The Real Reason Asians Get Eyelid Surgery

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by Min Lee

Here’s a trivia question for you: Which country has the highest rate of plastic surgery?

Think it’s the US? Nope. Russia? Guess again. Give up? It’s South Korea.

Among women ages 19-49, the most popular procedure is eyelid surgery where excess skin is reduced on the upper lid to create a more prominent double lid, opening up the eyes and making them appear larger.

I’m not surprised because I can relate.

Growing up, my mother pointed out that my older sister and I were, ‘lucky’ because we were born with a natural eyelid crease. This meant somehow my younger sister (who wasn’t born with the natural crease) wasn’t as fortunate.

Ask any Asian or Asian-American woman, and they will know exactly what you’re talking about when you bring up eyelid surgery.

Even though my older sister and I had the natural crease, we often tried strange and ridiculously unscientific home-made methods to make the crease even more prominent so that our eyes would look larger, or as we liked to say ‘American.’ One of our favorite and cheap tricks was to cut out tiny crescent-shaped stickers from Scotch tape and carefully apply them to our lids, wearing them for the day and even sleeping with them on. Needless to say, it never accomplished much but eyelid irritation, and the larger indentation never lasted for more than a few minutes.

So why is the topic of Asian and Asian-American women who go to great lengths to look more European a sensitive one? Last year, Julie Chen, host of ‘The Talk’, revealed a secret that she had been hiding for years—the eyelid surgery she had in order to advance her career as a news anchor.

The 43-year-old Chinese-American television personality began, “My secret dates back to — my heart is racing — it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio…I asked my news director over the holidays, ‘If anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in?’ And he said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.”

Julie Chen before and after her "Westernizing" plastic surgeries.

Julie Chen before and after her “Westernizing” plastic surgeries.

And sure enough, she admitted that her career began to take off shortly thereafter. Her confession triggered a nerve within the Asian-American community. Did she try to take away her Asian-ness? What was the message she was sending? What does it mean to look Asian? Does it really matter?

My self-identity evolution was always about wanting the opposite of what I already had. Instead of straight black hair, I wished for curly or wavy at best. Instead of dark brown eyes, I wished for green. In my mind, all those features were far more beautiful than what I was born with.

Not until I think back do I realize there were very few examples of Asian standards of beauty when I was growing up. Its not to say the 1970s and 80s were void of multi-cultural efforts. Sure, I remember watching a scene from M*A*S*H and being pleasantly surprised to see Rosalind Chao, a Chinese-American actress, who happened to be on a hit television series, and the evening news with Connie Chung. But that was it. Even the issues of Seventeen magazine that I eagerly anticipated every month rarely, if ever, reflected back someone who I could identify with.

Even today, I get questions if my eyelids are natural or from surgery (they are natural, thank you), all from Asian women. I’m not one to judge. If getting surgery on your face or any other part of your body makes you feel better, go for it. I just think we need to figure out a way to have a more honest conversation of where this slippery slope may lead and maybe, just maybe, we can all begin to slowly embrace our uniqueness, one feature at a time.

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  1. Danielle, let’s connect. We love cross-pollinating and if you need someone to interview we can probably tap our networks. just email info@adiosbarbie.com ~Pia

  2. I really love this article. I am a playwright who has been interviewing men and women on the subject of body image for two years now. I have been wanting to interview someone who has had eyelid surgery for years. Thank you for your words