The Time I Learned to Smile with My Eyes

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I have Asian eyes.

If you don’t know what I mean, let me fill you in. They’re often called “squinty,” “small,” “chinky.” Aka something undesirable that you avoid like the plague in your instagram selfies with cheesy-ass white girl captions.

In pictures I used to hold my eyes so wide open that a fly could’ve buzzed into them, and I wouldn’t dare flinch in fear of people writing the blink off as “oh, her eyes just always look closed.”

As evidenced by all of my high school graduation pictures, such as this one, in which I look excited af but also like I am in pain on the inside:

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Clearly, it didn’t matter to me if I looked like an actual human being having fun instead of a rent-a-robot hired to dance at fifth birthday party. All I cared about was not looking like I had those ugly, chinky eyes. They say you should be able to tell if a person is actually smiling when you cover their mouths in pictures and look at their eyes. If you do that in any of my pictures from 2007-2013, you’d think I was constantly miserable.

But maybe I was.

Some people don’t like to get their picture taken because they look “fat” or “bald” or “completely fucking stupid.” But I didn’t like getting my picture taken because I looked Asian. As in, my race. As in, one of the few things I can’t change about myself. As in, what I should not have been ashamed of by any means.

Maybe I was miserable because I’d been conditioned to think that just looking Asian is bad.  I get that I let the media and my social acquaintances make me think that the definition of beauty is wide eyes with no crow’s feet and no squinting. But it’s also not entirely my fault  that if you google “pretty eyes,” you’ll see every different color on earth, but you won’t see a set of eyes that would be considered “small.” Or that as I was growing up, I’d hear all the time that a picture needed to be retaken because someone had “Asian eyes” (Sometimes even from Asians). Or that the Japanese have made these goddamn sticker photo booths that automatically make your eyes look bigger. Seriously.

Whatever the reason, it happened. There’s plenty of photographic proof. And it took me up until recently to undo.

Honestly, it’s exhausting trying to keep your eyes as round as possible without blinking or squinting as a picture is being taken, and getting mediocre results that make you look like the most unpopular wax figure on display. No one wants to see “The Amazing Asian Girl Who’s Trying to Look Like She’s Not Asian Because She Let the Societal Pressure to Look Like a White Girl Get the Best of Her.”

So, I let it all go. No more holding my eyes open until they watered, no more worrying about people betting on whether I blinked or if my eyes are just like that, and no more desperation of trying to fit some sort of Google-Image-approved beauty standards. And suddenly, I looked like I was having real, human being fun in pictures (because I was having real, human being fun!). I looked a lot less miserable, and lot less like I was trying to focus on controlling the wind, sun, bugs, people, and animals that could compromise the shape of my eyes in a silly picture that a maximum of 9 people would see on Facebook.

It feels good to just relax in pictures now. So, you may not be able to see my eye color in photos because I was caught laughing as food came out of my mouth or because someone fell or made a fart noise. But that’s okay. I already worry about lighting, hair, collar bones, makeup, and food in our teeth. There’s no need to worry about my eyes, too.

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