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Trending beauty

Maddy Holland thinks their freckles are a ‘cute and fun’ feature.

The 23-year-old biochemist and PhD student who prefers to be called MJ, says they started to notice other people celebrating freckles on social media.

“I first saw freckle tutorials on Instagram, especially during lockdown sort of time when we had a lot more trends coming up because people had more time.”

MJ says there is a fine line between celebrating and appropriating people’s features. Photos: Chloe Maher.

TikTok’s with the hashtag ‘fake freckles’ have a combined view count of more than 580 million.

Videos on TikTok. Video: Chloe Maher.

But freckles aren’t the only feature to have gone viral online. Fuller lips, light eyebrows, and bigger bums have also surged in popularity over the last few years thanks to social media, influencers and celebrities.

MJ says these trends are a good idea in principle, but they go out of style too quickly.

“It gives you more opportunities to explore different looks, but what I’m not sure is positive is a lot of these trends go in and out of favour so I don’t like the idea of this being positive now but not in five years’ time,” they say.

Ashley Fell is the Director of Advisory at Sydney-based trends and research agency McCrindle. She has experience in social research and trends and says the rapid trend cycle has been exacerbated by the internet.

“The fact that it’s global, digital and borderless has really just sped up the amount of trends we see and the speed at which they can be taken up and gain traction and even just how long something is viral for,” she says.

University student Athina Hilman moved from Indonesia to Perth in 2002. She says her appearance made it hard for her to integrate into life in Australia.

“People made fun of my lips, to the point where I really really wished I just had flatter lips. In school I heard a few people say ‘oh I don’t want Athina in my relay team she can’t run as fast because she’s got such a big butt’, which really hurt,” she says.

Athina says it’s ‘not on’ for people’s bodies to be in favour one year but not the next. Photos: Chloe Maher.

Sociologist of women’s health and well-being Dr Helen Barcham says society’s limited perception of beauty is not new.

“If we look around at some of the it girls of the moment, like Taylor Swift, Hailey Bieber, Sofia Richie and Bella Hadid, you realise the pervasiveness of the hegemonic beauty ideal,” she says.

Curtin University Research Fellow of Internet Studies Dr Jin Lee says this has long-lasting effects.

“The beauty standard works as a stand-out form that influences a lot of women to follow and embody that image into their own bodies. It is a kind of technology that not only shapes women’s bodies but also their experiences throughout their whole lives,” she says.

Dr Lee says people can find it problematic when bodily features become trendy.

“It’s kind of picking out a particular feature and then reappropriating it on someone else’s terms, rather than just accepting the beauty of an entire ethnicity,” she says.

Infographic: Chloe Maher. Illustrations: Goodstudio on Canva.

TikToks with the hashtag ‘lip filler’ have 5.5 billion views while videos with the hashtag ‘BBL’ otherwise known as Brazillian butt-lift, have more than 10 billion views on the app.

Athina says she is bothered by this widespread interest.

“This is my face, it’s not a trend so it does make me a little annoyed when I see people getting lip injections and whatnot. I just think, why are you changing yourself? Like trends don’t last and that bothers me,” she says.

Dr Barcham says although progress has been slow “in recent years we have seen the beauty ideal slowly expand with the platforming of other women and bodies that take on a bit of difference.”

Karin Boulton is a university student with albinism, a rare genetic condition that affects melanin production, making her hair and skin lighter than usual.

With almost 138 million views on TikTok, she says the uptake of bleached eyebrows helps push society towards being more accepting of people’s differences.

“When something becomes a trend it’s because a large amount of people think that it’s really cool and exciting and everyone wants to kind of get behind it,” she says.

“I think is great, not just for people with albinism, but also for anyone else with unique features or differences because people are starting to realise there’s more than just one kind of beauty.”

After growing up in an era that favoured bold eyebrows, Karin likes to make hers darker with makeup. Photos: Chloe Maher.

Dr Barcham says the beauty industry has entered a new era.

“It is no longer enough for women just to look beautiful, it’s also about feeling beautiful. The beauty industry today is very much couched in a language and discourse of health and wellness,” she says.

Dr Barcham says this shift isn’t as positive as it seems but she is hopeful for the future.

“Wellness and well-being is still very much the same old narrative where they want women to engage, to buy more, to consume more and to come back for more,” she says.

“While we do have a cultural idea of beauty that cuts across mainstream channels and follows the money, it brings me a lot of hope that theres conversation about women pushing back at the standard.”

MJ says they worry about the artificial nature of fake freckles.

“I just don’t want the fake freckles to become the standard for what good freckly is, because any freckly is good freckly. It’s just whatever is natural and whatever your skin wants to do,” they say.

“So, it really comes down to body neutrality and accepting the way that you are.”

Athina says people should think twice before altering their body.

“People should really just love themselves and the body they’re in. There’s no beauty police, so you can do whatever but maybe just think, is this appropriate? Is this offensive?”