Asian-Americans Criticize Eyelid Surgery Craze

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young woman who had eyelid surgery

LOS ANGELES (WOMENSENEWS)–Alyssa Lai grew up thinking she was pretty but noticeably different from most of the blonde, blue-eyed girls native to her San Jose, Calif., neighborhood.

This fact was not lost on her mother, father and grandmother, who had emigrated from China. Five years ago they offered to get her plastic surgery, specifically, blepharoplasty, for her 14th birthday. Commonly known as "Asian eyelid surgery," the procedure entails stitching a permanent crease into the eyelid.

Her parents told her that when her eyes were rounder and more Caucasian-like, her eyes would look even "prettier."

After quite a bit of soul searching, Lai opted to decline the surgery. The pain of the surgery, which can be intense for a few days to over a week, was only a small part of her decision to keep the eyes she was born with.

"To be beautiful you don’t have to look beautiful in a Caucasian sense," she said.

With eyelid surgery the fastest-growing type of plastic surgery in the Asian community in California and across the country, numerous other young women are facing the same decision. Approximately 75 percent of all Koreans and 50 percent of all other Asians are born without the double eyelid crease.

At the cost of about $2,000, a rapidly growing number of young girls–both in Asia and the United States–are opting to have the crease surgically added.

U.S. Women Grapple with Ethnic Issue

But unlike their peers in Asia–where blepharoplasty is the No. 1 cosmetic procedure–young Asian-American women who consider the surgery are more likely to grapple with the idea that the procedure will also alter their ethnic identities, according to Dr. Charles Lee, a plastic surgeon in Los Angles who specializes in blepharoplasty.

"There is more resistance to the procedure here than in Asia," he told Women’s eNews.

Lee said he has seen an increase in his practice for each of the past eight years. He noted that the surgery has long been popular for Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese women and this year the number of surgeries for Chinese-Americans have increased.

"In Asia, people don’t see it as ethnically altering the same way they do
here . . . But we believe we are just trying to make them look prettier. Just a prettier Asian eye, not a Western eye."

Lee acknowledges, however, that the surgery’s popularity has risen along with the advance of Western culture and fashion.

"The increase is due to more exposure to Western goods, culture and makeup in China. It has been that way a long time in Korea and surgery there has been popular since the 1950s."

Golden State Transformations

In California, groups of all ethnicities have vied to transform themselves into a Caucasian standard of beauty. Jewish women undergo rhinoplasty, or "nose jobs," and African Americans have undergone the same, along with lip reductions and skin lightening.

Despite an era that seems, at least superficially, to celebrate multiculturalism, these procedures suggest that many women still nonetheless experience physical characteristics that indicate ethnicity as negative features. For Asians, ethnically defined by their unique eyes, eyelid surgery is a particularly dramatic example.

The Alexandria, Va.-based American Academy of Facial, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reported that 125,000 blepharoplasty procedures were performed in 2000 in the United States.

The numbers are highest in California, where both the Asian and plastic surgeon populations are growing rapidly. A study by the American Academy of Facial, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery also indicates that facial cosmetic and reconstructive surgery increased exponentially among minorities from 1999 to 2001. It has more than quadrupled among Asian Americans, compared to a just 34 percent increase among Caucasians.

Carrie Ching, the Chinese-American editor of New York based Monolid Magazine, has led a mini-crusade against the surgery, evidenced by the magazine’s provocative name.

"It’s unfortunate that for many Asian-American women there’s peer pressure and pressure from parents to assimilate to white culture," Ching said. "We’re just living in an environment that pollutes the culture."

Martin Wong is editor of Giant Robot, a Los Angeles-based magazine for young Asian-Americans that focuses on art and culture. He believes that the impulse behind the surgery is coming from the older generation of Asian women, particularly the new immigrants who are pushing their children to assimilate.

Criticized as ‘Self Mutilation’

"Double eyelid surgery is unnatural and people who do it are buying into a beauty myth that is not Asian-based. It’s really just self-mutilation and a lot of it sadly is interjected by parents and their ideas," Wong said. "It’s heartbreaking that these young girls don’t have cultural pride; that they’re ashamed of who they are and how they look."

Many Asian-Americans say that the idea that double-lids are beautiful and single-lids are ugly is reinforced by the beauty standards projected by Hollywood, television and beauty magazines. Few Asian celebrities are still single lidded, they say, noting that even Jackie Chan, action adventure superstar, has had the surgery. They also note that Asian-American women represent less than 3 percent of all actors in Hollywood’s movie history.

"Everything you see in the media is big blue-eyed blondes and for Asians the ideal look seems to be to look more Eurasian, more westernized with big eyes," said Ellen Hwang, editor-in-chief of Jade Magazine, a New York-based magazine that caters to Asian-American women. "Here in the U.S., even more than in Asia, the models and movie stars you see and who girls want to emulate are Caucasian. Yes there is a Lucy Liu," she said, referring to the Asian-American actress and model, "but most models are Western. And young girls often want to look like those models."

