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How I Learned to Love My Monolids – Vogue

How I Learned to Love My Monolids – Vogue


A few months ago, I took an afternoon walk with my grandmother in Yongin, just south of Seoul, winding our way toward a stream called Tancheon. It was a warm mid-winter day, and we linked arms. I hadnt seen her in several years since gradually phasing out my childhood visits to Korea after I had moved to New York from the Midwest, where I grew up. She didnt look much older than I remembered, but she moved a bit slower, a bit stiffer at the knees. We watched children ride past on blue and yellow bicycles, and I thought of the summers I once spent in Seoul, running along the Han River with my grandparents following close behind. Stopping to rest on a wooden park bench, she posed a question she had asked me before, when I was a teenager: Did I want to get my eyelids done? I laughed and chided her gently, letting her know that window had long closed. But inside, I felt an old anger spark. I hadnt felt it in some time.

Whenever I look in the mirror, the first thing I see is my eyes. They are my fathers eyes: Dark brownnearly blackslightly downturned, and defined by the shape of their lids. There is no wrinkle, no crease, no skin that falls back into the socket. Just a wide, flat, plane that sits unmoving below my brows. Technically known as an epicanthic fold, colloquially as monolids, and ignorantly as Asian eyes, the characteristic is perhaps most recognizable as a defining feature of racist caricatures, both from the turn of the century and now, in which small, slanted eyes draw focus: One line dragged sharply up, one line beneath it, and one dash for the beady pupil. In America, people tend to forget the breadth of the Asian continent: Korea, Japan, and China, yes, but Thailand, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, and other countries as well, filled with single lids and double lids, eyes of brown and black and hazel. Yet the monolid has come to symbolize a vague notion of Asianness, reducing billions of people to three simple strokes.

No matter where in the world I have gone, my eyes have been a perverse object of fascination. In the small Midwest town where I spent most of my formative years, they were the subject of a schoolyard game. Chinese, my classmates would chant, pulling the corners of their eyes up. Japanese, they'd say, dragging them down. But Im Korean, I would protest, as if that mattered. Reflected in their little round eyes, all of ours looked the same.

In Seoul, where we would often travel to see my mothers family, they were an oddity, too. My sister inherited our mothers eyes, large and round with a natural half-crease or hidden lid. At dinners with distant relatives, she was praised for her shining straight black hair and those lovely eyes, fringed with long lashes. They would coo over her one moment, then pick over my peculiarities the nextmy slightly wavy brown hair, my single lids. Those traits must have come from my father, they would say, the slightest sneer curling at the edge of their lips. Half of an eyelid was the feature that differentiated us, making her pretty and me smart.

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How I Learned to Love My Monolids - Vogue

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