Bella Hadid. Kendall Jenner. Two of the most renowned names, and faces, in the fashion world. Despite their natural beauty, both supermodels are alleged to have undergone surgical blepharoplasty or lift procedures to raise the outer corners of their eyes, stretch the skin up towards their temples, and narrow their gaze to fashion a kind of slanted squint. This trend, referred to on Instagram and TikTok as #foxeyes, has inspired thousands of makeup fans to recreate the look by shaving off half their eyebrow, redrawing it at a steeper angle and using makeup to create the appearance of slanted eyes. There’s also the ‘strained eye’ or ‘migraine pose’, involving placing one’s hand by the temple and stretching the eye outwards. I’m sure that you, like me, hadn’t really thought anything of it. Indeed, I’m even partial to the old ‘migraine pose’ myself. It’s just a beauty trend, right? But there does seem to be something amiss. How is it that supermodels can make narrow, slanted ‘fox eyes’ fashionable and desirable in western culture, when for decades Asian people have suffered racial abuse for theirs?
Of course, the fox eyes trend is no direct attempt to emulate Asian eyes. Could it be that, by bringing a ‘look’ similar to that of Asian eyes to the forefront of western beauty standards, these high-profile figures are actually encouraging the western world to see the slanted, narrow eye shape of Asian people as appealing? This is certainly a nice prospect; one which could give a great deal of confidence to young Asians worried about looking different. I remember myself aged just nine or ten, being told by one of my primary school friends that she and her mum thought my ‘almond-shaped eyes’ were ‘beautiful’. It was the first time I’d ever been told anything like that, having got used to being taunted by other kids – and that tender comment has stuck with me to this day.
However, here’s where we start to run into problems. The physical acts behind the fox eyes trend and ‘strained eye’ pose, of drawing the corner of one’s eye outwards, recall to a concerning extent the racial abuse that Asian immigrants to the west have faced because of the shape of their eyes. My own family experience is just one example of an entire demographic that has been subjected to the racist mocking of Asian eyes. My mum, having grown up in Leeds in the 60s and 70s as the daughter of Mongolian immigrants, regularly encountered the old pulling of eyes into slits. Even me and my brother – decades later, and with 50% non-Asian DNA – have suffered the same treatment. In 2014 in Austria a group of boorish youths walked past my mum and brother, shouting abuse in German and pulling their eyes upwards. Last year my brother went to the Man United v Newcastle game at Old Trafford where he was jeered at by a group of Geordies, also finding the corners of their eyes in sudden need of a massage. But the point is: even today, in 2020, having slanted eyes is still the butt of racist jibes; yet it’s somehow become acceptable and even sexy in western culture to narrow, pull and elongate your eyes to create the same effect.
Like all beauty trends, #foxeyes will go out of fashion, and soon wide-open dinner-plate eyes will be the next big thing. But Asian eyes are not just a trend. And we, unlike billionaire supermodels, can’t just change the shape of our eyes with a surgical intervention, knowing that society will latch onto it as a beauty statement. Indeed, it’s a welcome change to see slanted eyes being spotlighted as beautiful, but I have serious doubts about whether Bella Hadid would be heckled by people pulling their eyes into slits if she walked into Old Trafford. While there’s nothing inherently wrong or bigoted about #foxeyes, it’s precisely our society’s narrow field of vision that leads us into obfuscating this real-life problem beneath the glossy façade of a popular beauty trend.