Earlier this year, almost every MUA was sporting the “fox eye” — a makeup look meant to mimic the look of “fox-like,” almond-shaped eyes. Although popularized by supermodels and celebrities such as Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Megan Fox, the trend has received some serious side-eye from the Asian American community. Almond-shaped eyes are the natural eye shape of many people of Asian descent — the type of eyes that are constantly the subject of ridicule, bullying and racial slurs. Rapper Cardi B made headlines when she described her daughter with the racial slur that almost every Asian child fears being called — “ch*nky.” Fox eye posts have over 63.7 million views on TikTok and 61,500 on Instagram. It’s garnered a mixed response online with either loving it or hating it. Which leaves us with the age-old question: is this racist?
Although the fox eye trend may not be a deliberate appropriation or attack on Asians, it would be irresponsible to deny how it overlooks the discrimination that Asians experience for having those eyes naturally. It is ignorant of the trauma, internalized racism and self-esteem issues that Asian Americans face from having their ethnic features ridiculed while traditional media glorifies Eurocentric beauty ideals. When seen on a White influencer, the fox eye is seen as “beautiful” and “trendy,” but for Asian women who have that shape naturally, it is a cause of “othering” and a sign of “foreignness.” The women online pulling on their temples to show off their foxy makeup may not be doing so in a bid to insult Asians, but they are disregarding the thousands of racial abusers who did.
Our Trauma Shouldn’t Be Your Trend
Bullies, attackers and racists alike always seem to have itchy trigger fingers for “the slant-eye gesture” and then claim it was innocuous when being called out for their behavior.
Asian eyes have been historically branded to seem “undesirable” by Western society. Blepharoplasty or double eyelid surgery is the number one plastic surgery procedure in Asia. Aside from “beauty” purposes, Asian women have felt pressured to alter the natural shape of their eyes in order to assimilate. According to the Korea Herald, American medical text referred to eyes without the palpebral fold as “slanted” and the “mark of inscrutability and deviance.” Those who decided to get eyelid surgery were seen to be “good” and “trustworthy.” In the 1950s, American soldiers brought back Asian brides from overseas with the War Brides Act. The wives felt compelled to surgically alter their eyes to appear less racially threatening and to provide a “traditional American” life for their family.
Many young people have come to express how the fox eye makeup look as an insult to injury.
“‘I have been called names like ch*nky and been told to ‘open my eyes’, and the eye stretching pose has been used too often to mock my eyes,” TikToker Eelyse Ship told the Tab.
“I think the makeup look can be gorgeous but it is literally the same girls who pulled their eyes back in a mocking manner and bullied me at school who are now doing this trend. It’s not right and it’s not theirs to have.”
In the sea of 71.1 million views on TikTok, many young Asian TikTokers and allies have come to make videos against the trend. They have expressed that the look “brings back a lot of bullying” and “I hope people can see why I feel uncomfortable.”
@edwardzoPpl getting❤️4 the exact thing minorities r made fun of 4 is y it *IS* that DeEP ##asian ##foxeye ##foxeyechallenge ##racism ##culturalappropriation ##fyp♬ original sound – lleiiz
@pay4mytuitionI really do not like the ##foxeye ##foxeyechallenge ##fyp ##foryou ##korea I hope people see why I feel so uncomfortable with ppl doing this look♬ b turn to my fans – zoeforza
@serotonin.21##fight the ##foxeye ##fox ##foxeyechallenge ##foxeyetrend PLEASE. It’s ##racist and brings back a lot of bullying and is DOWNRIGHT IGNORANT. ##pocunity ##aa♬ original sound – serotonin.21
It Also Looks Like Yellowface
Something quite unsettling about the fox eye look is how similar it looks like White actors doing yellowface in classic Hollywood films.
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whites making their eyes look like this is literally yellowface! this is katharine hepburn (a White Woman) in the movie dragon seed where she plays an east asian. this isn’t some new trend, this is something that has been used to mocked east asians for decades. pic.twitter.com/CZKKkf5k2N
— elaine (@satellitevinyl) July 25, 2020
Instead of hiring Asian people to play Asian roles, some Hollywood films cast White actors with controversial makeup to create caricatures of Asian people. They exaggerated the sharpness of the eyes and eyebrows and even used makeup to mimic an upturned shape or monolids. Similarly, the fox eye look heavily relies on elongating the eyes, creating a narrower shape. The resemblance between yellowface and the fox eye is a bit haunting.
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Your Eyes Have Always Been Beautiful, Trend or Not
When people are celebrating something that they’ve stolen from you, it can be hard to turn the other cheek and accept the oh-so hypocritical “it’s flattery” compliment. And let’s face it. It’s not. You have every right to be upset.
These fox eye enthusiasts on the internet didn’t come to your rescue when you were an insecure high schooler and another girl pulled their eyes back and called you a ch*nk in front of your classmates.
These makeup artists can wipe off their eyes at the end of the day, but you can’t. They are a part of you.
It can be hard to believe this, to unlearn the discrimination that you’ve faced, but your eyes are beautiful. They have always been beautiful. Your features aren’t a temporary trend. Your features have been weaponized against you, to make you feel small so that your oppressors can stay in power. The same people who laughed at your eyes, clothing, and food, can be found the next day with a full face of fox eye, slurping boba milk tea, and sporting a mandarin collar top from a fast-fashion site that sold it as “the Shanghai.” There is no validity in the words of your attackers. They hide behind a veil of power that’s been handed to them.
Let’s pull off that veil. Let’s deconstruct the beauty standards that demonize ethnic features while glorifying Western ones.
Am I asking for the fox eye trend to be “canceled”? Not exactly.
I’m asking my non-Asian allies to learn why the trend is harmful to your Asian sisters and brothers. Celebrate the almond shape eye always, not just when a popular TikToker has recreated it. And whatever you do, do not pull your eyes back to show off your makeup.
To my Asian girls, women, men, folx: You have been, are, and will always be beautiful.
Feature Image via pay4mytuition (right), edwardzo (left)