I grew up Asian-American before it was cool. It was a time before Fresh off the Boat, Kim’s Convenience, and Crazy Rich Asians. It was during a time when J-pop was more listened to than K-pop. Lunchables packs containing cold “pizza” were preferred over bento boxes filled with animal-shaped rice balls. Raw fish and seaweed were gross, and non-Asians believed that all Asians were somehow related to Jackie Chan.
But, not all things were bad during this time. For example, I knew how to make quick friends. All I had to do was fold a paper crane with a square post-it note and set it down on my desk. It was only a matter of seconds before the kids would come flocking. Boom — instant friends.
I only remember being teased a handful of times because of my race, but it’s interesting how I can vividly remember those moments. Since race looks at the outer image, it’s been intricately woven with my body image. Growing up as an insecure girl, it makes sense that those are the memories that stuck.
I remember the first time I got made fun of for having smaller eyes. It was the classic “Do you see in widescreen?” question followed by the fingers pulling back the skin around the eyes. I never cried when classmates made fun of my lunch food or ridiculed me for being an Asian that was bad at math, but this time around, I cried the whole bus ride home.
Shortly after this incident, I ended up needing to get glasses due to near-sightedness, and I remember being so excited to bring home my first pair of glasses. They were a beautiful combination of blue and gold, but the best part was that I could hide my eyes behind them. When I went to school, I no longer had to be the Asian girl. I could be the girl with glasses.
It’s crazy how a set of bent up wires could become so infused with my identity. My glasses became a barrier that I could hide behind as I observed the world around me. When I went to sleepovers, I would fall asleep with my glasses on so that my friends wouldn’t see what I looked like without them. I never let other people try on my glasses and preferred to keep smudges on my lenses rather than take them off in public to wipe them.
When I was in high school, I tried wearing eyeliner to make my eyes look bigger, but I gave up because I would just look like a raccoon that fell into an ash heap. It also didn’t help that there weren’t very many makeup tutorials for monolid eyes during that time.
I lived wearing only glasses until I entered my early 20s. I bought contacts, but it was only because I was asked to be a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding. We all had to get hair and makeup done, and it would be a waste for the makeup to be covered by my glasses.
I should’ve been more focused on my friend that day, but I felt so self-conscious. I ended up looking terrified in all the wedding photos because yes, I was terrified, but also because I was trying to make my eyes look as big as possible.
Shockingly to me, no one said anything about my eyes that day. But… why should they? The day wasn’t even about me, and it’s not like anyone was an eye inspector seeking to expose and scrutinize all the monolids at the ceremony.
It’s funny how egocentric body image insecurity can be, and when you realize it, it becomes a little easier to loosen your grip on your insecurities. Through this awareness, the first chain of my bondage to my glasses was broken.
Little moments like that led to me becoming less reliant on my glasses. I wish I could say that I am now confidently wearing contacts, but I’m not. I’ve made baby steps like opting to wear contacts when I go for a run, but I still wear my glasses for most of my waking hours.
It’s difficult to shake off the childhood lesson ingrained in my brain that looking Asian is ugly, but what’s even more difficult is that the Asian part of my culture also rejects the monolid. Double-eyelid surgery is the most prevalent type of plastic surgery in Korea, and it’s not because Koreans want to look more Caucasian.
I’ve always felt like Juliet Capulet when it came to being an Asian-American. Just like the crossfires between the Capulets and Montagues, I’m constantly caught between the crossfires of Eastern and Western culture. They are so different from each other, so whenever I’m able to find common ground, it’s like I hit the jackpot. But, what do I do when the common ground has to do with body image standards that I don’t fit into? Do I just go under the knife?
This isn’t a plea for people to tell me that my eyes are beautiful or that I’m fine just the way I am. At the end of the day, everyone has their own preferences and are attracted to different features. For me, I’m just learning that I need to figure out what my preferences are. I’d been so busy hiding behind my frames that I never got to explore who I am. It’s hard to appreciate myself if I don’t know myself.
So, I’m working towards rocking my monolids because if I can’t appreciate my raw self, I can’t guarantee that I will be content if I start to make modifications. What if I alter something that I could’ve actually liked, but I never gave myself the chance to appreciate it? What if I made a physical change, but it doesn’t end up achieving what I had hoped for? I don’t want my happiness and self-acceptance to be dependent on a procedure.
With about 50% of Asian women born with monolid eyes, there are many who prefer having double-eyelid surgery. However, there are also some people who have come to embrace their eye shape, and it’s been so inspiring to discover their stories.
I really wonder if there will be a day when people look at monolid eyes, and instead of commenting on how small the eyes look, they’ll find it to be an acceptable— or even beautiful — thing. I guess I won’t really find out if the monolid community were to get smaller and smaller.
So, I stand with #TeamMonolid. At the end of the day, if the very people who have monolids don’t appreciate how they look, how will they ever become a thing to be desired?