May 27, 2011  •  In Asian, Beauty, Korean, Personal

The (Incorrect) Western Interpretation of Asian Plastic Surgery

A few days ago, CNN Asia posted a video and an accompanying article titled “Plastic surgery boom as Asians seek ‘western’ look” which tells the story of Lee Min Kyong, who opted to have Asian blepharoplasty — otherwise known as double eyelid surgery — at the age of 12 in order to “westernize her eyes.”

This really pissed me off.

As I have written in the past, I am well aware that East Asia has a disturbing rate of cosmetic surgery. I also believe that many people who choose to go under the knife are — in my opinion — too young to make such decisions.

But I wasn’t pissed about this.

I was angry at CNN’s assumption (and the resulting skewed report) that Asians have plastic surgery in order to look more “western,” or “white.”

Westerners did not invent the double eyelid. Many Asians naturally have it. The reason that so many Asians prefer the double eyelid to the “monolid” is because it lifts the extra skin and fat on the upper eyelid and creates a crease which gives the illusion of larger eyes.

Large eyes, a well-defined, pointed nose, and a smaller chin are standards of beauty in women for many cultures. And they have been what is considered the ideal beauty in Asia for centuries, well before its assimilation with the West.

Now I’m sure that some Asians who go under the knife do so because they want to look white. But I can assure you that these people are few and far between. The vast majority of Asians who get plastic surgery do so in order to become more aesthetically-pleasing while retaining their Asian features, not to look more western. And most Asians do not think that being caucasian does not automatically make one more beautiful.


Here are two of Korea’s biggest celebrities, Song Hye Kyo and Lee Hyori.
Neither of them look “white,” in my opinion.

While the Asian idea of beauty may have been influenced by the West over the years, the idea that Asian women are trying mimic caucasians is an incorrect interpretation. An Asian woman getting double eyelid surgery, a nosejob, etc is rather an attempt to enhance one’s features in a society that overly glamorizes beauty and celebrity culture.

Likewise, an Asian dying his/her hair, wearing colored contacts, etc are not in efforts to look more western. They are merely ways of standing out and experimenting with your looks in a sea of black-haired, brown-eyed people.

In my opinion, the notion that Asians have plastic surgery to look white is like saying caucasians who tan and get lip fillers are trying to look black.

105 Responses to “The (Incorrect) Western Interpretation of Asian Plastic Surgery”

  1. Jesica:

    I’ve been on an asian horror movie kick for a week. Mostly chinese, korean, and japanese. ALL these women look the same. Even my husband thought i was watching the same film over and over lol. I have alot of philipino friends/co-workers, they seem individualized but the rest of them aren’t. I also think they idolize western “white” america TOO much. Stop trying to look white- you are ASIAN, embrace your race and heritage

    • Steven Johnson:

      There is nothing wrong with straightening your hair, that is in a completely different basket to putting chemicals on your skin, eye surgury, dying your hair blonde or red and getting coloured contacts. When you start getting surgury and coloured contacts you really have to question what you are trying to achieve. Whether they are trying to look eurasian or western or like african eyes is irrelevant. They are using surgury because they are not happy with their natural features which is just plain sad. You can blame the americans or the white women who prodominantly have these features, but you surely should question the desire to look like westerners. Surely nose jobs and green contact lenses are not a part of asian culture. If there are “cultural” reasons that these girls want to look “white” and a history of this than how do you explain nose jobs to give a more western look and green contact lenses and dying hair red. These are western features. Plain and simple trying to look like westerners. It seems a lot of non western cultures want to pillage western ideas, and be like us, and now they are just trying to morph into us. Kinda scarey.

      • Johan from the netherlands:

        actually many asians like Pashtuns,tajiks,israelis,lebanese,syrians,have naturally blond hair and blue eyes even more so then most of european countries.

        most european countries outside the north is swarthy.

        • Yoav from Israel:

          As an Israeli, and half syrian, you are both ignorant and stupid-
          1. When talking about “Asians” , it means “East Asians”, from the “Far East” and not the Middle East…. So no Israelis, Lebanese or Syrians are considered…..
          2. Many of the North of the Middle East have Europian roots, this includes Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (some of the people, not all of them…).
          In the case of Israel, you are mistaken in so many different levels. Israel has made it it’s mission to bring all the Jews of the world to Israel… So included are the Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Iraqi Jews (yes, there were many Jews in those countries), and a whole lot more if Europian Jews from all across Europe, and let’s not forget North Americans. So many people in Israel are Caucasian by definition, because their grand parents were Europian… And of course let’s not forget that many Jews came to Israel from North African countries, so there are a lot of dark skinned people in Israel….
          To summarize this, stop speaking about things you know nothing about

    • goldenkiwi:

      Did you even read the article on this page?

