Monday, July 28, 2014

Asian plastic surgery is not about looking white

“The general idea then [in the 1960s]—and I keep hearing it even today—was that Asians who have facial and eyelid surgery want to ‘Westernize,’ ” says [plastic surgeon Robert] Flowers. “And that’s even what Asian plastic surgeons thought they were doing then as well. But that’s not what Asians want. They want to be beautiful Asians.” Flowers advocated subtler surgeries, pointing out that naturally creased Asian eyelids—which he estimates occur in perhaps half of Asians—are not the same as Caucasian lids. Compared with Asian eyes, the white eye is more deeply set and the crease tends to run more parallel to the lashline. Asian creases may be narrow or nonexistent at the inner eye—the goopy pink corner may be covered by downward-angled skin called an epicanthic fold—but flared up at the outer edge, creating an overall tilted eye shape. ...

Facial contouring is popular in Korea and includes procedures like V-line jaw shaving, which turns round faces into hearts in pursuit of an ideal more manga than Playboy, softening the angles of a square jaw and creating a daintier chin. ...

To Westerners, facial contouring is among the most mysterious of Asian procedures. When I looked at before-and-after pictures of women with sharply jutting cheekbones who’d had their faces narrowed and smoothed via zygoma reduction, I inevitably thought they were prettier before. Without looking up from the pictures, Kwan replied, “Cheekbone reductions are just ethnic. Asians hate this kind of cheek.” But white people never seem as fascinated with this surgery as they are with double eyelids, he added. ...

Why do white people fixate on the “Westernizing” elements of ethnic plastic surgery? While working on this article, I found that people of all races had principled reservations about and passionate critiques of these practices. But the group that most consistently believed participants were deluding themselves about not trying to look white were, well, white people. Was that a symptom of in-group narcissism—white people assuming everyone wants to look like them? Or is it an issue of salience—white people only paying attention to aesthetics they already understand? Or is white horror at ethnic plastic surgery a cover for something uglier: a xenophobic fear of nonwhites “passing” as white, dressed up as free-to-be-you-and-me political correctness?
--Maureen O'Connor, New York, on ethnicity-specific beauty standards