Julie Chen: (Asian) Beauty is in the (Westernized) Eyes of the Beholder

julie_chen_640Last week, news anchor and producer Julie Chen revealed that when she was 25 years old, she went under the knife to change her Asian eyes to benefit her career.  Since then she has received much criticism from the Asian American community for not having stuck by her culture.  “What was hurtful was that the hateful comments that I read where people were judging me were people within my own community,” Chen said.  “It was comments like, ‘Way to give in to the Western standards of beauty.’ ‘You’re denying your heritage.’ ‘You’re trying to look less Asian.'”

It was surprising to me how many people were surprised at Chen’s “beauty secret”– but within the Asian American community and in Asia, this type of eye surgery is as normal as buying a Louis Vuitton bag.  In fact it is an every day multi-million dollar industry.  Even men do it and a former President of Korea did it.  In fact is, the most common surgery among Asians is getting an eyelid crease to make their eyes bigger and more “westernized”, sometimes cutting the sides further out to elongate the eye.

The majority of my Korean girlfriends in high school did it.  They would go on vacation to Korea to visit relatives and came back with eyelids!  When I was a child, my father’s fiancée, who had her eyes done, asked me if I’d like to get it done.  Even at such a young age I knew to say ‘no way!’  My father chided her, too, since although my eye crease was not outrageously large, it was still there. One of my cousins, who was already beautiful and had big eyes, opted for the surgery and when I saw her after, she scared me; she looked like a bug.

The funniest comment I received was when my son Bruno was 4 years old.  He had been born with huge eyes, beautiful creased lids and long eyelashes that many an Asian dreams for.  Someone once asked, “When did you get his eyes done?”  Plastic surgery for eyes on a 4-year-old kid?  Really?  But yes, they are starting to go under the knife as young as 12 years old–and it’s a hushed secret they start even younger than that, with needed touch ups as their face changes.

Having daughters and seeing their Korean friends, I’ve noticed that eye surgery has gotten even more common.  Whenever you see gorgeous Asian girls with big eyes and long eyelashes, reality check!  It’s not real.  There are great makeup artists that can contour and shadow perfectly but many Asian women are just not satisfied with how they look and the need for a ‘permanent fix’ comes back.

Normally the surgery is usually so subtle that it’s sometimes barely noticeable; but other times, like when a friend’s daughter suddenly had pop-out cartoon eyes and lashes, well you know something isn’t right.  Particularly when they are telling everyone that her eyes are natural when you’ve known that kid since birth and dude, she had slits for eyes!  For the record, we are not friends anymore because she knows I know they aren’t real.  Obviously this is a very insecure family and yes, the mother (and most of her sisters) had her eyes done when she was young, too. Sadly, my ex-friend and her entire family are all naturally beautiful but they felt the need to “fit in” better via their Westernized eyes…

Regarding Julie Chen’s surgery, many Asian-American journalists and activists are writing about how they feel she turned her back on her culture.  I don’t think so.  As Chen said, we know she’s Chinese; there’s no doubt about her being Asian culturally.  What she did at 25 was what many young women do when beginning a television career:  she enhanced her looks with surgery. The truth is, people like to watch an esthetically beautiful person vs. non, particularly Asian people.  Asians—both male and female– glorify the trend of materialism, using whatever means it takes to make them feel beautiful, and they use their cash to get it.

In addition to eye surgery, many Asians go further under the knife to become even more Westernized.   Not all Asians are naturally beautiful; many don’t have white skin or large breasts (the stereotype is true:  Asian boobs are usually flat).  And yes, they can even stretch your legs out to make them longer!

A big indicator that something’s not 100% is when gorgeous women have “ugly” children and we in the Asian community know the reasons why.  There was even a lawsuit against this type of “ugliness” when a Chinese man sued his wife because their baby came out not-so-lovely.  The wife admitted she had received major plastic surgery so she could look better and to marry well.  The outcome?  He won.

If you watch any American movie with Asian-American actors, it’s like staring into an Asian plastic surgery ad for.  It’s obvious these actors and actresses changed their looks to be more competitive in the acting field but unlike Chen, journalists don’t seem to be jumping all over them.  In fact, I’ll bet some of the naysayers have either had eye surgery or wish they had had the luxury to do so.  I believe the reason they are picking on Julie Chen is because she was honest and came clean about it—revealing the “secret” that Asians get eye surgery.  Or maybe it’s simply jealousy because Chen is successful and they feel the need to kick her down a notch or two.

I realize I’m not the most attractive woman in the world but my face has never been touched.  The one comment I repeatedly received when I was in Asia was how lucky I was never to have cut my face.  It was God’s blessing—or as my son says, “I got what I got” and I’m fine with it.  My mother was fine with it, too.  My children are all so different and they love to make fun of each other, but they are all so beautiful in their own way.  Would I want them to ever go under the knife?  No.  But would I get mad at them if they wanted to?  Maybe a little since I “made” their faces. Julie Chen consulted with her mother; I would definitely want to be consulted, too, but would support them if that was what they felt they had to do.

So to all the anti-surgery naysayers cutting down Julie Chen, get over it!  Do you think Connie Chung never had eyelid surgery?  Please.  Asians have surgery for the same reasons White people have surgery.  For many, it’s because of the competitive spirit that makes you change your life or habits—and sometimes your face–so that you can achieve your goal.  What Asian journalists should be concentrating on instead is that we made it!  Asian-Americans are in the mainstream, anchoring news and producing shows on television and that is something to be proud of.

Jin Ah Jin

Virginia PolitiChick Jin Ah Jin has been the lead in campaigns for many politicians, including Ken Cuccinelli for both State Senate and Attorney General and she was appointed the Honorary Chairman for the Fairfax County Asian American Coalition for the McCain/ Palin campaign. Jin also assists in local minority grassroots politics in her state of Virginia. She believes if we can elect and support good officials whose root is the care of their constituents, then we can change things. In her past, Jin worked as a volunteer fundraiser for Mercy Corps raising awareness and money for the health and poverty of women and children in North Korea. She was also a volunteer fundraiser for the Korean American Association of Greater Washington, D.C. area and led the Education Committee to teach English for newly arrived legal immigrants to the area. In conjunction, she worked with the office of former Congressman Thomas Davis, who took the lead on reforms in the welfare bill for legal immigrants. Jin was a former Vice President of Resources, board member and Fundraising Gala chair for the Korean American Coalition of Washington, D.C. in 2001. She was on the Scholarship Committee and the co-chair of the golf tournament fundraiser for the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce 2003-2006. More importantly, Jin is the mother of 6 children. She says her passion for service is led through her children's eyes: "I want change for my children. I want them to have a future where their dreams can become reality and where they can succeed without prejudice."

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