When Julie Chen of CBS’s “The Talk” confessed on Sept. 11, 2013, that she’d undergone double eyelid surgery at the age of 25 to advance her broadcast journalism career, the news was received with a variety of reactions. Individuals both in and outside of the Asian-American community applauded Chen’s decision to come forward about her experience, as the TV personality said that racism motivated her to turn to plastic surgery. Her supervisor told her that she’d never sit on the anchor desk with her “Asian eyes,” Chen said. Other members of the public weren’t as sympathetic to Chen. They essentially accused her of selling out, despite Chen’s insistence that she’s proud of her Chinese heritage. Altogether, reactions to Chen’s admission led to public discussions about racism, racial discrimination in the workplace and the impact of Eurocentric beauty standards on a range of minority groups.
Angry Asian Man: Chen Kind of Sold Out
When Chen announced that years ago she decided to have blepharoplasty, the surgical procedure that creates a fold in the eyelid resulting in a rounder, bigger eye, she asked whether she had given in to “The Man.” That’s because the surgery is said to give Asians a more Western look. While her colleagues on “The Talk” assured her that she had not, prominent Korean-American blogger Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man had a different take. He answered, “Yes, Julie. You kind of did. But I appreciate the opportunity for a frank conversation about the things we give up and how we deny our identities, to feel more accepted. It sucks that you did that, but it sucks even more that we live in a world that practically cheered it on.” Yu went on to suggest that double eyelid surgery is so common in some Asian countries that the story likely wouldn’t have garnered much media attention. “Of course, I imagine there are probably a lot of people in South Korea who will look at this and say, ‘So what?’” he said.
Asian-American Journalists Group Applauds Chen’s Honesty
While the Asian American Journalists Association did not applaud Chen’s decision to have blepharoplasty, the group did thank Chen for putting Asian-American issues in the spotlight. It said that far too often, the experiences that Asian Americans have with racial discrimination are overlooked in the mainstream media. A statement from Paul Cheung, AAJA national president, and Niala Boodhoo, AAJA vice president, said the following about Chen’s disclosure: “AAJA applauds Ms. Chen for sharing this personal moment with her audience. Her story chronicles some of the daily struggles Asian Americans face in the workplace across all industries, not just in broadcast journalism. Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the country. But Asian Americans issues are still rarely covered. Similarly, few newsrooms reflect this diversity among their staff. AAJA was founded more than three decades ago because of this problem. Ms. Chen's story is an all-too real reminder of how crucial our mission remains today.”
Professor Patricia Park: Conversation Should Not Stop Here
Patricia Park, a writing professor at Queens College of the City University of New York, said in a column for the Guardian that the conversation surrounding Julie Chen’s eyelid surgery needs to be more complex. She worried that Chen’s decision to advance her career with plastic surgery sends a troublesome message to girls and women. “We take our cues from popular figures in media, especially those being celebrated for their actions and achievements. And yes: there is something laudable about Chen ‘coming clean,’ Park admits. “But the conversation should not stop there. …We should look to deeper solutions beyond a trip to the plastic surgeon’s clinic. Chen’s next steps – as well as our own – should be to address this implicit message sent to young women: that their the physical shortcomings – perceived or otherwise – need only be ‘fixed’ in order to achieve success.”