A recent TikTok trend is highlighting a major problem with beauty standards.
Another day, another social media trend designed to make everyone feel bad about themselves.
A new TikTok filter is making some users question their “attractiveness” based on their “canthal tilt,” aka the positioning of the inner and outer corners of their eyes. The effect on TikTok draws a red line across the corners of the eyes to determine each user’s specific canthal tilt.
Those with a negative tilt, or downward angled eyes, are getting comments about the “undesirable” feature. One user commented, “it’s over for you bro,” on TikToker’s Kenny Haller Gold’s video after he revealed he has a negative tilt.
“Positive denotes a slanting upwards of the eye, and negative denotes a slanting downwards,” Dr. Anthony Youn, a board-certified plastic surgeon at YOUN Plastic Surgery, told HuffPost. “Traditionally the upward tilt is considered an attractive feature.”
According to Dr. Ari Hoschander, a board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of KH Plastic Surgery, a positive canthal tilt ”has the potential to enhance a person’s feminine, attractive, and youthful appearance. Conversely, a negative canthal tilt may contribute to an older, more fatigued, and distressed look.”
As with most social media filters that focus on looks, the canthal tilt fad is laced with problematic ideals that underscore troublesome beauty standards.After TikToker Noah Glenn Carter tried the filter, some user comments suggested that he should start “looksmaxxing” — a damaging trend where young people, specifically young men, attempt to improve their physical appearance drastically through plastic surgery and intense skin care routines.
Unlike what TikTok users proclaim, having a negative canthal tilt does not automatically make someone unattractive. Generally, eye shapes, positions and angles have been indicators of attractiveness. However, there are constant changes in what people consider desirable, according to Dr. Samuel J. Lin, a board-certified plastic surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.
“It should be noted that canthal tilt is only one of many aspects of facial aesthetics, and trends surrounding the canthal tilt may change over time,” Lin said.
The canthal tilt trend seems to co-opt Eastern beauty, much like the “fox eye” trend in 2020, which saw people use makeup or get plastic surgery with a goal of pulling up the brow line. Given the ridicule people with Asian eyes have faced, the trend was called out for its racial implications and cultural appropriation — especially as dominant cultures utilized the beauty trend.
Like the fox eye trend, canthal tilt changes or surgery might look to integrate, or copy, Eastern Asian beauty standards — another example of when people use marginalized groups as a beauty trend, but only when it’s convenient.
With the mix of trends to fit certain aesthetics, people are trying to reach an impossible goal, especially while dipping into Asian cultural norms, Elise Hu, a Los-Angeles based journalist, podcast host and author of “Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital,” said. “They are a mix of traits that rarely, if ever, occur naturally. You’d have to do so much intervention in the way of procedures to even get close. And that’s exhausting, expensive and marginalizing.”
The trend may be infiltrating plastic surgeons’ offices.
Social media may emphasize the importance of the positive canthal tilt, as it may help the eyes appear larger or more open, Lin said. As a result, some people might go as far as to getting surgery to create an upward tilt — although plastic surgeons don’t often recommend it.
“There are some non-permanent procedures and injections that can improve the area around the eyes,” Hoschander said. “However, I would caution heavily against any permanent alterations in the shape, size or position of someone’s eyes. These procedures are often met with extreme patient dissatisfaction as they find that they no longer look like themselves.”
The trends that define facial attractiveness on social media platforms, like TikTok, are ever-changing. People who chased the fox eye fad went so far as to get “fox eye” surgery, or canthoplasty. Then there was thesiren eyes trend from 2023, which labeled “doe eyes” ― rounded eyes or hooded eyes ― as undesirable. Instead, siren eyes were meant to use makeup to make the eyes look elongated, without plastic surgery, by applying eyeliner to the inner and outer corners of the eyes.
We might see a similar effect with canthal tilts. Unlike the fox eye cosmetic procedures that pull the brows back, procedures like cosmetic lateral canthoplasty raise the outer corner of the eyes, lengthening the canthal angle, which results in a wider eye shape and smoother features.Additionally, a epicanthoplasty is a similar procedure that lengthens the horizontal eyelid opening to create bigger-looking eyes.
“As of the summer of 2023, interest and questions surrounding canthal tilts have increased,” Lin said. “While it may only represent a trend, plastic surgery offices may receive more requests for procedures to change their canthal tilt angle, specifically changing the tilt from negative to positive, or lateral. Demand for both the cosmetic lateral canthoplasty and the epicanthoplasty may increase as canthal tilt interest grows.”
Face modification trends are led by a lot of what we see out of Korea — whether it’s “glass skin,” V-line jaws, or now, ideal angles for your eyes, Hu said.
“What we’ve seen as East Asian pop culture — notably K-pop and K-drama — have exploded in global popularity is that the old notion that beauty standards are led by ‘Western’ ideals has actually shifted into more global norms,” Hu said.
Focusing on things like the canthal tilt can lead to negative self-image, particularly for young men.
Canthal tilt attractiveness gained popularity through a TikTok community that focuses on maximizing one’s physical appearance, aka looksmaxxing.
Unlike self-care ― which focuses on taking the time to do things that improve your physical and mental health — looksmaxxing takes improvement to the next level, focusing on how to change genetic characteristics, like the shape of the eyes and jaw.
“It is embedded on creating an image that is believed to be a signifier of power or strength — and would be viewed as body dysmorphic because it has the same focus and may result in a person spending time, money, obsessive ideation, and perhaps even physical harm to achieve a particular appearance,” Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, author and professor emerita of psychology at California State University, told HuffPost.
Body dysmorphia is when someone is overly focused on what they perceive as flaws in their appearance to the point where it can interfere with their life. According to the Cleveland Clinic, body dysmorphia affects about 2.4% of adults in the U.S.
“Obviously the harms to mental health are myriad, especially if these are young people since they are investing most of their self-esteem, identity and self-appraisal into physical appearance,” Durvasula said. “When things do not go the way the eye or jawline sculpting individual hopes, they may experience all kinds of psychological fallout including depression, sadness, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness.”
Being constantly exposed to unrealistic body and beauty image ideals can continue to worsen body image satisfaction, increase social media addiction and lead to the development of body dysmorphic disorder. Although body dysmorphic disorder tends to be more prevalent among women than men, men looking for cosmetic procedures is on the rise, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
A 2023 piece on the growing appeal of plastic surgery among men found that men look for eyelid lifts, face lifts, rhinoplasty, otoplasty and neck lifts. There was also a greater interest in skin care and less invasive procedures, such as microneedling, fillers and laser procedures.
“At a young age, personality is still developing and evolving, and if it is entirely informed by external and superficial influences such as whether you look enough like an alpha male,” Durvasula said. “It creates a risk for a lifetime of challenges with regulation, self-appraisal, self-awareness, identity and that can harm the capacity for deep sustaining relationships and good mental health.”
“It is an unreachable, exhausting goal, and it leads us to judge ourselves harshly and judge each other harshly too,” Hu said. “The recipe for fulfillment is the opposite — to be kinder to ourselves, to one another, to separate our sense of self from just external appearance, and to celebrate the rich diversity and variety in the human experience.”
If a particular beauty trend is causing preoccupation, distraction and distress, talking to a mental health professional can help to resolve issues regarding self-worth and appearance.
“Therapy is so important. Just that informed reality check becomes important,” Durvasula said. “Talking and listening to peers who are navigating this territory can also help a teen feel less alone too. Let’s keep it real. Is anyone showing their real face on social media anymore? Having some of those frank and real conversations and awareness can help too.”