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What did Natasha Denona do? 'Asian eyeliner' tutorial controversy explained

Alexandra Ciufudean June 20, 2022
natasha denona asian eyeliner
Photo by Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images

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Croatian make-up guru Natasha Denona has fallen in disfavour with some online communities this week after an “inspirational Asian eyeliner” tutorial left many feeling discriminated against. Denona released a statement on the ensuing backlash, but some of her online followers aren’t feeling it.

So, what happened?

It all started with an “Asian eyeliner tutorial” Natasha Denona created in collaboration with Sephora in 2021. The now-deleted YouTube video was resurrected on Reddit last week, with commenters lobbing accusations of racism at the makeup artist.

On 19 June, Denona and her team released an official statement on the situation, acknowledging the upset within the online community and apologising.

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Photo by Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images

Who is the make-up artist behind the Denona brand?

If you’re hearing about Natasha Denona for the first time after the “Asian eyeliner tutorial” fiasco, you might not be a huge make-up fan. Let us fill you in.

Natasha Denona is the founder of an international make-up and beauty brand. According to the brand’s website, Denona was born in Croatia in 1970 and raised in Germany. Her mother worked as a chemist and technical illustrator and it was at her lab that Denona first got a passion for art.

As a kid, Natasha studied dance and ended up performing under renowned French director Jérôme Savary. During this time, she became fascinated with and discovered an aptitude for make-up, often doing her dance troupe’s looks before going on stage.

At the age of 18, Denona moved to Israel and started working as a model, where her passion for make-up deepened. After becoming a mother, she focussed exclusively on her work as a make-up artist and soon developed a portfolio that set the groundwork for the Natasha Denona brand today.

In 2002 and 2006, she was awarded Israel’s “make-up Oscar”, the Makeup Artist of the Year Award and in 2002 she opened the Natasha Denona Make-up Academy.

Though the brand often gets flack for its pricey products, make-up enthusiasts seem to agree their quality usually justifies the steep price. Denona admitted part of the reason is that she formulates each shade herself: “I also actually formulate every single shade. Each color has a different formula — they all sort of have the same base. But every color’s formula is unique.”

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We’ve got you, Scarlet Ritz.

What happened with Natasha Denona’s ‘Asian eyeliner’ tutorial?

It all started with a 2021 video by Natasha Denona in collaboration with Sephora titled “How to match your eyeliner to your face shape” and showed Denona’s take on inspirational looks for what she called a “monolid”. The video has since been deleted, it seems, but some screenshots can still be found online.

Controversy erupted over one look in particular after Reddit rediscovered the video last week. Fans seemed to especially take offence at a series of comments and responses from Denona, and from there the controversy snowballed until it reached critical mass on Twitter.

Screenshot from the video in question via YouTube
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The comments in question appear to show an exchange between an indignant viewer and a Natasha Denona rep who pulls no punches. The viewer pointed out that, while they considered Denona an “amazing make-up artist”, they were disappointed in this tutorial.

“This isn’t how Asian people do their makeup,” the comment went on. “The problem I have with these looks is that it does not enhance the beauty of Asian features (sic). It instead tries to mimic what works on European eyes and is not flattering.”

Apparently, a previous response from the brand was less than helpful, as the comment helpfully adds: “It would have been nice to see you respond with questions instead of being defensive.”

Pretty civil so far, right?

Then it snowballed

Once Twitter seized the transgression, the torches were lit. A number of other responses by Denona were dug up and screenshot by diligent users to back up accusations of racism. The Instagram beauty gossip account Estee Laundry helpfully chronicles the backlash with a selection of the juiciest comments.

Screenshot via Twitter
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The majority of complaints seemed to centre around the fact that instead of apologising or asking questions after the “Asian eyeliner” tutorial first got criticised, Denona seemed to double down, insisting she had meant it as inspiration. Her assertion that users “COULD do it if they want to go bolder” seemed to get people’s hackles up. Many comments called her responses “tone-deaf” in response, as she was “missing the point”.

Other comments added that the model used in Denona’s “Asian eyeliner” tutorial, whom she claimed had a monolid, did not actually. Getting the term wrong angered fans quite a bit.

Monolids, or epicanthic folds, are especially common in people of Asian descent and are a type of eye where the skin of your upper eye covers the skin of your inner eyelid, essentially creating a single fold throughout, as opposed to the “double-lidded” look where both lids are visible.

A helpful analysis by make-up YouTuber Clara’s Makeup Diary explains why Denona’s model doesn’t have a complete monolid, as the fold between lids is visible before make-up application. Additionally, the YouTuber, who is herself of Asian descent, admits she doesn’t like the look either but doesn’t think this incident warrants calling Denona “racist” like some commenters are doing.

Another issue many online denizens had with the look is they didn’t like it, considered it too bold, glam or unwieldy for everyday use, or entirely outdated.

Natasha Denona Beauty responds to ‘Asian eyeliner’ tutorial backlash

On 19 June, Natasha Denona released a statement and apology for the backlash her “Asian eyeliner” tutorial was getting, admitting it “saddened and frustrated [her] to know that the Asian community was offended because of [her] and [her] video” and she felt “truly sorry”.

“At the beginning,” she went on, “I tried to explain that this video came from an artistic point of view. However, over the past few days, I have learned more and more from all your feedback that it could be discriminatory towards the Asian community.”

Denona reiterated the brand’s values of inclusivity and diversity and added that she and her team are committed to upholding them, promising: “From here on, Natasha Denona Beauty and I will be certain to stay educated on topics of racial stereotyping.”

For some, however, this apology didn’t cut it, and the online debate goes on in some corners of the internet.

Denona is of Croatian, not Russian, origin.
The backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun.

However, Denona is not without her supporters throughout this ordeal.

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Alexandra is Head of Entertainment at The Focus, managing a growing team of outstanding graduate and experienced writers. She has worked previously as an editor, writer and content specialist across web, video and social platforms and has a bachelor's in English Linguistics and a master's in Comparative Literature.