Julie Chen Admits to Having Plastic Surgery to Look Less Asian

Julie Chen, American television personality, news anchor, producer for CBS, and co-host of the daytime show The Talk, recently turned the spotlight on herself.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, the veteran journalist revealed a deep, dark secret: Nearly 20 years ago, Chen had undergone plastic surgery in order to look less Asian.

Now, it may be easy to jump to conclusions and bash Chen for disrespecting her Chinese heritage, but it’s important to hear her side of the story. According to US Weekly, Chen said:

“My secret dates back to — my heart is racing — it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio,” the 43-year-old Chinese American television personality began. “I asked my news director over the holidays, ‘If anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in?’ And he said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.”

 

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“He said, ‘Let’s face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton?'” she recalled. “‘On top of that, because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, sometimes I’ve noticed when you’re on camera and you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested, you look bored.'”

 

Not long after, Chen started looking for another job. But she ran into the same problem when she tried to find an agent to represent her. “This one big-time agent basically told me the same thing,” she revealed. “He said, ‘I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger.'”

Chen explains that with her career on the line, she couldn’t see another solution. The decision became so weighty that she opened up to her parents about whether or not this surgery would be a denial of their culture. This led to a family divide where some members believed that Chen should be disowned.

Coming to the conclusion that she did not want to lose her career, Chen followed through with the surgery and her career progressed as a result.

Although the secret has haunted her and caused her to question a lot of things, she ultimately has no regrets. “No one’s more proud of being Chinese than I am,” she told her co-hosts at The Talk. “And I have to live with the decisions I’ve made. Every decision I’ve made … it got [me] to where we are today, and I’m not going to look back.”

Lee Hyori for “Dazed and Confused”: Appropriation or Appreciation?

Lee Hyori

As I was making my daily K-Pop news round-up, I couldn’t help but notice a photo of K-Pop diva Lee Hyori’s new cover for Dazed & Confused (Korea). Besides the interesting use wordplay and homonyms on the cover (“Beach Bitch”), what is most striking is the editorial concept used for the cover and accompanying editorial. Hyori is styled with face paint, a head dress and feathers, with her hair in two braids, supposed indicators of “Native American” dress, very reminiscent to Michelle Williams’ cover of AnOther magazine released earlier this year. At least for me, the “Indian Summer” concept (as indicated on the cover and is another issue in and of itself) is taken too literally and crosses the fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Hyori; she’s stunning and has an awesome personality (Family Outing, anyone?). It’s just disappointing that the editors of “Dazed” would allow this and that she, or at least her management, would agree to it. An editorial with summertime clothes wouldn’t have sufficed?

For me, the issue with this cover and with many other instances like this, is that traditional cultures are used like thematic costumes, with a lack of understanding about the cultures themselves. The beautiful, rich, and diverse culture of the Native American community is being diluted into a stereotype or simple archetype that assumes homogeneity. Or more simply put, photos and images like these re-emphasize the idea that all Native Americans are the same, which is blatantly inaccurate and culturally insensitive.

But, why does this even matter? It’s just a magazine, right? Well, not exactly. As put best by Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota) in an article for Jezebel:

“There isn’t just one Native American culture. There are hundreds. And there are millions of Native people. And we’re being ignored. We’re being told that we don’t have rights over how we are represented in mainstream America. We are being told that we should ‘get over it’ – but the people who are saying this don’t even know what the issues are. When people know of us only as a ‘costume,’ or something you dress up as for Halloween or for a music video, then you stop thinking of us as people, and this is incredibly dangerous because everyday we fight for the basic human right to live our own lives without outsiders determining our fate or defining our identities.”

Though this particular cover is directly related to the Native American community, this is an issue that is not exclusive to them; for years, various cultures, including Asian cultures, have been and continue to be commodified into cultural products for mass consumption, and not necessarily for cultural understanding. Geisha costumes run rampant, Selena Gomez’s stage costume includes a bindi, and that’s just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, the majority of which can’t be examined in this brief post. But, that difference between using culture as an aesthetic accessory versus using it as a tool for cognizance is what separates what is “okay” from “not okay.” More interestingly and more notably, the Korean cover itself proves that this issue extends much farther than the borders of the US and is a global issue.

Yes, cultural appropriation is a hot-button, sensitive topic.  But instances like these remind us of the continued importance of understanding and appreciating other’s histories, cultures and backgrounds for the simple, but powerful reason of respect. And as an increasingly global community, it’s even more important to view cultures, customs and dress that’s different from our own as more than just trend, but as an integral part of someone’s identity and history.

Pistahan Highlights Food, Boxing, Art, and More in Celebration of Filipino Culture

The Saturday afternoon parade was a grand moving showcase of Filipino customs and culture along with community (All photos by Karen Datangel).

Last weekend in San Francisco was a busy one with Outside Lands, baseball, and preseason football going on, but there was one other big event that brought more hustle and bustle to the city: The 19th Annual Pistahan Parade and Festival at Yerba Buena Gardens was also the only event where you could hear good music and watch a live sport at the same time, plus find the rare entertainment in watching people eat ice cream and duck eggs. Pistahan—which ran for two days on August 11th and 12th—is the largest street celebration of Filipino culture in San Francisco, and this year’s event broke some new ground as well as kept up with beloved traditions.

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