Julie Chen, well-known CBS anchor and host on “The Talk,” admitted to having undergone a double blepharoplasty in order to further her career on TV. The surgery, having the nickname “Asian Blepharoplasty,” is a cosmetic procedure to make the eyes bigger. Chen described on “The Talk” of how her former boss at a local TV news station in Dayton, Ohio told her that she would never be an anchor because “she didn’t relate to the audience.” In Sharon Lee’s Beauty Between Empires, she discusses the same surgery as a reluctant acceptance to both racial and patriarchal oppression. Lee also describes that, in our society today, beauty is the pathway to empowerment. By undergoing this surgery, is Chen submitting herself to racial and patriarchal oppression, or is she simply making a sacrifice for her career? Although beauty can be seen as empowerment in our society, it is very subjective to what kind of beauty that is. In Chen’s case, we see that her beauty furthered her career, and therefore empowered her, but it was not her own beauty that propelled her forward. Instead, it is the stereotypical “white beauty” that gave her traction in this society.
Chen noted that her boss in Dayton said, because of her Chinese heritage, she looked disinterested and bored while interviewing someone on air. After being told again and again, once by a top agent in the business, that her eyes were holding her back from what could be, she had to consult with her family. Chen said that this decision to get the surgery divided her family—some thought that she was denying her heritage. If this was true, if she was indeed denying her heritage by making her eyes look more “white,” then Lee’s argument of succumbing to racial oppression is true. Chen said she even asked herself, “am I giving in to the man?” The sad reality of this situation is that Chen did what she had to do in order to succeed in this society. I do not believe that she gave in to racial oppression, rather, I believe that she took agency in her life and made a difficult decision to further her passion. Now, she may have “whiter” eyes but she still represents a Chinese woman. She said on “The Talk” that she is proud in her heritage and where she came from, and she does not live with regrets.
The bigger theme in Chen’s story is how white beauty dominates our society’s core belief of what beauty is. Lee describes the Korean tendency to get plastic surgery in order to enhance their “visual economy.” This kind of economy, Lee states, is a result of our new visual culture in the internet that blurs the line between producer and consumer. Sharing, retweeting, and reblogging make the consumer the producer and vice versa. This culture further entrances our society to these stereotypes of beauty because pictures are shared among peers to create a culture of acceptance to that beauty standard. Chen’s career in the public eye made it a necessity for her to fit into the mold of standard white beauty in order to “relate” to her audience.
Chen received a lot of backlash from the Asian American community after she revealed her secret. They were angry that she gave in to the western ideals of beauty. One Korean-American, Son Kim, voiced her opinion on Chen, saying that she thinks Chen should have only gotten her eyes done if it was something that she wanted to do for personal reasons. Kim thinks that Chen gave in to the outside pressure from her boss and agent. It is unfortunate that Chen had to get this surgery done in order to further her career, but where do you draw the line between professional and personal interest? Chen could have switched careers and kept her eyes the way they were, but news was her passion. When it comes down to it, Chen decided to get the surgery because it did align with her personal interests: her personal interests were getting to the anchor desk. It is just so unfortunate that she couldn’t achieve her personal interests looking just the way she did