Julie Chen, who’s hosted several prominent television series , recently admitted to having undergone eyelid surgery many years ago in order to look “less Chinese.”
Chen was working as a local reporter in Dayton, Ohio, almost 20 years ago and wanted a chance to be an anchor. What her news director told her at age 25 is pretty startling.
“He said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese,’” Chen revealed to her co-hosts. ”He said, ‘Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? … Because of your Asian eyes, sometimes I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera and you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested, you look bored because your eyes are so heavy, they are so small.’”
Chen said his speech felt like a dagger to her heart.
“It felt like a weird, grown-up version of racism in the workplace,” she added. “I started developing a complex.”
To make matters worse, she met with agents for career advice, only to hear from a “big-time” agent, “‘I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger,’” Chen recalled. “And I did it.”
Stories like this are why I frankly don’t blame folks for getting cosmetic surgery. Given that so many people are savaged for their looks or pressured (directly or implicitly) to change their appearance, making such a decision is sadly understandable (albeit not in every case). There’s plenty of empirical and scientific evidence showing that attractive people have a natural edge in the way they’re treated, regarded, or judged in unrelated areas such as talent (e.g. the halo effect).
Granted, the pressure to look good — and the subsequent benefit of doing so — is nothing new. It’s just that there is now newer and better options for doing so. It’s interesting to note that people who get surgery receive a lot of flak for that decision as well, which drives home the point that unless you win the genetic lottery and happen to already look a certain way, you’re disadvantaged in certain areas or social circles regardless.
Chen’s decision is also indicative of the fact that beauty in our society, as well as in others influenced by our culture, is increasingly defined by looking as close to caucasian as possible. This is evident in the fact that few non-white women reach prominence in fashion, film, or other public venues, and those that do make it tend to look closer to “white” — hence why methods like skin bleaching and eyelid surgery have become more popular around the world.
To be clear, provided they do it safely and within reason, I don’t think anyone should receive additional scrutiny nor be looked down upon for changing their appearance in this way. It’s yet another innovation in our historical, socially-conditioned obsession with beauty, just as make up, hair dye, and other methods once were. Granted, it’s the most long-lasting and radical means (so far), but the motivation and concept remains the same.
People are entitled to do what they will with their appearance, just as they’re allowed to let themselves go and defy standard conventions of beauty. Now, there are certainly cases where people are risking their health, finances, and (ironically) their appearance in order to look a certain way. It’s been argued that such instances denote psychological and personal problems that must be addressed. In that instance, I’d be worried and seek to get involved.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s necessarily good thing that people feel the need to go to these lengths, just that it’s unfortunately driven by social and (arguably) natural conditioning that’s difficult to resist. If we want to minimize the practice, we need to stop privileging attractiveness and telling people they can’t follow their dreams unless they look a certain way.
As always, however, I could be wrong, at which point I invite you to share your own thoughts.