On Sept. 17 The Daily Californian ran an advertisement from Dr. Chase Lay, a San Jose-based plastic surgeon who specializes in Asian facial plastics throughout the Bay Area. The ad showed two unidentified Asian women in before-and-after photos of blepharoplasty, a procedure more commonly known as “Asian double eyelid surgery.” We want to share our opinions on why this ad is problematic and what steps members of the community can take to educate themselves on the damaging effects of Western beauty standards.
The controversy over receiving blepharoplasty boils down to one question: Are those who consider blepharoplasty or receive it motivated by a dislike of their Asian features? The specification of “Asian” in Lay’s practice confirms that Asian blepharoplasty, unlike breast augmentation, targets an ethnic group. Some Asians view it as an attempt to Westernize while others see it as just another way to enhance their beauty.
The most glaring message in the Facial Plastic Surgery ad lists “Double Eyelid Surgery” and “Asian Eyelid Surgery” toward the bottom. The distinction between double and Asian eyelid surgery unnecessarily racializes the procedure: The specification of “Asian” not only targets a certain group but also limits the practice to one demographic. On Lay’s website, there are before-and-after photos of patients who have undergone eyelid surgery. Under the category, “Eyelid Surgery,” many of the patients who chose the procedure are white and appear to be more than 40 years old, electing to undergo the procedure to look younger or less tired. This demographic differs highly from those under the category “Eyelid Surgery for the Asian Eye,” who are largely younger. One of the patients wanted to make her eyes look “brighter,” affirming how eyelid surgery for Asians is more often due to concerns over beauty than age or medical reasons.
The obsession over double eyelids in Asian culture, especially in South Korea, did not happen randomly. It stems from the standard of beauty in which Western eyes are more desirable because they are larger. Lay’s ad promotes more than just the practice of eyelid surgery targeting Asian Americans; it sends the message that in order to be accepted, Asian Americans must have the “Western” look, most noticeably in their eyes and nose. If individuals do not comply, they are excluded from this model of beauty. For a community that has struggled to represent itself in media, education and politics, it is a shame that the ability to succeed is dependent on conforming to a Western standard.
The TV career of Julie Chen is one example of what is at stake when Asian Americans are pressured to undergo eyelid surgery. Chen recently confessed she underwent blepharoplasty to advance her career. This announcement has sparked several reactions. The first is an attack on Chen herself as a cultural “sellout.” Angry Asian Man blog reports Julie Chen’s move to undergo eyelid surgery is essentially denying one’s own identity to be accepted by the dominant race. The second is in support and offers empathy, from both her fans and the Asian American community. The Asian American Journalists Association “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.” And lastly, others question whether Chen’s only option to advance her career was eyelid surgery. Clearly, Chen felt she had no other option at that time.
Most notably, these responses lack criticism of the agencies of power that made it very clear Asian eyes would prevent Chen from achieving her career aspirations.
By focusing on the individual, we fail to recognize that this occurs in the daily lives of Asian Americans, whether you are one of the nation’s most recognized talk show hosts or a UC Berkeley student.
At the UC Berkeley student level, ASUC Senator Sevly Snguon has asked for an official apology from the Daily Cal and more extensive screening processes for advertisements. Along with these requests, the Daily Cal must better represent the diversity of the students on our campus. The Daily Cal should reflect on what it means to “serve the UC Berkeley campus and its surrounding community,” which requires being more aware of the demographics it serves.
We believe this is an opportunity for the Daily Cal to reach out to the many resources that are here on campus, especially when screening advertisements for cultural sensitivity. One of those resources is the Multicultural Student Offices at the Cesar Chavez Student Center, equipped with staff and interns ready to respond. We urge the Daily Cal staff to approach its work with cultural sensitivity and be transparent about its selection of advertisements that may be offensive to minorities.
Christina Cho, Sam Lai and Whitney Wong intern at the Asian Pacific American Student Development Office at UC Berkeley.