Let's Break Down TikTok's Problematic Fox Eye Trend

Step aside cat eye, there’s a new feline in town. The trendy fox eyes makeup tutorials that have been circling your TikTok and Instagram feeds as of late have been coveted by makeup gurus and amateurs as the new “it” look, however it’s been met with backlash for being racist. The difference between the classic wing liner and the new fox eye trend is the positioning of the eyeliner in the outer corner of the eye. While a classic wing aims high, towards the brow, the fox liner extends at a slight angle toward the temple. This look has been canonized by celebrities like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, characterized by using brown eyeshadow and black eyeliner – and sometimes fake eyelashes – to lift the outer corner and elongate the eyes to achieve a slanted eye shape. 

woman holding black framed mirror Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

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Many TikTokers and influencers alike have taken to social media to give tutorials on how to achieve this “sleek” look. TikToker @gwmakeup has over 900 thousand likes on her #foxeye tagged tutorial. She opens with pictures of Hadid and Jenner’s upturned eyes, and cites “no surgery” is needed to achieve this look. She goes on to create a soft winged eyeliner with half a false eyelash glued to the end of her eye. Oftentimes, these videos are completed by the creator pulling back their eyes to accentuate the slant even more. These videos have been met with uproars, explanations and calls to action. @gwmakeup’s comment section is split with people calling the hand the creator placed on her temple a racist gesture, while others have gone to her defense to say there’s no intent in the video to offend or be racist.

Members of the Asian community have spoken out about how this trend takes the very gesture used to mock Asians throughout history and rebranded it as a glamorized “exotic” look. Twitter user Sally Bae posted, “The fox eye trend is another example of how ethnic minorities will be penalized for who they are naturally – big lips, texturized hair, darker skin, etc., while some will profit off of the imitation of those features. POC’s are the blueprint, [and] will constantly be exploited.”

Recreating “oriental” eyes with makeup has been popular long before the Hadids and Jenners took over our timelines – it’s been widely used in Hollywood films to transform white actresses such as Katherine Hepburn and Mary Pickford to their Asian roles of Jade in Dragon Seed and Cho-Cho San in Madame Butterfly, respectively. Makeup aside, today there are permanent procedures and surgeries to alter eye shapes to become lifted and slanted. 

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Though some have claimed that such procedures and trends should be taken as a form of flattery, others protest that it just isn’t right. Filipino celebrity makeup artist Erwin Gomez stated that “some think it’s beautiful to have ‘slanted’ eyes…it’s an expression of appreciation. I am honored my clients want more slanted eyes, because when I was young, I got teased. I got teased for having big lips too but now everyone wants big lips!” But the rise in the #foxeye trend comes at a time when Asian Americans have been publicly ridiculed and often find themselves the victims of hate crimes – whether in their workplaces, schools, or the street – for the Coronavirus pandemic which originated in China.  

YouTuber Kate Li says in a video responding to a since deleted Instagram post where Emma Chamberlin is pulling her eyes back, “When the person feeling oppressed tells you that they feel oppressed, you should listen and try to do something about that... And when I see the comments section filled with mostly white people who are like, 'It’s not even racist, her intentions aren’t even racist,’ well you don’t get to decide what’s racist or not. You, as the white person, [don't] get to tell the colored person that it’s not racist, because it’s not towards you.” 

At the end of the day, as TikToker @_bobochen_ put it, though the #foxeye trend is flooded with beautiful, “snatched” faces, Asian people do not have the privilege of wiping off their “fox eyes” when they’re done playing with makeup. Their eyes hold decades of rooted racism, and aren't trends that can be hyped about for months before being discarded and mocked once more.