‘Westernising’ Surgery on the Rise

Candice Chung, Sydney Morning Herald, September 4, 2011

Danielle Ho learnt at a young age that there is a fine line between beauty and agony. The personal-image consultant recalls doing everything she could as a teenager to “correct” the shape of her “flat” nose. “When I was 14, I used to go to bed almost every night with a peg on the bridge of my nose,” says Ho, now 31. “My cousins did it and swore it worked, so I did that for a whole year.”

When Ho was 15, her mum encouraged her to travel to her native Vietnam for a nose job–an all-expenses-paid trip that she ultimately declined. “In south-east Asia, there is an obsession with having a high-bridged nose, large creases on the eyelids and high cheekbones. I grew up with the idea that you’d look better if you had those features  . . . [But] there was no way I was going to go under the knife just for the sake of a different nose.”

While Ho is happy with her decision, a recent Insight program on SBS revealed that an increasing number of ethnic Australians are opting to go down the cosmetic-surgery path. The show’s guests, Heidi Liow and Glenda Bui, spoke openly about getting double-eyelid surgery for bigger, “prettier” eyes, but the main discussion kept returning to the same topic: why do young, independent women feel the need to alter their racial features in the name of beauty?

Meredith Jones, media lecturer and author of Skintight: An Anatomy of Cosmetic Surgery, believes the answer lies far beyond the assumption that non-Caucasians want to “Westernise” their appearance. “I think our attitude to so-called ‘ethnic’ cosmetic surgery is [inherently] racist. For example, a very common procedure for white women to have is lip augmentation. But nobody would accuse them of wanting to look African or of ‘de-racialising’ themselves,” says Jones.

In fact, according to Sydney cosmetic surgeon Dr Peter Kim, Asian-Australian patients tend to model their idea of a “perfect” face on Asian stars rather than Hollywood celebrities. “People usually bring me pictures of Korean actors and singers,” says Kim. “I’ve never had anyone bring in a photo of a Caucasian star and say they want to look like them.”

Performing more than 100 double-eyelid surgeries a year (the procedure involves making incisions in the upper eyelids to create the desired “double fold”), Kim maintains that many clients see the procedure not as an act of vanity but a form of “self-improvement”. “For example, in Japan and Korea, cosmetic surgery is the norm. If you’re not born with double eyelids, most people will end up getting it done  . . . It’s almost as common as mole removal in Australia.”

But if thousands of women are going under the knife each year to achieve seemingly “Asian” ideals, why do some of the most desirable features in the Eastern world (big eyes, tall nose, pale skin) still carry echoes of Caucasian traits? Is it mere coincidence or is something more insidious at play?

This preference for certain facial characteristics was scrutinised in a 2006 study conducted by University of California, San Diego, psychology professor Piotr Winkielman. His research showed that we are far more likely to find familiar-looking objects or people more attractive because it requires less work for our brains to process standard “prototypes”. In other words, our perception of beauty can be influenced by what we see again and again. “What you like is a function of what your mind has been trained on,” Winkielman wrote. “Beauty basically depends on what you’ve been exposed to and what is therefore easy on your mind.”

Winkielman’s finding could explain, for example, our reinvigorated fondness for double denim, or the popularity of hyper-publicised reality stars such as Kim Kardashian. More importantly, it might even shed light on why today’s globalised aesthetics are still largely based on Western standards of beauty. Given the frequency with which Caucasian faces appear in international media and advertising campaigns, it’s no wonder typically Western features are easy on the eye–whether you’re in New York or New Delhi.

Grace Park, 21, has felt first-hand the pressure to conform to the global template of beauty. The fourth-year medical-science student recalls the trauma of getting a silicone nose implant and double-eyelid surgery at the age of 18. “My mum has always said, ever since I was four years old, that I was going to get double-eyelid surgery one day. She would keep bringing it up periodically, and we’d end up getting into a huge fight every time because it wasn’t something I wanted to do,” says Park.

