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I was only halfway through doing my makeup when I realized I had to leave. Crap. I looked at the eyeliner I was holding and hastily drew a wing on the corner of one eye, carefully avoiding the frame of my glasses while staring an inch away from the mirror. The next part was the hardest: getting that seamless black line to draw smoothly on the tiny crease right above my eyelashes and connect gracefully to my wing.
For me, that procedure usually takes about four minutes for each eye. I have double eyelids, which means that the space above my eyes has an extra small crease on top of it, which in turn means doing eyeliner is tricky because I only have so much space to work with compared to someone who has smooth, un-creased eyelid space. Combined with the fact that I’m practically blind without my glasses and can’t wear contacts, eyeliner is the most difficult and meticulous part of my makeup routine.
I stared at my right eye, the one with just the wing stretching out from the corner of my eye, the eyelid space still empty, and realized... I couldn’t really tell the difference. I mean, I could, but it was so subtle that I didn’t care that much.
I quickly drew a wing on my other eye, and that was it. My makeup was done, and I’d shortened the whole thing, unintentionally, by eight minutes.
The earliest memories I have of double eyelids were before I even knew what they were. I was 7 and my mom was gushing over my beautiful shuangyanpi to my grandma. I had no idea what she was talking about. One year, my mom bemoaned the fact that my left eye had temporarily turned danyanpi (as a kid my eyelid folds naturally changed a lot), and when I squinted, I realized that my right eye had a teeny tiny fold that my left eye didn’t have. Oh. Was this what the fuss was about? I shrugged and went back to playing on my Tamagotchi. Some months after, my mom checked my eyes again and rejoiced at the fact that both were once again shuangyanpi. Being a child, I was amused more than anything that something so trivial would incite such a huge reaction from my mom.
It wasn’t until later in high school that I found out why having double eyelids was such a big deal to East Asians. About half the people of East Asian descent have double eyelids, while the other half have monolids, which are similar to double eyelids except there’s no crease at all. There’s not really such a thing as the large, deep-set eyes characteristic of other ethnicities. Having double eyelids supposedly makes your eyes look bigger, which is a Big Deal if you’re Asian. For many East Asians, particularly in South Korea and China, double eyelids are one of those beauty standards that’s held in the highest regard. It’s one that many pay money to obtain through plastic surgery. For example, there are few Korean actors, artists, and models that you’ll see with monolids. In the earliest days of his career, Rain, famous veteran of the South Korean entertainment industry, was repeatedly rejected from singing and dancing auditions because he did not have double eyelids, though now his monolids are what makes him stand out. Even closer to home, Asian-American The Talk host Julie Chen claims that her career took off after she got double eyelid surgery.
I didn’t care much about my own double eyelids until I started wearing makeup. I found them to be a nuisance and an inconvenience. My eyelids were prone to swelling outwards due to the extra fold of skin, and if I applied my liner just a bit too thick, my makeup would suddenly look too dramatic. It wasn’t before long that I began to feel insecure about the way I was doing my makeup. A simple black eyeliner on other people looked normal, accentuating the eyes, while on me, I felt like no matter how thin I applied the liner, it still looked like my eyes were overdone because the space on my eyelids was so small that people couldn’t help but notice when I had eyeliner on, and not in a good way. Foundation, concealer, eyebrows, just a dusting of highlighter — those were all easy to apply and made my features pop in a way that I liked. But when I got to the last part of my routine, I always paused for a moment before uncapping my Stila liquid liner. Did I look clownish with eyeliner on? Could people tell I was struggling? I wanted makeup to make my features stand out more, but I wished every day that makeup could mask my struggles with my eyelids rather than highlighting them.
I started looking into South Korean beauty trends to see how one might deal with their double eyelids, and the results, to me, were disappointing. “Subtle” seemed to be the current trend, and instead of regular eyeliner, tightlining was all the rage; apparently it gives your eyes that eyeliner “pop” while not being overdone. The only time East Asian celebrities actually did eyeliner the regular way (which is how I thought of it) was when they were walking the red carpet, not for an everyday look. But I didn’t want to tightline my eyes; though I am East Asian by ethnicity, I was still accustomed to the Western makeup trends I had grown up with, and I didn’t want to change that. Many people I knew included eyeliner as part of their regular everyday look, so why shouldn’t I be able to as well? Deep down, I was scared that maybe Western makeup looks didn’t suit me either, no matter how much I wished them to, simply because I didn’t have the correct features.
I wanted to feel lucky that my mom never pressured me to get surgery done because I didn’t need it (she herself had monolids and sometimes talked about potentially “fixing” it), that my relatives in China would probably compliment my natural double eyelids. I wanted to feel reassured that at least, if I were ever in China or South Korea, people would be able to tell that my eyelids were natural and not a product of plastic surgery. But I couldn’t see past the fact that the eyes I really longed for, those beautiful deep-set eyes to which so many YouTube makeup artists can effortlessly apply eyeliner and eyeshadow, were impossible to obtain. I felt so ambivalent about my double eyelids that I couldn’t understand why anyone might desire them.
That day, though, I gave myself one last look in the mirror before capping my Stila eyeliner, feeling gleeful at the discovery I had just made. In that moment, my totally ingenious eyeliner hack changed the entire way I felt about my eyelids. They were a nuisance, but finding a way to make eyeliner easier made me realize that I didn’t have to be frustrated, and also that I shouldn’t have to feel bad for not understanding why they were so highly praised in another culture that I was a part of; the problem that I had with my eyelids was only a problem because I made it one. I also learned that I should probably do more makeup research on YouTube; there’s actually a lot of videos about quick eyeliner hacks I just never thought to check out!