If I told you I underwent double eyelid surgery—the #1 type of cosmetic surgery in Asia—to make my eyes look more awake, would you believe me?
Never mind that Asia is the largest continent on the planet, when people say “Asian eyes,” they generally refer to the almond-shaped eyes (which are not even almond-shaped) of Eastern/Southeastern populations. Within this frame of reference, people will often focus on two characteristics: the epicanthic fold and the eyelid.
The epicanthic fold is the bit of skin from the upper eyelid that comes down over the inner corner of the eye. Interestingly, 60% of people with Down Syndrome also have this feature, but that’s a different topic.
Then there is the infamous crease in the eyelid, which is absent in about 50% of Chinese and Vietnamese, and 75% of Koreans. Some say that it is “missing,” which I disagree with, as this would suggest a deficiency rather than a difference between Asian and Caucasian eyes.
Growing up in a small French town, my sister Estelle and I had learned to live among people who regularly commented on the shape of our eyes. (Little sister Julienne was born with double eyelids for some reason.) It wasn’t until Estelle and I came to Boston and made Asian friends that we were exposed to the outlandish idea of changing the way we looked.
Double eyelid obsession
High school friends showed us how to use a thin strip of tape and eyeliner to create that extra fold that would brighten up our faces. I watched Estelle experiment with this at home, but we agreed it was just too weird. Asian girls online share a myriad of ways to get rid of monolids, including not drinking water after a certain hour, sleeping with one’s head elevated, using anti-puff agents, and of course wearing that lid-tape during the day to hold the fold in place. One girl uses glue and lid tape every single day to face this “life-long battle.”
However, the one sure and permanent way of getting double eyelids is through surgery. You could look up blepharoplasty on Wikipedia—a type of surgery meant to correct or modify the eyelid—though you might not want to see the pictures in the article. They will make your eyes hurt. Asian blepharoplasty, also known as “double eyelid surgery,” is the most common procedure in many parts of Asia, particularly in Korea.
Why the war on monolids?
According to one CNN report, getting your eyelids cut open not only means looking more beautiful but, in some parts of the world, it also means getting ahead in life. Imagine that? Master’s degree: Check. Peer-reviewed publications: Check. Double eyelids: Ooh… Sorry, but we cannot hire you at this time. News anchor and producer at CBS Julie Chen knows the pressure of having to “fix” her Asian eyes. Her superiors had made their message very clear. She had to choose between Asian blepharoplasty and stagnation in her career. “Because of your Asian eyes,” a boss told her, “I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, you look disinterested and bored.” Sadly, she is not the only one. Many Asian Americans, especially those who work directly with clients or potential sponsors, have reported that their hooded eyes were often perceived as a lack of alertness. In a society where eye contact is a crucial part of effective communication, these people found themselves fighting an uphill battle.
Fashion magazines and designers have been making conscientious efforts to feature Asian models with monolids, perhaps to encourage little girls to appreciate the beauty in all eye shapes. Whether or not that’s working, I was told that people in Northern Europe have now been seeking to have their eyes “look Asian” through surgery. I will never understand. Also, I couldn’t verify this.
What I do know is that the vast majority of Asian Americans who go under the knife for the extra eye fold are adamant about their motivations. The procedure is not to erase their identity, and in fact they want to preserve it. Just like breast augmentation or a face lift, this has nothing to do with one’s cultural heritage. It is a cosmetic decision, a surgical way to achieve a desired look. We are kindly asked to not judge based on race.
My lid wrinkles
I did not use lid-tape or stop drinking water after 10 pm, and I certainly did not undergo double eyelid surgery (shivers). My lid wrinkles simply showed up over a period of several years. I got a semi-permanent fold on one lid first, and as it became more stable another fold became visible. Various online forums indicate that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. Several posters mentioned that this happened after a weight loss, though most people couldn’t explain this gradual change.
It was never my intention to do anything about my eyelids, but here are things I would have told myself if I ever did (also good for life in general):
- Don’t cry. Sometime in high school, I began crying on a regular basis (don’t ask). After a few years, the habit was reduced to a weekly occurrence, and I noticed that my semi-permanent crease was only visible if I had not cried the night before.
- Don’t stress. I get hives when I’m under acute stress. It took a while to figure this out, as I was chronically stressed for so long. This might have contributed to my eyelids being stuck in a constant swollen state. Think puffer fish.
- Don’t eat crap. My poor and unwise self had the habit of consuming nothing but a side of fries or a muffin for lunch, in a short-sighted effort to save money. More fat on your face will not do anything for your eyes, or your overall health.
I am not saying that if you are happy as a clam and fit as a professional athlete, you will magically go from monolid to double lid. I’ve only noticed that, for me personally, some unhealthy practices had contributed to the swelling around my eyes. At the end of the day, what I can stand behind is that, with mono- or double eyelids, a good dose self-esteem is probably the best thing you can ask for / work on.
Update: It’s been a few months since I last took a look at my blog and I just unearthed a few valuable comments that got lost in a sea of spam messages. I want to thank all those who shared their responses, and I sincerely apologize for not getting around to approving them until now!