TikTok’s Obsession With Eye Shapes Is Quite Sinister, Actually

Photographed by Shingi Rice
They say eyes are windows to the soul but if social media is anything to go by, we're increasingly obsessed with their shape, rather than whether or not it's possible to tell what a person is thinking behind them.
If you're a beauty lover with a TikTok account, it's likely you've spotted makeup enthusiasts experimenting with things like false lashes and eyeliner, as well as filters, to enhance or alter the appearance of their eyes. With 46.7 million views and counting, the TikTok hashtag #eyeshape is chock-full of tutorials on how to emulate countless buzzy eye shape 'trends'. Not long ago it was the 'fox eye', inspired by the likes of Kendall Jenner — a look which consists of distorting eyes and brows to achieve an upward, slanted appearance. At the height of its popularity, many rightly pointed out that the makeup fetishises East Asian features and, as a result, fox eyes dropped off the beauty radar.

What are siren eyes and doe eyes?

Since then, a number of different eye shape tutorials have flooded the app. 'Siren eyes' ('seductive' à la Bella Hadid, according to TikTokers who enlist winged liner to elongate their eyes) are competing with 'doe eyes' (big, round and accentuated with white kohl). Then there's 'Bambi eyes' (similarly 'cute' and 'innocent') and 'sleepy eyes' (a downcast and 'tired' eye look, which TikTokers hint is sexy and alluring). TikTokers have been quick to link siren eyes and doe eyes — the two most popular looks — to 'dominance' and 'submissiveness' respectively. But while the connotations may be vastly different, they have one thing in common: both looks are deemed highly desirable.

The focus on eye shapes is just another social media trend invented to make many of us feel inadequate.

Countless beauty tutorials showing beauty enthusiasts how to alter their eye shape with makeup sit next to slideshows showing selfies of celebrities, models and influencers with similar features. They are all captioned comparably: 'beautiful eye shapes', 'most attractive eyes', 'having a pretty eye shape'. Does this suggest that eye shapes which don't fit the mould are less attractive? Many comments underneath these videos certainly allude to the feeling. "I saw all kinds of eyes except my eyes," observed one commenter, clearly feeling left out. Another wrote: "So pretty, I'm jealous." Other comments show that the trend for championing certain eye shapes is exacerbating insecurities. "This trend has lowered my self-confidence," wrote one TikToker. "I have doe eyes, they just don't look as good as siren eyes."

Is TikTok's obsession with eye shapes harmful?

If certain eye shapes look 'good', do others look 'bad'? Dr Maryam Zamani, London-based leading oculoplastic surgeon and facial aesthetics doctor, says that whether we realise it or not, we are all influenced by what we see on social media. As a result, it's easy to harbour unrealistic expectations of what we think we should look like. It's difficult to deny that the focus on eye shapes is just another social media trend invented to make many of us feel inadequate.
"Siren eyes in particular makes me feel less than," Jessica* tells R29. "I have round, wide-set eyes and with everyone on TikTok praising the siren look for being sexy and irresistible, I wonder where me and my eyes fit in." Under a viral 'siren eyes vs doe eyes' video, one viewer left a worried comment about their asymmetrical eyes (which are perfectly normal and rarely a cause for concern): "Is it ok for your eyes to do that normally? One of my eyes is more sharp than the other." Jessica adds that trends which home in on certain features and tout them as 'beautiful' might make you think negatively about your own.

For every makeup trend, like over-lining your lips and contouring your nose, there's a surgical procedure available to make it more permanent — and changing your eye shape is even more dangerous.

Lily remembers first seeing TikTok's eye-shape trend when one of her favourite beauty influencers posted a video of a 'siren' eye look on half of her face and a 'doe' eye look on the other. "I thought it was mesmerising that you could so dramatically change the look of your eyes by doing little things, like placing false eyelashes strategically or making your eyeliner longer and darker." Of course, using makeup to enhance (or even hide) certain features is nothing new. For Shauna, the opportunity to experiment with eye makeup is a fun one. "As an Asian woman with hooded eyes, trends like this usually make me feel self-conscious because I wish we could see more diverse eye shapes represented. But I strangely like how it shows different eye looks to play around with — without surgery." Nowadays, however, it seems that for every makeup trend, like over-lining your lips and contouring your nose, there's a surgical procedure available to make it more permanent. Take lip filler or the newer 'lip flip', for example, as well as liquid rhinoplasty. But is changing your eye shape more dangerous?

Why are people getting eye surgery?

