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Why Are So Many Women Obsessed with Getting Plumper Lips?

The social media-based Kylie Jenner Challenge exploded across the Internet earlier this week, sparking intense conversation as it trended. If you managed to avoid seeing the swollen mouths of any "competitors," here's the deal: In order to attain Kylie-sized lips (which the reality TV star attributes to the ), people encased their mouths in small cups (like shot glasses, for example) and breathed in, relying on the suction for some thickening action. Although some participants claimed to be satirizing the lip-mania, others seemed to genuinely want fuller lips. The results ranged from alarming to straight-up grotesque (if you feel queasy when you see blood, the hashtag's not for you), and lots of folks petitioned for it to stop:
 

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Smarties, you change the world by being YOURSELF! There's no need for the #KylieJennerChallenge. Also, it's dangerous + please don't do it — AmyPoehlerSmartGirls (@smrtgrls)
When you see people doing the #kyliejennerchallenge pic.twitter.com/mSTylfm4mh — matt newton (@mattnewts)

For what it's worth, Kylie got wind of the social media movement she inspired and spoke out against it:

I'm not here to try & encourage people/young girls to look like me or to think this is the way they should look. (Cont...) — Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner)
I want to encourage people/young girls like me to be YOURSELF & not be afraid to experiment w your look. ❤️❤️❤️ — Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner) April 21, 2015

The rebuttal didn't stop more people from joining in, though. So really, what's behind the full-lips craze? It turns out that, as eye-catching as the #KylieJennerChallenge may be, it's only the latest example of a cultural obsession with big lips. (Remember when "duck face" selfies became a thing? The term was even added into Oxford Dictionaries in 2014.)

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"When you look at the anthropological history of the female body and sexuality, full lips signal not only sensuality, but being excited about having sex," says Jamie Gordon, anthropologist, partner, and cultural strategist at Culture Agency in Atlanta. "Much like how studies show that the higher your hip-to-waist ratio in some African tribal cultures, the more attractive you are, full lips can also make you seem more attractive." 

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Journal of Vision Research

One 2010 study in the journalVision Researchbacks this up. The researchers experimented to see whether there's a facial golden ratio, i.e., an ideal facial feature arrangement. "A woman who has large lips, suggesting a strong mating potential, with average length and width ratios will always be more attractive than a woman with narrow lips and average length and width ratios," wrote the researchers. They found that people were rated as most attractive when the vertical distance between the eyes and mouth was about 36 percent of its length, and the horizontal distance between the eyes was about 46 percent of the face's width (you can see examples of different distances of facial features in the image above).  The study was a small one of only 20 college students, but that thinking still seems socially prevalent.

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A major part of this cultural emphasis started in the '50s, right around when Marilyn Monroe reached bombshell status. "Marilyn represented a transition in our cultural thought about women and sex," says Gordon. "Because there were fewer men due to the war, there wasn't just a lot more competition for a man, there was also this idea that you had to please him to keep him. You couldn't just look like you were capable of having sex. You had to be excited about it, and full lips can help express that." Enter Monroe's signature over-lined red pout, which is part of a beauty look so iconic, Max Factor chose her as their Global Glamour Ambassador back in January.

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Lucian Milasan/Shutterstock

Although most of the people who participated in the Kylie Jenner Challenge were adolescents, the fixation on full lips certainly doesn't disappear as women age. Actually, it does anything but. "Your lips get thinner as you age, but fuller lips are a signifier of youth," says Gordon. "As some women age, they think, 'At least I've still got this part of me that represents my sexuality.'" The real difference is that as women get older, they can actually do something about it.

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Injectable wrinkle fillers (like Juvederm and Restylane) skyrocketed 243 percent between 2000 and 2013 and 13 percent between just 2012 and 2013, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. While they don't have isolated numbers strictly for lip-related treatments, other pieces of data are telling: Lip augmentation other than injectables jumped 35 percent between 2000 and 2013, while lip reductions fell 32 percent between 2012 and 2013.

"Lip augmentation is certainly not going away, but whether it's increasing varies from practice to practice," says Michael C. Edwards, M.D., president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. "I can happily say fewer women are going for the overly full, fish-lip aesthetic." Edwards says he has turned away patients he thinks are requesting something too large, bypassing what he says is the most natural-looking equation: a lower lip that's about a third fuller than the top one.

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So why do some women visit plastic surgeons in pursuit of bigger lips in the first place? "People may think a fuller lip is more sensual, or they may be influenced by pop culture and social media," says Edwards. Edwards says anyone looking to get fillers should only entrust board-certified professionals with the task. Turning to a shot glass to get the same results? Not advisable.

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While some of the backlash to this phenomenon lies in the inherent physical dangers, part of it is due to the potential cultural appropriation at play. "Cultural appropriation is typically when white people have borrowed from cultural production of people of color," says Akil Houston, Ph.D., associate professor of cultural and media studies at Ohio University. It's often talked about related to the world of entertainment, but it can also extend to matters of beauty, says Houston. And really, the two are usually inextricably intertwined. In that case, cultural appropriation essentially boils down to when women of color are mocked for a certain body type, hairstyle, facial feature, for instance, while white women are celebrated when they adopt it. Some women online have pointed this out:

Don't forget, these are the features they tried to teach you to hate. #kyliejennerchallenge
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Of course, it's highly unlikely that Kylie and other white women committed to the quest for fuller lips woke up one day and decided they felt like engaging in some cultural appropriation. Still, it's not as much about the intention as it is the effect. "I think for [Kylie], this is just something fun and clever," says Houston. "But once it leaves the hands of the creator, what it means is up for grabs. The context gets lost."

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It might seem like it's no big deal that Kylie just wanted to experiment with her look, but her influence is undeniable. "We have to take pop culture seriously, especially when it comes to social media," says Houston. "For some people in our society, that's a significant space of identification. Even when it's entertaining, it socializes and legitimizes certain ways of thinking."
 

onMar 14, 2014 at 9:38pm PDT

On the other hand, not everyone agrees that this is an example of cultural appropriation. "We have evolved as an American culture to include beauty standards that are as characteristically multi-racial as our society," says Gordon. "It stands to reason that people—especially young people—are finding attractiveness in characteristically non-Caucasian aesthetics."

The bottom line here is that there are clearly a few different aspects that make the #KylieJennerChallenge troubling. Whether you're coming at it from a safety standpoint or a cultural one, it's something that should have never been trending in the first place.






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Date: 06.12.2018, 08:16 / Views: 33544