    • Kimmy:

      Not true, we are not trying to look white at all, if you have noticed a lot of us are born with whiter skin, among us we see that as preferred genes. Not to look like Caucasian, I am for one that burns in the sun, not the south East Asian that get a tan just sitting in front of TV. Some of us are seriously white without trying, the rest want to look like us not you Caucasian. Sorry you think so highly of yourself.

  2. Steven Johnson:

    I actually have a mate who really likes Asian girls and has dated a few, but he always goes for the darker girls, who haven’t had surgury and obsess over looking western. When he told me about this eye surgury I found it hard to believe, but it’s true there are loads of girls getting this very procedure. Every race has different features, I think it is important to embrace those unique features. I actually think African girls with curly hair look really hot, and Asian girls with shiny black hair also. Don’t you think it would be boring if we were all the same? If every person had blonde hair and blue eyes. This is not the case of course, and those features are endemic to westerners, but I can’t believe these girls are not happy to look Asian, I think from high level in their countries there might need to be some reassurance that it is not only ok, but it is attractive and desirable to have Asian eyes and an Asian nose, Asian hair, skin etc. Really need to work on their concept of beauty in those countries. Surgury for reasons like that in young people is not right.

    • Johan from the netherlands:

      Ethiopian,Eritrean black women look like models on AVERAGE,meanwhile white women use tons of makeeup,bleach their hair blond(true blond hair is NOT common among europeans!most of us are swarthy with dark hair or at most ”mousy” blond).

      many other ethnics beside whites have small bridge noses,round eyes,and chiseled faces.

      if a somali had pale skin theyd look swedish.

    • John:

      Did you read the article? To repeat the article, the surgery makes the surface of the eyes more exposed so they appear larger, which is and has been a feature of beauty for centuries, in the east.
      You say “I can’t believe these girls are not happy to look Asian”. Well, many Asians have double eyelids -from birth-, and I know some of them personally. Ergo, a single eyelid is not a feature of the Asian race. So, there goes that assumption.

  3. Nath:

    I think it’s deceptive when people wear coloured contacts that are different from their natural eye colour. But then again some people particularly, are not known for their honesty and transparency. Show what your momma gave you! Can do whatever you like to yourself, but don’t complain if people give you strange looks.

  4. Tom:

    They arn’t trying to look western they are just trying to look “better”, “enhance their look”, “look more beautiful”. Thats the stupidest reason I have ever heard. If anything I feel sorry for people who don’t appreciate the features endemic to their own race. Westerners are the only race with these colours of hair and eyes. But yet you will see some Asian girl, even guys, walking around with hair dyed bonde and you look closely and shes got blue contacts also. If thats not trying to look western I don’t know what is! What woud be trying to look western?!

    I have never ever seen any other race apart from European with blonde hair and blue eyes. Same with red hair and green eyes. The further you go from Northern Europe the less natural blondes and light coloured eyes you come across. It’s pretty obvious it is a Northern European trait.

    To say these people are not trying to look Western is like saying people who put a v8 engine in their car are not doing it for performance reasons. You have gotta be joking. It’s not about pulling off a “look” its about being insecure with your natural features.

    • Lucy:

      I feel like what you are saying is that all Asian girls who get plastic surgery/change their appearance are wallowing in a pit of self-hatred. Now, I, myself am not in support of plastic surgery, and I think natural is the better way to go. But that’s just for myself. I’m not here to condemn a certain race about being insecure. Everyone has their own reasons for plastic surgery. Now, most of what you are saying is true. Blue eyes and blonde hair are definitely western traits, and there are Asians who try to achieve this look. But the reason that you stated for this is a bit concerning to me, as an Asian woman myself. In a very ethnically homogenous society, there are only black hair and brown eyes. What if this type of appearance is just used by younger people to stand out/express their individuality? Isn’t that what every teenager, no matter what race, wants? You hardly see an older Asian man/woman wearing a blonde wig and blue contact lenses. I mean, I’m sure that western influence IS impacting Asia, as the world is becoming more diverse, lots of cultures are intermixing. But after actually LIVING in China and Korea for extended periods of time, I honestly do not think that the vast majority of Asians getting plastic surgery and changing their hair are doing it because they are insecure about their ethnic features. It may not be natural, but maybe they just want to stand out. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in an Asian country before, but if you haven’t, then this issue may not be the best for you to comment on. You really have to understand the culture to understand peoples’ motives for doing something.

