What Is So Wrong About the Fox Eye Trend?

“Upward for Japanese. To the side for Chinese. Downward for Korean.”


By Rebecca Zhong


For decades, Asians have been reduced to a single facial feature. Most Kiwi Asians have experienced this rude awakening at some point in their lives: the realisation that your physicality only sets you apart from everyone else in the room. My earliest memories from primary consist of my classmates slanting their eyes in mockery of my appearance. When you’re a child, you don’t have the vocabulary to recognise this as blatant racism. You can only articulate these acts to mean that there is something inherently ugly about how you look. And the media only helped to exacerbate this insecurity. Growing up, the media continuously depicted Asian men and women as de-sexualised, nerdy and weak individuals whose only purpose was for comic relief. Film and media only served to normalise racism towards Asians.


Let’s flash forward to 2020. Steven Yeun is hot, BTS are the biggest band in the world and we can all pretty much agree Rina Sawayama is everyone’s style icon. Things seem to be on the up for us Asians. But around two months ago I downloaded TikTok. I’m three weeks short or turning 23, and working at Debate is a constant reminder that I’m getting old. A quick scroll through TikTok and you’ll come across the viral fox-eye trend almost immediately. This latest makeup fad involves using eyeliner, concealer, false lashes and other cosmetics to emulate the elongated look of almond-shapedeyes. The trend is coupled with pulling your eyes in an upward slant, and has been popularised by models such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid.


So why are Asians calling out the trend for being racist? It’s simple. At its core, the fox-eye trend is cultural appropriation. The fox-eye trend is a look that has been mostly lauded by white girls. The trend is yet another instance of mainstream beauty standards plagiarising another culture for their own convenience. White models and influencers are being applauded for this ‘sultry’ look. However, historically the same look has been used as a weapon to ‘other’ Asians. The problem has never been with our eyes, but with being Asian instead.


However, Erwin Gomez, a Filipino celebrity makeup artist based in Washington DC, is happy to see people abandoning the white beauty standards and moving to appreciate alternative eye shapes. He argues that replicating this trend on his clients reminds him that “some think it’s beautiful to have ‘slanted’ eyes. It’s an expression of appreciation.” But despite some sporting the new trend simply because it looks good, it does not change the fact that Asians have been the subject of mockery for decades for the exact same look. Kelly H. Chong, a sociology professor at the University of Kansas argues that the only reason we are seeing the fox-eye trend become so popular is because the dominant group (the west) has legitimised it as ‘cool.’ She further points to Hollywood’s uncomfortable past in the appropriation of the shape of Asian eyes. In the 1930s, makeup artists such as Cecil Holland would use techniques similar to the foxeye trend to transform White actors into villainous Asian characters. Stephanie Hu, the founder of Dear Asian Youth, a California-based organisation that encourages Asian activism, argues that while the trend may not have originated from a place of ill intent, it appropriates our eyes and is ignorant of past racism.


Like many other minorities, Asians have always felt the pressure to alter their physicality. Double eyelid surgery is one of the most common procedures seen in East Asian countries, but when it first originated in the 1950s, it was used as a tool to assist Korean Women to assimilate into the US. Korean women marrying into American households were considered both cultural and racial threats to the US, and the double eyelid surgery was performed in an attempt to make them appear less threatening via removing the slanted eye.


It seems the eye shape of Asians has always been under scrutiny. And while we may be moving into a space where we are more accepting towards Asians, it does not negate the fact that this is a highly culturally politicised space. If someone expresses offence to the fox-eye trend, please listen. Even when your intent is not to offend, disregarding the lived experiences and emotional triggers that stems from cultural discrimination can create a divide.