Makeup trends. They come, they go, most of the time only harmful to those who look back on them and wonder, “how could anyone let me out of the house with such overplucked eyebrows?!” Maybe that’s just me and other adolescents of the early 2000s. RIP my brows for a year.
Every so often, though, a trend comes along that does significantly more damage than the pencil-thin eyebrows. In 2020, that makeup trend was the now notorious “fox-eye” trend. In June 2020, Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube were flooded with mostly white and non-Asian beauty bloggers and wannabe influencers jumping on the trend. They used eyeliner and eyeshadow to elongate the inner and outer corners of their eyes, shaving off the ends of the eyebrows, and placing strip lashes above their lash line to get that extra lift they were aiming for. These influencers would proudly show off how their eyes appeared more upturned, and even go so far as to gently pull back their temples in the “migraine pose” to make their eyes appear even more slanted or almond-shaped, noting models like Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Bella Hadid as inspirations.
Every so often, though, a trend comes along that does significantly more damage than the pencil-thin eyebrows.
Does all of this feel uncomfortably familiar? The fox-eye trend, particularly when paired with the migraine pose, is remarkably similar to how Asian people are often mocked for the shape of their eyes. Immediately I was reminded of kids pulling their eyes back to represent Asian features, which I, thankfully, don’t remember being taunted for as a kid. However, I do remember that in first grade when our class learned about Asia, a boy in my class pointed out that Asian people had “sharp eyes” like mine. It was one of the first times I remember feeling distinctly different looking from my classmates. I assume that my teacher masterfully maneuvered the lesson away from my sharp eyes and toward whatever we were learning about, but now, 25 years later, I still remember feeling unsure of how to perceive the word “sharp.” Was it just an adjective? Should my eyes be wider and softer like my classmates? Is sharp good or bad?
The fox-eye trend, particularly when paired with the migraine pose, is remarkably similar to how Asian people are often mocked for the shape of their eyes.
I was heartened to see that as quickly as this trend took off, Asian Americans began responding with their own stories, discussing cultural appropriation, and stating “my eyes are not a trend.” While this swell of Asian American voices speaking out was encouraging, I am still frustrated how time and time again, BIPOC are forced to respond to racist and culturally appropriative trends using our culture, our features, and our heritage for followers and clout. There are currently over 126K posts using the hashtag #FoxEyes, most of them on beauty accounts, and over 123 million views on the hashtag on TikTok, though it should be noted that many of the views are on response posts.
Unfortunately, cultural appropriation of Asian culture and features is nothing new. It dates as far back as 1915 with several white actors portraying East Asian actors in Madame Butterfly, which I found is still occurring as recently as 2019 at the Knoxville Opera (Read about it here). In these portrayals, white actors are made up to have East Asian features by having their actors wear black wigs, and of course, accentuating the inner and outer corners of the eyes, much like the fox-eye trend.
Adding salt to the wound further is the continued mockery of Asian facial features by white celebrities pulling back or squinting their eyes, including Miley Cyrus and Joe Jonas from 2009 and Gigi Hadid in 2017.
Meanwhile, over the years Kim Kardashian established her Kimono line of shapewear and tried to trademark the word “kimono,” Kacey Musgraves wore an áo dài without the paints, Katy Perry performed her song Unconditionally with a “geisha-inspired” amalgam of oversexualized Asian garments (there’s a lot wrong here and I’d destroy my word limit if I tried to address it all), and please don’t think I’ve forgotten about Gwen Stefani’s toting around actual people as her Harajuku Girl accessories.
Deep breaths…are you with me on the problem here? Asian people, in distinct yet similar in their maliciousness as other BIPOC, are mocked for our features, our food, our culture, and our accents until it becomes a trend for people with race, class, and wealth privilege to capitalize off of, and the fox-eye trend is no different. And while all of these instances of cultural appropriation are egregious, the fox-eye trend hits different because of the timing of it all. The trend was popularized in the early months of the pandemic when xenophobia and anti-Asian violence were hitting new highs. Every day I felt like I was reading about a new physical or verbal attack on Asian people around the globe. An older woman in Brooklyn was hit and lit on fire and a man in Australia was left to die on the sidewalk while having a heart attack because bystanders thought he might've be sick, all while former President Trump stoked fears and racism by continually calling the coronavirus the “China virus” or the “Kung Flu.”
Asian people, in distinct yet similar in their maliciousness as other BIPOC, are mocked for our features, our food, our culture, and our accents until it becomes a trend for people with race, class, and wealth privilege to capitalize off of, and the fox-eye trend is no different.
It’s important to contextualize what was happening in the rest of the world while this trend gained traction. What these influencers continually fail to understand is that while they use our facial features to gain fame and followers, these very features were being used to scapegoat our community during the pandemic not unlike how they were used to identify Japanese Americans as the enemy during World War II. Our people were attacked while white faces on social media pulled back their eyes and smiled at their cameras. Of course, these influencers could easily wash their faces and conscience with a mediocre apology, if they gave one at all, but some continue to use the fox-eye makeup trend in their videos today.
But Asian people can’t wash our faces of our features. We still navigate the world wondering why our sharp eyes were never enough until they were worn by white people. Eventually though, not long from now, this trend will pass as did raccoon eyeshadow and body glitter. And yet I have to wonder, will social media consumers remember this trend as a poorly timed faux pas never to be repeated or as a harmless trend? My hope is the former, and if not, I’ll see you back here writing about a new trend for the same racist malarkey.