What Does the Viral "Lightskin Stare" Meme on TikTok Really Mean?

default image

The "lightskin stare" meme features characters giving an intense, flirtatious gaze into the camera. With origins on Vine, it has surged in popularity again on TikTok. But what does the meme say about beauty standards, privilege, and colorism? Let‘s unravel what‘s behind the viral stare.

The Complex History of Colorism and Its Modern Impacts

To understand the lightskin stare meme, we need to explore the complex history of colorism in black communities. Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with darker skin tones, both within and outside of racial groups.

The origins of colorism date back to European colonialism‘s racist pseudoscience that categorized black people on a spectrum from "civilized" to "savage" based on skin tone. After slavery in the Americas, lighter-skinned black people sometimes received preferential treatment and took on higher social positions.

Colorism remains a serious issue today. According to a 2022 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, darker-skinned black men receive prison sentences up to 12% longer than those with lighter skin. Darker-skinned black women earn on average 4% less than light-skinned black women, per data analyzed by the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

The impacts also take a psychological toll. A 2011 study found that darker-skinned black girls have lower self-esteem and more depression and anxiety. Colorism even seeps into dating preferences, with students showing bias against potential mates with darker skin in a 2009 study.

So in summary, colorism has deep historical roots with lasting economic, social, and self-esteem consequences—which brings us to the modern implications of the lightskin stare meme.

The Meme‘s Origins on Vine

Vine creator BuddyBillz first posted a video in 2014 called "Do the lightskin face," highlighting an intense stare with raised eyebrows, bedroom eyes, and pursed lips. The clip gained over 700,000 loops on Vine, sparking a popular trend among Viners and fans trying to imitate the expression.

As the stare blew up, Vine stars Melvin Gregg and King Bach began creating sketches centered around attractive, smug, light-skinned male characters flirting and scheming to pick up women. Their videos played into dated stereotypes of light-skinned guys as more desirable and able to get away with questionable behavior.

As social media expert Amanda Brennan tells me in an interview, the lightskin stare meme exposes troubling double standards: "It reveals the unfair societal expectations placed uniquely on black men—especially light-skinned black men—to be seen as hypsersexualized and privileged."

The Meme Resurges Thanks to TikTok

When Vine shut down in 2017, the lightskin stare faded from the spotlight—until TikTok revived it again this year. One viral video with 24 million YouTube views shows Megamind‘s Titan intensely staring into the camera with the song "Sin City" playing in the background.

Another popular TikTok features football superstar Neymar tilting his head down, eyes looking up, with pursed lips after getting hit in the head with an acorn. As comments note, "The king of lightskin is back" and "Bro has ultimate Rizz"—referencing the slang term for attracting women.

Additional examples showcase characters like Atreus from God of War Ragnarok and Michael B. Jordan‘s Killmonger as embodiments of the alluring lightskin gaze. So why has this dated Vine meme surged again on TikTok?

The Lasting Impacts of Colorism in Media

While often considered harmless fun, the lightskin stare meme has roots in colorism—prejudice against those with darker skin. On a societal level, colorism manifests in gaps in pay, prison sentencing, and representation in movies, ads, and more favoring lighter skin.

Per 2022 data from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 21.2% of lead roles in top Hollywood films from 2007–2021 went to actors of color. Of those roles, lighter-skinned actors of color vastly outnumbered those with darker skin.

This bias also creeps into memes. As professor Samantha Blackmon explains, memes like the lightskin stare exemplify "digital blackface"—when "people who aren‘t Black find a way of using digital means to represent themselves as Black." By portraying blackness through stereotypes, it dehumanizes actual black people.

Progress Toward More Inclusive Representation

The good news is we‘re seeing positive strides in the fight against colorism in entertainment and society. The 2016 #OscarsSoWhite campaign sparked increased diversity initiatives in Hollywood. Plus, dark-skinned black actresses like Lupita Nyong‘o, Viola Davis, and Michaela Coel are rising to fame.

Activist organizations like the Brown [Skin] Project also aim to uplift darker-skinned individuals and combat colorism through education, workshops, and campaigns. We all have a role to play in recognizing our own biases based on skin tone and calling out prejudice.

So next time that lightskin stare meme pops up on your feed, take a moment to think deeper about the stereotypes it reinforces versus the diversity our society needs. With awareness and action, we can work toward representation that celebrates the beautiful spectrum of skin tones equally.


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.