Three pictures of models, project Xiu Yun Yu
Leestijd: 5 minuten

Asian Praisings is a column where we give special attention to people of Asian origin. Through short interviews we hope to improve the representation of Asian Dutch people. Today, our interviewee is Xiu Yun Yu.

Xiu Yun Yu is a make-up artist and hair stylist. She has worked for companies such Calvin Klein, NYX Cosmetics, and Elite Model Management. Recently she started a project called Monolids.

Xiu Yun Yu

Make-up Artist & Hair Stylist

Why have you started this project?

I used to despise monolids. I hated my eyes. Just like many East Asians, I was bullied because I looked different and had ‘ugly’ eyes. I was getting called ‘shitty Chinese’ and ‘ch*nk’, and of course other children made slanted eyes at me.

Even within our own cultural sphere monolids are not acceptable. Western features are put on a pedestal but not East-Asian features. The East-Asian beauty standard is big eyes, double eyelids, porcelain smooth pale skin, no freckles, a high nose, the V-shaped chin, super skinny body. Anyone who does not possess all of them is an outcast. It is not just about beauty. Your appearance has a great influence on your job and love prospects. But someone’s worth, career, and talent should not be based solely on looks.

After the millionth video in which an Asian woman changed her monolids to double eyelids with tape, I had enough. I shared my opinion on my Instagram stories. My message was: “Whether you have double eyelids or monolids, you’re okay! Both are beautiful. Be proud of yourself and love your eyes for what they are!”

I received so much positive feedback! Even people that were still insecure about their own eyes, were thanking me for speaking out and starting a discussion on the subject. It moved me. It was good to read about the experiences of other people. Nonetheless, it was also painful and disappointing to realise that nothing had changed decades later. People are still being bullied for their eyes. Because of this I came up with the idea to organise a beauty shoot to celebrate and emphasise the uniqueness and beauty of monolids. 

What is the goal of the project?

I want to inspire people to embrace their monolids. Be proud of yourself and of your heritage despite the racism, your environment, mainstream beauty standards, and what society may tell you. This project is about accepting and loving yourself.

Luckily western beauty standards have changed over the years, focusing more on diversity instead of blonde hair and blue eyes. I would like to see the same in Asia, where still just one set of beauty standards exists, which negatively impacts someone’s self-esteem. Half of all East Asians are born with monolids, yet the media and society do not consider it attractive nor beautiful. However, beauty is not singularly defined. East Asians come in a vast variety of body types, skin colours, and faces.

Although diversity has become more important in the West, stigma still surrounds Asians. Ever since the COVID pandemic, racist incidents towards Asians have increased, resulting in verbal threats and physical violence. I want to create awareness for people who normalise racism, that it is not okay and that it crosses the line. The models who participate in this project will also share their own personal experiences with racism.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I want to show the natural uniqueness of monolids in beauty shoots by doing two looks: a natural make-up look and an artsy painterly look. Just as each work of art is one of a kind, each person with monolids is unique in their own way. This is my message: “You’re unique! Embrace it, be proud and rejoice!”

Who inspires you?

The people who inspire me are my nieces and nephews, the next generation of Asians, people speaking up and speaking out, but also those staying silent, and the models who participate in my project.

All of my models are beautiful and a person in their own right. Some are still working on accepting themselves and consider this photoshoot as a step forward in the right direction, inspiring others to do the same. Others are proud of the fact that they have fully come to terms with themselves and wants to inspire others and create awareness about racism against Asians. They have their own stories and backgrounds yet they are still so relatable. I am truly thankful that they were willing to be vulnerable and hand themselves over to me and to the photographers whom I work with. They inspire me and others to be (even) proud(er) of our monolids and to expand this project to reach more people and to create more awareness.

Who’s your favourite photo model?

My favourite model thus far is my niece Keyra. She is truly my muse!

Who would you still like to photograph?

Women and men with monolids of the age 50 years and older. I am curious whether they also felt insecure about their monolids. How have they dealt with Asian and Western beauty standards? And how have they experienced racism? We can learn from them. Their story may also inspire the younger generations.

What are your future goals?

I hope to deliver satisfaction, strength, and positivity to other people. Hopefully this project will make them proud of their unique eyes. I want to reach as many people as possible and create awareness about racism against Asians and the beauty standards in the West and East Asia. Eventually I would like to hold an exhibition and share my project and the stories behind the faces of my models with the public.

In the future I would like to start other projects that are more personal and that have more meaning, tackling subjects such as culture, racism, discrimination, equality, diversity, and inclusivity. I feel more fulfilled by contributing to a better society.

Follow Xiu Yun Yu

Instagram: @xiuyun.yu


Read this interview with illustrator Hale, also known as Kippitan.

Photography by Angela Huizer and Jani Yu