Julie Chen got plastic surgery to look less Asian after blatant racial pressures from her agent and co-workers jeopardized her success. I read this story this morning and was brought to tears because it is so effing depressing and obviously, Julie Chen isn’t the first or last Asian woman to experience this crap!
Julie explained what happened to her with grace and dignity.
“My secret dates back to — my heart is racing — it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio. So, I asked my news director … over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.’ He said ‘Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that because of your Asian eyes, I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, you look disinterested and bored.’”
Sigh because white people can relate to everyone but Asians only relate to other Asians? And what about her eyes? It’s like he’s never met an Asian person before.
“So, what am I supposed to say to my boss? I wanted to cry right then and there. It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all of my life I wanted to be a network anchor. I started recording my newscasts every day and all I could see was my eyes, and I’d ask myself, ‘Does he have a point?’ I’d always ask myself, ‘Do I look bored?’”
That’s how racism gets you the worse, it gets into your head and makes outside voices sound valid when they are not.
“So I started meeting with agents for career advice, and this one big-time agent basically told me the same thing. He had the biggest names in the business. And he told me the same thing. He said, ‘I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look better.’ He then whips out a list of plastic surgeons who have done this procedure.“
Julie Chen consulted her parents on the matter who were, of course, wary about their daughter, but eventually they just wanted her to be happy.
“And this agent — he represented the most famous Asian broadcaster out there at the time — you know who I’m talking about and I’m not going to say names. So, this divided my family. Eventually, my mom said, ‘You wouldn’t have brought this up to me unless this was something that you wanted to do.’ And they told me that they’d support me, and they’d pay for it, and that they’d be there for me.”
She goes onto admit that after the surgery her career took off and she can’t help but feel as though her plastic surgery had a lot to do with it but Julie Chen isn’t placing all the blame on her racist co-workers, she knows it was ultimately her choice.
“And after I had it done, the ball did roll for me. And I wondered, did I give into the man? I have to live with every decision that I’ve made. And it got me to where we are today. And I’m not going to look back.”
It’s a hard decision that everyone faces. With every dream you have and every obstacle in front of it, how far are you willing to go or compromise to make your dreams come true? At the end of the day Julie Chen is still recognizable as an Asian American woman and having her in such a position of power elevates other Asian American women but “white washing” her features isn’t exactly something to look up to either. It’s a tough situation and I have a lot of empathy for anyone in it.
Props to Julie Chen for sharing her story on The Talk Tells All.