The Year in Cat Eyes

The Pointed Cat Eye

The writer and comedian Ziwe’s late-night talk show, “Ziwe,” premièred its second season, on Showtime, this year. Ziwe rose to fame with the success of “Baited with Ziwe,” a low-budget YouTube series that débuted in 2017, in which she questioned non-Black guests on their knowledge of race and politics. On the show and its subsequent Instagram Live iteration, the host asked guests how many Black friends they had, and quizzed them on Malcolm X’s life; the answers were often cringeworthy, partly owing to their candor and partly because her guests seemed eager to prove that they understood their privilege and were open to criticism. Ziwe’s new show takes the same format and recasts it with higher production values and better-known figures (Emily Ratajkowski, Charlamagne tha God). The result is a little less charged, and a little zanier. As a host, Ziwe is fond of wearing an exaggerated cat eye in purple, green, or pink eyeliner, which, along with the powder-blue tweed jackets, pink furs, and crystal-studded chokers she favors, calls to mind a millennial Joan Rivers.

Audrey Hepburn’s iconic cat eye is making a comeback.Photograph by Herbert Dorfman / Getty

The Everyday Cat Eye

At some point this summer, on my way to meet a friend for a drink, I saw a young woman in shorts and a T-shirt sitting on a park bench, her head buried in a book. What caught my eye was her makeup—she had a bold, dramatic cat eye that flared out past the edge of her brows in thick, declarative lines. Next thing I knew, my Peloton instructor was wearing a cat eye as I grunted through her Pilates class, and a fellow-mom at my child’s day care was sporting one at the afternoon pickup. Walking through the Lower East Side one evening, I counted not one but four pairs of cat eyes on the street. These cat eyes seemed to be less about referencing the high-gloss beauty standards of the nineteen-sixties (think: Brigitte Bardot or Audrey Hepburn) and more about drawing a “Keep Out” sign across your face. They were often worn against bare skin, with no lipstick. All this emphasis on the eyes, I suspect, was in part a response to wearing masks throughout the pandemic, but it was also a reminder of the way that makeup norms have shifted. Foundation has become increasingly unpopular. Makeup is less about perfection than about expressing one’s individuality or a sense of playfulness. (Just consider these literal cat-shaped cat eyes, on the rock band the Linda Lindas.) On TikTok and Instagram, I observed countless tutorials and memes featuring the cat eye or one of its many variations, from the siren eye to the reverse cat eye. My favorite was one in which the voice from the Mortal Kombat games bellows, “KITANA WINS. FLAWLESS VICTORY,” followed by a bladelike slicing sound.

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