Women are calling out 'twisted' beauty trends on social media: 'You're never satisfied'

Whether it's visual weight or color theory, beauty trends on social media are raising eyebrows for some users.

Thumbnail credit: @sourandnasty via TikTok, @attemptedsoc via TikTok

Scrolling through TikTok, you might find your feed saturated with viral beauty “tips and tricks” that claim to enhance features and help people look their best. While thousands of users are hitting “like” on these appearance-centric posts, others are raising a skeptical eyebrow at their claims.

One of those users, TikTok creator Sharon Amy Wu (@sourandnasty), posted a video in response to a viral filter that claims to help users determine if they have a low or high visual weight — that is, if they have softer or more prominent features relative to their facial size. Figuring out visual weight, according to some creators, will better inform how you should apply makeup in a way that most flatters your face.

But, according to Wu in a post from Jan. 18, “you don’t need any filters.”

In fact, she adds in her Jan. 18 post, “What you can do is put on light or heavy makeup, look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Do I look good? Do I like the way that I look right now?’ That’s it.”

Basically, it’s not a beauty influencer or beauty brand’s call. It’s yours.

‘Give it a try and decide for yourself’

While beauty trends like visual weight or color theory (which claims to help people decipher which colors best compliment their skin tones) may have started out with good intentions, Wu told Yahoo News, they [can] get “twisted around” to a point where they hold users to an arguably unattainable beauty standard and negatively impact mental health in the process.

“Since makeup is so closely tied with your physical appearance, it quickly turns into people uplifting certain features/face types above others, and people who may not fit into what [is] trendy [end up] feeling left out. A lot of times it leads to people feeling like they shouldn’t participate in certain trends [or] use certain products when it may be something they would otherwise enjoy,” she said.

Wu added, “When I was growing up, makeup was all about experimentation and fun. Sometimes you try something new and it doesn’t look that great. You can just wipe it off and try again. I feel like a lot of these trends make people feel restricted, and some of them even contradict each other. ... At the end of the day, the best way to find out is just to give it a try and decide for yourself.”

How does the beauty industry contribute to these standards?

Gia Rutkowski (@attemptedsoc), who dedicates her platform to dissecting online behavior, echoed Wu’s sentiment and called out the beauty industry’s role in bolstering the virality of these beauty standards.

“So these beauty standards, for context, when we find the root, it's usually to sell something, whether it be a major corporation selling something or even an influencer coming up with a new trend to sell for a product or sell her course,” Rutkowski told Yahoo News. “What is going to be more profitable for a major company? Is it going to be a happy, confident demographic that feels fulfilled with their looks? Or an insecure group of people who are looking to buy the new product to make themselves feel better?”

According to a 2023 report from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the "Sephora Tween" phenomenon and TikTok's "Get Ready with Me" videos are influencing Gen Z's decisions when it comes to "prioritizing aesthetics."

"This generation is growing up with a greater awareness of what is possible when it comes to aesthetic treatments thanks to the normalization online,” Dr. Sherard Tatum, president of the AAFPRS, said in a statement about the report.

In a 2024 study, researchers at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine found a direct correlation between social media engagement and an increased desire to get cosmetic treatments. Patients who follow social media accounts of celebrities that have gotten cosmetic procedures or plastic surgeons who show "before" and "after" images of cosmetic procedures they've performed are "significantly" influenced to undergo a procedure themselves, the study showed.

Rutkowski added that the desire to improve oneself doesn’t always yield a positive outcome. It can, she said, lead people to feel even more dissatisfied with themselves.

“I think there's a really big focus right now on self-progression and self-help,” she said. “And that's what I feel like a lot of these trends [focus on]. You can sit there and say how [you] want to make [yourself] more appealing to the conventional beauty standard. ... [But] once you start, you don’t stop. ... You’re never satisfied.”

Self-esteem and the effects of ‘hyper-reflection’

Julia Baum, a licensed therapist in New York and California, told Yahoo News that those who choose to try a beauty trend should look inward and assess their intention for doing so. She said that “hyper-reflection,” which is the act of thinking “about oneself and one's appearance more than is healthy and subsequently neglect other areas of existence” plays a big role as well.

“Many people are easily influenced to hyper-reflect on their appearance, which can lead to feeling dehumanized. It's not inevitable that watching these videos will impact one's self-esteem, but it's more a matter of what you take away from them and how those messages affect you,” she said. “For example, ‘That's an interesting technique, I'd like to try it’ vs. ‘This beauty practice will make me a more worthy person.’ It depends on the meaning one finds in these trends. If it's about enhancing and taking pleasure in the process, that's very different than seeking to fix or change aspects of oneself that have been criticized.”

While these viral beauty trends may feel essential to follow, Wu suggests practicing the look on yourself and seeing how you feel about it — apart from any outside influence.

“In my opinion,” Wu told Yahoo News, “you don’t need to listen to people on the internet tell you whether or not you’ll look good [with] a smoky eye when you can just try a smoky eye on yourself and decide for yourself if you like it or not.”

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information from the Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine research study.)