Dear Asian Youth,
Does anyone else distinctly remember when boys would come up to you, pull at their eyes, and yell, “Ching chong”? Yes, Connor, I’m looking at you (don’t think that I’ve forgotten!). It’s experiences like these that made me feel insecure about my Vietnamese features. Growing up in a predominantly white town in North Carolina, I was one of four Asian American students in my 5th grade class. Naturally, being surrounded by European features, I grew self-conscious and subsequently hated my small eyes and flat nose. My childhood is plagued with memories of me standing in front of the mirror, widening my eyes with my fingers, and pushing up the sides of my nose—all in an effort to conform to the eurocentric beauty standards around me.
Beauty trends come and go. We’ve seen the era of big fluffy eyebrows, glowy glass skin, and the Kim Kardashian hourglass body shape. This summer, however, the trend seems to lean towards the notorious "Asian eyes". I’m sure you’ve heard of the fox eye trend on TikTok, where people shave off the ends of their eyebrows, slap on a bold liner, and tug at the corner of their eyes. Sounding familiar? People used to make that eye-pulling gesture to make fun of our small, narrow eyes, but now that non-Asian influencers are doing the same, it’s considered beautiful. Not only is this insensitive, but it’s hypocritical that, for years, I was told by society that my features were ugly. In a society where minorities’ cultures are often appropriated, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Asian features have become the new trend. We did not undergo years of ridicule for pop culture to turn our distinct features into the next beauty craze.
The history of this mockery dates back to when the term “chink” was conceived as a racial slur in the 1860s towards the Chinese immigrants who built America’s transcontinental railroad. To this day, I have been called a “chink” by strangers passing by, and even by my own classmates. Society has a history of overlooking racism and normalizing offensive gestures and phrases. A classic case of this pattern of hostility was demonstrated in an incident that occurred during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. After South Korea’s staggering victory over Germany, Mexican T.V. hosts, James Tahhan and Janice Bencosme, used the slant eye gesture on live television as a sign of “appreciation” to South Korea for securing Mexico’s spot in the knockout stages. A simple “thank you” would have sufficed, but no. They had to use a demeaning gesture to imitate and poke fun at our features. Similarly, the Argentinian soccer manager, Diego Maradona, was seen at the FIFA games making the eye-pulling gesture to South Korean fans cheering for Argentina. It was only after he received widespread backlash that he released a message stating, “I, from afar, tried to tell them how nice it seemed to me that even the Asians cheer for us. And that’s all, guys, come on.” Maradona fails to recognize that hiding behind the cover of being “nice” does not even begin to justify the degrading and insensitive nature of his actions.
Now, I’m not saying that this fox eye trend’s intention is to be racist, but it is ironic that the very people who participate in this trend today are the same people who insulted us for our eye shape. If you search up #foxeye on TikTok, the videos are flooded with comments of people voicing their opinions on this trend. @tvboba wrote, “It’s ok. They’ll just get wrinkles faster for pulling their eyes back so much.” I guess that’s a consequence they’ll have to deal with, right? At least we won’t be worrying about wrinkles in our 20s. Another user (@mina_myer) said, “I love how they like POC features when it’s not a POC.” Remember all the times the Kardashians wore cornrows in their hair? Or when Kacey Musgraves wore a traditional ao dai (a traditional Vietnamese dress) without pants? “Unless you're Asian… you don’t get to decide whether this trend is offensive or not. You haven’t been mocked at school for having small, upturned eyes,” wrote @amylei0. Today, the fox eye trend is just another example of the normalized racism that we experience on a day to day basis. This distinct feature of ours went from being something thousands of Asian Americans were bullied for and became insecure about, to a look that became “trendy,” just like that.
Fortunately, we are seeing more Asian Americans come together as a community to speak up about the injustices we face. This surge in activism may be partly because of the recent rise of Asian representation in mainstream media. Blockbuster movies such as Crazy Rich Asians and the Academy Award-winning film, Parasite, have paved the way for diversity in Hollywood to be the norm. Even in the music industry, we are seeing genres like Kpop attract listeners from various races, not just the Asian community. On social media, movements such as #IAmNotCOVID19 and #RacismIsAVirus have emerged in light of the current pandemic to bring awareness to the recent surge in xenophobia. The good news is, we are not alone. Our voices and sense of empowerment are amplified by the support of fellow minority groups, such as the Black and Hispanic communities, who continue to stand by our side. It’s time that we stand up against the normalized racism in our society because eurocentric beauty standards shouldn’t be the norm, and racist gestures and phrases shouldn’t be a daily encounter. However harmless the fox eye trend may seem, the hypocrisy behind it disregards the years of torment we’ve endured.
- Sunna Mai