Proud2Bme | "Kylie Jenner Lips" and People of Color

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"Kylie Jenner Lips" and People of Color

No shot glass or CandyLipz suction needed here.

By Kimberly Neil--As someone with naturally big lips, everything about the “Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge” feels…bizarre. Let me take a step back to explain. As a biracial girl, I experienced puberty in a strange way. Since I have the features of both my mom and dad’s side of the family and I’m an only child, there was no one I could look up to in order to attempt to predict how my body would change. Everything was a surprise!

The way I developed curves over one year (which felt like overnight!) and grew a few inches in that same year was unsettling, but no one directly made fun of me for any of these changes. There were other more nuanced ways my body and mind changed during this time, and I think insecurity about my lips was one of them.

One day, I was riding the El in Chicago on my way to dance. I noticed a man that had been staring at me from the time I got on the train. Growing up in the city, I have always been less bothered by attention from strangers. This particular day was different, though. Even though the train was full of people, I was alone and I felt unsafe with this adult man near me.

At one point I made eye contact with him and immediately wanted to be anywhere but near him, because he said the most disgusting, degrading words that anyone had ever said to me. In an extremely sexually explicit way, he rattled off a list of things he wanted to do to me. As he ended his speech, he licked his mouth and continued to stare at me. “Those lips. Only nasty girls have such fat lips.”

I feel that it is extremely important to point out how my experience as a teenager with this man on public transportation was sexual harassment, a microagression, and an example of the way ethnic minorities are often viewed through a hypersexualized gaze, regardless of age. So how does all of this relate to the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge?

Aside from this trend being yet another instance where people – mostly young girls – are encouraged to abide by the “beauty is pain” mantra and go to extremes to meet a certain beauty standard, there is also the issue of race and how this particular trend turns the features that some people have naturally into a joke. For example, YouTube user NakedWithoutMyLippy posted a very detailed tutorial on how to achieve lips like Kylie back in February.  In the description, she says: “I am obsessed with lips and I'm so curious to see what MASSIVE Kylie Jenner lips would look like on my face.”

It does not seem like NakedWithoutMyLippy was being intentionally malicious or racist in any way, but the fact that someone with naturally thinner lips and other features that measure up to the general Eurocentric standard of beauty in modern society can play around in order to achieve massive lips while laughing about how ridiculous she looks in the process is a lot less funny when you take into account the history of Minstrel Shows in the US.

Black people specifically were dehumanized for the features that set them apart from their white counterparts. The history of blackface also comes with a healthy side of exaggerating these features. As actress Amanda Stenberg beautifully phrased it in this video about Black hair and pop culture: “Cultural appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.”

Still don’t see the problem? In March, the website Stylelite ran a story about how BeyoncĂ© was imitating Kylie Jenner’s lip style, as if Kylie Jenner has the copyright on big lips when it comes to white women as well as women of color.  

Look, it is too easy to look at celebrities through the lens of the media and wish for their bodies or lives; it is an extremely natural inclination. Kylie Jenner is a beautiful girl from a famous family – so it is totally understandable that she has become a style icon over the past few years. She’s young, edgy, and relatable to a lot of people. I definitely do not think anyone should blame Kylie on a personal level for this lip challenge that became wildly popular. That being said, I really hope that after reading this, people will be inspired to think critically about the bigger picture by questioning the “big lip” craze in the first place.

The Washington Post ran an article about the dangers of this lip-plumping challenge. Bottom line: there will always be an “it” beauty trend of the moment. It’s so important to practice self-care and do things that make you feel confident. If Kylie Jenner’s lips inspire you to try that bold shade of MAC lipstick that you’ve been too afraid to flaunt, then that’s great. Go for it! If this challenge – or any other extreme way to modify your body that comes along in the future – means risking your safety, then ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

I know that it can be especially challenging to feel confident and avoid doing potentially damaging things can be an obstacle for anyone recovering from or struggling with an eating disorder. Take it from someone with naturally big lips: It’s great that this one feature of mine is currently being celebrated. When people are over this trend, I’m still going to have the same lips. The most important thing is for me to work on being comfortable with what I have naturally. I encourage all of you to do the same!

About this blogger: Kimberly is a Sophomore at Mount Holyoke College, a woman's liberal arts college in South Hadley, MA. She is currently an Anthropology major. Her interests include ballet, performing, choreographing, writing, binge watching documentaries on Netflix, volleyball, and taking too many pictures with friends. She plans to pursue grad school (hopefully overseas!) and research mental illness, specifically eating disorders. She also hopes to one day work to change laws around mental health in the United States and promote the idea that women around the world should have autonomy over their bodies. 

Also by Kimberly: 

#Blackout: Black Self-Love on Social Media

People of Color and Mental Illness: An In-Depth Interview with Dior Vargas

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