      • Ece:

        Yes, I totally agree with you. Being an asian woman myself, when I first moved into a non-asian society I was absolutely appalled to hear that asian women who go under plastic surgery are doing it to look more caucasian. Large defined eyes, a softer jawline, a defined nose is nowadays a universal standard of beauty. Not only asian women but plenty of white and black girls out there get there parts fixed for self satisfaction. Would you say a black girl who got a nose job did it just to look white? Did a blonde girl who dyed her hair black do it to look asian?

    • goldenkiwi:

      “If anything I feel sorry for people who don’t appreciate the features endemic to their own race.”

      The article clearly states that many Asians naturally have the features you’re referring to. I have double eyelids and large eyes. Omg does that mean I’m secretly part-white?

      You’re unfortunately among the many Western people who believes that “western feature” is synonymous with “attractive feature”. How incredibly ironic when you give it some thought, because this notion is exactly what you guys accuse us Asians of thinking…

  5. tara:

    I think there’s a complete double standard. As a white girl I can inflate my lips, spray tan, and even get surgery to make my butt bigger and no one would say I was trying to look like another ethnicity. There’s even a black market inject able to increase melanin that’s popular with some pale people that can never tan naturally.

  6. sage:

    I remember seeing this on CNN a couple years ago and it left me feeling irritated and unsettled as well.

    I think the double eye lid issue in Korea is multifaceted, constantly evolving, varies by generation, and the culture we were raised in. The reason why the modern generation wants double eyelids may be different than those of previous generations. Another reason why this young generation is going under the knife could be because of how all K-pop stars seem to have it and young girls want to BE THEM. Why are there no K-pop stars with monolids? The reasons may be something as sinister as Shane mentioned, although, it COULD be for the reasons I also, once upon a time…used to wish for double eyelids.

    I have monolid eyes and for many years (when I was younger and naive) thought my eyes were not beautiful. Not because I envied the white models on magazine covers, but because my own family used to obsess over this double eye lid thing. My father has natural double lidded eyes and my mom does not. They are both Korean and moved to the states in their 20’s. I remember him often saying to me that he hoped I would develop the double eye lid once I got older. (His monolids developed a fold in his high school years) This led me to believe that somehow my monolid eyes were inferior and unattractive.

    I can only speak for myself when I say..

    The only reason I used to wish for double eyelids is because that is what I was told was more desirable/beautiful by my parents and family friends who were from Korea. PERIOD. Koreans have this tendency to constantly analyze and critique their child’s appearance which left me with lots of self-esteem issues throughout middle school.

    For me, it had nothing to do with looking westernized, and everything to do with the added “femininity” to my eyes by the way it usually lifts the eyelashes upwards rather than straight down. I used to play around with my mom’s double eyelid tape and noticed that when I had them on, I loved the way my eyelashes curled upward. It was then I realized my obsession stemmed from wanting those beautifully curled lashes that make your eyes pop. And guess what? An eye-lash curler and mascara gave me exactly what I wanted!! Typical asian lashes are stick straight, and without the double lid… they stick straight down.

    It was my freshman year of high school when I discovered the joys of an eyelash curler and waterproof mascara. I began to play with makeup and discovered my own sense of beauty through trial and error. Now, I wouldn’t trade my monolid eyes for doublelids for anything. NEVER. EVER. My eyes are unique and beautiful and I love them how they are.

    Again, I am only speaking for my own past wants and beauty fallacies. I didn’t see anyone bring up this side to the discussion and thought I’d put my two cents in. :)

    Thank you OP for bringing up this issue.
    With love. xoxo

  7. Sarah:

    That *is* a western look… that *is* a Caucasian aesthetic. Larger eyes, with blue contacts, lighter hair, double eye-fold = white girl. It’s fine to defend it but it’s quite clear and you’ve even stated so yourself… they are doing this to conform with the media. The media pushes for a Caucasian aesthetic. 1+1=2. It’s clear. And those 2 girls most definitely look whitewashed — they are much more white than Asian looking and that’s why they appeal to the masses. It’s not only Asians but other races who try their best to appear whiter… look at the most popular ethnic stars across the globe. Even in India (Bollywood), the “prettiest” actresses are the lightest skin and the softest hair, in the west, black women succeed if they are mixed like Halle Berry. It’s just the way of things right now. So the western interpretation is actually quite accurate. You can defend it … but you’re fighting a losing battle… and an unconvincing one at that.

