PPI insurance. “No,” I answer, suspiciously, “why?”
“Your eyes are bruised,” she responds, before vanishing into a flurry of Nespresso and oat milk.
Minor intrusions like this are commonplace if, like me, your eyebags are dark and hereditary (thanks, mum). Growing up as a Turkish child in suburban Bedford, I was always conscious of the pronounced shadows under my eyes – a common complaint among people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. The insecurity continued into my teens, where I’d spend hours obsessing over lashings of concealer, which I’d smear onto my face like thick plaster. My teachers would call my parents into school to ask if I was getting enough sleep, while friends nicknamed me ‘panda’ – a bizarre pet name, but it stuck nonetheless.
As I’ve grown older, the pressure to appear conventionally attractive has waned, and I’ve grown to embrace my under-eyes. Besides, there’s something rather authentic about looking worn-out and exhausted. I mean, it’s 2021 (who doesn’t have eyebags?). Since entering my 20s, other people’s bags have begun to catch up with my own, and I’m no longer the freakish child with the terminally tired eyes. In fact, dark under-eyes are now apparently so common that, like the much maligned freckle before it, they’re becoming a hot commodity – especially now they’re trending on TikTok.
Since late December, the make-up community on TikTok have shared videos that show them creating dark circles and under-eye bags with lipstick, eye shadow, and other beauty products. The videos, according to the users, are meant to encourage viewers to embrace their natural skin and feel confident in their insecurities.
It started with Sara Carstens, an influencer with 73 million followers, who posted a TikTok of herself using lipstick to apply eye bags. The post has been viewed more than 6.8 million times and has attracted over a million likes, but also received “a lot of hate” from those who accused her of making fun of others’ insecurities.
Carstens later made a follow-up video explaining that her intention was not to “make fun” of people with dark circles, but to “normalise” them. She then continued to explain that she has eye bags herself, and that they’re a “big insecurity” for her. She added: “Next time you come across someone embracing or enhancing your insecurities, maybe feel flattered instead!”
“Eye bags and dark circles shouldn’t go in and out of trend,” she added. ”The intention behind the video was simply to normalise them and embrace insecurities! 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.”
@sarathefreeelf and @abbyroberts made me do it♬ Greek Tragedy (Oliver Nelson TikTok Remix) - The Wombats
Similar to Instagram’s #UnibrowMovement hashtag, Carstens’ comments, though seemingly well-intentioned, highlight the double standards in the beauty community: Middle Eastern and South Asian women have been finding ways to hide their ‘undesirable’ bags for years, but when a conventionally attractive (and white) person decides to flaunt hers, it becomes something desirable. For many women, dark under-eyes are a source of embarrassment, not a trend to be used and forgotten. Unlike a TikTok trend, our eyebags are here to stay.
“My eyebags are not your trend,” said one commenter. “I did not spend 18 years trying to cover these up for them to become trendy,” quipped another. A quick look at the #dark circles hashtag on TikTok will, ironically, bring up a mix of white girls adding them on and women of colour telling you how to hide them.
Then again, accentuating under-eye shadows isn’t a new phenomenon, especially among less conventional beauty circles – last year, Grimes revealed that she enhances her bags with red eyeshadow to make herself look “more demonic”.
While I won’t be enhancing my bags any time soon, there’s no point in policing other peoples’ make-up choices either. Besides, I can’t help but feel deeply amused by the idea of bored teens purposefully trying to make themselves look more burnt-out and haggard than they actually are (just wait a couple of years imo). I wonder if the trend would still exist if we weren’t all trapped in our homes with nothing to do other than fane sleep deprivation. If their bags are fake, mine are designer, baby!