by YingYing Shang
CBS “The Talk” host Julie Chen revealed on Thursday that as a young journalist, she was pressured by racist comments from a boss to undergo surgical procedures to enlarge her eyes.
“He said, ‘Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community?” she recalled. “How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that, because of your Asian eyes, I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, you look disinterested and bored.'”
Julie, I admire your tenacity and willingness to do whatever it takes to realize your dream. Thank you for your success, thank you for being an Asian-American role model for girls who look up to you, and thank you for being frank enough to discuss your surgical procedure.
However, I deplore the system and the institutionalized racism that pressured you into making that decision.
The truth is, the surgery that Chen underwent, which I assume is the standard creaseless-eyelid-to-doublelid surgery that is virtually ubiquitous in South Korea today, is not uncommon. For a combination of reasons ranging from imperialism to media to Western dominance to simply wanting to look different, beauty standards in Asian today revolve around looking Western—pale skin, large eyes with creases in the eyelids, height. In South Korea, eyelid surgery is a standard coming-of-age procedure for girls.
But Chen’s case is different. The reason that her story is making waves is because she was explicitly pressured by an employer to change her appearance to look “less Asian.” Not just better, thinner, prettier, as sexism forces many female broadcasters and models to look through plastic surgery. But less Asian.
And here we have it: the ultimate intersection of racism and sexism. What happened to Chen exemplifies the idea that not only must a woman be beautiful to be in front of the camera, she must be the western ideal of beauty.
As an Asian-American with creaseless eyes, it saddens me to see what Chen had to go through because of racial stereotypes. I can only hope that I will never have to face the same decision between heritage and career.
At the same time, I completely respect her decision. It’s her career, her body, and her choice to modify it as she saw fit.
I would urge the community at large, instead of accusing Chen of “giving in to the man,” to instead direct our indigence towards “the man” himself—the societal structure that allows race to still be an issue in America and a hindrance to our careers. If we recognize the arbitrariness of our beauty standards and the truth that no certain shape of eyes are inherently beautiful or more likely to look “bored and disinterested,” perhaps we can reach a place where aspiring Asian-American journalists won’t face the same choice.
In the meantime, to all of the girls with creaseless eyelids out there: don’t let this story deter you from your dreams. Challenge racism and sexism, but if you too have to make this decision, it’s your body. Your career. Your decision.
Let’s change the system, not judge the victim.
*Paging love to Julie Chen*