Many of you know my adoption story.
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. I had many friends who loved me even though I was one of very few Asians within a 200 mile radius. However, there were others who, sadly, weren’t as positive.
I’ve been called “chink,” “gook,” and told, “Go back to where you came from!” Yes, the hate-filled slurs and words were painful as a kid, but now that I’m an adult, I see them as powerless and ignorant statements that don’t define who I am.
However, one ugly sentiment still burns: You need to get your eyes fixed.
It bothers me because it cuts deep. It goes beyond the surface, and attacks my roots that originate from centuries of dark hair and almond-shaped eyes. My heritage is something I cannot change. My heritage is something I don’t want to change.
Recently, memories of this hurtful attack on my ethnicity came from an unexpected source.
I was doing my morning search through the interwebs when I discovered this doozy on Slate.com:
What? WHAT? Whoa.
I first thought, “Eh, the title was probably sensationalized to garner more readership.” I was wrong. I read the article. I watched the video of Julie Chen confessing on her show, The Talk, that she had her eyes ‘fixed’ so she could advance her journalism career. I WAS FLOORED.
I felt her pain as she relayed the racist comments a producer had made to her early in her journalism career. I cried. I was angry at her agent for aggressively advising her to ‘fix’ her eyes if she wanted to succeed. However, there’s a point in her story where Julie begins to justify her decision to have the surgery. She reflects on becoming very self-concious about her Chinese eyes. She goes into great detail of what makes an Asian eyelid different. As Chen struggles with having made the decision, she shows her before/after photos to somehow prove her case:
There were audible gasps from the audience and panel. Chen exclaims: “The eyes are bigger!” “I look more alert!” Other ladies at the table chime in: “Fabulous!” “More expressive!” She refers to her former self as her “old eyes.” At this point, my tears have dried, I’m furious, and mumbling, “Really, people? REALLY? This is 2013, not 1953!,” under my breath.
Of course she looks better! No one looked fantastic in the ’90s. Now, she has a fresh hairstyle, makeup, eyebrows, and a whole lotta Photoshop. Not for a second did I think: “Ooo, girl. I’M SO GLAD YOU GOT THOSE NEW EYES.” Because that’s really what was being said on her show: Ethnicity is something to be celebrated!!! (aaand also corrected, if need be). It’s cool to be ethnic, just don’t look too ethnic. *sigh*
I’m not going to attack Julie Chen for choosing to have surgery to make her eyes look more Caucasian. It’s her body. It’s her decision. However, in my opinion, Chen got something “fixed” that didn’t need to be, but only reinforced and perpetuated the producer and agent’s racist idea of what the Americanized Asian woman should look like.
The most harmful part of the interview was Julie stating her career really took off after her surgery. What a sad statement to present to not only young Asian women, but women of any race who are dealing with insecurities.
Are we, as modern women, setting a double standard? Are we saying, “Be proud of who you are!! Sort of. Okay. Listen, if some guy wants you to get a nose job, do it, because really, who believes that being authentic is okay?”
You know what? I do. I have Korean eyes, and kind of a weird crook on the bridge of my nose. I’m okay with it. They don’t affect who I am, my talents, my strength, my accomplishments, nor my confidence. I’m proud of who I am, and make no apologies for it.
For those of you who are dealing with insecurities about your ethnicity: Please, please be proud and content with who you are. Ignore the ignorance, and embrace the features that make you striking and strong.
Whether your eyes are slanted or round, your skin is fair or dark, your hair is kinky or straight, embrace and honor it, because you are what defines the American woman, and you are beautiful.