Kylie Jenner, the youngest ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ star, has created a lot of buzz over the internet and in the media due to her surgically enhanced lips. In recent months, hundreds have joined the craze with efforts to mimic her artificial look, even inspiring a social media movement, the ‘Kylie Jenner Challenge’. Where teenagers undertook extreme measures to achieve her fuller lips, which have been hailed by numerous fashion blogs and magazines as “sexy” and “trendy”.
However, the choice of words used by these platforms have caused many to fire back, including several black women on twitter, who posted pictures of their naturally full lips with the hashtag ‘trendy lips’. Many of whom argued that they were born with these lips, long before they were declared to be “new” and “in fashion” because of Kylie Jenner.
The problem that I (and believe other black women) have is not with Kylie Jenner herself. It is instead the positive media attention surrounding her lips, which is a blatant and shameless double standard made by those that dominate the media and fashion industry.
For hundreds of years, the naturally full lips of black people have been a point of ridicule for our race (especially black women), and have been deemed to be ugly.
Blackface, a form of theatrical makeup popular in the 19th century, was primarily used by white performers in the USA and Britain to imitate a black person. Burnt cork, greasepaint or shoe polish was used to blacken the skin and exaggerate the lips: the key component of the costume. The practice of blackface was used as a form of entertainment based on the mockery of blacks, and has contributed to the perpetuation of black stereotypes.
The bigger lips of black people, along with our many other physical features, were also believed to make us the inferior race. Several 19th century thinkers disagreed with Darwin’s theory of evolution. It was argued that our features made us resemble apes, which was perceived to be strong evidence for black people being a separate species from our counterparts – sub-human savages.
Centuries later, the negative perception of fuller lips still exists. While growing up, I found myself quickly becoming aware of this. It was the focus of multiple insults made by other children, and the reason why so many black girls in my school were teased. As I got older, bigger lips were hypersexualised and seen as a ‘tool’ that should be used to sexually please males. So why is it now that all of this has suddenly changed?
Why is it that bigger lips have been the ticket to Kylie Jenner’s growing fame? Kylie’s transformation has enabled her to acquire more cosmetic deals, increase her net worth and following substantially. A particular feature that has been stigmatised for centuries is now glorified and considered beautiful, which seems to be because of her. Multiple women have tried to recreate the “Kylie-esque” lips with the application of makeup, posting their results on the internet. Hundreds of teenagers used the opening of cups and jars as suction to swell their lips, risking permanent damage in attempts to emulate her.
Would all of this have happened if it were a black girl instead?
I do not believe that fuller lips are exclusive to the black race, but I do believe that we have a connection to them that is far deeper than any other people, which is shown by history. I feel that the attention Kylie Jenner has received regarding her lips demonstrates the problem with the media and fashion industry. As women as a whole, it seems that our features can only truly be embraced when we are told they can be. When they are not, they are something to be ashamed of. For black women, there seems to be another condition to be met: our features must be embodied by the white race in order to be accepted and normalised.