Erasing race under the knife

By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

Virgina Gaw, 51, was born with double eyelids and through her childhood, she had bright wide eyes. She got plastic surgery because aging has made her top lids a bit “droopy,” giving her the appearance of narrow eyes and being tired all the time.

She went to a non-Asian surgeon for the eyelift. The surgeon told her not to have false hope that the lift would help with wrinkles. Gaw also had the concern that the doctor would give her the appearance of a white person, so she specifically told the doctor not to go in that direction. She says she is proud of her Chinese heritage and did not want to be anything else.

Catherine Yu, 28, would get breast implants if she could afford it. She’d fill her clothes out better — maybe she wouldn’t have to wear a bra. Guys could like her more, but that’s not why she wants to do it. She wants it for herself.

She also wants to get her eyelids done so that they have a more prominent crease. Makeup would look better. Her eyes would look better — bigger. She doesn’t think it has anything to do with being Asian.

According to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons, the increase in cosmetic medical procedures for the overall population was 7 percent since 2006. In contrast, surgery among Asian Americans climbed up a staggering 26 percent. Where liposuction ranks as one of the highly coveted procedures among Blacks and Latinos, Asian American patients are requesting nose reshaping, breast augmentation and eyelid surgery.

The controversial eyelid surgery known as blepharoplasty has its share of supporters and dissenters among Asian American women. Blepharoplasty is a surgery that reshapes the skin around the eye. For Asians, it means getting a “double eyelid.” Some argue that wanting a double eyelid isn’t about wanting to look more Western, but simply just wanting to be the best versions of themselves. Others argue that going under the knife to give one’s eyelids a crease is trying to erase one’s racial characteristics.

“I don’t think I’d ever want the eyelid surgery,” said Filipina Maridel Zapanta, 25. “I don’t understand how one line can make someone feel better about themselves. It’s like everything you feel insecure about is focused on that one line, and by spending money on it, you may have fixed the (source of) insecurity but you haven’t really addressed the real issue.”

Not only is surgery among Asian Americans increasing rapidly, it’s also going younger. Jenny Yee, 17, sees the body-image pressures that many of her peers go through. “A girl in my year named Rebecca was 14 when she got eyelid surgery,” said Yee. “She has her hair chemically straightened every year and might have gotten a nose job too. Her mom pressured her into the eyelid surgery to a degree. Her uncle was a plastic surgeon, I believe.”

In April of this year, Lynn Yuan, 59, underwent a procedure to remove the bags under her eyes in Taiwan — where blepharoplasty is reported to be the most common aesthetic procedure. She went to Taiwan because the surgery was cheaper, and she had done the eyelid procedure there 15 years prior. She was comfortable with the idea of surgery because many of her friends have already had it.

Her reason for wanting it herself was simple. She wanted to “get better.” She didn’t like her eye bags and wanted to look perkier and energetic.
The procedure was done incorrectly. Her tear ducts weren’t reconnected properly, something that Yuan noticed soon after. Now back in the U.S., Yuan has had an American doctor fix the problem. She is still healing and will go back for a follow-up in November.

Yuan’s daughter, Jody Yuan, 26, said, “My mother was angry with me for suggesting that Asian women get surgery to compete with white women. She said that women get plastic surgery to make themselves prettier. … She also claimed that Asian people say that double eyelids are considered beautiful in our culture and got really upset with me when I implied that these women, deep within, get surgery to comply with (Western) standards.”

Like Yuan, Sandi Ledesma, 19, has the belief that Asian women are flocking towards plastic surgery because of the increasing influence of the Western culture within the East. “Most Filipinas get nose lifts,” Ledesma said, “because they’re insecure about their flat noses.”

Today, American pop culture infiltrates so much of Asia, setting a specific Euro-centric standard of beauty. This may account for some of the increase in plastic surgery among Asians. When asked why she thinks the nose lifts are popular among Filipinas, Ledesma said, “It stems from the Spanish era. Basically because these people were Filipinos, they were looked down upon. So their complex grew. They wanted to look more Spanish. And then came the Americans.”

Stemming back to colonialism, Ledesma pointed out that the conquered couldn’t help but want to assimilate to the victor’s culture. “Filipinas also want whiter skin,” she said. “I think that the mentality is, if you look Western, you’re automatically accepted.” ♦

Monica Nguyen and Jody Yuan contributed information to this report. Statistics were taken from surveys conducted by the American Society for Plastic Surgeons,

Stacy Nguyen can be reached at

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2 Responses to “Erasing race under the knife”

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