Anyone who is Asian, whether here in China, or in Korea and Japan, or an Asian American or Eurasian living overseas, knows the difference between a monolid and a double lid. If you didn’t grow up in a culture that prizes the elusive eye folds, here is the 101: a double eyelid is a fold of skin that creases over your eye, giving it some depth (and a natural place to put eye shadow). Many Asians aren’t blessed with this piece of non-functional anatomy and have developed “lid obsessed” cultures (and industries) to compensate.
When I was just five years old, aunties and female neighbors were already discussing the condition of my eyelids and what implications they had on my marital prospects. I had monolids when I was little, but they grew into an imbalanced pair in grade school (one mono- and one double lid). In my teenage years my eyelids morphed into a steady state, which my husband now calls the “thousand folds.” Instead of mono- or double lids, I have countless tiny creases on my eyes. It’s a bit of an anomaly, but not too displeasing to the male sex as to cause my female relations further concern.
In earlier days, the only thing people could do about their eyelids was talk. Catchy phrases and rhymes sprang forth from women’s laments and self consolations on the subject of monolids, also connoted with small eyes (another biological “flaw” common to Asians). A popular one is, “Small eyes focus light better. Big eyes disperse light.” As if optics were the primary concern here! Another one that caught on with urbanization and increasing household wealth is, “Small eyes are city chic. Big eyes are for the farms.” Depending on the eyelids of the person you ask, everyone in China seems to have their favorite lid motto.
Over time there came to be things that people could do to change the look of their lids. Cosmetics came into the picture first. I cringe now as I tell the story about my battle with lid-enhancing makeup. Years ago I walked into my senior yearbook photo session with light makeup on my face that I had applied myself. The photographer took one unimpressed look, uttered a “tsk tsk”, and ordered his makeup artist to do some “work” on my eyelids. After an uncomfortable twenty minutes in the chair I turned to see a raccoon staring back at me from the mirror. The “work” done on me was precisely the kind I always avoided – heavy-handed application of brown eye shadow to create depth where little existed and fool viewers into thinking a bigger crease has miraculously grown. I protested but the photo session was already behind schedule and I was forced to smile with raccoon eyes. That year I didn’t ask anyone to sign my yearbook page.
Makeup was but the first step towards eyelid modification. Soon, plastic surgeons had developed techniques for sewing two parts of an eyelid together into an artificial fold. This quickly became the most popular knife procedure for Chinese women. In the beginning, the handiwork wasn’t so great, leaving millions of women marching around town with protruding eyelids. To this day I see women looking unnaturally awake and alert. Knife styles have since improved, but there’s no cure for the perma-puff-lid the surgery pioneers are still sporting.
Nowadays women are more selective about jumping on the next irreversible surgery bandwagon. More sophisticated cosmetic products – not the raccoon brown eye shadow — are a common alternative. As I flipped through a glossy magazine recently, I noted with fascination all the lid enhancing options. There is lid tape, a double-sided adhesive wearers can cut into slim strips and stick onto the eye where a crease should be. This keeps the top part of the lid stuck to the bottom part, creating a double lid…in theory. Often I see oblivious girls, after a night of partying or a particularly sweaty afternoon, with a piece of dangling tape hanging off their fake creases.
There is also lid glue. It’s probably the same stuff as you use to glue on false eyelashes, except it comes with a nifty little spatula. This tool is curved and fits the shape of a convex eye. You push it against your monolid, making a dent where a crease would be had you been so endowed, and insert a trail of glue. This seems to work better than tape and keeps the lids stuck for longer.
Who knows what the beauticians of our lid-obsessed culture will come up with next! I’m happy to report that I’ve never used a cosmetic eyelid enhancer (except under coercion a la the yearbook incident) and have managed to marry myself off. Maybe it’s because I found a foreigner who doesn’t know just what he’s missing with the double lids!