Despite the Eurocentric nature of beauty standards, in recent years white influencers and celebrities have been profiting off of appropriating the appearance of women of color.
Though makeup is seemingly an apolitical choice, the makeup industry has been rife with racism and general exclusion of people of color for decades. Even to this day, makeup often remains exclusionary in ways white consumers may not even notice, such as eyeshadows that hardly show up on dark skin, or foundation and concealer makeup that isn’t sold in shades deeper than medium brown. However, the racist aspects of makeup don’t end at the brands that sell it.
The fox-eye makeup fad, which recently took Tik Tok and Instagram by storm, is a strong example of how nonwhite features are praised on white faces. The trend involves using makeup and eyeshadow to give the appearance of upward slanted eyes, and pulling up the skin to the side of the eyes to further accentuate a thin, slanted eye shape. Many Asian Americans, including myself, noticed a strong resemblance between fox-eye makeup to decades of yellowface in media, as well as the pose associated with the trend being nearly identical to pulling the corners of the eyes to mock monolids, epicanthic folds or otherwise “small eyes.”
Appropriating the appearance of Asians has even been done permanently. Oli London, a British musician, spent over $100,000 on plastic surgery to look like his favorite K-Pop idol, Jimin. London’s case is extreme and fetishistic, but it’s not unheard of for fans of K-Pop and anime to attempt to look Asian and even obscure their actual background; I’ve seen examples from my own time as a cosplayer on social media.
As for appropriation in beauty trends, Blackfishing has become a staple for influencers and other celebrities. The term, coined by journalist Wanna Thompson, refers to the use of makeup and hairstyles to give the impression of racial ambiguity or Black ancestry. It’s widespread throughout social media — even used by famous celebrities.
Stars from Kim Kardashian to Selena Gomez to Ariana Grande have been called out for deliberately darkening their skin beyond a natural tan, or appropriating Black hairstyles such as cornrows and box braids, often in combination. Some celebrities knowingly play into their manufactured racial ambiguity, such as Rita Ora claiming in an interview that being seen as Black “gets [her] places.”
Examples don’t just stop at large scale celebrities, with Instagram influencers such as Emma Hallberg or Aga Brzostowska being accused of Blackfishing. Both denied the claim by either claiming an ability to naturally tan or that they enjoy the aesthetic of tanning, but that doesn’t explain more blatant examples of mimicking predominantly Black hairstyles and textures alongside these deep tans.
As a half-Asian woman, there’s been countless times I’ve felt less beautiful or otherwise alienated by being visibly mixed. At a certain point, I start to feel bitter seeing white women praised for the appearance I was mocked for, an experience many other women of color relate to.
The appropriation of nonwhite features by white people often relies on them trying to take on a more “exotic” appearance, but without any of the hardship people of color face in day-to-day life. They continue to be privileged, even with eyeliner, regardless of hairstyle and regardless of how dark they tan themselves.