Perhaps reflecting the intensity of emotions surrounding the surgery, no woman reached by Women’s eNews who had the surgery was willing to be interviewed.

Rethinking Privilege

San Diego native Shin-Yu Wang, 19, who is Chinese by descent, was born with double-lidded eyes. "When I found out that other people wanted them and I already had them I felt privileged," she said. "I have been affected by growing up in San Diego in a white world. When you look at magazines and TV and the media in the U.S. you see gorgeous women, but you don’t see gorgeous Asian women. You see white women because that is how beauty is portrayed in American culture."

Wang, who goes to the University of California, Irvine, which has a 50 percent Asian-American population, speaks for a large group of Asian women on her campus.

"Being white is also often portrayed as being ‘cooler’ than being Asian," Wang said and went on to explain a concept that only Asian-American women would have to consider: being a "Twinkie," or–like the mass-marketed sugary dessert product–a person who is regarded as yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Some Asian-American girls, said Wang, consider it a compliment. But she finds it offensive.

"Asian girls that are Twinkies are just trying to assimilate," said Wang. "They are just trying to fit in and belong, but I don’t think it’s cool. Young Asian girls now have a very tough time dealing with the ideals of beauty they see in the media and in magazines. I think it is important for Asian women to keep their culture and learn to appreciate themselves."

Sandy Kobrin is a Los Angeles based writer who specializes in writing about women’s issues and criminal justice.

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One thought on “Asian-Americans Criticize Eyelid Surgery Craze

  1. I am asian and was born with double eyelids. Sometime in high school year, I developed an extra crease which I really dislike and couldn’t use eyeliner on my upper eyelids cuz the extra creases is located at an angle on the inner part of my eyelid crease(the part near the nose bridge). A lady where I got a facial told me I can get the extra creases removed. That was the first time I heard of such a procedure. She went me to her older sister’s plastic surgeon and he said he don’t think he can remove it. I shopped around and got it done with another doctor. Back in late 1990 even in the early 90’s, there was no internet for the general public to use. Anyway I got uneven inner creases from this surgery, but the doctor was very conservative and cautious as he know that I am very afraid of scars outside of my eyelid creases and am really afraid of any scars. I was so happy that the scar was almost nonexistence. The scar was very light and thin and flat and my makeup artist couldn’t even see it after 9 months has past. In early 1992, I wanted the uneven inner eyelid creases fix. I went to several plastic surgeons, and several eye doctors that do eyelid surgeries. I also went to the one out in newport beach that had a one page ad in the Los Angeles Tims Newspaper every weekend. I ended up chosing him cuz he sounded very confident he can fix the problem cuz it is so small. Little did I know that by choosing this eye doctor, my live will changed for the worst. I though picking an eye doctor who claimed to have asian eyelid experiences would be the best choice. It is only after surgery I realized this idiot didn’t even listen or write down anything I told him at consultation. I ended up with scars all over the top part of my face. He gave me two different size and shape of eyes. He didn’t even fixed the problem which was why I seek a second eyelid surgery with him. He cut me up all over the place. I have deep scars, deep indentations, puncture marks, and they are also on the part that is between my eyebrows and eyelid creases. My eyelids is a mess. I have zig zag stich markings all over my eyelid creases, above my eyelid creases and to the sides of each of my eye and almost to my hairline. my eyelids look very wrinkle. He stitched up all over the place and my eyebrows was stiched up too. My eyelid creases are bumpy and lumpy with deep ugly incisions. I have scars to the side of my forehead. I have no f*king idea what this monster was trying to accomplish by doing all that mutialation to my face. Afterward, his excuse was my eyes are too small and that is why I was cut up all over the place??????? People look at me like a freak afterward and still do cuz I cannot find a surgeon willing to touch this mess Dr. Richard A. weiss of Newport beach, ca made on my face. During a followup appointment Dr. weiss in an attempt to fix a super deep incision he made outside of my right eyelid crease, he pulled down too much skin and now my right eyebrow is 1/4″ lower than my left eyebrow. This monster have not taken responsibility for mutilating my face and now he is luring asians to his practice. Eyelid surgeries should only be on the eyelids and I know he used me for some kind of experiment. Thank god there is the internet for you people to use and get some horror stories on super botched plastic surgeries. There is no statistics on botched surgeries and mine is super botched. I have so much deepp scars even inside my eyebrows. My eyes are super pucker looking and my eyebrow is pucker looking too. If I make a slight squint, then you will see puckering to the side of my eyes and to the side of my forehead. This doctor did not discuss with me about what he is going to do to my face. He gave me the consent form to sign only minutes before the surgery. Please don’t end up having a mutilated face like me. I assure you that there are botched surgeries and many people keep quiet about it. I wish more come out and let the public know about what happen. I am coming out with my story hoping some of you young asian girls and guys know about doctors like the one I encountered in 1992 out in Newport Beach, CA. I do not even wish this kind of mutilated on even my worst enemy. How I past each day living with a mutilated face is I believe in Karma. If you like to see photos of this you can email me at