At 18, Park was flown to South Korea and taken to a prestigious plastic surgeon for a consultation. “At the appointment, I just pretty much sat there, bawled my eyes out and hyperventilated the whole time  . . . I’d never cried so hard in my life. My mum literally dragged me into the [operating] theatre.”

Having grown up in Australia, Park had a hard time conforming to strict Korean ideals. “I don’t look in the mirror and [worry about] my new nose and my new eyes any more; I just lament the fact that [I had to go] through the whole experience.”

While she believes greater ethnic diversity in popular culture is long overdue, she also thinks it will take time for aesthetics to shift culturally. “If more Asian women were used in fashion and advertising, it would change people’s ideals.”

Perhaps it’s time we took a break from beauty images that are way too easy on our brains.

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  • Mike H.

    So instead of moving back to Korea where asian women ARE used in fashion and advertising, she thinks the country she moved to should be forced to accommodate her? If you don’t like seeing white people everywhere, then get out of their country.

  • TV- blacker than ever!

    Sadly, this westernizing trend is on TV. Blacks are portrayed as safe, middle class Whiteys. The Cosby Show is supposed to have improved Whitey attitudes about blacks. Whites who would watch that trash show or admire Bill Cosby were lost already and never had a proper attitude about blacks to begin with.

  • Who In Their White Mind?

    Meredith Jones made a claim about White women getting their lips enhanced. And that “no one would accuse them of trying to look African or deracializing themselves. Obviously this woman is living with blinders on. I accuse people all the time of de-racialization. When I see a beautiful White woman with a black guy. She is de-racializing herself. I don’t care what kind of cosmetic surgery she’s gotten. I was in my teens twenty years ago and I lived in a racially mixed part of Cleveland, Ohio. I was an all out liberal. I had black and Hispanic acquaintances, and a Korean buddy of mine and we all did a lot of partying together.

    I’ve dated women outside my White race, but I am grateful that I had the good sense to marry a White woman and have a baby with her. I think alot of depends on your environment. If I was stuck in a black neighborhood I would probably look for an attractive female, no matter the race, especially in the testosterone ages in the teen years. Fortunately my family sacrificed their $ for me to go to a private school. I was more attracted to White girls but in the military there were many girls of Spanish and black ancestry, and of course, White. I didn’t discriminate back then, I’ll admit. If I thought a girl was attractive, nice to be around and wanted to have sex, I was all in it.

    Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser and less liberal (ie… Naive), I would not look for a woman besides my wife, for one thing. Secondly I would find myself a White woman if I were still on the dating scene. That’s just me. I come from a predominantly Irish family on my Mom’s side, and predominantly Slovak/Eastern European on my Dad’s side. So I married a girl who is Polish and Irish, almost completely comoatible with my heritage.

  • Deniz

    This is ridiculous. Every race has its own characteristics and beauty. Trying to change your race and features by surgery or whatsoever makes you just less original and simply more stupid.

    By the way, Western culture is a cancer (I don’t mean classic European culture but for instance useless tv shows, particularly those which promote miscegenation or consume-oriented lifestyle, kinda “trendy American trash) and has infected much of the world, even high-iq East Asians became sick of them, let alone the whole west Europe. What a shame.

  • Sincerely Concerned

    “I think our attitude to so-called ‘ethnic’ cosmetic surgery is [inherently] racist. For example, a very common procedure for white women to have is lip augmentation. But nobody would accuse them of wanting to look African or of ‘de-racialising’ themselves,” says Jones.

    Actually, having lip augmentation is for the purpose of appearing more youthful. If you don’t believe me, look at the ads in every Vogue, Elle, InStyle, and other fashion publications. A large percentage show blond, blue-eyed, eastern and western European and Russian 14-20 year old girls with large eyes and very smooth, large lips. They may have been augmented themselves, but it’s for a youthful look, just like pink or red lipstick can create. And dark mascara. And blush. I mean, duh.