    • shu xi:

      Uhm do you know what you are saying? The double eye fold is not exclusively a trait of Caucasians and so does having fair skin. Culturally, Asians prefer girls with fairer skin way before western influence as it is assumed that the girl would come from a wealthy family and don’t need to work under the sun

    • Leeanne:

      Sarah you’re an idiot! Yawn…
      Most White men who like Asian women and that includes almost ALL White men, like them to look pure Asian;beautiful Asian eyes and all.

      • Jessika:

        Actually, most white men who like Asian women are those anime worshiping goofs and old men. I hear white guys all the time saying asian women are ugly, flat and annoying…plus they don’t even have eyelashes, its weird.

        • Leeanne:

          You hear that all the time? Yeah, right. I SEE Asian women and White men all the time and the men aren’t old at all. They’re young, educated and hot…quite often hotter that the Asian women they’re with; they’re so Into Asian women, they don’t care. That’s how much White men love Asian Women. Oh yes, they look HOT together too.
          Look at Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg…geeky looking yes but he could have chosen anyone but he chose an Asian woman of course.

          • Elsa Smith:

            Hahaha you wish you stupid Asian. The only white men who ever downgrade to an Asian is perverted and an outcast of us whites. He’s always the ugly white guy, but Asian girls will go for any white guy because they’re so desperate to make lighter-skinned children and have some stupid stereotype that white men have lots of money. You will never have blue eyes, green eyes or blonde hair; you’re an Asian and you always will be, you disgusting inferior yellow ape.

            • Leeanne:

              So typical to assume I’m Asian; I’m not but does it really matter? When they looked at online dating desirability they found that Asian women were overwhelmingly the most desired women by ALL races. Yes, all men preferred Asian women. Asian women generally take better care of themselves and with the exception of a Black women, age slower than other women. You should go to my gym. All the tanned (not white skinned as you suggested), fit Asian women have tanned, HOT, White husbands and boyfriends. Asians, biracials and Blacks are the new standard of beauty. Hard to admit isn’t it? That’s why you get to aggressive and racist. It’s hard to admit that White women are going out of style and Asian women don’t even have to try. Now sit down and behave.

              • Mitch:

                A friend of mine linked me this article and your comment (and most comments here) seem very derogatory, but yours was pretty outstanding – in a negative, desperate way. I’m a 26 year old white male from California and I regularly hit the gym, but when I’m in the city I do tend to see interracial yellow and white couples and I have to say the Asian women who have white husbands are almost ALWAYS looking for money. The white husband isn’t very attractive but looks wealthy. In my gym, all my friends who are Asian, black and white tend to stick to their own race rather than mix. I would also prefer a relationship with a whit girl over an Asian girl simply because that’s my natural attraction for my own race. I’m not sure if Asian women really are gold-diggers but the yellow-white relationships I see are absolutely reeking of yellow-fever from the white man and the Asian woman is using this white man as some sort of accessory because she has some pre-conceived notion that white = superior to Asian. That’s how my friends and most people in my town view yellow-white couples, it’s not authentic love, it’s yellow-fever and it’s pretty sad lol. Anyways, why are you so defensive about this topic? Are you one of those Asians with white fever? If so, go for one of the white computer nerds – they’ll date anything lmao.

            • Maya:

              You must be very satisfied if you seem to think that I fit your stereotype of how I, as an Asian woman, found my husband. Except my story doesn’t fit your broad generalization. You don’t know my personal life nor the lives of other Asian women and how they met their White spouses. You call me disgusting, but I think your disgusting attitude makes you a disgusting person, skin color irrelevant.

            • LOL:

              Lol and this is probably coming from a fat ugly white bitch.

          • Kimmy:

            Because our intelligence matched his. Haha

    • Ece:

      Alright, to give an example that wanting lighter skin isn’t same as the desire to be white; in old asian societies there were divisions in classes. the higher class ‘ladies’ who didn’t work outside, and sat in the house sewing painting and writing poetry, had lighter skin since they had minimum exposure to direct sunlight. The lower working class on the other hand had to work all day long out in the field which led them to have much darker and tanned skin tone. Thus light skin color used to be a sign of novelty. Ever since centuries ago asian women favored lighter skin for this reason.

