Based in Singapore, Francesca Tanmizi is better known to her nearly 30 thousand followers on Instagram as @workingwithmonolids. She first shot to fame in pre-Instagram days for her Reddit tutorial where instead of lining the upper lash line of her mono-lidded eyes, Tanmizi swiped her eyeliner about half an inch above her lash line. When her eyes are closed, the line looks like it’s floating in the middle of nowhere, but once she opens them, it hugs her lashes perfectly. This floating eyeliner technique is just one of many tricks Tanmizi innovated to cater to people with monolids, away from the conventional Eurocentric beauty ideals that favour people with large, double-lidded eyes.
In recent years, thanks largely to the rise of K-Pop and K-Drama, there has been increased mainstream appreciation shown towards facial features that are considered more conventionally East Asian. Tanmizi reckons this is a revolution that’s long overdue. But even as she expresses her relief that beauty standards around the world are diversifying, she cautions against falling into the trap of grouping all East Asians under one monoethnic label. Below, Tanmizi shares with Vogue Singapore her efforts to raise monolids appreciation, how she deals with the haters, the current reception towards East Asian features, and what more needs to be done.
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On her journey to becoming a beauty influencer
I created my Instagram account in 2018 because I was buying so much make-up and needed a way to keep track of my collection. I started experimenting with different styles for my monolids and that was what launched me into the public eye. I think I also got lucky because I started on Instagram at the right time, when people were beginning to question how politically correct using eyelid tape and glue are. Some people were saying that using those is no different from using any other make-up tools or techniques to beautify themselves, but increasingly more people were asking why they needed to have an eyelid crease in order to be considered pretty. In general, the beauty community is nice, but I definitely got very racist comments about my eyes and calling me all sorts of slurs.
My beauty journey with monolids actually goes way back to even before social media was a thing. When I was younger, I had rather terrible experiences with make-up artists in Singapore. A lot of them threw tantrums when I told them I didn’t want to wear eyelid glue or tape. In fact, the first make-up artist who ever worked on me said flat-out that it wasn’t fair for him to work on “a girl with eyes like this”. So at 24, I began doing my own beauty looks and experimenting on myself. I remember that at a wedding I attended where the bride has monolids, the make-up artist was confused about what to do so I took over.
On racist perceptions of monolids
I was a teenager in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Growing up in Asia, I got a lot of comments like that about how I should fix my monolids when I’m older. It was almost a fact that if you had monolids, you would get plastic surgery. Did you know that double eyelid surgery is actually rooted in racist historical origins? The surgeon who invented this technique thought “oriental” looks were deviant and wanted to make them more “occidental”. I think it’s so interesting how beauty standards are constantly evolving. There are some Chinese historical texts that actually celebrate monolids because girls with bigger eyes were considered hussies in ancient China, so the fact that monolids came to be viewed as a shameful feature is something I’ve always questioned.
I remember magazines would feature a model with monolids maybe only once a year and the beauty look would be so lazy! Just one swab of colour and one straight line across the lid—that’s not make up; that’s finger-painting. The go-to make-up look for monolid eyes then was a plain smokey eye which got boring after a while. There was just no variation.
On increasing appreciation for Asian features
I think more people are acknowledging that it’s important to know how to work with monolids instead of just transposing a Westernised beauty look onto Asian features. There are also more beauty accounts dedicated to mono-lidded eyes on social media now and I think it’s great they are normalising different techniques. Back in 2014 and 2015, whenever I used the #monolidbeauty hashtag, there will be a swarm of plastic surgeon accounts co-opting the hashtag to promote their eyelid-carving services, but I don’t see that anymore.
While there’s now more appreciation for Asian features such as monolids, I’m sometimes concerned if this appreciation gets exaggerated. If someone is trying to look like an Asian character for cosplay, then I would understand because that’s dedication to art. But if someone’s actively wanting to look Asian (i.e. Asian fishing), I would worry for them. I also think the Fox Eye challenge where white people try to make their eyes look more slanted can be offensive and very racist.
I think the rise of Korean pop culture in music and drama shows have helped increase appreciation for Asian features. However, one thing I find problematic about current Korean beauty standards is that there’s a certain look that’s celebrated—slim face, double eyelids, narrow nose—and it’s hard to achieve that unless you have mixed ethnicity or have had plastic surgery. I’m not saying it’s not an East Asian look, but it does deviate from the features typically associated with East Asians: square face, wider nose, narrower eyelids. It’s not that no East Asian can naturally look like that, but I find it a strange coincidence that the features considered beautiful are features not considered classically East Asian.
On not subscribing to monoethnic Asian beauty standards
One weird shift that I started noticing in 2017 is people calling me racist when I say I’m proud of my monolids. People started saying: Are you aware that East Asians can have double eyelids too? Are you saying that only East Asians can have monolids? That’s not my message at all! I’ve simply always questioned why monolids are considered ugly and I want more people to appreciate and embrace them. I also think we need more classification because the label “almond-shaped” simply doesn’t capture the diversity in Asian eye types. There’s no one-size-fits-all beauty look for Asians. For instance, an inner tapered crease and a parallel crease will require very different handling techniques.
On whether make-up artists without monolids can work on those with monolid eyes
I think it should be encouraged! I believe that when lots of minds come together and collaborate, they might discover new make-up techniques. And I think it’s good for people from diverse backgrounds to embrace diverse beauty standards. Just because you don’t possess a certain feature doesn’t mean you should be excluded from working on it.
But conversely, one of my biggest pet peeves is that at beauty brand events in Asia, the models used are often white models without mono-liddedeyes. I want to tell those brands: Look at your audience, many of whom have monolids. Why are you teaching make-up techniques applied to non-Asian features that might not work for many Asians? For instance, I think the Kim Kardashian contouring technique is cool, but I feel like it makes a lot of Asians look older.
On make-up tips for people with monolids
I don’t think there’s such a thing as make-up mistakes. As long as you’re comfortable with it, you can rock any look. My biggest advice is to always have translucent powder on hand because monolids are kind of like a flat canvas—with no curves and creases, you have to blend harder. Since I love experimenting, I also always have cleanser and make-up remover ready. If you’re confident, even a mistake can be a beauty statement.
There’s this make-up artist called Roshar (@rosharofficial on Instagram) who’s amazing. He’s a white guy but he ran a make-up class that I attended where he was working on a model with monolids and taught me this really useful technique. He said, “There are people who think it’s impossible working with mono-lidded eyes because the lids are flat with no creases, but that’s rubbish. You can feel the contours and movement of the eyeballs, so let those guide your eyeshadow placement.” Since then, I’ve incorporated his tip into my own make-up tutorials.