POC characters and foodstuff descriptions

So, it has recently come to my attention that some POCs really hate the use of foodstuff in the use of descriptions of POCs. I didn’t know this before and to be honest, it kind of surprised me.

Eunice has this incredible post about troubling tropes regarding Asians and Asian-Americans in YA. I’d suggest reading it in its entirety, but the main thing that caught my eyes was this part on food stuffs and almond eyes:

Another general role of thumb if that you’re describing POC characters, particularly in terms of skin color and eyes and they sound like a tasty Starbucks beverage or cafe pastry (caramel, mocha, coffee, etc.) yeah….no. Food-related metaphors tend to be terribly overused and overdone. Likewise, even more so when the foods used to describe skin color were also the same food items that were PART OF THE SLAVE TRADE, such as coffee, cocoa, and chocolate. Likewise, this is also in conjuction when POC characters’ skin tones are the only ones described but never white characters – thus contributing to the not so common trend of inadvertently establishing ‘white as the default’ narrative, particularly when it comes to racially ambiguous characters.

And there’s Clairelight’s debunking of the whole almond eye thing.

Aside: the whole concept of “olive” skin has baffled me for the longest time also.

I don’t disagree that it’s a lazy way of description. I don’t disagree that the whole slave trade food stuff thing is disturbing.

Where I ran into a bit of a block was Clairelight’s vehement statement that if you describe an East Asian character with almond eyes, you’re showing yourself to be the fraud you are. Then the statement that white people don’t get the same treatment.



Purely from a “just the facts, ma’am” standpoint…

White people get described with food items all the time. I will agree that the food items in question are not as loaded with negativity as ones like coffee, brown sugar, tea, molasses and so forth. But…

Creamy skin? Skin the color of milk? Honeyed skin for a tanned white woman… Sloe-eyed beauty? Sloe being another name for blackthorn and its bluish-purplish-black fruit.

Before people object, I’ll point out the first time I saw someone described with sloe eyes, it was used on a white character in a historical regency novel set in England.

Nipples are invariably described using some berry or the other. So’s the clit. Hair the color of honey and molasses? Chocolate eyes? Whiskey eyes? Brandy eyes? Bitter chocolate hair? Olive green eyes? Chestnut hair and eyes?

Now I have a mental image of pickled eyeballs in various boozes… olive eyeballs in a martini…

And that’s just what springs to mind without even trying. I’m not saying don’t stop doing it. I’m saying — saying white characters don’t get that treatment just isn’t true.

Then there’s the East Asian almond eye thing.


Okay, I grew up reading a *lot* of Chinese romance and classic novels. I’m just going to point out that “almond eyes” or 杏眼 is so commonly used that it’s the first suggestion that pops up when you type in “xing yan”. Granted, not much else pops up, but the fact is that it’s the first auto-correct. Also, almond eyes are a type of eye shape in the Chinese tradition of divination according to facial features. We also have phoenix eyes, wolf eyes, eyes big as brass bells, yes that’s an E not an A, willow-leaf eyes, etc.

Also, we love food, all right? Eating is as important as the emperor is how I think the saying goes. That’s pretty damn important for a country who believed that their emperor was literally the Son of Heaven, all right?

So we have descriptors along the lines of food: Skin like “congealed lard” (凝脂), teeth like “gourd seeds” (瓠犀), cherry mouth (樱桃小口), fingers like scallion whites (青葱), arms like lotus roots (edible and 藕臂) and peach blossom cheeks (桃花). Yes. We eat peach blossoms.

For the record? Most of these descriptions are in poems that are old. The Book of Songs is over two millennia years old, with the bulk of the poems in it written around 1046-771 BC.

And while I’m at it — if I hear someone get mad about how Westernization has influenced the Chinese love for white skin one more time, I might not be able to keep from laughing.

For one, congealed pork lard is a creamy white. For two, the majority of poetry written in China well before we were exposed to the barbarian influences praise pale and clear skin as the height of beauty. There is a saying that if you’re pale, then it makes up for 30% of ugliness. 一白遮三丑。

*shrug* I already got yelled at by my friend about how almond-eyes is a tired, tired phrase and so I won’t be using it anymore, but it’s certainly not offensive to me.

I’d argue nor should it be, if you have an entire country of people who use that term happily to describe themselves, but hey. The argument can be made that it’s got negative connotations, so I guess each to their own?



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