In December, Sara Carstens, a model and creator on social media, reached for a brownish lipstick and swiped it beneath her eyes where she would typically apply concealer, posting the footage to TikTok.
“The entire goal is to normalize dark circles,” Ms. Carstens, 19, said in an interview. She wants them to be considered not ugly but “normal.”
“Sometimes, it can be beautiful,” Ms. Carstens said. Plus, “we’re Gen Z. We’re all tired and have bad sleeping schedules.”
Her dark circles video has been viewed more than seven million times on TikTok since it was posted, and has circulated on other social media platforms including Instagram. Models, makeup artists and other content creators have also emulated the cosmetic effect — a rejoinder to anyone who might suggest such facial characteristics should be hidden.
“Every few years we have something like this where people get sick of beauty standards and kind of rebel,” said Abby Roberts, a makeup artist and TikTok creator who stitched her own video with Ms. Carstens’s.
While many commenters on the video expressed relief (or, in some cases, confusion), others rejected it, having been conditioned from a young age to see dark circles as undesirable. “I did not spend 18 years trying to cover these up for them to become trendy,” one user commented.
Siddhi Uppaladadium, a 17-year-old who lives in New Jersey and is of Indian descent, said that she finds the trend off-putting. “People of color always have these dark eye bags because we’re more prone to hyperpigmentation,” she said. “Seeing someone take that, something we’ve been like mocked for and chastised for, into a trend, it kind of makes me a little upset.”
Ms. Uppaladadium likened it to the “fox-eye” trend that overtook social media last summer, in which makeup was used to elongate the eye-shape and was oftentimes showcased in photos or videos in which the wearer was pulling the outer corners of their eyes out and up with their hands and fingers. The look was criticized for being problematic and offensive to those of Asian descent.
Ms. Carstens said she was inspired by the “femboy aesthetic” — using makeup to accentuate one’s cheekbones, nose bridges and under-eye hollows to an angular, androgynous effect (think Timothée Chalamet). The look has been popularized by nonbinary creators like Tatiana Ringsby who defined the aesthetic as “expressing femininity without the pressure of exuding femininity.” It’s a term the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and others use to define a form of expression that blurs the lines between genders.
“It’s a trend for some people, for others it’s who they are,” Mx. Ringsby said. “I think it’s a beautiful thing to accentuate something we’re insecure about.”
Some experts think this trend is more than just a polarizing fad though, and that it might actually say something about society and the moment we are all living through.
“There’s a sort of a world weariness that these younger women might want to be expressing through this,” said Rachel Weingarten, a beauty historian and author of the book “Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ’40s-’60s.”
There are some forebears of this trend, most notably Marchesa Luisa Casati, an Italian heiress and muse to artists including Man Ray, who famously encircled her eyes with kohl — an act Ms. Weingarten called “a middle finger to the expectation of women’s beauty.” But, according to Ms. Weingarten, the dark circles phenomenon is distinct from unconventional beauty trends, including the French concept of “jolie laide,” which refers to attractiveness that is aided by imperfections, flaws or uncommon features.
“During the plague, when people were trying to show they were healthy,” Ms. Weingarten said, “they would rouge their cheeks. In World War II, there was tremendous privation and women were still trying to appear to be beautiful.”
Today, people are wanting to express “what they are going through right now,” in a “visual diary” or “tiny piece of immediate theater,” she said. (She cautioned though, that some extreme versions of this look might be a cry for help.)
As such, historians believe this is a beauty trend that will pass. Kathy Peiss, a professor of American history at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book “Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture,” wrote in an email: “This seems ephemeral, an aesthetic centered on pandemic tiredness, but not much more than that.”