Photography by Getty Images
From painted-on tears to purposely flushed cheeks, “crying makeup” is about wearing your emotions on your sleeve. But can we only accept sorrow when it’s pretty to look at?
By Natalie Michie
Date November 2, 2022
There’s nothing quite like marinating in your ennui. Sure, being happy is great, but there are days when I’d rather listen to grim music, revel in the gloomy weather and scribble my surly thoughts in a notebook. Sometimes, we all just want to be sad. And that feeling comes to life in TikTok’s latest beauty trend: crying makeup.
A distant cousin to Euphoria’s glitter tears, the trend is — as its name suggests — about appearing like you just shed a few tears. “This one’s for the unstable girlies,” says creator @zoekimkenealy. “You know how we look good when we cry?” — uh, not exactly, but go on — “If you’re not in the mood to cry, here’s how to get the look with makeup.”
Thus lies the trick to completing said maquillage: it’s a performance of pain, not genuine distress. Instead of the realistic mascara-smudged post-cry look, this fresh-faced fad borrows from the clean girl aesthetic. It involves having flushed cheeks, glistening eyelids, a full face of dewy highlighter and slightly smudged lipstick.
Instead of being messy, the final product is surprisingly elegant. “I just feel like this makeup look really brings out my feminine energy,” says TikTok creator @morveskim. “I really hate the fact that some people really see crying as showing weakness … The older I get, I realize it’s such a beautiful way to express yourself and to connect with people.”
In 2022, there’s a growing demand for emotional vulnerability online. The allure of oversharing spans across social media — from the rise of crying selfies to the normalization of tearful stream-of-consciousness confessionals. Bella Hadid and Billie Eilish speak candidly about their mental health struggles. Emma Chamberlain, Gen Z’s bona fide It girl, is known — and widely adored — for her perpetual melancholia on the internet. Today, it seems it’s cool to cry.
But while the crying makeup trend touts radical vulnerability, it is, first and foremost, about looking conventionally pretty. With glossy eyes, puffy lips and generally soft features, perfecting the aesthetic means achieving a certain subtle beauty. After all, there’s something about quiet dismay that makes someone seem deep, intriguing and, thus, more attractive.
Just look at the cultural fixation on mysteriously glum girls. The “sad girl” trope is one of the most prolific pop culture staples, with unhappy icons like Effy Stonem from Skins, Lux Lisbon from The Virgin Suicides and Nina Sayers from Black Swan forever living on in mood boards and video montages. Throughout the 2010s, aspirational “sad girl” content was its own niche genre on Tumblr. And as other aesthetics born on the blogging platform make their return, Tumblr-esque sorrowful visuals are now resurfacing on TikTok. But a beauty trend based on simply being sad begs the question: are we encouraging emotional openness, or just romanticizing mental health struggles? Because while sharing your sorrow is one thing, actually taking steps to feel better is another.
On TikTok, the “crying makeup” category is full of ethereal-looking faces with modest under-eye jewels and wet-looking cheekbones. Background music includes glamorous-yet-dreary anthems like Lana Del Rey’s “Pretty When You Cry.” With each post, the message is persistent: crying is beautiful.
Let’s be real: this is not actually how anyone looks after a good sob. Most of us probably more closely resemble Kim Kardashian’s crying face than a dewy, angelic runway model. Despite this, the ever-curated crying girl is put together and presentable when she weeps. She’s not physically dishevelled by her emotions. If anything, her tears elevate her look. With its softness and delicate details, the crying makeup trend presents a version of gloominess that is palatable and appealing. However, sometimes, sadness isn’t pretty. And that’s okay.
Whether it’s by journaling, gazing longingly out the window or painting tears on your cheek, leaning into sorrow can be cathartic. But just because being sad is en vogue doesn’t mean it should become a permanent state of being or an everyday aesthetic to aspire to. Perfecting glossy crying girl makeup can serve as a tool for honouring emotions, but it shouldn’t be a way of dealing with them. Ultimately, even your favourite highlighter can’t solve your problems long term.