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Designing Times: Using Plastic Surgery to Erase the Ethnic Look

Designing Times: Using Plastic Surgery to Erase the Ethnic Look

There’s a culture war brewing over cosmetic surgery. The number of people seeking to “westernize” or “Americanize” their look through plastic surgery has jumped dramatically in the last few years. This practice may be popular, but it has critics who believe it is all about trying to erase identity and deny heritage.  

By: Dawn Tongish

Designing Times: Using Plastic Surgery To Erase The Ethnic Look

It was once considered taboo. Many people in minority groups embraced their ethnic look and refused to give a second thought to plastic surgery, but those times are slipping away. The number of procedures to soften or alter ethnic or racial qualities has shot up in recent years.

In 2011, there were nearly 12 million cosmetic surgery procedures performed on ethnic or racial patients, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. About 20% of all procedures that year were related to procedures to westernize or erase ethnic looks.

TV Network Host Reveals Her Secret 

Erase Ethnic Look.Still001CBS Talk Show Host, Julie Chen opened a power keg of controversy when she revealed recently that nearly 20 years ago as a cub reporter in Ohio, she buckled to pressure from a news director and altered her eyelids.

“It felt like racism, Chen said when she revealed the secret to a national audience.”

Chen says it wasn’t just her boss who insisted the surgery would help her career, but also a popular TV agent who refused to represent her unless she had the operation.

“He said I can’t represent you unless you get the plastic surgery and make your eyes bigger.”

Chen admits that her look changed dramatically with the asian eyelid surgery. She says doors opened and her career skyrocketed with her new, more westernized appearance.

Why the need to “Westernize” an Asian Look? 

“It all boils down to acceptance,” according to plastic surgeon Rick Zienowicz. The board certified physician from Rhode Island performs the Asian eyelid surgery and says patients often have a dramatic response to what is a fairly simple procedure.

“All it does is seek to attach the skin to the mid-lid and the plate underneath, so they look more western or European. It can be life-changing.”

It isn’t just consumers in the Asian community seeking change, experts say Latinos are also asking for a different look. In the last decade or so, the number of Hispanic consumers has increased 49 percent, according to reports. Most of the requests in the  Latino community is for rhinoplasty to appear more Caucasian. This practice is not without critics, who believe it is an attempt to erase heritage.

To Judge or not to Judge?

“I would say let’s not judge,” says board certified plastic surgeon Bruce Van Natta, who has a different opinion on the surgery. The plastic surgeon from Indianapolis, Indiana thinks a consumer should be able to make a personal choice about cosmetic surgery, even if it means softening an ethnic look. “As in most cosmetic surgery or something that we want to change, it is our personal right to change that. Let people make their own decisions.”

Chen admits that she suffered backlash. She says while her immediate family supported her surgery, others in her extended family refused to accept her decision.

“Members of my family wanted to disown me. It was that hard.”

Chen says she would do it again and has no regrets about altering her look.

Experts say anyone considering making a change to an ethnic feature should give it appropriate thought.

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