It’s nearly a month away from Christmas, and I’m sure most people have different gifts in mind. But for a good chunk of Korean-Americans, there’s only one present in question: a plane ticket to South Korea to get double eyelid surgery from the best plastic surgeons in Seoul.
For many East Asians, double eyelids are considered to be one of the greatest and rarest genetic gifts to inherit. My father was naturally born with double eyelids and was (and still is) constantly complimented for them. My mother, “unfortunately,” was not, and she decided to get surgery after she moved to Seoul.
Thus, I first disappointed my family on January 11, 1998, when I came out of my mother’s womb not with my father’s beautiful eyes, but my mother’s monolids, instead.
Every person of color can relate to this internalized appearance-based stigma within our ethnic and racial communities. For every well-meaning Korean aunt lavishing praise on my father’s double-eyelids, there’s another South Asian grandparent cooing over their light-skinned grandchild. News of skin-lightening in countries such as South Africa and Colombia prove that Eurocentric beauty standards aren’t confined to America. They have become global phenomena.
What does it mean, then, when there’s a rise of White Instagram models and makeup artists that are very visibly altering their features to look like people of colors’? Notable ones include Scarebrat, who’s been exposed for “yellow-facing” her features, and Emily Hallberg, who indulges in blatantly depicting blackface, but there are many others who are flying under the radar.
From a completely objective perspective, it’s amusing to see the same people who pulled at their eyes and laughed at my family on the streets now turning to social media and doing the same thing but for different, more “flattering” purposes. This inconsistency shows that race and racism are inherently arbitrary, and their meanings and effects change over time to suit the dominant (White) group's wants.
It’s also important to note that these White models and many young people of color are of the same generation. These models were the same ones in class who yanked at Black children’s hair, pulled back their eyes, and participated in those weird, racist Native American ceremonies. And during this traumatizing time that is elementary school, many people of color internalize self-hatred towards their unique appearances. For people of color, learning to finally love your body and face for what they are, when they’ve been mocked since birth, is a lifelong process that never truly ends. But as soon as one learns to practice self-love for their non-Eurocentric features, White models simultaneously decide that, they too, love your features—so much so that they apply them to their own faces and upload them eagerly to Insta.
If you go online, there are countless stories that people of color have generously and bravely written about self-love. Read stories about people coming to celebrate their skin color, hair, eyes, mouths, and all the other subtleties that encapsulate their physical experiences. Understand the importance, pain, vulnerability, and acceptance within these stories, and hopefully, it will make clear the implications behind ethnicizing your features.