Reality and talk show host Julie Chen has become the highest-profile Asian-American to acknowledge undergoing eyelid surgery.
During Wednesday's edition of The Talk, Chen said she had her eyes reshaped to advance her career, after a boss in Dayton, Ohio, told her sometime in the mid-1990s that she looked too ethnic to be relatable to TV audiences.
Chen's admission has earned her a storm of Twitter reactions, ranging from sadness:
@JulieChen Thank you for sharing your story about your eyes! I definitely can understand what you had to go through.— Tu-Anh Pham (@TuAnhPham) September 11, 2013
Blepharoplasty, the technical term for "double-eyelid surgery," is common within Asian communities in the United States and beyond. But patients who talk about getting an extra crease in their eyes risk criticism that they are trying to look more white.
Sharon Lee challenges that notion, having studied the prevalence of plastic surgery among Asian-Americans as an assistant professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU.
Lee told KPCC's Take Two that young women in the Korean-American community in Orange County where she is from got the surgery not necessarily to look Caucasian, but because they thought, 'well, my mom did it, my auntie did it, my cousin did it and they look great.'"
"In that way, it's almost like a familial or a cultural procedure, or rite of passage that I would see in the Korean-American community," Lee said.
The Asian American Journalists Association is staying out of the debate over the motivations behind Chen's eyelid surgery. But the group did issue a statement in support of Chen for shining a spotlight on workplace racism.
"Her story chronicles some of the daily struggles Asian Americans face in the workplace across all industries, not just in broadcast journalism."
AAJA vice president of broadcast Niala Boodhoo said there is a myth "that Asian-Americans are a model minority and nothing ever bad happens to Asian-Americans."
"It's really important for people to recognize that Asian-Americans face issues just like any other minority in this country, " Boodhoo said.
We've reached out to The Talk seeking comment from Chen, and will update the story if we hear back.
As for the Ohio news station where Chen was told her eyes looked too small - officials at WDTN have apologized to Chen, according to The Dayton Daily News:
“We are sorry to hear about what happened to CBS’ Julie Chen in 1995 when she was a reporter at WDTN-TV,” Joe Abouzeid, WDTN and WBDT president and general manager said in a statement. “The station was under different management and ownership during that time. At WDTN and WBDT, we don’t tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Chen's show. She co-hosts The Talk.