Arts and Entertainment

To Be Pretty When You Cry and Scream

Viral makeup trends and how they attack girls’ self-image during emotional times.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Phoebe He

Social media has been overtaken by a new trend: “crying girl” makeup. Consisting of streams of shimmering tears, puffy pink under-eye, flushed cheeks, and swollen lips, the look romanticizes the vulnerable female visage. To replicate the mesmerizing “crying girl” look, makeup artist and influencer Zoe Kim Kenealy suggests applying red eyeshadow around the eye, gobs of gloss for swollen lips, and of course—the pièce de résistance—glittery tears. Kenealy’s tutorial, like the crying girl makeup look, has gone viral, receiving millions of views. This expressive makeup trend bears similarities to the “angry girl” makeup trend of early fall, which combines downward angled eyebrows, heavy contour, a bold lip, and a fox eye to create an irate expression. These makeup trends pressure women to present attractive, composed exteriors in all situations, regardless of what they are feeling or the environment they are in. This perpetuates impossible beauty standards that prioritize perfection over freedom of emotional expression.

The “pretty crier” aesthetic promoted by crying girl makeup stems from the fear of being labeled as an “ugly crier,” which is traditionally seen as unfeminine. This phenomenon has made global superstar Kim Kardashian a laughingstock of the Internet; her sobbing face has become a viral meme numerous times, prompting hate comments on social media making fun of her for being an “ugly crier.” Despite these incidents, Kardashian remains world-famous for her beauty, allowing her to brush off hurtful comments by turning to the validation of her adoring fans. However, for women and girls who lack this constant stream of validation, the consequences of being perceived as an ugly crier may seem greater; they are susceptible to the internalization of these unrealistic standards for female emotional expression, which can take a toll.

Supermodel Bella Hadid gained a different reaction when making a splash (of tears) online. Hadid posted vulnerable crying selfies, garnering support from fans who were “here for it.” Hadid was commended for her authenticity, and supporters turned a blind eye to the fact that a team of managers had carefully curated each photo before the post went public.

The impossible standard that crying girl makeup creates for dealing with tragedy is also perpetuated by TV shows, including HBO Max’s Euphoria (2019-2022). Some of the show’s most famous scenes feature a crying Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney). Throughout Sweeney’s emotional delivery, she manages to maintain her glamorous appearance—as silent tears coat her flawless skin in a dewy gloss, her cheeks flush a charming pink, her mascara unsmudged and her hair perfectly curled. These scenes, made possible by dazzling makeup, carefully placed shots, and choreographed scripts, present devastation as glamorous and controlled, fetishizing the vulnerability of an emotional woman. Cassie is only allowed to break if she looks beautiful while doing it. In this case, crying girl makeup equates to emotional vulnerability with desirability. The fetishization of sadness leads girls and women to compare the way they cry to the way it is depicted in the entertainment industry, promoting the idea that girls can only afford to be emotional if they are beautiful. When clips of Cassie’s crying scenes trended, comment sections were flooded with “I wish I looked like that when I cry,” triggering insecurity. The idea that glamour is needed to counteract the unpalatable nature of emotional expression is a recurring theme in the media nowadays, contributing to women’s internalization of unrealistic expectations for emotionally trying situations. Ideas from popular shows like Euphoria affect the way girls see their own emotions. They watch as Cassie, with her perfect blowout and full face of professionally done makeup, cries in the most appealing way she can, swallowing her deepest fears with poise, and wonder why they cannot do the same. This idea of perfect girls and the allure of suffering contributes to the romanticization of sadness, which becomes self-loathing when tragedy strikes and the illusion of perfection is shattered.

With the fetishization of sadness comes its evil twin: the fetishization of anger. A viral showcase of “angry girl” makeup by art TikToker Sarah New demonstrates how to achieve the foxy look by applying smoky black eyeliner, dark contour, and red lipstick. Although this makeup trend normalizes anger, an emotion that is often dismissed as “delusional” or “sensitive” in women, the question remains as to why girls must look pretty for their emotions to be validated.

Classic female villain makeup, such as the look worn by Angelina Jolie’s titular character in Maleficent (2014), is another example of TikTok’s “angry girl” makeup inspiration. The intimidating Maleficent makeup look—severe grayscale contouring, dramatic arched eyebrows, and a bold red lip—has become iconic. Its symbolic embodiment of Maleficent’s rage is associated with strength and boldness, giving it the potential to empower and validate these characteristics in women. Despite this potential, it further promotes the idea that women must be beautiful for people to care about their feelings, opening a gateway for the romanticization of cruelty via the glamour and makeup of many villainous roles. Another recent example is the viral audio clip from Girl Interrupted (1999), in which Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie), who sports a softer version of “angry girl” makeup, mercilessly urges Daisy Randone (Brittany Murphy) to commit suicide. Despite the clip’s dark themes and Lisa’s undeniably malicious character, it widely circulated as a thirst trap.

Ultimately, makeup trends like “angry girl” and “crying girl” cause more harm than good, perpetuating the idea that female emotional expression should be beautiful and controlled. Though these looks have the potential to normalize sadness and anger, they also glamorize and fetishize these emotions, placing an impossible standard on women. Using makeup to imitate a crying or angry face reveals broader societal issues, such as the argument for girls and women to be “natural” and the pressure to be beautiful while bare-faced. The constant cycle of trends falling in and out of style pressures women to conform to constantly evolving idealized beauty standards, feeding insecurity on a global scale.