August 19, 2020
On Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, people from all over the world have been posting videos and photos modeling “the look”—using makeup and other tactics to emulate the lifted, so-called “almond-shaped” or “fox eyes” of celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Megan Fox.
Fox-eye makeup tutorials show how to use a combination of eye shadow, eyeliner, and fake eyelashes to get a winged aesthetic. Tips include shaving off the tail end of eyebrows and redrawing them to appear straighter and angled upwards. Others have suggested pulling hair back into a high ponytail or using tape to further lift the eyes.
Accentuating eyes to appear slanted, or elongated in shape, creates a more sultry effect, according to some makeup artists creating the look. But to Asian Americans, the “migraine pose” that sometimes accompanies these images— using one or two hands to pull the eyes up by the temples to exaggerate the result -—is far too similar to the action used to demean them in the past, CNN reports.
Indeed, they assert, it’s a form of cultural appropriation.
Kelly H. Chong, a Sociology professor at the University of Kansas, defines cultural appropriation as the adoption, often unacknowledged or inappropriate, of the ideas, practices, customs and cultural identity markers of one group by members of another group whom have greater privilege or power.
“The cultural influencers from the dominant group legitimize it as a cool style ‘trend,’ and in the process exoticize and eroticize it,” Chong added in an e-mail interview with CNN. Even the term “almond eyes,” she says, which is being used to describe the shape of fox eyes, has long been used to describe the shape of Asian eyes.
She points to Hollywood’s uncomfortable past in the appropriating the shape of Asian eyes. In the early 1930s, makeup artist Cecil Holland used techniques — some, similar to creating fox eyes today—to transform White actors into villainous Asian characters, like Fu Manchu. And Mickey Rooney, the White actor playing the part of Holly Golightly’s thickly-accented Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s cemented “the buck-toothed, slit-eyed Asian man look” in the popular imagination.
TikTok user @LeahMelle, whose video denouncing the fox-eye look went viral, said she couldn’t believe that such a trend could be so popular nowadays: “This wasn’t some dated movie where you could blame the distorted norms of the time period. This was happening now. And it was still viewed as acceptable,” she wrote in an email.
Emma Chamberlain, an influencer with 9.8 million followers on Instagram, was criticized recently for posting a picture that showed her striking this pose while sticking out her tongue.
Her fans rushed to defend her—commenting that those who felt offended were “overreacting.” Chamberlain later deleted the picture and apologized, saying it wasn’t her “intention” to pose in an “insensitive way” and that she was “so sorry to those who were hurt by it.”
But the damage already had been done.
“They mock my eyes, then say ching chong; call me a dog eater and then call me a ch*nk. Like why would you think I’d be fine with Emma’s post?” one person tweeted. “Obviously if she gets to do slant eyes whilst getting praised but it’s my natural eye shape and I’m getting discriminated (of course) I’m mad.”
“It’s a new trend that brings out old stereotypes and old taunts,” Wang said in a phone interview with CNN. “Because it makes people like me feel uncomfortable and (to) some degree annoyed, it’s time to talk about it.”
Like most beauty trends, the craze for fox eyes will eventually subside, and has begun to already since it first came about earlier this year. But that’s exactly the problem, according to Stephanie Hu, founder of Dear Asian Youth, a California-based organization that encourages Asian activism.
In an Instagram post, entitled “The problem with the #FoxEye trend,” the organization wrote, “While it may not have originated from a place of ill-intent, it appropriates our eyes and is ignorant of past racism.”
“It really feels like this is a temporary trend,” Hu told CNN, adding that she believes Asians’ eye shapes aren’t just something to be casually adopted and then “given back” when the trend is over. “Our eyes are something that we have to live with every day,” Hu said in a phone interview.
Research contact: @CNN