It's "Secrets Week" on The Talk this week, leading co-host Julie Chen to confess that she's had plastic surgery to make her eyes look bigger.
Chen's now a well-known news anchor and TV host (aside from The Talk, Chen also hosts Big Brother). But in the mid-'90s, Chen was a field news reporter in Dayton, Ohio who desperately wanted to be on the anchor desk. A then 25-year-old Chen asked her news director if she could sometime fill in for vacationing anchors.
He told her: "You will never be on this anchor desk because you're Chinese," Chen said.
"He said 'Let's face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we really have in Dayton? ... On top of that because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, I've noticed that when you're on camera, when you're interviewing someone, you look disinterested and bored because your eyes are so heavy, they're so small.'"
Ugh. Yes, who could possibly relate to a small-eyed person? That's certainly not a feature that millions of people of all ethnicities share.
Self-conscious but realizing her boss was a racist prick, Chen set out to find a new job. She met with some agents, including a "big-time agent" who told her:
"I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger," Chen said. "And I did it."
There are those who'll criticize Chen for her decision, but please. She's someone who weighed her options and felt like this was the right step. We all have to make trade-offs sometimes in the pursuit of success, women especially. Blame the culture, not the people just trying to live within its rules.
Chen's story is obviously a sad example of still-prevalent racism against Asian Americans and the damaging effects of idealized beauty standards. But what's perhaps especially interesting is Chen's reflection on it.
"The eyes are bigger. I look more alert. ... more expressive," she said, holding up before and after surgery pictures. "I will say after I had that done ... the ball did roll for me."
Of course it did! U.S. culture rewards people the more they hew to "All-American" physical ideals. What's weird is how, in these statements, Chen seems to have internalized the critiques about her eyes, no? It's like she believes this wasn't about stupid beauty norms but the fact that her eyes actually were too small for a news anchor.
Chen did go on to say, "Now, it's like I sometimes wonder, but I will say after I had that done everything kind of, the ball did roll for me. I struggle with, 'Wow. Did I give in to the man in doing this?'" But just as she started to muse about the implications of her decision in the broader scope — yes, yes, yes! — her co-hosts jumped in to knock down the thought by supporting her decision.
I kind of wish Star Jones hadn't interrupted right then, because Chen seemed like she had more to that thought (I don't mean this intuitively, but that she actually opened her mouth to say more when Jones cut her off). After that, the segment just kind of devolved into The Talk's typical ra-ra go-girl nonsense. It's not that I exactly disagree with Jones' advice: "You made a choice that was good for you. Don't look back." But ... isn't 'looking back' the whole point of "Secrets Week?" Telling secrets without reflection is just ... gossiping.
You can watch the segment below: