It's official, the Cupid's Bow is dead

Sorry, having pointy lips is cheugy now.

by Laura Holliday
18 August 2021, 7:00am

Imagery via TikTok

Welcome to 2021, where facial features move in and out of fashion faster than TikTok sounds. We’ve had fake freckles, we’ve had the glamourisation of eye bags, we’ve even had American doll teeth (still confused about that one tbh), and now: drawing over our lips to completely eradicate the cupid’s bows. It’s official — having pointy lips is cheugy.

Cupid’s bows have long been celebrated as a sign of beauty — they’re named after the Roman God of love after all — and arguably peaked in popularity a decade ago, when you couldn’t walk into a Topman without glimpsing Rihanna’s famous red arches on That T-Shirt. Kylie Jenner’s plump, heart-shaped lips continued to reign over the mid 2010s as we all became obsessed with overlining, but at some point, it seems we stopped overlining to accentuate our cupid’s bows, and instead began to hide them. Called the rounded lip and Bratz Lip among other things— the latest trend involves making your upper lip as circular as humanly possible without getting out a protractor. The hashtag #BratzLips has over 9.5M views on TikTok, and here you’ll find thousands of makeup hacks and tutorials on how to achieve the look, with everyone from e-girls to more obscure subcultures like clowncore opting for a rounder lip. Grimes even got involved with the trend, recently posting a video where she explained away filler accusations by saying she just filled in her cupid’s bow. But why is this aesthetic so popular? Is a sharply defined cupid’s bow just too millennial for 2021? 

Jade, aka @dartthjader, is 19 and from Ontario. By day she works at Tim Hortons, and by night spends most of her time creating creepy, colourful makeup looks for her 1.8 million TikTok followers. She started to overline her cupid’s bow earlier this year and cites cartoons as a major source of inspiration. “Personally, I find it adds more shape to my face and really completes a look for me,” she says. “I also love the cartoonish vibe. I’m very into anime and they generally don’t have a defined cupid’s bow, so that’s where my inspiration for the style came from. It works very well with my cosplays as well and brings them to life a lot more.”

With only 6% of Gen Z having never heard of anime, it makes sense that its influence has permeated all aspects of culture including makeup. There are many reasons behind the current anime boom, but the genre perhaps resonates with Gen Z so strongly because of its ability to blend dark themes with cute animation — in many ways emblematic of typical Gen Z humour and attitudes to life. These themes — the juxtaposition of the cute with the dark, the horrific and the surreal — can also be seen across makeup trends as a whole with elements from SFX and stage makeup, as well as cosplay, continuing to make their way into mainstream beauty culture.

Marina Mansour, Head of Beauty Partnerships at Kyra recently conducted a study into how young people engage with cosmetics. “Originally it was a crossover from the cosplay world and more e-girls and e-boys were using this technique,” she says of the cupid’s bow elimination trend. “As it grew and it became known that it made your lips look fuller and a lot of makeup users liked the way it looked, it became a much broader trend - a staple even.”

Like Jade, Marina also links the popularity of what she calls the Kim Possible lip to cartoons, as well as video games, and explains that it is part of a wider network of similar looks. “There are lots of other trends that feed into this more 'cartoon-inspired' look - the rise of fake freckles, the heavy blush trend especially across the nose. These all work to create a more playful aesthetic,” she explains.

But while fake freckles, blush and Princess Peach lips are predominantly popular because they emanate playfulness, they arguably also spill into a wider wave of more youthful or childlike fashion trends. The continuing popularity of influencers like Bella Poarch (and her staggering 75.4 million TikTok following), known for her cartoonish, video game-like expressions, as well as controversial YouTubers like Belle Delphine, show a gradual movement towards a certain brand of cuteness that has recently been subject to controversy. With OnlyFans creators editing their pics to look younger and even Love Island Lucinda’s baby voice coming under fire, is our rejection of cupid’s bows simply another symptom of our warped obsession with age regression? Or is it part of a generational desire to be perceived as cute rather than hot?

Jade suggests youthfulness is a part of the trend, but thinks this is primarily still related to animation. “I agree it makes people have a slightly younger appearance, which could be why it’s so popular,” she explains. “Using this technique to look younger I think goes along with the cuteness appeal of animated characters, which is part of the reason people obsess over the characters, so people desire to have this appeal to their appearance as well.” 

An association with childlikeness isn’t the only problem inherent with the rounded lip look, though. Overlined cupid’s bows can also be seen as a byproduct of the continuing obsession with achieving bigger lips — with one clinic reporting a 30% increase in lip fillers during the pandemic. The appropriation of fuller lips has been recognised for years as a form of Blackfishing, while other recent makeup trends like the fox eye have been linked to what’s being termed Asianfishing. Some creators have expressed similar concerns that the rounded lip — with its roots in Japanese culture and link to the appropriation of Black features — is another example of how predominantly white makeup artists pick and choose desirable elements from other cultures when creating looks.

Nana, aka @onigiri.nanaaa is an Asian American TikTok influencer with over 2.1 M followers who also likes to hide her cupid’s bow. She strongly agrees that not only anime, but a romanticisation of Japanese culture more broadly, has influenced the rounded lip look, as well as other similar trends. “I 100% believe that Japanese culture (anime, Harajuku/J-fashion) has had an influence on the popularity of a more ‘doll-like’ appearance,” she says. “As a Japanese American makeup content creator, I think it’s wonderful that my culture is being appreciated. But note the key word, appreciated. There is a fine line between appreciating a culture verses appropriating and benefiting off of it.” 

“Asian hate crimes are on the rise now more than ever, though white creators who appropriate Asian features can wipe off their makeup at the end of the day and even make money off of it.” However Nana clarifies that for the most part, drawing over your cupid’s bow, as well as other similar doll-like trends, is an appreciation, rather than appropriation. “As long as you are not appropriating, you can respect and love J-fashion culture.”

The exploration of different worlds and aesthetics — from the doll-like to cosplay, horror and cartoons — exemplifies how the wider role of makeup is radically different for Gen Z. Instead of wearing it to accentuate or disguise features (case in point: the millennial contour obsession of the 2010s), Gen Z are increasingly using makeup as a transformative tool that allows them to showcase entirely different personas. Add to this the fact that some of these personas exist purely in the digital landscape (coinciding with the rise in TikTok and the global pandemic) and you have an experimental culture of what could be called bedroom makeup emerging — where makeup is used primarily for developing looks for staying in rather than going out, allowing it to be more expressive, elaborate and surreal.

“I think Gen Z is one of the most expressive generations and makeup is a big part of that. We use it to stand out from others and get away from the “norm” of society. There’s so much you can do with makeup which is why it’s such an amazing thing, people can make themselves look like a completely different person if they wanted to,” Jade explains.

Cartoonish lips — and the rejection of the pointy, hyperrealistic cupid’s bow — seem to be reflective of a new era for Gen Z that falls in line with everything the generation stands for. Creativity, art and expression are finally more important than covering imperfections and caring about how we’re perceived. They also (let’s be honest) look pretty cute too.

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