Perhaps you have noticed this on Instagram. A beautiful young woman posts a selfie with a specific pose: her fingers dangled in front of her mouth languidly. The fingers in front of the mouth would seem careless, like she wasn’t caught off guard for the photo before she had a chance to move her hand, but the oft-repeated nature of this trope indicates it’s actually extremely calculated. Let’s call this “fingermouthing.”
The type of beautiful young woman who you will tend to see adopt this pose is not just anyone. It’s typically someone with a lot of followers — eager fans who enjoy her outfits, her makeup, her style. Instagram models or those who might have been known in the late aughts as “style bloggers” but now just post to Instagram (stylegrammers?) have particularly favored this pose.
Before you laugh off the idea that a group of internet-savvy amateur fashionistas could create a posing trend totally independently from formal fashion magazines and photography, it would not be the first time. A few years ago, the crossed-ankle stance — informed by the ankle boot trend as well as style bloggers — was noticed by legendary New York Times street style photographer Bill Cunningham. In 2013, Mihn-Ha T. Pham, a professor of media studies who writes about fashion bloggers, explained in Hyphen magazine:
While there is no single definitive fashion blogger pose, there is a loosely bound set of gestures and postures idiosyncratic to fashion bloggers and their subjects. Some of the most recognizable body stylings include vulnerable-looking stances, oblique glances, and a single hand on the hip (the teapot), or both hands on hips (the sugar bowl).
And poses can indeed be trends. The “skinny arm” trick (a hand on your hip to ensure your upper arm doesn’t smush against your side, and standing sideways to a 45-degree angle) was once a sneaky trick of red carpet celebrities; now you see it in every high school prom or sorority group photo. If the skinny arm and crossed ankle are going the way of skinny jeans, some new thing will come and replace them. It’s the circle of life, hakuna matata.
Kylie Jenner was a prominent early adopter of fingermouthing. Jenner often pounces on internet trends and brings them to a wider audience; sometimes these trends are not cutting-edge bloggy trends, but just simply a thing black women have been doing for a long time, like box braids. In this case, Jenner explained in an interview with Elle UK that the pose was a result of her insecurity about her mouth.
"I was so insecure about my lips. Even now I always post photos where my finger is always in front of my mouth…it's a habit. I would always cover my lips," she told Elle. "I couldn't even talk to people. Or guys. Like, [I'd be thinking]: 'I know you're looking at my lips, but you so don't want to kiss me right now.'" I believe this. It reminded me of a friend who adopted the habit of covering her mouth when she laughed to hide her braces in middle school, but the habit stuck and she still does it, even with her now-perfect teeth. Jenner, of course, famously got lip injections to address this insecurity.
But fingermouthing is much bigger than just Kylie Jenner. And Kylie’s specific reasons do not explain the trend, which exists across a particular demographic of people — beautiful selfie enthusiasts — who by their very definition would be less likely to experience insecurity about their mouth. (Taking lots of selfies, of course, doesn’t mean you are immune to insecurity about your appearance, but lots of close-ups of your face suggest that mouth insecurity is probably not a total scourge of the scene.)
To find out more, I emailed with a stylegrammer named Kristen Hancher, who has ascended to the pantheon of “Influencer” — a designation I suspect is somewhat tied to the ability and/or proclivity to run sponsored ads on their account. Hancher is a master of fingermouthing, and she indeed recognized that it’s a ~thing~.
“I do it because it feels more natural than to just pose,” Hancher said. “I guess there's some seductive implication as well, considering it brings focus towards the lips, but it also helps frame your face. It's been my go-to pose for a while as you can tell by my feed and now that I've kind of thought about it, the majority of my selfies do include that pose.”
Indeed, as Clueless taught us all years ago, drawing attention to your mouth is a key tool of flirtation.
Or, perhaps it’s that duckface and sparrowface — which show more straightforward version of your face — are over. This is the age of the Snapchat filter, where a semi-obscured version is preferred. It’s a bit quaint and conservative, the old idea that by covering yourself up a bit, you’re leaving more to the imagination, and therefore is more intriguing. A semi-obscured face or mouth provides for some mystery. And the current burdens for young women of existing in the digital world all lead to this illusion of demureness.
And then, there’s my one final theory, which is perhaps the most practical: Fingermouthing lets you show off your manicure in a selfie.