Western Influences On Non-Caucasian Beauty Standards

06 May


While reading the Venus Envy excerpts, I was reminded of a Korean-American high school friend who underwent cosmetic surgery to give her the double- eyelids and a broader nose bridge. I tried to remember how I was introduced to her and how I judged her. I didn’t know her and the first thing a friend said to me was somewhere along the lines of, “See that girl over there? She got eye and nose surgery to make them both bigger. Now her eyes are huge and they look like bug-eyes!” Although I have heard of Asian-American women undergoing plastic surgery and using tape for their eyelids, that encounter was the first time I ever witnessed it. My first impression was that it was rather absurd, strange, and artificial.

Throughout the reading, themes surrounding beauty that Nguyen discussed were brought up such as using beauty as a tool and the promises that come with it. For instance some non-Caucasians who partake in plastic surgery claim they use it to gain acceptance and success, to “get jobs and American husbands”, and to escape the inferiority complex (204).

I was also reminded of this interview that Tyra Banks had with a Korean-American woman:

This interview raises several issues surrounding non-Caucasian plastic surgery. Primarily it raises the debate of whether cosmetic surgery is a sign of a “desire to appear more “western,” or more Caucasian” or if it’s a sign of patients “trying to look more attractive within the current aesthetic norms of their own culture” (207 & 208). Here, Liz claims that she underwent eye surgery to become beautiful and to regain her “youthful” look. Contrastingly, Tyra strongly believes she did it to become more Caucasian.

Although I’d like to give Liz agency in terms of improving her self-esteem, feeling more confident in her own skin, and just being happier with herself I question what her aesthetic standards revolve around. If she is not trying to achieve the Western look, then what look is she aiming for? Although I’d like to believe people have varying beauty standards I feel it is hard to distinguish between one’s own beauty standards and Westernized beauty standards. In other words, how do you distinguish between western standards and these aesthetic values that non-Caucasians strive for? With so much advertising, circulation, and interaction between countries I find it hard to believe there isn’t a universal set of beauty standards revolved around Western ideas.

With the growing popularity of cosmetic surgery throughout Asia, I wonder if there once existed a set of beauty standards that didn’t revolve around Western ideas and values. I know there are women in Asia who are born with double-eyelids but why is it that this look is desired? Why aren’t the common smaller eyes and smaller noses desired?

Given that after World War II cosmetic surgery increased for non-Caucasian people there had to have been separate aesthetic values throughout the world. This leads me to ask: Why did they begin to think these western standards of beauty were more beautiful then their prior standards of Asian beauty?Why is that Western standards had such power over all other standards?

Lastly, another question to consider is if the roles were reversed. Often times, people perceive non-Caucasian people who undergo cosmetic surgery as victims of wanting to look Westernized, but what if a Caucasian woman wanted a smaller nose or smaller eyes? Would it be the case she wants to look Asian? Why isn’t this label so prevalent with Caucasians who strive for non-Caucasian features?


Elizabeth Haiken, Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic Surgery (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


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