How Jenn Im Taught Me to Love My Monolids

I had a hard time loving my eyes. I mean, how could I when a whole derogatory term was created for the Asian population because of them? But, no one ever used my eyes to discriminate against me. Instead, a lot of my self-rejection stemmed from the environment I grew up in.

The peak of my pubescent journey hit circa-2013. Let me remind you what 2013 was like. It was a time of bad Wattpad fanfiction about protagonists with messy buns and #justgirlythings posts featuring images of skinny, Caucasian teenage girls from Tumblr and Instagram. It was the cusp of the “golden ages” of YouTube, featuring big names like Tyler Oakley and Troye Sivan (remember when Troye was a Youtuber?) and beauty vloggers like Zoella and Bethany Mota. For me, 2013 posed a very specific image of beauty, so it was hard to see the ideal in anything other than big blue eyes and long blonde hair. Throughout middle school, I searched for reasons why I didn’t feel beautiful, scrutinizing my features so that maybe I could hide them or fix them.

Was it my nose? No, I liked my nose.

Maybe my forehead was too big. Do I need bangs?

I thought something was wrong with my eyes, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then, one day, I learned that there was a name for my type of eye shape: monolids. The term became my demise.

But, wait. Let’s rewind. For the story to continue, you need to know about my history with makeup.

This year is 2011. Location: Nordstrom, Lower Floor, Bellevue Square Mall.

I’m twelve years old, sporting a blue hoodie (Justice), pink wire-rimmed glasses (Costco) and sneakers (Sketchers). I’m staring down a thousand acres of makeup vendors. Bright LED signs scream MAC, Clinique, Dior, Chanel, Tom Ford, Benefit, all the catchy, expensive names that held little meaning to my pre-pubescent schema. I’m with my mom. She’s walking me over to her favorite brand: Lancôme. The lady in the black uniform stands guard over an array of colorful tubes and bottles lined up on pedestals. My mom tells the lady in the black that I’m looking for some starter makeup.

That day, I walked away with three things: lip gloss, mascara, and a determination to learn how to use makeup. Thus, marked a short-lived affinity for scented, shimmery lip glosses, and more significantly, the beginning of my journey with makeup. However, the true journey didn’t begin until my friends started experimenting with eye makeup.

Lip gloss and mascara was easy. I had lips and wisps of eyelashes (barely.) I was the same as everyone else. That is, up until my friends started brushing their eyelids with shades of browns and painting sharp, black wings along their lash lines. I looked on in awe and envy when they came to school with gradients over their eyes and eyeliner sharper than stilettos. They’d show off their new palettes, chattering about “Too Faced Chocolate Bars” and “Naked Urban Decays,” whatever those were. I didn’t know anything about eye makeup, but I saw it as an opportunity to fix my eyes. So, I took a trip to my local drugstore.

Eyeliner? Check.

Eye shadow palette? Check.

I went home with my plastic bag of cosmetics and headed straight to the bathroom. That’s where I ran into some complications. The problem was two-fold:

  1. Eyeliner takes practice.

  2. Eyeliner does not show up on monolids.

I remember standing in front of the mirror, eyeliner brush in hand, and staring with dismay at my face. One eyelid was smeared with a streak of drying eyeliner. When I closed my eyes, I was clearly wearing makeup. When I opened them, everything disappeared under a fold of skin. Ah, monolids. We love her.

That night, I threw down the eyeliner in frustration and stared myself down in the mirror. I prodded at my eyelids, lifting and tucking, wondering if the only solution was eyelid tape. I guess I was doomed to a life of bad makeup and undesirably small eyes. For a while, I gave up on joining my friends on their makeup journey. Them and their glittery eyeshadow and pointed eyeliner. I wasn’t lucky enough to be born with conventionally beautiful eyes.

I took my problems to the all-knowing entity: Google. My search history quickly filled with phrases like,

How to do eye makeup.

Eye makeup tutorial.

Beginner eyeliner tutorial.

How to draw eyeliner.

It didn’t help that the results were particularly Eurocentric. All the diagrams and videos talked about lids and creases, but my eyes didn’t work like that. I was defeated once again.

Then, one fateful day, upon one of my YouTube rabbit hole trips, I discovered my savior.

Enter: Jenn Im.  Korean-American beauty vlogger.

One of her videos caught my eye on my YouTube recommended list. My eyes lingered on a thumbnail featuring an Asian girl with dark, smoky eye makeup tinged with burgundy. Smoky eyes for Asian girls that didn’t look like something out of a 2000s international idol magazine or a BigBang music video? Teach me.

I watched my first Jenn Im video: her ‘Fall Bombshell Makeup’ tutorial. In four minutes and twenty-five seconds, she showed me that my eyes had potential. My monolids, which I cursed out for so many years, are a blank canvas. I just didn’t know how to work with them.

It only went up from there.

I dove into Jenn Im’s videos. I binged on videos demonstrating everything from soft spring looks to smoky purple eyes to glittery New Years makeup. She taught me how to do liquid eyeliner in a way that accentuated my eyes instead of drowning them out. I learned how to place eyeshadows on my lids so that they were visible and made my eyes look wider instead of some racoon cosplay. I learned how to do makeup in a way that worked for me and my eyes.

Jenn Im did more than just teach me how to do makeup. My self-confidence spiked and I enjoyed going out. I socialized more because it meant I could experiment with makeup looks and have fun getting ready with friends.

The thing is, I always knew that there were Asian makeup tutorials on YouTube. The names Michelle Phan and Tina Yong weren’t unfamiliar to my ears. However, I underestimated how impactful these names could be on my perception of myself. For a while, I thought that eye makeup wasn’t accessible to me, that I couldn’t join the rest of my friends in this rite of passage of growing up. I thought my eyes were a burden, a hurdle I had to jump over in order to be seen as beautiful or feel beautiful. Through Jenn Im’s channel, I learned that I could paint gradients on my eyes and emphasize the features I was born with. I just had to do it a little differently. Jenn Im taught me not to change my eyes, but to use them as a canvas for self-expression. Through her, I found a gateway to self-confidence and self-love in the form of makeup. I learned to love my monolids.