In this interview, Annie discusses how childhood experiences, advice from family and socially common perceptions of beauty drove her to consider double eyelid surgery. With four friends who ultimately went through with the procedure, Annie shares her observations about how new appearances have changed their lives, and how her own appearance continues to impact hers.
Geolani Dy (interviewer): How do you identify ethnically?
Where were your parents and grandparents born, and how did you end
up growing up in the U.S.?
Annie: I identify myself as Chinese. My dad was born in Hong Kong, my mom was born in Taiwan. All four of my grandparents were born in mainland China. My parents both came to the U.S. for education and I was born in the U.S.
GD: What was the demographic of your school system and of the town(s) you grew up in? Do you feel as though the ethnic makeup of these places impacted your self-image, your perception of aesthetic ideal, and your attitude towards double eyelid surgery?
A: The demographic of where I grew up was pre-dominantly Caucasian, although I would guess that my high school was roughly 5-10% Asian. Growing up in a place that was mostly Caucasian, the perception of beauty was definitely that bigger eyes were more beautiful. I actually got teased for my small eyes when I was younger, as I did not have the double-eyelid.
GD: Have you gotten double eyelid surgery?
A: I have not, but I do have a few friends who have, and one in particular who got it done in high school.
GD: Were these friends raised in the same sort of environment as you—mostly Caucasian, with a decently-sized minority of Asian/Asian American people?
A: Yes, we all lived in the same area.
GD: How did they decide to get the surgery?
A: They had already done the tapes and glues on a regular basis, so I think their decision was during the summer break to go to Korea to get the surgery. For many of them, it was a simple decision since it is so common in Asia that their parents encouraged it.
GD: Has your perception of these friends changed because they got the surgery?
A: I don't think so, they definitely look much prettier and people have noticed how their confidence has increased as well.
GD: Why do you think people choose to undergo the procedure? What are some primary considerations, and what do you see as drawbacks?
A: It has a lot to do with self-esteem. Having larger eyes is prettier, it changes the entire way your face looks and the perception is that you are much more beautiful. I had considered doing it as well, but the cost of doing it in the states is quite high, and I am also afraid of pain! I also didn't dislike my eyes enough that I felt it would make a huge difference to my happiness.
GD: Do you feel like there is significant stigma surrounding double eyelid surgery? If so, does it differ from potential stigma surrounding other cosmetic surgery procedures, or is it based in similar critiques?
A: I don't think there is a stigma because it is so common, especially in Asia. It's not like enhancing your breasts where there is some stigma of being vain or overly sexual. I also think that in the U.S. there are far fewer people who even know that this surgery exists; I know many of my friends were shocked when I mentioned that it was even possible to have double eyelids put in.
GD: How many people do you know who have gotten double eyelid surgery? What were their reasons, and where/when did they choose to do it?
A: Well, I know four people who have had it done in the time that I've known them. But I definitely have at least that many other friends who I have met later on in life where it is quite apparent that they have done it, or I think they may have had the surgery. All of my friends did it for cosmetic reasons – one friend who had hers done in high school was told that she could be a model if only her eyes were larger. She is Korean, so she went back to Korea and had them done. All of my friends went back to Asia to have their surgery.
GD: You say you’ve met people where it is quite apparent that they got the surgery; how can you tell? Are there specific physical giveaways or does it come up in conversation?
A: It's almost always physical giveaways – the folds are usually much deeper than what is natural; depending on how recently they had the surgery. Also, sometimes the eyes will have a wider, almost startled look.
GD: In your experience, are the people you know who have gotten double eyelid surgery open to talking about it, or does it seem rather taboo?
A: In general they don't really talk about it, not necessarily because it is taboo but rather because they hope people will assume that it is natural.
GD: Why do you think it is a procedure so popular among Asian/Asian Americans in particular? Do you have a sense of the scope of the trend? (I have a Korean American friend who feels that most celebrities in Korea have had some sort of plastic surgery, and a very large number of other Koreans have gotten double eyelid surgery as well.)
A: The reason it's so popular among Asians/Asian Americans is simply because the single eyelid tends to be a very Asian feature. I don't think I know any non-Asian who doesn't have a double-eyelid. My friend mentioned once that the most Asian trait was our small eyes. Our eyes are actually not much smaller than most people, it is just due to the shape and due to not having the double-eyelid, although many Asians do naturally have the double-eyelid.
GD: Do you know anything about differences in perception of double eyelids/double eyelid surgery among various Asian ethnic groups? (Korean, Japanese, Chinese, etc.)
A: I'm not aware of any differences in perception among the various ethnic groups, but it does seem extremely common in Korea, almost every Korean popstar/movie star seems to have gotten the surgery, and most of the friends I have that are actually from Korea who have had it done.
GD: What feelings/emotions do you feel are associated with the procedure? (e.g. pride, shame, anything in between)
A: I haven't had the procedure done, but none of my friends feel any shame. They actually are much happier, they feel more beautiful and the friend I mentioned earlier is now a quite successful model. Not only did it change the way her face looked, she developed a huge amount of self-esteem and dressed and carried herself completely differently after she had the double-eyelid surgery.
I have definitely thought about having it done, my mom and family friends have actually suggested many times that I should. My mom actually has very large eyes with very deep double-eyelids, as does my youngest sister. This is actually something I've thought about quite a bit in the past, and I do have to say that even today, although I like myself, whenever anyone comments on saying that I have beautiful eyes I tend to view them with suspicion because I think they might secretly be making fun of me.
GD: A number of people I surveyed mentioned that their relatives and family friends strongly suggested they get the surgery. How do you feel about having been recommended the surgery yourself?
A: I think it is fine, because I agree that it would make me look better, but I'm afraid of the pain.
GD: What effect did this have on your self-image?
A: I'm not sure if it's a result of the recommendation, but I definitely think my eyes are one of my worst features and do wish they were bigger/had double eyelids.