© Illustration by INJECTION - Matthew Rawlinson
How people online are appropriating East-Asian culture and why it is harmful.
Western society has, for a long time, had a tendency to appropriate other cultures for its own gain. From the Kardashians appropriating Black hairstyles to musicians reducing Japanese culture to a mere aesthetic, cultural appropriation is nothing new. East-Asian culture in particular has been thrust into the spotlight recently, what with the ever-rising popularity of K-Pop artists and the ageless popularity of anime. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with listening to Asian music and enjoying Asian media, but the increased popularity of such things has led to a rise in ‘Asian-fishing’.
So, what exactly is ‘Asian-fishing’? As the term suggests, it’s very similar to ‘catfishing’, where somebody pretends to be someone else online. Asian-fishing, however, is different as it is specifically where somebody who is not Asian attempts to ‘pass’ as East-Asian. They do this through photo-editing, make-up, or simply just by posing and subtly pulling the corners of their eyes upwards.
It also often includes the sexualisation and fetishization of East-Asian individuals. When people ‘Asian-fish’, they often take stereotypical and harmful perceptions of how Asian people act and behave in these ways themselves. Asian-fishers will act out the kawaii and submissive stereotypes that have harmed actual Asian women and encourage the ongoing fetishization of these stereotypical traits.
Historically, Asian women have faced misogyny and racism, a lot of the time in the form of violence and over-sexualisation. Asian-fishers take on the stereotypical traits that actual East-Asian individuals are fetishized for, but they face none of the oppression. A lot of the time they even benefit from acting ‘kawaii’ or from sexualising stereotypical Asian traits, as they gain followers on social media through acting this way and even make money through Patreon and OnlyFans.
‘Cat-eye’ style make-up has always been on-trend and though there is nothing inherently wrong with wearing winged eyeliner, recently the cat-eye trend has evolved into the ‘fox-eye’ trend. This involves using make-up or tape to create a slanted-eye effect, or pulling the corners of your eyes up when posing for photos. Asian individuals have expressed their discomfort with these trends as using their traits as a beauty trend is objectifying and racist.
White people who adopt these traits, who play into the sexualisation of Asian features and stereotypes (especially those surrounding Asian women) don’t have to face the very real effects this has on actual Asian women. Asian women are sexualised and harassed, and they can’t just wipe off their make-up and remove the photoshop as Asian-fishers do.
One of the most famous examples of a non-Asian profiting from Asian-fishing is Oli London, a 31-year-old influencer who is known for controversially identifying as ‘transracial’ - they have stated that they transitioning from white to Asian, and has undergone plastic surgeries with the goal of looking more like Jimin from BTS. When most people talk about Oli London, they are criticising their actions, but this doesn’t change the fact that London still has 459k Instagram followers and millions of views on their music videos. Despite being a controversial figure, all the attention they gain (both positive and negative) is beneficial to them as they earn money through ad revenue on their YouTube videos.
Eyeliner and Instagram filters may seem harmless, but it’s time to take a closer look at some of the trends that are currently circulating on social media. When a non-Asian individual is constantly wearing eye make-up in a way that is allegedly ‘inspired by anime’ and Japanese culture, or when someone begins to sexualise Japanese school uniforms, there needs to be an understanding that it isn’t okay and is Asian-fishing. Asian women already face staggering rates of violence as a result of the sexualised and submissive stereotypes; the appropriation of Asian culture and features only trivialises this violence and feeds into the fetishization.