The Fox Eye Trend and its Xenophobic Roots

You’ve probably seen the “fox eye trend” all over your Instagram feed lately. 

The upturned, catlike eye pose, made popular by many celebrities, has gained traction on social media as of late. Also referred to as the “headache pose”, this gesture has been used as a go-to editorial pose for many high-fashion models and influencers. 

Globally-known runway models Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner are among the first who popularized the trend. By using their hands to stretch their eyes out toward their temples, they have been able to achieve the “snatched” look that has been blowing up on Instagram.  

After its debut, more and more social media influencers have followed suit without hesitation. But there’s something eerily familiar about this trendy pose… 

The fox eye trend, a high-fashion pose predominantly used by non-Asian models, was once used to ridicule “ugly” Asian eyes. 

The same non-Asian folks who casually implemented racial slurs into their vocabulary and made fun of their Asian peers are now the ones posting selfies, partaking in the trend. 

I find this to be quite ironic. 

For years, this gesture has been used to ridicule the smaller, slanted eyes that are common among many people of East Asian descent. 

Credit: @emmachamberlain Instagram (taken down) 

The fact that this gesture continues to be used as a racially-charged put-down is what’s most unsettling to me. 

When I first discovered this trend, I thought to myself, ‘Am I missing something? Since when did this become a positive thing?’ 

The fact that Asian folks were not the ones who reclaimed the gesture and transformed it into a “beautiful” pose is the most insensitive part of the trend. The “foxy” eyes that are common in East Asian countries were cherry-picked and turned into a trend by Western media. 

This is the epitome of cultural appropriation; similar to how cornrows–which originated in Africa–are seen as “stylish” when appropriated by non-Black individuals. The ability of White media to suddenly flip the switch and act like there’s always been a positive connotation behind these “trends” is a slap in the face. 

Credit: Pinterest

As a biracial individual with Asian heritage, I have both observed and been subjected to racism. 

In high school, especially, I can recall the racist remarks, nicknames and gestures directed at myself or my fellow Asian classmates. The most clear image in my mind is the slanted eye pose that was used as a derogatory gesture to mock Asian eyes. 

This pose has never been a compliment for Asian-Americans. It has always been used to mock. 

In fact, it’s caused a lot of shame within the community– some have even gotten surgery to change the shape of their eyes. One example is Julie Chen, a TV personality, news anchor and producer for CBS. Chen agreed to pursue cosmetic surgery to make her eyes appear “bigger” after an agent told her they would not represent her unless she got this surgery, according to USA Today

The sudden shift in the public’s interest to more “ethnic” beauty standards has come as a surprise for so many Asian-Americans. The American beauty standard has mostly consisted of Eurocentric features, causing BIPOC who don’t exhibit these features to feel less beautiful than their White peers. 

Credit: @meredithmickelson Instagram

I understand that the intentions of many of these models were not to poke fun at Asian eyes– but in reality, this is still extremely insulting. The use of this symbol of mockery is insensitive. 

What non-Asian individuals need to understand is that it is not your place to make ‘fox eye’ a trend. I’ve seen countless Instagram comments claiming that “it’s just a pose,” and “it’s not offensive.” 

These are blatant statements that show the disregard for racism against Asians in the United States. 

Racism against Asians has been normalised by Western countries for decades. For instance, ‘yellowface,’ the use of makeup worn by individuals of non-East Asian descent to appear East Asian, has been used in Western media since the 1700s. 

Take a look at Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Rooney–a Caucasian actor–was portrayed as a Japanese man, sporting buck teeth and narrow eyes. Rooney’s caricature-like demeanor served to obstructively stereotype Japanese people. 

By dehumanizing his character, Hollywood created a power dynamic, separating him, the Asian man, from the “smarter” or “attractive” White actors. 

I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable watching this movie for the first time. As that little half-Japanese girl, I knew something was wrong. 

Just as Hollywood has justified yellowface in television for decades, the racist roots of the fox-eye trend have been swept under the rug. 

Rather than acknowledging its insensitive past, the pose was labeled as ‘high fashion’ and left at that. Whether it be covert gestures or snarky remarks, these seemingly harmless actions perpetuate deep-rooted xenophobia. 

So, please, before you carelessly use this pose, please take a minute to think about its history and its current impact on Asian people around the world. 

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