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Changing Your Ethnic Looks Can be Done, But Should It?

Changing Your Ethnic Looks Can be Done, But Should It?

Having your ethnic looks altered surgically is certainly possible, but should it be done? Like it or not, television personality Julie Chen became the poster girl for this somewhat controversial issue when she acknowledged she agreed to undergo facial surgery to look “less Chinese” at the urging of a former talent agent. But changing ethnic looks through plastic surgery is nothing new for celebrities and most of us.

Some Call it the Julie Chen Issue – Less Chinese and More American

She was young and anxious to make it big in television. Julie Chen hired an agent who told her in no uncertain terms that for him to find her a job and have her succeed in TV, she was going to have to have plastic surgery to, “look less Chinese and more American.” So that’s what she did.

Julie Chen - Changing her ethnic looks.

“Since I first revealed my surgery on The Talk, the reaction from the Asian community—specifically from Asian women—has been tremendous,” Chen told Glamour Magazine. “Many told me they finally felt free from feeling shamed. Others told me they wanted to get it done, but it felt like it was a dirty little secret people in the Asian community didn’t discuss, especially with non-Asians, and even with their own family.”

Chen adds, “I didn’t feel unattractive before I got it done. I wasn’t a beauty queen, but I wasn’t a horror show either. I got the surgery not to look better, but to look more interested and engaged when I’m interviewing someone on TV. The benefit was that I did look better, at least by societal standards.”

“But what I really learned from it is that confidence and a winning personality are always attractive, and now I’m happier and more comfortable with how I look—for a number of reasons. One, I’m more mature, so I’m more comfortable in my own skin.”

Plastic Surgeons Weigh In… Cautiously

“She even had an agent that said as long as she looks as Chinese as she did, then she was never going to really make it,” says board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Dustin Reid. “And I think that’s unfortunate. I’m not a proponent of changing your ethnic look, and at the same time I also don’t judge her for doing what she needed to do to get ahead in the world.”

Dr. Ashley Gordon, another board certified plastic surgeon who practices in Austin, says changing ethnic characteristics through plastic surgery is a delicate issue.

“I think it’s always risky when someone like that is trying to create a Western eye… it sounds like it was pushed by her agent – and wasn’t something she wanted to do and then she didn’t get any work for an extended period of time because there was this backlash,” says Gordon. “So it was like a double whammy for her.”

Gordon says the possibility of changing ethnic looks with patients in her practice is not unusual. And when that happens, she urges serious consideration.

“We always counsel patients when they’re trying to change their ethnic things about themselves,” says Dr. Gordon. “We see a lot of rhinoplasties with the nose. I think it’s nice to maintain some of those features. Just maybe soften them a little bit.”

Times, They Are a Changin’

Houston-based plastic surgeon Dr. Camille Cash thinks the image of what “American” looks like is changing, and, as a result, is relieving some pressure some people might feel about ethnic-changing plastic surgery.

“Being pressured by friends or family or by your job into having procedures to look more Americanized or Western is unfortunate and hopefully as we embrace more of a diverse community, then ethnic components and characteristics can be embraced,” says Dr. Cash.

Diversity in America.

Even With Surgery, The Desired Results Aren’t Guaranteed

Those who are getting pressured to undergo ethnically altering surgery, beware. What happens if you don’t get the job, or the results you want?

“Well, the problem there is if you make that change for a patient who wishes to pursue a career path and then she doesn’t get it, is that because she didn’t get it in her own right?,” asks Dr. Mark Pinsky, a board certified plastic surgeon in Florida. “Or is that because she feels the surgery didn’t get her there? I think that’s a big trap. Not only does it place a lot of pressure on the surgeon, but on the patient. I think that’s a buyer beware… I’m not sure I’d go down that path for that specific reason.”

Seoul, South Korea, The Capitol of Ethnic-Changing Plastic Surgery?

At last count:

  • Two out of seven South Koreans aged 19 to 49 acknowledge they’ve had plastic surgery
  • An estimated 65 percent of those men and women chose blepharoplasties that make their eyes look more Western
  • More South Koreans say they’d would undergo the same type of surgery if they could afford it.

At the end of the day, the best and most experienced surgeons are looking to help improve your look, not change yours into someone else’s. Even with procedures like Julie Chen’s, precisely planned surgeries help bring out natural beauty rather than attempt to make patients look like something they are not. Trust in a board certified plastic surgeon to tell you what is achievable and what is not so that you can receive the best outcomes for who you are.

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