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  • Writer's pictureKirra Pendergast

The Mascara Trend on TikTok

Written by Adelaide - 15yrs

Codewords have been used for a long time, whether that be in America, where they use the word “GOAT”, referring to the greatest of all time or on a ship when “red party” is announced, referring to a fire on board. Slang was believed to have first appeared in linguistics in the 1800s. But there has undoubtedly been an increase in slang usage on social media over the past few years.

Recently on the social media app TikTok, there has been a trend where people are talking about their experience with “mascara”. Creators discuss their experiences with different mascaras and how they made them feel. In reality, literal “mascara” is not what is being discussed.

“Mascara” started as a codeword for romantic/sexual relationships or explicit body parts. This term was soon adopted and discussed by sexual assault victims. The codewords provided a way for victims to discuss and share their experiences with sexual assault, sexual relationships, and romantic relationships. This brought a positive impact on many victims. There was a way for them to share their stories. But why could they not do this before the codewords were being used on social media?

TikTok has a set of guidelines that users must agree on to be able to use the app. Some of these guidelines include that TikTok does not support the practices of self-harm, disordered eating, and suicide. Implementing guidelines such as these ensures that TikTok can remain a safe space for its users. In this case, sexual assault and romantic relationships could not be discussed openly because it breaches TikTok’s Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity guidelines. TikTok states, “We do not allow nudity, pornography, or sexually explicit content on our platform. We also prohibit content depicting or supporting non-consensual sexual acts, the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery, and adult sexual solicitation.”

As a result of this guideline, many found it challenging to discuss their experiences with explicit content on TikTok, such as their experiences with romantic relationships and sexual harassment. This was because there was a high likelihood that the content would be taken down or banned (due to a breach of guidelines). As a result of this, creators took to using terms such as “mascara”. However, this is not the first time that codeword has been used on social media apps and TikTok.

Users on apps such as TikTok have found codewords to openly talk about sensitive subjects without fearing being banned or getting into trouble. The codewords being used have been described as “algospeak” by Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz who wrote an article on this in April of 2022. On TikTok, users have found that creating content with the words such as “death” or “suicide” have resulted in a breach of guidelines. Due to this, the codeword of “un-alving” has been adopted. But TikTok has these guidelines in place for a reason, so what are some of the issues associated with code words?

As previously stated, TikTok has guidelines to keep its users safe; using codewords essentially removes the guidelines and results in its users flying under the radar. Through the use of codewords, it can easily create confusion among many. Victims of Sexual Assault may have previously thought of mascara as an item of makeup, but due to the trend, they have a bad association with it, which may be a trigger. The usage of codewords can easily confuse. This happened to American actress and model Julia Fox when she commented, “Idk why but I don’t feel bad for u lol”. In the creator Conor Whipple’s video discussing his experience with Sexual Assault.

As of 12/04/2023, the “#mascaratrend” has reached 189.7m views on TikTok. This trend has quickly gained fame and has been a code for many users to discuss previous relationships. The Mascara trend is a crucial example of a way in which users can fly under the radar of TikTok’s guidelines and escape the restrictions. But there are some issues with this. The mascara trend has resulted in children on the app being able to “crack the code” and be exposed to mature and explicit content. The mascara trend has also resulted in some confusion amongst the TikTok community. Mascara once meant makeup that could be applied to eyelashes to enhance appearance. Now, mascara is a word that users on apps such as TikTok use to explore/explain their sexual relationships or experiences with sexual assault.

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