On Wednesday, the third episode of The Talk's fourth season kicked off by host Julie Chen revealing her history of plastic surgery on her eyes after two racist encounters pitted her identity and her dreams against one another. Chen's story is "heartbreaking," but it has a happy ending as she is now living her dream. Chen's story doesn't end there as many 25-year-old, vulnerable "Julie Chens" struggle with similar concerns. Racism comes in all forms and degrees. Regardless of one's situation, it's unfair for anyone to have to make such tough decisions that "[divides] the family," let alone be judged for the decision.
Chen, a news anchor for CBS, got plastic surgery because her supervisor convinced her that her narrow eyes make it seem like she was disinterested on camera, and that being Asian alienated her from the show's viewership. While many agree that the pressure was "vile" and "unfair," some continue to criticize the use of plastic surgeries for race-related issues.
On The Talk, Chen compared her news headshots before and after her surgery. Not only are her eyes bigger, but her make-up and hairstyle are more western. But Chen isn't the one to blame, and she shouldn't be blamed. After much struggle, she made a choice that enabled her to get to where she wanted to be, which was brave. It was brave because it was a hard decision against something that she could have combated on her own.
It's unclear whether Chen could have made it to where she was without getting surgery. The journey might have taken her longer, and could have been a more arduous process. In addition to building up her career, she would have had to persuade her agents that her eyes weren't "boring" and that she could relate to the viewers. Without knowing all that could have entailed, one cannot simply tell Chen that she should have tried harder.
Chen's confession is about more than dealing with Asian eyes or the "racial features" of one's appearance. It's connected to the broader issue of everyday racism that people of all races face today. If it was Chen's Asian eyes, it was having an Asian name for me. My college counselor carefully suggested that putting "an American name" on my resume in order to get more callbacks. I was confused at this suggestion just like young Chen who just spoke with the "big time agent."
Would my decision to keep my ethnic name make me more Asian? Could I do that without "denying the heritage"? It's unfair to demand an answer because there isn't a right one. The question posed to Chen, me and other racial minorities further exacerbates the existing social ills. The focus should be on solving the problem, not pointing fingers at those who alone cannot fight it.