After years of contemplating double eyelid surgery, I've learned to love myself completely.

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Credit: Jennifer Li, HelloGiggles

Dear Monolids,

We’re rounding on 25 years together, but it feels much longer than that. I suppose that’s what happens when you go through so many ups and downs in a long-term relationship, but I’m proud to say that I love you now. I can admit that it wasn’t always like that; I spent a lot of time wishing that you were different and “better.”

Do you remember how we would stay up together, pouring over magazine spreads of eyeshadows and sighing over glamorously smokey-eyed models with deep creases and heavy lashes? Do you remember looking up how much it cost to get double eyelid surgery? My fingers felt so cold as I punched the question into the search bar on my iPhone. Before the search results could even pop up, I threw my phone to the other side of the couch; no, I remember thinking firmly, no. I wasn’t sure why, but I remember how strongly I resisted the idea of surgery. Do you remember when we first got double eyelid tape? I had planned to wear it on the first day of school in eighth grade, but after spending 15 minutes trying to put it on, I gave up.

Still, I look back on these experiences and I have to acknowledge that I didn’t want to embrace my natural eye shape but correct it.

Let me be clear, Monolids: My inability to embrace you was all about me. It was easy to love you as a little girl, before I started going to school. Our town was so white and so small, and I didn’t mind standing out, until people thought it was funny to use my race to hurt me. I still remember the name of the boy who pulled his eyes at me in fourth grade. I remember how all the other boys laughed at his wit. I still remember the boy who spat at me to “take my chopsticks and go back to China” in seventh grade.

I hated my monolids as an adolescent, not because monolids are ugly, but because suddenly I realized that my monolids didn’t really have a place where they belonged: They didn’t seem to belong amongst my peers at school, nor in beauty spaces. Where did that leave me, a young girl who was becoming more cognizant of where she didn’t belong in her local community? Was I only supposed to consort with other Asian Americans in spaces approved for Asian Americans? That didn’t really seem fair. No one likes being left out, especially teens who are learning to discover where they fit into the world.

Monolids, I’m sorry that I let bullies draw a rift between us. I should never have let their racist jokes and cruel mocking turn me against you. I’m not proud of the time I wasted staring at the mirror, wishing I could “fix” everything that bullies said was ugly and weird. I’m not proud of the way I envied actresses and models with thick creases and long lashes and thought that I would never be as pretty as them or be looked at with desire because of my monolids.

What a waste.

I wish I could go back in time and tell that younger version of myself that I don’t need to look like the Eurocentric beauty standard to be loved—I just need to love myself and to know that I’m just as beautiful as any other woman, regardless of my monolids. After all, in a world where people see my monolids before they see me, the least I can do is like myself and the way I look.

But while bullies were bad, I also knew that they were irrelevant little boys who didn’t know better than to parrot whatever racist language they had picked up from their environment. I think what really exacerbated our strained relationship was the lack of representation in mainstream media. When I didn’t see myself in the stories and spaces that I was drawn to, I felt silently rejected, like I didn’t belong.

Do you remember the knot that would gather in my chest whenever we passed by a Sephora? I don’t know if it was frustration from feeling like we didn’t belong anywhere near makeup because of my eye shape—or longing because we wanted to go in so badly and explore all the colors like my peers did. Do you remember the first time a friend tried to put makeup on you and was so flabbergasted about how to apply makeup on monolids that she just packed on a whole bunch of muddied color? I fake-smiled right in her face and told her that I loved it while I bided my time until I could go and scrub it off in the bathroom.

I remember desperately looking up tips and ideas for how to make my monolids pop. How many times had I read makeup instructions that said to put a light wash of color all over the lid? What a profoundly meaningless and exclusionary statement. To this day, I think about that advice I got as a middle schooler and resentment burns bitter on my tongue. However, we were lucky to grow up in the time we grew up in. With YouTube and Instagram, we saw Asian American women with monolids giving tutorials on smokey eyes and glamorously beat skin.

I remember the first time I watched a video about monolid makeup filmed by someone who had a monolid. I felt so seen.

Though I didn’t quite realize it then, the message I received was that I didn’t have to squish myself into the space that mainstream society relegated for Asian Americans girls like me. I was allowed to take up my own space without apology. Representation is like reassurance: If someone you identify with can do it, you’re allowed to do it, too.

So, Monolids, it’s been quite a journey. I’m excited to see how our tastes in makeup will shift and change the older we get. But the one thing I know will never change is the acceptance and love that I have for you. And while expensive and affordable mascaras, eyeliners, and eyeshadows may come and go, the value of acceptance and love can never be quantified.