The influencer “Mugshot” trend is tone-deaf and offensive

Anyone who has been scrolling through Twitter or TikTok to pass the time during the COVID-19 pandemic this past week has likely noticed multiple influencer-type teens and twenty-somethings like James Charles and Corinna Kopf posting images of themselves with their makeup done in a way that makes them look like they had been beaten up; with black eyes and bloody noses, the content creators posed in front of the camera as though they were having their mugshot taken. Many have pointed out the trend glorifies incarceration and is inherently offensive, and they’re right. This problematic challenge is just one more excuse for narcissists with young fan bases to plaster their faces on social media without acknowledging the weight of the subject matter.

Courtesy of TikTok

The trend was started on TikTok by user @thehumankind on April 1. She posted a makeup tutorial on bruise and blood makeup, captioning the post “#mugshotchallenge, I might just be cute enough to be arrested,” garnering over 75,000 likes. The trend remained on TikTok for a few days, spreading with other hashtags such as #mugshawty and being imitated by larger creators like Charli D’Amelio to the tune of 2.8 million likes. On April 5, James Charles, one of the biggest YouTube beauty gurus, posted his own mugshot to Twitter, marking the major viral pick up of the trend.

On April 6, social media reporter for the New York Times, Taylor Lorenz, posted about the trend on Twitter, specifically reporting on James Charles’ participation and those in his comment section expressed their concern about the sensitivity of the trend. Lorenz’s tweets brought negative attention to the issue. Since then, influencers have begun to delete their mugshot photos to save themselves from any further backlash.

The major critique of the trend is that it romanticizes incarceration and, in particular, violent arrests. The influencers appear with fake bloody noses and smeared eyeliner, but otherwise have perfect makeup. They take attractive pictures, occasionally throwing in a lip bite or a wink for a little extra sex appeal. Unfortunately, the reality of mugshots is very different. 

The rates of police brutality in the U.S., including over 1,000 police killings in 2019 alone should not be taken lightly. With over 2.3 million inmates, the United States has the largest prison population in the world by far, making up nearly a quarter of the world’s incarcerated individuals. The racial injustice of the justice system is made obvious by the fact that 59% of inmates are Black or Latino.

Considering most of the influencers taking part in the trend are white and privileged, the trend appears more and more tone-deaf and insensitive. Even if such people were to be arrested, it’s likely they wouldn’t be downtown with bloody, bruised faces. The negative attention is very much deserved, and while it is good that many users have taken down their mugshot posts, the hashtag continues to gain new posts, many smaller accounts apparently spurred on by the attention. These large accounts need to be more careful with their posting so problematic challenges like this don’t take off.

Influencers aren’t exactly known for thinking before posting, but this is inexcusable. It shouldn’t have to be stated why a trend like this is offensive. Incarceration and arrests are no joke, and they aren’t a subject that privileged, white twenty-somethings should make into a “cute” trend. There are much better ways to get their daily dose of validation, even while social distancing, that they should consider.