  • Anonymous

    “…Asian-Australian patients tend to model their idea of a “perfect” face on Asian stars rather than Hollywood celebrities.”

    Well the Asian stars didn’t get idea of a more prominent nose, larger eyes, and double eyelid look from nobody! Not surprising it’s mostly Koreans who are involved, too, probably one of the most vain societies around.

    I think the worst thing about the surgery is it is almost always quite easy to spot, particularly for other Asians. Often whites will say “Asian actress so-and-so looks so naturally beautiful”, when it’s anything but natural. It’s often hidden under TV makeup reasonably well but when you know what to look for, or look someone directly in the eye while speaking to them it often shows.

  • highduke

    Reminds me of yesterday’s article on ‘Lookism’. Anti-white sentiment is 50% Lookism and 50% IQism for Blacks, it’s 100% Lookism for Yellows and 100% IQism for Latinos.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, this is a bit of a problem. The westerners in the media are so damn beautiful that the rest of us struggle to live up to those standards. Those standards are spiritual, soulful and cultural as well as just superficial. The white traditional family was the strongest, most influential unit on earth. She may just be a head case though. I mean, even a beauty queen got herself killed trying to make her butt bigger with injections. It’s an insecurity issue of the individual more than anything else.

  • Apteryx

    If Asian women really wanted to look like western women all they would have to do is gain 20-30lbs.

  • Legal Eagle

    “If more Asian women were used in fashion and advertising, it would change people’s ideals.”

    Wait, what? Here in the U.S., you can’t find print or broadcast media in which Asian women are not grossly overrepresented. They are relentlessly marketed as the new beauty “ideal.” I suspect things in Australia are no different, and this article – by an Asian female writer – is pure rubbish.

  • Anonymous

    “While she believes greater ethnic diversity in popular culture is long overdue, she also thinks it will take time for aesthetics to shift culturally. ‘If more Asian women were used in fashion and advertising, it would change people’s ideals.'”

    Do you have any idea how often blacks are used in the media and advertising? Even though blacks are slightly less than 13% of the American population, the media is obsessed with putting a black face in every single commercial. Despite the media’s psychotic obsession with shoving blacks down everyone’s throats, you don’t see white women saying, “Hey! Being black is so cool! Perhaps I should get a rhinoplasty to flatten my nose so that it looks like a black woman’s nose. Or maybe I should eat and eat and eat so that I can be fat like all of those obese black women.”

  • Ben

    “For example, a very common procedure for white women to have is lip augmentation. But nobody would accuse them of wanting to look African or of ‘de-racialising’ themselves,” says Jones”

    *Facepalm*

    I believe Ms. Jones doesn’t know what she is talking about.

    This is just like the false analogy that if you are trying to tan yourself you are trying to “de-raialise” yourself (this isn’t really a word but trying to make yourself African American). When tanning is only inducing your melanocytes to produce more melanin. A natural thing to do. Wanting to get tan is not want to become “black.” Injecting your skin with bleach, a poison, to turn your skin specifically white, isn’t.

    To understand the dynamics one must have to take an anatomy class (which I’m sure Ms. Jones has none). When Western women try to get “bigger lips” they are not trying to attain what Africans have. The philtrum tends to be different in that it curves more and the arches which lead to the vermillion to be more sharp and pronounced. The labial folds add to this along with the rest of the face (I believe in holism). They want bigger lips while retaining shape. Otherwise when you inject stuff like Restylane wrong (without a proper board certified Plastic Surgeon) you get “fish lips. (where you just have thick lips all around without shape).” Africans have less curves in the lips.

    They’re different.

    Oh looky I found the synopsis of her book:

    “Cosmetic surgery is everywhere: we are surrounded by altered, enhanced, skinny and stretched celebrities, in a hyped media culture that focuses increasingly on the body beautiful. Once only associated with the rich and famous, cosmetic surgery is now widely available, advertised in magazines, doctors’ surgeries, and even on television. In some parts of the world it has become an aesthetic and cultural norm, yet remains deeply troubling for many.

