Since “revealing” her double eyelid surgery on The Talk last week, news anchor/TV lady Julie Chen has received quite a lot of feedback. A lot of it was negative comments from people within her own community who thought she was, indeed, “giving into the man” by getting plastic surgery to look less stereotypically Asian, so yesterday she took to TV to defend herself.
Her first point was that even with the surgery, she is still identifiably Asian:
“I wasn’t surprised that there would be haters judging me for what I did. What was hurtful was that the hateful comments that I read where people were judging me were people within my own community. It was comments like, ‘Way to give in to the Western standards of beauty.’ ‘You’re denying your heritage. You’re trying to look less Asian.’ Guess what? I don’t look less Chinese! I’m not fooling anybody here. That’s number one.”
Her second was that some Asians are born with the double eyelid, so it’s not specifically a white people thing:
“Number two: half of us Asians are born with the double-eyelid. My mother was born with it. My father has one lid that was creased, one lid that didn’t get its crease until he hit his late teens. I have one sister born with the creases, one sister born without it, so it wasn’t denying my heritage.”
Her third point was a poorly explained analogy:
“It’s kind of like if someone gets a nose job and gets the bump taken out, and some people say that’s an ethnic bump. Are you denying whatever your heritage is? No.”
Sharon Osbourne chimed in to further muddle (and/or directly counter?) her analogy:
“I got rid of my Jew-bump on my nose and I still tell people I’m half a Jew. I just didn’t want it!”
Just to recap: once upon a time, her (white) boss at ABC News told her she was never going to get a news anchor job because she was Chinese. She then met with an agent who told her he couldn’t represent her unless she got surgery to make her eyes look bigger. So she got the surgery and her career took off, but now she wonders sometimes if she was “giving into the man.” (Spoiler alert: yes, but it’s not her fault, because the man is fucking powerful.)
In what world did she not get surgery to look more acceptable to white audiences? It’s not like she’s a Korean pageant contestant following beauty norms that have been around since way before Korea made contact with Europe. She’s a Chinese-American who had to conform to a more “American” (i.e. white) ideal of beauty to succeed here.
I’m not going to judge Chen for doing what she had to do to succeed as a minority (and a woman) in an ultra-racist and sexist society. I will never condemn an individual for “going with the flow” regarding a systemic obstacle. I do it in all sorts of ways, myself. But this backpedaling seems like a disingenuous attempt to get out of discussing the harsh realities to which she was, and is still being, subjected.
This makes a certain kind of sense. She is, after all, still working for the man, and the man is still racist, and maybe doesn’t enjoy being reminded of such by people he gave jobs to. And I wasn’t expecting a softball lady talk show like The Talk to seriously go there. Still, there’s a logical disconnect here that can’t be ignored.
Still: The Talk