(CNN) –– “Ching chong eyes!” Was what the school children used to call Sophie Wang. It was a racist insult uttered casually as they mocked her Asian ethnicity and pulled the corner of her eyes to make them slit. Up for Japanese. Next to Chinese Chinese. Down for Koreans.
Wang is now 17 years old and a long time has passed since his Asian American identity was reduced to “a single facial feature.” Still, in recent months, some social media posts have brought those memories back due to a new beauty trend: the so-called “fox eyes,” a term that could be translated as “fox eyes.”
On Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, people around the world have been posting videos and photos showing that style: with makeup and other tactics they manage to emulate the elongated, “almond-shaped” eyes of celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Megan Fox.
The makeup tutorials for a fox eye look show how to use a combination of eyeshadow, liner and false lashes to achieve an elongated aesthetic. Tips include plucking the pointed ends of the brows and redrawing them to make them appear straighter and angled upward. Others have also even suggested pulling the hair back into a high bun or using tape to further lift the eyes. Accentuating the eyes to appear slanted or elongated in shape creates a more sensual effect, according to some makeup artists who create this look.
However, for Wang and other Asian Americans, the “migraine posture” that sometimes accompanies these images – that is, using one or two hands to lift the eyes from the temples in order to exaggerate the result – – is too similar to the action that was used to downgrade them in the past.
Emma Chamberlain, an “influencer” with 9.8 million followers on Instagram, was recently criticized for posting a photo of her striking this pose while sticking her tongue out.
Her fans were quick to defend her, commenting that those who felt offended were “exaggerating.” Chamberlain later erased the image and apologized, saying that it was not her “intention” to pose in a “callous manner” and that she was “very sorry to those who were hurt.”
But the damage was done.
They tease my eyes and then they say ching chong, they call me dog eater and then they call me ch * nk. Why do you think Emma’s publication will make me feel good? », tweeted a user. “Obviously, if she manages to get slanted eyes while being praised, but that’s the natural shape of my eyes and they discriminate against me, (of course) it bothers me.”
“It’s a new trend that brings out old stereotypes and old jokes,” Wang said in a telephone interview. “Because it makes people like me feel uncomfortable and (to) an extent annoying, it’s time to talk about it,” he added.
What people don’t understand, Wang wrote in an op-ed for the student newspaper Stanford Daily in July, it is that this gesture has “a historical weight of racial charge”, referring to past satirical representations of Asians in the western media: cartoons that mock facial features to portray them as “barbarian”, “subhuman” and inferior .
“Still, in the 21st century, these Asian characteristics have suddenly morphed into beauty trends for non-Asians,” he said, adding that the trend is an act of cultural appropriation.
Appropriate Asian eyes
Kelly H. Chong, a professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, defines cultural appropriation as the adoption, often unacknowledged or inappropriate, of the ideas, practices, customs, and indicators of cultural identity belonging to a group by members of a group. another group who have greater privilege or power.
“The dominant group’s cultural influencers legitimize it as a cool style ‘trend,’ and in the process exoticize and eroticize it,” Chong added in an email interview. Even the term “almond eyes”, which is used to describe the shape of the “fox eye”, has long been used to name the shape of Asian eyes.
“My eyes are not a trend” by Chungi Yoo, an illustrator based in Frankfurt, Germany. (Credit: Courtesy @chungiyoo)
Chong points to Hollywood’s awkward past in appropriating the shape of Asian eyes. In the early 1930s, make-up artist Cecil Holland used techniques, some similar to today’s fox eye, to transform white actors into evil Asian characters like Fu Manchu. And Mickey Rooney, the white actor who played Holly Golightly’s thick-accented Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, cemented “the look of the toothy, slanted-eyed Asian man” in popular imagination.
TikTok user @LeahMelle, whose video denouncing the fox eye trend went viral, said she couldn’t believe such a thing could be so popular today.
