'I think you should go for a lip colour that is a little more subtle as your lips are already quite… plump.' That was an exchange between myself and a makeup assistant when I wanted to purchase a vibrant red lipstick. In all honesty, there wasn’t much of an exchange, as I was remarkably silent after hearing her 'advice.' With a deafening silence following her comment, she quickly suggested a more subdued colour - a dull caramel lipstick that looked more like a pasty grey on my lips. The makeup assistant’s suggestion against my preference for a bold lipstick was the first time I realised that having fuller lips would not be appreciated by wider society.
As this incident took place in my teen years, it left me confused, as it was during a time when the media was fascinated with Angelina Jolie’s lips. From tacky tabloid innuendos to women’s magazines fawning over her lips, it was clear that a fuller pout on Angelina Jolie was considered an attractive feature, but fuller lips on me, a teenage black girl was quite frankly - undesirable. While I wasn’t sure how to articulate it, it was clear that Angelina’s white skin made her fuller pout acceptable but on my black skin, big lips were seen as repugnant and that knocked my confidence.
Now that I’m in my late 20s, things have changed. I have never felt more confident about my looks and my lips in particular. Yet, what has stayed the same, is how the world adores black beauty ideals if they are on the bodies of white women. Cornrows on black women have always been stereotyped as ghetto, but on Kim Kardashian, they have been declared as a major hair trend. It is the same with fuller lips- many black girls are born with larger lips and mocked for their size, but on Angelina Jolie and now Kylie Jenner, fuller lips aren’t just tolerable, but a feature to be celebrated. In fact, Kylie Jenner has picked up where Angelina left off and become the poster girl for a plumper pout.
Since the reality star got her lips surgically enhanced the world has been fascinated by her fuller smile. While the 20-year-old stated that her decision to enhance her lips came from her insecurities, in the past two years, Kylie’s surgically altered smile has changed the modern face of beauty. Her decision to inject lip fillers sparked a global craze known as the Kylie Jenner lip challenge, that sees teenagers insert their lips into glasses, sucking out the air in the hope to have lips that resemble Kylie’s. The influence of Kylie’s new pout didn’t just stop with the challenge. In 2015, the year she revealed that her bigger lips were the result of an injection rather than a miracle lip liner, more people than ever underwent the lip augmentation procedure. In 2016, this increased by four percent and lip fillers increased by two percent, with industry experts believing that Jenner was the reason for the rise.
Like many people, I’m gripped by this series of _Love Island_, but besides the daily dramas of the Villa, the amount of plastic surgery many of the girls have undergone has hit the headlines. With past pictures and interviews suggesting that Meghan, Dani and both Ellie’s have had some work done to their lips. With the handful of Love Island ladies enlarging their lips and the plastic surgery adverts shown during the commercial breaks, it is hard not to think that this is a trickle-down result of Jenner’s procedures.
With Jenner’s lip fillers helping her amass global influence, she turned that power into cash with her company Kylie Cosmetics. The company’s most infamous product is her lip kits and the sales of the product have helped the Keeping Up With The Kardashians star nearly reach billionaire status. Not only are her lips size something to be celebrated but they have become the cash cow of her cosmetic empire.
When black women seek to profit off of their natural beauty features, such as their fuller lips it is met with criticism and condemnation. We saw that back in 2016 when a picture of Aamito Lagum’s appeared on Mac's Instagram. The post caused a sensation on social media and not because people were praising her pout, but the post was flooded with spiteful comments about the size of her lips. It is just one example of the distinct double beauty standard that exists when it comes to beauty for black and white women. Black women like Aamito and myself who are born with big lips are degraded for our natural features, compared to Kylie Jenner, whose collagen filled lips are accepted, praised and help her make a fortune.
Kylie Jenner has undoubtedly been at the forefront in replacing the wafer-thin beauty standard that was upheld for years. The beauty industry currently adores women with flat stomachs and tiny waists with fuller busts, bums and lips. Now Kylie has left part of this new beauty standard she helped create behind by the removal of her lip fillers, the beauty industry has declared the obsession with lip fillers were over, implying that the bigger lip phase is no longer on trend. Even teen mom star Farah Abraham removed her lip fillers just days after Jenner. The problem with Kylie’s decision is that for her, bigger lips are nothing but a phase. Now that she is bored with fuller lips, all women should follow suit, but it is not fair to black women as our fuller lips are a permanent feature on our bodies. The natural features of black women are not something that should be praised and shunned when a white woman, like Jenner says so. Yes, Kylie hasn’t explicitly said big lips are out and yes, it is great that she is finally confident in her body, but there is an underlying tone that now she has reached nearly billionaire status, the beauty features associated with black women are no longer of use to her.
This idea of the double standard in beauty when it comes to what white women can do and what black women can do didn’t start and won’t stop with Kylie Jenner. However, the truth of the matter is that no women in the modern era have capitalised off black beauty like Kylie Jenner and her sisters. From cornrows, plumper lips to bigger bums, these were body shapes and beauty traits associated with black women and reasons why our physical appearances were chastised when I was growing up. However, braids, bigger lips and bigger bums on Kim, Khloe and Kylie are seen as the perfect physical aspirations for all women, because their whiteness buys them social acceptance.
As I’ve gotten older, my lips have become my favourite feature. When I look at Kylie I think back to the lady who thought my lips were too big to buy a red lipstick and I wonder would she have said the same to Kylie Jenner? Or would she accept Kylie's pumped up pout because black beauty is accepted on white skin? And I have to say, my gut tells me the latter would have probably been the outcome.