Misplaced Outrage Over Beautiful People Camera Plastic Surgery App and Asian Plastic Surgery, Chapter 1,579,345

Hey, Westerners: Are we being a little ethnocentric here?

The Atlantic reported today on a new Chinese smartphone app, “beautiful people camera”, that lets users enhance photos of themselves by "widening their eyes, lightening their skin or adding long eyelashes — in other words, attempts to look more Caucasian.”

The Atlantic’s interpretation of the app fits neatly into the discourse that casts Asian plastic surgery patients as wannabe-Caucasians— a stereotype that has been propagated by everyone from journalists to anthropologists.

The Daily Mail proclaims a simple cause-and-effect relationship between imported Western culture and Asian “imitators” striving to look like "pretty western celebrities." Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart admits she can’t stop gawking at photos of Korean plastic surgery patients and declares herself “unnerved” by the “push towards uniformity.” Talk show host Tyra Banks insisted that a Korean guest on her show had opted for plastic surgery because she wanted to look Caucasian — in spite of the guest’s insistence that her surgery wasn't related to her ethnicity, and that she was proud of her Asian heritage.

Min, 21, a Korean student who underwent eyelid surgery two years after graduating from high school, is well-aware of the stereotypes about Asians undergoing surgery, but says, “I didn’t get the surgery because I wanted to look Western.”

Sylvia Kang, a 21-year-old Korean-American, agrees that Asians are not necessarily trying to emulate Western standards: “Plastic surgery became popular in Korea because Korean celebrities were doing it— that is who the man on the street is trying to imitate, not Westerners.”

As for “beautiful people camera” — how is it any different or more alarming than Western apps like “Plastic Surgery Simulator Lite” (“How would you look with a different nose, chin, breast, buttock, less weight?”), iLipo (“With just a few clicks of your mobile device, you can perform ‘virtual plastic surgery’ on photos of yourself”) or ModYourBod (“From learning about individual services to seeing virtual results to booking a consultation, this interactive iPhone application steps you seamlessly through the entire process”)?

As one commenter wrote on the Atlantic post: Asians “who undertake double eyelid surgery and whitening treatments are generally trying to emulate pop cultural icons in Asia,… Not everything is about Caucasians.”

Yes, Asian countries have high rates of cosmetic plastic surgery, but maybe it’s time we took a look at the ethnocentric assumptions at play when we take the Caucasian look as an ideal to which “peripheral” cultures in Asia, Latin America and Africa aspire.