James Charles is facing backlash for participating in a popular TikTok trend that imitates mugshots.
The “mugshot challenge” originated on TikTok, which began idealizing mugshots long before users started mimicking them. In early March, users posted videos of mugshots they thought were attractive.
“Last girl looks like she knows how to have a gooooood time,” one user captioned their video, which now has 226,700 likes.
In another video, the TikTok user added thirst emojis before launching into a slideshow of nameless, incarcerated faces.
The trend bore the mugshot challenge, in which users recorded themselves applying smudged eyeliner and messing up their hair before posing in front of blank, white walls. Some took the trend further by adding makeup to appear bruised and bloody. In one version, TikTok user nehvjones applied a temporary tattoo to her neck. In another, TikTok user thehumankind appeared scratched, adding that she “aint going down without a fight.”
TikTok creators also took the trend to Twitter, where they posted photos of their attempts at the challenge.
The mugshot challenge is massively problematic. It provides a platform to flex makeup skills, but it also glamorizes incarceration, which disproportionately affects Black and Latinx communities. Participating in the challenge is insensitive and ignorant, as marginalized communities are already subjected to racial profiling and police brutality. Glamorizing that injustice, even if others are doing it, is wrong.
The TikTok users joining the trend with hashtags like #mugshot, which has 135.6 million views, and #mugshotchallenge, 72.7 million views. Another popular tag is #mugshotshawty, which has 9.8 million views. Participants overwhelmingly appear to be white.
While the trend is in poor taste, it didn’t garner significant criticism until beauty vlogger James Charles jumped on the bandwagon. Charles, who’s seen his fair share of controversy, tweeted side-by-side photos of himself on Sunday with a bloodied nose and bruised eye. He didn’t caption it.
Other Twitter users called him out for depicting violence and being insensitive. One fan expressed her discomfort, and compared it to surviving domestic violence.
“It’s not fun having your face bruised and not being able to cover them up,” the fan responded to Charles’ tweet. “Maybe I’m being too sensitive but this made me really uncomfortable because I couldn’t take mine off. It made me feel dehumanized.”
Charles explained that he was participating in a TikTok trend, and that it “has nothing to do with domestic violence whatsoever.”
hi babe, I’m so sorry that you went through something so awful and traumatic. it’s a tik tok trend going around where people post their “mugshots” and has nothing to do with domestic violence whatsoever. love you
— James Charles (@jamescharles) April 6, 2020
Another Twitter user noted that even if Charles was participating in the mugshot challenge, there was nothing in the photos indicating that it’s a mugshot. Without a caption or visual cues, it seemed like Charles had just been beaten.
Sorry but this does not look like a mugshot, you have to know that. There’s no visual cue that it is and no caption. You have to at least understand that. You could of done something to make it clear. This just missed the mark personally as an explanation.
— Madison Beard (@MadisonABeard) April 6, 2020
Throughout Monday, Twitter users called out everyone participating in the mugshot challenge for being privileged and out of touch with those most affected by incarceration.
It’s worth noting that many of the TikTok users participating in the challenge are young and may not be aware of how injust the prison system really is — but when influencers like Charles use their expansive platforms to join the mugshot challenge, it adds legitimacy.
“It’s a reality that many brown and black folk have to face, and to diminish this into some trend is really weird and gross,” Twitter user yojogn said.
the way brown and black folk are being criminalized disproportionately is disgusting. This trend is tasteless and takes away from problems with the prison industrial complex and law enforcement system.
— j (@yojogn) April 6, 2020
Others pointed out just how ridiculous the challenge is.
I’m sorry but WHAT is this “make your own mugshot trend”?? I apologize that a white 4 on the hotness scale has to tell you this but none of you look hot with fake blood and bruises 🤡🤡🤡
— CHRIS KLEMENS (@ChrisKlemens) April 6, 2020
y’all b like “mugshot challenge 🤪” but ignore the mass incarceration rates in the us 😐
— kim (@coochiechakra) April 5, 2020
yall and that dumb ass mugshot trend…… id bet 99% of yall don’t have anyone in your families locked in the prison industrial complex. Eat a dick.
— nicko off the clock ☭ (@xxcommie) April 6, 2020
ur telling me a “mugshot” has become a trend. doing makeup to look like you’ve gotten beat and brutalized by police. yk POC actually get beat by police and taken to precincts for mugshots, half of the time just for being black. when they see us shoulda taught ya smth https://t.co/wmQQ5MvVIt
— déjame en paz (@anelitebitch) April 6, 2020
y’all out here thinking it’s funny to have a black eye, beat up face, bloody nose to pose for a mugshot? Oh ok.
— Alfredo Flores (@AlfredoFlores) April 6, 2020
The public is especially vexed with celebrities and influencers during this pandemic. A few weeks ago, a coalition of celebrities (virtually) gathered to sing a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” But instead of inspiring the public, they were slammed for being naïve and privileged. While thousands of symptomatic people are fighting to be tested for COVID-19, influencer Arielle Charnas was accused of using her connections to access testing. Other influencers were accused of “milking the coronavirus for clout.” Although the coronavirus pandemic has been referred to as “the great equalizer,” it evidently affects working class and low-income people the most.
So when a celebrity like James Charles participated in the mugshot challenge — which already has its barbs — the public was less than welcoming.
Charles, who deleted the tweet on Monday afternoon, issued a non-apology.
“Despite the fact that hundreds of other influencers and artists have done something similar, I deleted the mugshot trend because it was never my intention to trigger anyone,” he tweeted. “It’s a waste of time trying to have an open discussion with people who hate me regardless.”
He added a peace sign emoji.
After the backlash, streamer Corinna Kopf also quietly deleted her mugshot challenge photos from Twitter and Instagram. After her tweet was included in a round-up by Pop Crave, personality Bianca Dayag made her account private.
Charles’ supporters brushed off criticism, dismissing it as haters out to get him. And while Charles does receive a fair share of criticism, he also has a huge following. As a public figure, his actions will be criticized, especially if they’re inconsiderate of those who don’t have the privilege he does.
Besides, there are plenty of other challenges to participate in that don’t glamorize the criminal justice system.
If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.