Eye tweakments are definitely happening, according to consultant oculoplastic and ophthalmic surgeon Dr Elizabeth Hawkes. "I have seen a rise in enquiries for both aesthetic and surgical procedures around the eyes," says Dr Hawkes. "I think that social media channels such as TikTok have a huge influence on people." Face-altering beauty filters in particular have been closely linked to low-self esteem. "Not only do social media channels inform what beauty ideals are," says Dr Hawkes, "but they also create trends which people want to be part of."
According to a recent report, nonsurgical treatments are increasing and eye lifts are a good example, says Dr Hawkes. "[An eye lift] involves plastic threads [sometimes referred to as PDO threads] being inserted into the side of the eyes to stretch the skin." Though the procedure is billed as quick and painless, it's actually very risky as the eye is such a delicate area. Alarmingly, Dr Hawkes says that plenty of eye lifting treatments such as these can go wrong. "The national register of accredited practitioners, who provide nonsurgical cosmetic treatments, have seen a 400% uplift in thread lift complaints since 2019," she recently told R29. "This demonstrates just how dangerous procedures such as these are," particularly when not carried out by a qualified professional.

Like fox eyes, siren eyes are being called into question for taking facial features from East Asians.

Are siren eyes just fox eyes under a different name?

According to Google Trends, searches for thread lifts in particular have hit a high this month and TikTokers are pointing out that siren eyes are just fox eyes repackaged. To some, emulating siren eyes might seem harmless but even the fox eye began as a makeup trend using eyeshadow and tape. Today, countless people are dealing with the aftermath of botched fox eye tweakments. Will siren eyes, Bambi eyes or doe eyes take us in a similar direction? It's not impossible.
Like fox eyes, siren eyes are being called into question for taking facial features from East Asians. TikToker @michelle_ _amor calls the siren eye trend "bullshit". They captioned their TikTok video: "No model 'created' this trend. All the Asian children who got bullied/mocked by racist gestures for their beautiful eyes, created this fucking trend!!!!" Michelle asked: "Are we not exhausted from policing what's deemed acceptable and beautiful every six months?" Body parts should not be an object of desirability when others experience racism for theirs, said Michelle.
In spite of their issues, siren eyes and doe eyes still reign supreme on TikTok. Dr Hawkes has also had requests for 'cat eyes', for which there are hundreds of makeup tutorials on TikTok. This involves taking skin from the upper eyelid and lifting the lower lid so that eyes look more pointed at the outer corner, like a cat. "The other eye-shape trend is almond eye surgery," says Dr Hawkes. This is an eye shape with a smaller point at the inner corner and wider at the outer corner. A quick search serves up lots of almond eye makeup tutorials on TikTok, too. However, Dr Hawkes hits home that she doesn't offer surgery like this and does not like to change eye shapes.
That said, some surgeons and aestheticians do offer these tweakments. But when a TikTok trend inevitably dies down, are people stuck with a certain look? Requests for plastic surgery, including eye shape surgery, are on the rise but Dr Zamani says that changing the shape of the eye is not easily undoable and can have long-term implications and potential complications. "The role of the eyelid is to protect the eyeball so if you're altering this it can affect the ocular surface and damage the tear glands," says Dr Zamani. "This can affect your blink, cause dry eyes and even influence eyelid closure so that you can't close your eyes properly." These can all be extremely dangerous, says Dr Hawkes, and can result in damaged vision in the long run, as well as permanent scarring.

How can you let go of insecurities about your eyes?

For Lily, the key to navigating insecurities about her eyes was to stop using beauty filters on social media. "Whenever I wanted to take a photo of myself, I would always open Snapchat or Instagram and take photos with filters." TikTok filters in particular can change the shape, size and colour of eyes in a single click, with many carrying questionable labels such as 'pure eyes' and 'pretty eyes'. "This caused dysmorphia and I realised how damaging it was," continued Lily. "Now, I no longer use filters and I've noticed such a difference in the way this small change has helped me feel — certainly less insecure in the face of these beauty trends." Dr Ana, cosmetic doctor and skincare expert, advises patients who are self-conscious about their appearance to keep an arm's length distance between them and their face in the mirror. She believes that there is no positive outcome of so closely inspecting your face in this way.
While the infatuation with eye shapes is unlikely to die down any time soon, it's important to remember that what we see on social media isn't always true to life — especially when it comes to beauty trends. As TikTokers point out in regard to siren and doe eyes in particular, it's easy to manipulate eye shape with certain camera angles and expressions, not to mention subtle filters. The takeaway here? Just because you don't happen to spot your eye shape in a viral TikTok video doesn't mean it isn't beautiful — and it certainly doesn't need to be changed.
*Name has been changed to protect identity

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