“This was not an old movie in which you can blame the distorted norms of a certain period. This happened now. And it was still considered acceptable, ”he wrote in an email.
Myrna Loy, a white actress, played Fu Manchu’s depraved daughter in “The Mask of Fu Manchu” (1932). (Credit: Bettmann / Bettmann / Getty Images)
Like most beauty trends, the fashion for this look will eventually decline, in fact it has already started to do so since it emerged 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, titled “The Problem with the #FoxEye Trend,” the organization wrote: “While it may not have originated with malicious intent, it is appropriating our eyes and ignoring past racism.”
“It really feels like this is a temporary trend,” Hu said, adding that he believes Asian eye shapes aren’t just something to be casually adopted and then “thrown back” when the trend ends.
“Our eyes are something we have to live with every day,” Hu said in a telephone interview.
Pressure to assimilate
Many Asians have long felt the pressure to alter the shape of their eyes and make them appear larger.
Blepharoplasty (or eyelid surgery) is used to create double eyelids or a supratarsal epicanthic crease. It is one of the most common cosmetic procedures in East Asian countries, as well as among Asian Americans. But when it first became popular in the early 1950s, it was used as a tool for Korean women to integrate into the United States.
Korean plastic surgeon Kim Byung-gun (not pictured) demonstrates the effect of “double eyelid surgery,” which adds a crease to the eyelids to enlarge the patient’s eyes. (Credit: Nir Elias / Reuters)
According to the newspaper The Korea Herald, United States military plastic surgeon Dr. David Ralph Millard performed the surgery for the first time during the Korean War. His first patients were brides from the Korean War who had married American soldiers. Because brides were considered “both cultural and racial threats to America,” the newspaper wrote, many of them underwent surgery in an effort to sit up and appear “less threatening.”
“Surgically altering the ‘slanted’ eyes became a mark of a ‘good’ and trustworthy Asian, one whose face modification provided a comforting illustration of the flexible Asian, and served as evidence that America was the model and Asia mimics, ”wrote Taeyon Kim, then a doctoral student at Bowling Green State University, quoted in the article in his 2005 thesis.
“Although it is mainly beauty that motivates the desire (of today’s women) to alter their eyes, this beauty is based on a legacy of the history of Western science and the race that privileged the white body as the normal body and beautiful, ”Kim completed.
That pressure for incorporation has carried over into recent decades. In 2013, TV celebrity and news anchor Julie Chen revealed on “The Talk” that she had had a blepharoplasty when she was 25 years old to further her career. A former boss had told her that “Asian eyes” made her look “disinterested” and “bored.”
After the surgery, Chen wrote, “I looked better, at least by social standards,” in a 2016 opinion piece for Glamor.
When social trends go viral
What is considered attractive today is significantly influenced by social media, in which beauty trends can quickly go viral and, it can be said, just as quickly become destructive to a person’s confidence and self-esteem.
On Tiktok, the hashtag #foxeye already has 72.8 million visits, while on Instagram the hashtag #foxeyes has more than 70,000 posts.
Asian-American makeup artist Marc Reagan said that when he first saw the trend, he didn’t think it was problematic. He simply considered it a set of makeup techniques to enhance the eyes and exaggerate an almond shape.
But he added that it “turned into something different,” noting that it became offensive when people started adding the gesture of stretching their temples.
“I absolutely believe that everyone should pause before taking (that) action,” Reagan said in a telephone interview. “Everyone should pause, take a step back: ‘Is this something that could be misinterpreted?’ ‘Am I taking it down the road from a simple makeup trend to an appropriation?’ »
Reagan added that he is not surprised that some people feel affected by the trend, especially in light of the pandemic, when East Asians have been a growing target of racist attacks or insults. Some people, including the president of the United States, have referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus.”
“It should not surprise you that someone is offended because you exaggerate a feature of your face that mimics something that has been the subject of ridicule or discrimination. So we are (living) in a really delicate time and that kind of thing needs to be taken (into consideration) every day.