  8. Antonius:

    Actually many people in asia has fair skin, big eyes with double eyelids, high nose bridge, and pointy chin naturally.
    And shockingly enough, the Hmong people in China has naturally blonde hair.
    You need to live in asia to know what it is from our perspective before you judging us. Our culture is simply different than yours, and therefore have a different side of view.
    As for the colored contacts I think it’s just for fashion rather than to look white

    • Tammy:

      I agree with you. Asians are very diverse in terms of skin color, eye color, hair color, and other physical traits (depending which region they’re from). I also came across a Hmong with naturally blue eyes and I even encountered one with hazel green eyes. Overall, fair skin has been the ideal standard beauty of Asia for centuries (way before the western influence).

      • Don:

        Asians are not diverse with hair and eye color. They mostly have dark eyes and hair. Please don’t spread nonsense.

        I would know, I have been in many Asian countries.

        • Anna:

          I know a mongolian girl with fair skin, light brown hair n hazel eyes.U may have been to many asian countries, but im asian, n know much more than u. Go google on asians with light colored hair n eyes. There are – no kidding.

    • Don:

      I have lived in many Asian countries and what you said is false. Asians predominately have dark hair and eyes.

      Hmong people have more mixture with White people …and they are very rare.

      • Don:

        Genetics have proven that Hmong are not mixed with White people at all. Their hair and eye color are the result of recessive genes not tied to race.

  9. Anna:

    Agreed with what u wrote, author!

    Im asian, n born naturally with round almond-ish eyes with double eyelids; so does my parents and siblings.
    I did my nose a few years ago as I have a hump on my nose bridge. Believe me, I would never want to have a plastic surgery to look like a caucasian, never.
    Ehancement is fine, but not an extreme makeover change to looking like a caucasian.

    I guess many white peeps often think by bleaching/coloring our hair colour = a white wannabe? (WTF!) Lol!!
    Many asians colour their hair to look more trendy, compliment their skin tone, and to look younger.
    So don’t misunderstood!!

    Ok, the fact is, majority asians girls do plastic surgery to enhance their looks; such as korean/asian stars (their idols)…eg. Song Hye Kyo’s eyes, Han Ga In’s nose, Kim Tae Hee’s facial shape. I don’t think these stars look anything like caucasian, not 1 bit.

    So why do we wanna look caucasian? Afterall, we, asians look way younger.

  10. Key:

    Let’s face it, nowadays everybody do surgery for whatever reason. It’s true asians dye their hair, change the color of their eyes, but westners do it also, we change our noses, chins, breasts, and many other parts of the body. We see it on television everyday, so what’s the big deal about double eyelid!!! . What if they are trying To look different, we also have people who do plastic surgery, because they want to look diferent too. So how can we criticize other race if we are doing the same thing.

  11. TheCORRECT1:

    Wow! I’m not certain I have ever seen such a collection of ignorance in one place before!!! It’s amusing how some will comment that “most Asians” are doing this or “most Asians” are doing that!!! Honestly??? Have you people interviewed “most Asians” to ask them what their motivations are??? Cause that’s seriously ALOT of people you are trying to speak for!!! How about just speaking for yourselves next time?!?!?! I speak for myself when I say that it has been MY experience that most western males I have known who are interested in Asian females are NOT attracted to thier looks as much as their typical submissive nature!!!

  12. Scott:

    Have you ever seen Japanese anime? All the characters have Western features. >_> Blonde hair, blue eyes green eyes, ect. ect. And most are all white, white. Though, some do have blue or purple hair and whatnot. Though, I know being Asian-white has been the standard of beauty in the East before the West ‘assimilation’. But, no one can deny how prevalent Western features are in Japanese anime. It’s always struck me as odd how Eastern cartoon characters have Western features. It was explained to me by a Japanese person when I asked them why anime characters were all white; he said it wasn’t that they were white-white, but that it’s what Japanese people wished they looked like. Blonde/brown hair, blue eyes, green eyes. You gotta admit, it’s pretty colorful and sets people apart more. While saying that, I find a lot of Asian and Hispanic women hot; it’s not like I think only white women are hot, but they are my preference, naturally. Just saying. How do you know their motivations? Have you asked them? Taken a survey? With the same logic, whomever says they are trying to look Western also can’t know without asking.

    (WE ARE THE CAUCASIAN BORG. YOUR TECHNOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL DISTINCTIVENESS WILL BE ADDED TO OUR OWN. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. COMPLY.)

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