News anchor and TV personality Julie Chen said last week that, earlier in her career, she underwent plastic surgery on her eyes to make them look "less Asian." Chen's story publicly reinforces a narrative of “fixing,” that Asian Americans—particularly females—have heard many times in relation to the physical traits that make them "different" than the U.S. norm.
Chen recounted last week on The Talk a conversation she had with a former employer about filling in for anchors who were away for vacation. Her boss was frank: She could never sit at the anchor desk because being Asian made her dissimilar from the Dayton, Ohio population the station served, dissimilar enough that she was no longer "relatable." Then came the whammy that did Chen in:
“Because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, 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.”
Chen's co-hosts gasped as she recalled this. There were murmurs through the audience.
The rest of Chen's story flows like some sort of ugly duckling makeover scene in a movie: Chen was shocked and dismayed to hear something like this from her boss, but couldn’t challenge him. She developed a huge insecurity about her eyes. She obsessed over how she looked on television, and when she met with an agent to get career advice, he told her the same thing: “I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes bigger.”
She entertained the thought and talked to her parents about it. But the subject caused a rift in her family. For Chen’s parents, getting her eyes done would be akin to “denying [her] heritage.” But ultimately, she got the plastic surgery. On The Talk, she showed the audience a side-by-side of her pre- and post-surgery headshots. The studio filled with praise, both from the audience and from Chen and her colleagues: “The eyes are bigger, I look more alert.” “Fabulous!” “More expressive.”