Desperately Seeking Western Eyes – One Asian American Story

Eyes are the windows to your soul,
but must they define you?

Photo by M.Adcock
The other day I viewed a CNN web video called, “Asians Seek Surgery to Look ‘Western’.” The video reported a trend in Asia for people (mostly women) who went to extreme measures in modifying their facial features to look more like Westerners. One of the most popular surgeries noted included Asians changing their eyelids to a double-lined lid to achieve larger eyes. The piece resonated with me because at one time I wanted those eyes.

 

Double-lined lids are eyelids that fold back into themselves when opened – this is where women put on eye shadow. When the lids close, one can see the eye shadow. When the lids open, the eye shadow is neatly tucked back into the lid, leaving a fabulous brow bone to frame big eyes.

 

Most Asian eyes are smaller as their eyelids do not fold deeply back into their sockets. That’s why when I was a teenager, the eye shadow application tips I read in Seventeen magazine only ended up making me look like a clown. I never once found eye makeup application tips for Asians in those teen glossies or even today in women’s magazines.

 

The CNN video showed women, even children, going under the knife to permanently alter eyelids into double-lined lids. Though the video speaks to the recent influx taking place in Asia, these surgeries were nothing new to me. As a child, I had heard about these procedures. In the small Midwest Chinese community I grew up in, I’d hear whisperings among the moms that, “Mrs. So-and-So went to Hong Kong to get her lids done, that’s why she looks different.”

 

As a teen I wanted those coveted double-lined lids, but knew my parents would never allow it. My left eye, the prized eye, had a small double-lined lid. My right eye, the single-lined lid, was slightly smaller and therefore the one I hated. I came up with a plan to change my right eye. I would place thin pieces of Scotch tape on that eyelid to hold it back in hopes of “training” it to stay that way. Maybe if I taped it everyday then by the time prom came around I would look extra beautiful. It didn’t work, and I resented that right eye.

 

The CNN video discussed theories behind the Asian trend to look more Western. One idea was that Asians – whether consciously or subconsciously – wanted to look like who they perceived were the “dominant” group in society. In my case I wanted to look like my Midwest classmates and the models in teen magazines. Wasn’t high school all about fitting in? That doesn’t always change when you grow up.

 

After grad school I moved to New York City, a place cultivating diversity and acceptance. I forgot about my pesky right eye. A few years later I met my husband and got pregnant. One day during the third trimester, I looked in the mirror and noticed a strange thing. My right eye had a double-lined lid, just like my left eye. Pregnancy changes a woman’s body, but I had never heard of it changing a facial feature. The irony was that I finally got what I had wanted so long ago, but it didn’t matter – my right eye no longer defined me. My priorities were now with my husband and baby. They both think I’m beautiful, and they’re the ones whose opinions count.

14 Comments

  1. As a follow up, my parents are now supportive of my choices I made back then in college. At the time they were concerned about my future prospects, but I turned out fine. They tell me they’re proud of me and that makes me very happy!

  2. I had no idea that this is something that bothered you as a teenager. Very interesting to read your perspective and how it has evolved over the years. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Thanks for writing this. Asian women should just start to realize that we are beautiful the way we’ve been made. Our eyes are our very assets.

    Anyway, you’re right, our physical features should not be a priority – as long as we can see, hear, talk, breathe, eat.

  4. Thanks for sharing your personal experience! I think we all have physical characteristics we hated as teens and grew to accept. Thankfully our parents didn’t allow plastic surgery for these “problems.” I’ve read about the eyelid surgery trend in papers and it’s great to see your perspective.

  5. I love the journey you take in the piece from teen to woman, physically centered to spiritually centered. Well written, and an important point well delivered. Thanks.

  6. Even though I was born in Korea, I’ve spent the majority of my life in the US. When I went back to visit Korea after high school, I got a lot of pressure from family members to get my eyes fixed or get my nose redone. I thought about it. I was really close. In the end, I decided not to do it. Now, I’m glad my face wasn’t surgically altered. I did have some stitches after a bad dog attack when I was about 7 months pregnant, but other than that, I haven’t had anything done and I don’t plan to. =)

  7. I first learned of this a few years ago. I worked with a Korean-American woman who has family in Korea and she told me that every time she would visit, she would get strange looks from people and her family would try to pressure her into the eye surgery. She also mentioned some procedure to make her taller. It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon but the same type of physical alterations exist in all cultures. I mean, the second most popular surgery in the US after noses is boob jobs. I mean really? As a mom who breastfed, it’s even more ridiculous. I guess it’s all about living up to your own physical ideal. I have never had plastic surgery so I can’t say but I wonder if it really makes people any happier.

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