Julie Chen’s recent admission that she had double eyelid plastic surgery to make her look less Asian, or, in the words of a former boss of hers in her days as a newscaster in Dayton, Ohio circa 1995ish, “less disinterested and bored,” came as no surprise. In an industry in which bi-racial Ann Curry is dumped from the co-anchor post at the Today Show for not being “relatable” enough, a little anti-Asian surgery may be the equivalent of broadcasting training for Asian women. Kind of a prerequisite for the job.
Apparently she succumbed to pressures from a big-time agent who refused to represent her unless she made herself look more American. I’ll admit, that “American” thing was my flourish, but I think we all know what the subtext is when someone asks an Asian woman to change the shape of her eyes or nose, or when an African American woman is told to straighten her hair or wear foundation a shade lighter than her natural skin color in order to make them more “relatable.” They really mean more like that all-American girl next door who happens to be white.
Check out the before and after.
Kind of makes me wish you could reverse the images and just change her back. Not that she’s not perfectly fine the way she is now. But, just what the hell was wrong with her before? I guess we can take some satisfaction in knowing that Chen’s former boss and her agent were telling the current wife of entertainment industry mogul and former CBS president Les Moonves to fix her face with surgery in order to get their approval. Let’s hope they’re laying low.
This story reminds me of my childhood in the 1970s when some of my female cousins would change the shape of their eyes with tape. That’s right. They cut clear scotch tape into little eye fold shaped slits and stuck them onto their eye lids, causing a fold to form that mimics a more “western” look. Then they would pile make-up on the tape so that you couldn’t see the plastic. It was before the popularity of current surgical options, so they just McGiver-ed their own solution.
Those cousins envied my sisters and I for having eyes that looked less “Asian” than theirs. Lately, age has caused my lids to sag a bit, causing my eyes to go in the reverse Chen direction (see the before picture above) and I have to admit, I see myself turning more Asian looking by the day. But, in my case, I like the change. I recommend a double brain lobe surgery for anyone who doesn’t.
Later in the 70s, some Asian girls I knew had eye-lid surgery in order to make them look “American.” They actually used that word. Those same girls often had pictures of Cheryl Tiegs cut from magazines and pasted on their mirrors, so I’m guessing that was the general direction of their aesthetic preferences. Given that preference, the eye lid surgery was the East Asian version of skin bleaching among some Indian girls nowadays who hope to attain a “beautiful” though sometimes toxic complexion.
In case you were wondering, the problem with those eye lid procedures is that the fold is really a scar. For a while afterward, a scar is exactly what those folds look like unless you cover them up with make-up. Once the scars fade, some of those surgeries fail, with the scar tissue growing too soft to maintain the fold, sometimes on only one eye.
These surgeries are just one of many ways that plastic surgeons profit from racist standards of beauty that start with European when determining what’s “pretty.” Sadly, many European ethnic women don’t fit those standards either, with all kinds of fall out including epidemics of bulimia and anorexia.
In the end, these surgical “fixes” served not just to make the girls I grew up with who had them look more western, they also served to make them look rich. The surgery was a status symbol. If you could afford it, part of the “pretty” you bought was about class and not just about race. This same phenomena is reflected in the plague of South Korean women having this same kind of surgery today. Of course, having the surgery would leave you poorer, not richer. Same thing is true of buying that Porsche you may have been eyeing.
But, eye lid surgery of Asian American women and the spread in popularity of the surgery in places like Japan and South Korea are far more than indications of status or attempts at western “beauty.” They are marks of the degree of our colonization.