Is the viral ‘fox eye’ makeup trend racist towards Asians?

Social media’s latest makeup trend is the fox eye, a look that involves shaving off the tail end of your eyebrows (eliminating everything from the arch to the tail) to draw on a straighter brow; using a brown or black eyeshadow to create a sharp, cat-eye flick up towards the temples; and then, adding a touch of the same eyeshadow to the inner corners of your eyes pointing towards the bridge of your nose. The final look creates the illusion of upturned, slanted eyes.

You’ll often see the makeup look featured in a selfie where, more often than not, the subject has one hand pulling their temple back to create a smoldering, elongated “almond eye” shape and a raised brow to match. While the origins are unclear, celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid have shown off the trend for years, and it started to go viral in early 2020. At the time that this story was written, the trend’s hashtag, #foxeye, has amassed more than 44 million views on TikTok—videos featuring not only the “fox-like” look but also tips on how to acquire it through the power of makeup alone.

But despite all the popularity that this viral “challenge” has garnered, some people have taken to social media to raise the issue of racial insensitivity, calling the fox eye trend out for culturally appropriating of Asian features.

For instance, in a comment posted on TikTok star Melody Nafari’s (@melodynafarii) video—in which she is seen pulling at her eyes to mimic the look—an Asian TikTok user says, “I remember when I was in primary [school] people were making fun of Asian eyes [by] doing this, now it’s a trend.”

Several other members of the Asian community have also questioned the look’s racial sensitivity (or lack thereof), pointing out that the trend’s core intent is to mimic narrow and upturned eye shapes, a facial feature Asians have commonly been bullied and harassed for. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened with celebrities and influencers; of course; never forget when Gigi Hadid posed with her eyes dramatically squinted to look like the Buddha cookie she was holding, or that time Miley Cyrus took a group photo in which everyone—and I mean everyone except one Asian man—posed with their fingers deliberately pulling at their eyes.

The fox eye look also comes at a time when hate crimes against Asians are on the rise yet are not openly condemned by President Trump, who instead insists on calling COVID-19 “the China virus,” further encouraging anti-Asian discrimination. As such, for some people in the Asian community, seeing non-Asians participate in this makeup trend, no matter how celebratory or “flattering” it may seem, is disheartening.

So while desiring elongated eyes may seem complimentary towards Asians, it is also dismissive of the traumas many of them have endured for that very facial feature. It’s frustrating, too, that narrow eyes—previously deemed “sleepy” and “ch*nky” on Asians—are now suddenly “desirable” and “attractive” on non-Asians—and that concept, at its core, is the very definition of cultural appropriation. After all, the look is commonly pinned to stars Bella Hadid, Megan Fox, and Kendall Jenner, all of whom are white sex symbols with almond-shaped eyes, rather than Asian celebrities and influencers.

However, in a Reddit thread posing the question, is the fox-eye trend really racist?, you’ll mostly find comments from Asian Reddit users who admit they don’t find the look racist. Nor, it seems, do they even believe that the look even remotely resembles “Asian eyes” (as if there is only one, cookie-cutter eye shape all Asians have). One comment reads, “My instinct is to say that the trend is not intended to imitate Asian features.” They go on to claim that the look the fox eye trend intends to emulate is common across several ethnicities, citing model Elsa Hosk and music star Rihanna as examples. “Additionally, I don’t know that many Asian people who actually have the upturned, big, elongated eyes that the fox eye trend seems to create,” the commenter says.

Upon further inspection of what constitutes a fox eye, you’ll find traits that are unrelated to that of “Asian eyes” (or at least what are commonly deemed “Asian eyes”). As pointed out in the same Reddit thread, the trend focuses on elongating and widening the eyes by mimicking a “facelift”—or as many makeup gurus have deemed, a “snatched” and “pulled up” look. And when doing the fox eye pose, people are encouraged to pull up the tail end of their eyebrows, versus the tail end of their eyes, as that would be indicative of the offensive “slanted-eye” gesture.

But perhaps that is beside the point for when it comes to cultural appropriation. Intention is irrelevant when a custom or trait is adopted by another, more dominant group, especially when there’s a complete disregard for the challenges that the original group endured because of that very custom or trait.

I’m sure most non-Asians who have taken selfies with their temples pulled back were not thinking of the racist slanted-eye gesture, bu that’s the issue. They are blessed with the privilege of not being on the receiving end of that kind of racism and, thus, not having to be hyper-vigilant about such racist gestures. They can comfortably pull their eyes back for a photo and have no traumas of racially-charged harassment resurface.

As an Asian-American woman myself, it’s this action that gives me pause. My issue with the trend doesn’t like with the makeup look; my impression when I first came across the countless tutorials was that they drew absolutely zero lines to what I know to be the stereotypical “Asian eye.” Even now, after having familiarized myself with what the trend aims to accomplish, I still see no similarities—no hooded eye shape or monolid interpretation. But I do have a problem with the pose that has now flooded my Instagram newsfeed.

I realized my hesitation when I posed for a selfie with my hand pulling at my temples. I liked how “lifted” my eyebrows looked and how generally elevated my entire face became. But upon reviewing the photo, it took me only a second to decide to delete it for fear of someone commenting that I looked “ch*nky,” or even another Asian calling me out for emulating the slanted-eye pose under the guise of a “joke.”

However dissimilar the fox eye pose and gesture are, it is apparent to me that they are still depressingly comparable. The makeup trend may not deliberately aim to mimic stereotypical Asian facial features, but posing with your temples pulled back is eerily similar to a racist gesture, and it dismisses the discrimination Asians often endure for their looks.

Filed Under