The Racial Stigma of "Asian Eyes"

November 10th 2015

Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh recently said that becoming a viral meme ruined her life.

The meme, which carries the false narrative that Yeh was a "deceitful wife who had plastic surgery and tricked a man into marrying her," as ATTN: previously put it, also has racial implications.

Heidi Yehattn.com

Often in Western culture, "white" eyes or "big eyes" are perceived as the beauty standard while narrower "Asian" eyes are stigmatized. In the meme, Yeh appears to have larger eyes than her children, who were Photoshopped to appear less attractive than they actually are. In reality, Yeh actually posed for a pro-cosmetic surgery ad under the impression that it would only be printed in one publication, but the photo took off as an Internet meme with a bogus story.

In recent years, more people have undergone Asian blepharo­plasty, an eye surgery known to create a "natural-looking crease" and make the eyes look bigger. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that the number of cosmetic procedures performed on Asians increased by 125 percent from 2005 to 2012. The increase was larger for Asians than Hispanics, Blacks, and white people, but as noted by New York magazine's Maureen O'Connor, the large jump could also serve as "a mark of rising purchasing power."

Ye-Kyung Song, a Houston native, told NPR last year that she got the surgery at 17 years old after experiencing racist bullying for her looks.

"I was made fun of a lot for my small eyes ... and I didn't really like how I looked," Song said, adding that white and Latino classmates mocked her. "And I always thought, well, if I didn't have these small eyes, maybe then I would like myself better."

Song, whose mom had the surgery as well, said the surgery didn't feel like a big deal at all to her.

"[It was like], 'Oh, it's a cultural norm, everyone gets it done, it's no big deal,'" she said.

As noted by NPR, there are tons of popular YouTube tutorials dedicated to making Asian eyelids look different:

Several years ago, a woman named Jang Hyu-hee told CNN that she was forcing her pre-teen daughter Lee Min kyong to get the surgery in order to better integrate into American culture.

"I'm having her do it because I think it'll help her," Jang said. "This is a society where you have to be pretty to get ahead. She's my only daughter."

Min kyong's plastic surgeon Dr Kim Byung-gun, who told CNN in 2011 that his clinic was performing 100 cosmetic surgeries a day, said our society's beauty standards are the cause for all of these surgeries. According to Dr. Byung-gun, the definition of pretty is closer to the face of a white person.

"[Patients] want to have some westernized, nice faces," Dr. Byung-gun said. "They want to have big eyes like westernized people, high profile, nicer noses."

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