Ethnic plastic surgery: a whole other ballgame

Ethnic plastic surgery: a whole other ballgame
Ethnic plastic surgery: a whole other ballgame

Eighteen years ago, Julie Chen was 25 and working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio. She asked her boss if she could fill in for vacationing “anchors” over the holidays.

His answer: “You will never be on this anchor desk because you’re Chinese. Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? Because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, interviewing someone, you look disinterested and bored because your eyes are so heavy, they are so small.”

Chen was devastated by this blunt racism; nonetheless, when she watched her news segments, all she could focus on were her eyes. When she looked for a new job a prominent agent told her, “I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger.”

Chen’s disclosure on CBS’ “The Talk,” that she had eyelid surgery to advance her career was met with accusations that she was trying to look less Asian. Some even insisted that she had rhinoplasty and chin and cheek implants, so Chen aired a picture of herself stripped of makeup, and all the ladies of “Talk Today” did one broadcast without a stitch of makeup.

This brouhaha increased CBS viewership but does not reflect the current state of “double eyelid” surgery, which has evolved into a beauty norm, not an attempt at Westernization. According to the Tokyo Times, double eyelid surgery, a rite of passage for high school girls in South Korea, is now the most common cosmetic procedure performed in Japan.

Movies and TV, buttressed by the media, set beauty and behavior standards and American movies are the gold standard. The wide-eyed double-eyelid has become so ingrained in our collective “beauty barometer” that it is now a beauty ideal, not a rejection of Eastern heritage. But this is not to say that the wide-eyed look is, in fact, more beautiful. Single eyelids are alluring, mysterious and sexy and you can bet your bottom dollar that they will come back in style.

Now, instead of undergoing plastic surgery to escape ethnic origins, we’re using it to embrace ethnicity. Case in point: Welcome to the year of the butt! Buttocks have been to Brazil as breasts have been to L.A., but now you can admire fleshy buttocks swinging down Rodeo Drive.

African-American women (and men too) have historically been well-endowed in this area and the rest of us are paddling or padding like crazy to keep up, choosing to undergo buttock augmentation with silicone implants or autologous (your own) fat or investing in any number of padded undergarments. Full, bee-stung lips are also an ethnic marker that is being pursued by many thin-lipped Caucasian women.

As for Julie Chen, the Ohio TV station that asked Chen to enlarge her "Asian eyes" has just issued a long overdue apology. We’ve come a long way since the days when African-Americans tried to pass for white and Asians tried to Westernize to become employable. Ethnic identity and respect for different ethnicities is at an all-time high and we now use plastic surgery to enhance ethnic identity rather than change it.

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