Yesterday, television personality Julie Chen raised some eyes (God, I love puns) when she revealed her dark secret on The Talk: in order to get the news jobs she wanted, she got double eyelid surgery.
It’s a dilemma that a lot of Asian Americans face when it comes to hooking television jobs. How can one relate to their community when they look nothing like their white counterparts? It was something her boss at the time had brought up to her.
“On top of that because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes,” Julie recalls her boss saying, “I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, when you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested and bored because your eyes are so heavy, they are so small.”
Of course, this was way back when television clarity wasn’t all that great and double eyelid tape wasn’t invented yet. Despite this, it’s the “grown-up racism” that Chen spoke of. My Asian friends, we’re no strangers to the racisms we faced during childhood – especially when we’re in a community with a majority of other minorities. We’ve sat in the bus, staring at other people, stretching their eyes out as they humiliate us. We’re not strangers to the “ching chong, ling long, ting tongs” calls from across the street. I remember the shock I felt when people were bashing on me for not being good at math. Here I thought I was breaking the stereotype.
But in the journalism world where news impact takes a backseat to relativity, how shocked was America to hear that the most sought-after agent told Chen to go to a renowned plastic surgeon for double eyelid surgery? “You’re good at what you do,” the agent told her. “But if you get this plastic surgery done, you’re going to sky rocket to the top.”
And his tarot cards read true. The ball was rolling for Chen’s career.
What is striking is what followed after her surgery. Chen talked about how she felt like she was “giving in to the man,” or easily assimilating to ‘white America.’ But while she altered a part of what makes her generally an Asian, that doesn’t mean she’s dropped her Chinese culture all together.
I find that in pursuit of one’s dreams, sometimes it’s within one’s capacity to have to break a few deep-seeded morals. Television is littered with actors sleeping with top execs, and tabloids are filled with all the new plastic surgery rumors. From a distance, it’s easy to bash these people for selling out, but when it all comes down to a decision, put yourself in their shoes. If you had to change something about yourself – even as little as changing the color of your hair – would you do it? Would you do it to save your career?
Some people call it selling out, but I call it cashing in.
It seems horribly wrong, but who are we to judge? We can’t micro-observe the few who undergo some type of surgery in order to fit in with the mold. But what we can do is observe the industry itself and find out why agents think it’s important that Asians – or just about any other minority – look a certain way.
We’ve all seen the backlash against Americans getting roles for typically Asian characters. We’ve also noticed that when Asians are cast, they need to play into stereotypes. They’re smart, have an accent, know some sort of karate, and in Steven Yeun’s Walking Dead case, in which his character’s ethnicity is guessed and thrown all over the place by his white American friends.
Let’s not pin-point the few and let’s step back and take a look at the whole picture. America is diverse… does ethnic image really matter, especially in the journalism world?
Nonetheless, we should applaud Julie Chen for coming out with her secret. It just pieces together another part of the business industry and show how it this industry treats minorities.
What do you think of Julie Chen’s double eyelid story?