    Skintight argues that cosmetic surgery is the most provocative and controversial aspect of a new ‘makeover culture’. Shows such as Ten Years Younger and Extreme Makeover demonstrate that ‘fixing’ the body is a way to improve lifestyle and uncover true identity. Meanwhile, celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Jocelyn Wildenstein demonstrate the horrors of extreme surgical alteration.

    Presenting a multidisciplinary approach, and examining a wide range of popular culture case studies from women’s magazines, television, architecture and the Internet amongst others, Skintight dissects the realities of cosmetic surgery and culture.”

    This is what happens when “social scientist” muddle with science. Notice how it isn’t “Dr. Jones,” because “sociologist” who haven’t gone through 4 years of intense medical school and then residency in General Surgery, ENT (etc) with a duel in Plastic/Cosmetic Surgery (no they’re not the same) with a fellowship in some particular technique (not to mention 4 year B.S. degree in biology, know better.

    Oh but it gets better:

    Here is the Editorial Review via Amazon:

    “Cosmetic surgery has become one of the most polarizing topics of our time. While feminists have used it as an example of the impact of sexist notions of the perfect body, other cultural critics and performers see plastic surgery as a metaphor for the flexible body in global capitalism. Jones carefully navigates the critical and material terrains of cosmetic surgery and gives us a beautifully nuanced account of what she calls ‘makeover citizenry.’ This is a must-read for anyone interested in the body and global capitalism.’Judith Halberstam, University of Southern California’Meredith Jones’ excellent book playfully demonstrates the working of mediation in the current ‘makeover culture’, in which our bodies and appearance are constantly being readjusted. It steers away from the familiar moralism towards cosmetic surgery while also raising important ethical questions about its specific procedures.’Joanna Zylinska, Goldsmiths, University of London’Skintight is a brilliant anal”

  • ghw

    10 — Legal Eagle wrote:

    “If more Asian women were used in fashion and advertising, it would change people’s ideals.”

    Wait, what? Here in the U.S., you can’t find print or broadcast media in which Asian women are not grossly overrepresented. They are relentlessly marketed as the new beauty “ideal.” I suspect things in Australia are no different, and this article – by an Asian female writer – is pure rubbish.

    ……………………………

    Not just there!

    Advertising is a major culprit. I was in Stockholm this summer. I noticed ads at bus stops and everywhere in which they carefully used one white (Swedish) model, one black, and one Oriental. As if the population there is exactly divided in thirds! It was so obvious! You see African and Oriental faces in ads every place you look. There was one such ad for a jeans company and I recall another for a department store. They were all over the city.

    Internationalism, globalism, multi-racialism are all the rage everywhere.

    It’s a fad, a mania, indeed a disease.

    In Europe, that is. Would you find the same genocidal sickness in Peking?

  • Dr. Green

    Obviously,the roots of this are the desire among Asian women to snare a white husband! All the surgery is centered on the female. Are we to assume the Asian male doesnt want the Asian female?Of course not. The frustration of the lonely asian male is legendary! The asian ladies–and their mothers–want a white husband. Most Asian women are not attractive to most white men. (Nerds being the exception!)

  • Anonymous

    “Most Asian women are not attractive to most white men”

    Unfortunately many White men get attracted to Asian women after 40. That is because their own women are so overweight. Especially in the States. American women after 30 forbthe most part are fat or on their way. What a shame, in sixties we had the.best looking women in the world.

  • EW

    “You see African and Oriental faces in ads every place you look (in SWEDEN). There was one such ad for a jeans company and I recall another for a department store. ”

    That would be probably H&M fashion chain. They have shops over the whole Europe. Before the last Christmas they hav put up multiracial posters at almost each city transport stop shelter in Prague (Czechia). But not only that, the postures of the models hinted at homosexual attraction between them.

    Oh, so much diversity crammed into one ad…

    Needless to say I don’t visit H&M shops anymore. It seems that the more multicultural they get, the shoddier articles they sell.