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July 27, 2014 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Is Race Plastic? My Trip Into the "Ethnic Plastic Surgery" Minefield The writing is delightful, the subject is unsettling and the advice not to google any of the proceedure images should be heeded.
posted by viggorlijah (35 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Really fascinating article! The part about dog eyes made me chuckle, and the part about experimental leg muscle reduction surgeries made me shudder.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:44 PM on July 27


Oh, so many things to make me uncomfortable here. And I learned that I'm not the only one who find mixed-race babies adorable, something I've had the good sense to keep my big mouth shut about. I've pondered the question of why from time to time, though, and the nearest explanation I've got is that those babies have enough of the "exotic other" to be visually interesting, but enough of my own racial makeup to be comfortingly familiar.
posted by Harald74 at 11:43 PM on July 27 [2 favorites]


From the article: “Mike Tyson, I was just watching his show on HBO, and he said, ‘People keep asking me why I’ve got a tramp stamp on my face. If you don’t like it, don’t look! It’s my face.’

People ask Mike Tyson this? Whoa... And it just occurred to me that that sentence can have each each separate part italicized to emphasize a different aspect to how fucked up that is: People ask Mike Tyson this? People ask Mike Tyson this? People ask Mike Tyson this? People ask Mike Tyson this?
posted by Harald74 at 11:50 PM on July 27 [39 favorites]


I wonder how universal the mixed-race effect is. Would someone unfamiliar with both parental races find their child "prettier" than its parents?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:06 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


This article is such a jumble. I can't figure out if the author is saying these surgeons are trying to westernize faces or not. For example face contouring doesn't seem to be driven by a desire to conform to western/ US aesthetics to me. Prominent cheekbones and strong jaws are practically the definition of beauty here and facial contouring is designed to get rid of those features. Also it's possible that plastic surgery rises in pace with rising incomes and upper level jobs in some communities and groups, which isn't discussed at all.

In summary, I was left confused.
posted by fshgrl at 1:09 AM on July 28


Reminds me of the novel Beauty, by Brian D'Amato, in which the protagonist designs a multiethnic post-racial face to create a starlet. It does not end well.
posted by goo at 1:11 AM on July 28


I think the article says "it's complicated". Which is a good takeaway for people who might be inclined to strong opinions on ethnic surgery.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:12 AM on July 28 [7 favorites]


I do feel that the muscle reduction surgery is probably a bad idea, though. Loss of muscle mass has serious consequences as you age, and is connected to worse health outcomes and even just coping with everyday life. I'm not in their shoes, though, so I should not be quick to judge them.
posted by Harald74 at 1:41 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


There is definitely a bias towards mixed-race-looking people in Asia, particularly in media or other people-facing jobs. As Harald74 says, it's the "exotic but not too exotic, familiar but not too boring" factor at play: you can't be TOO Western, or else you'd alienate your audience, but you can't be totally Asian either because that's unattractive. When I was more actively watching MTV and Channel [V], and then started working for one of them, I could only recall one non-Eurasian Asian with a hosting job. (Casey Kasem's kid Mike was an MTV Asia host once but I'm not sure what his ethnic makeup is.) It didn't matter if you could actually present or not - your looks mattered more than anything.

I have considered this kind of surgery - more specifically, skin lightening - especially now that I really want to get into more public-facing work, such as stage performance or digital media, and am noticing how much of a disadvantage I am by being brown. (I think I look racially ambiguous enough that I could pass for Eurasian, especially given my command of English and my weirdo accent, but I'm not Media-Attractive by any means.) This is giving me a lot of angst because it's going against everything my feminist self stood for, from the teenage years of "fuck appearances, I'll be a brain in a jar" to my first few years in burlesque where the more people gave me shit for being a naked hairy/brown/lumpy/knock-kneed body the more I dared to bare myself and embrace my sexuality out in the open.

Now I am where some of the people in the article are: will altering myself to look more "mixed" actually help me? Since being an outspoken feminist isn't exactly going a long way towards paying my bills? Am I giving into The Man? Is it a loser's game, since there's no guarantee that any change I make to my appearance will pay back more than it cost me? Is this the only way to survive? Am I too late? Do I fail at intersectional feminism by buying into harmful stereotypes?

All so complicated and I have no answers.
posted by divabat at 2:05 AM on July 28 [9 favorites]


People ask Mike Tyson this? Whoa...

In a culture where strangers comment on people's appearance all the time, and the celebrity magazines seem obsessed with commenting on celebrities' private lives and reality TV showcases "look at these freaks" types of programming, you're surprised people would ask a guy about a prominent facial tattoo?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 AM on July 28


I was wholly with the "OK, this is complicated and I should try not to jump to any conclusions" vibe up until I got to this point:
The first time Kwan broke and rearranged multiple bones in a patient’s face, back in New York, it was by accident. He’d been filing down an Asian patient’s cheekbones to narrow her face, which the patient believed was too wide and flat, when the delicate zygomatic bone snapped off in his hand.
...at which point, I confess, my conclusion became Aaaaaaaaahhh noooooo! So, um.
posted by psoas at 5:02 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I agree that the subject is fascinating, but the article was a hot mess. Let's find an anthropologist already looking at this phenomenon. Because I guarantee this author is late to this party.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:29 AM on July 28


Though mixed-race couples still report rudeness and outright hostility from ­strangers—there are plenty of places in this country where they would be reasonably wary of walking in public hand in hand—I would wager that almost as many have experienced the bizarre enthusiasm of strangers who marvel, “Your babies will be so beautiful.”

People do this all the fucking time! And they mean it so nicely, but it doesn't come off well in any way and I'd happily never hear it again.

“Our two big procedures are ethnic rhinoplasty, which tends to make an ethnic or African nose more Anglo—and butts! We are giving people larger derrières,” Jones says. There, “they want more ethnicity.”

I'm told this is a thing with personal training as well, where white women who a few years ago were wanting to have a more linear shape are now focusing on squats and other exercises for increased ass.

Now I am where some of the people in the article are: will altering myself to look more "mixed" actually help me?

The issue gets phrased a lot as people wanting to look more "white" (for one very narrow version of "white," of course), but I think you are right that it is often about looking more "mixed" instead. And given the very real economic implications (and the studies about dating site preferences as well), I don't think people are necessarily being crazy, at least for the lower risk procedures. In a better world people would only be doing elective plastic surgery for fun (like getting a tattoo is) but we don't live in that world and instead people are juggling choices that have both real costs and benefits.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:50 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


you're surprised people would ask a guy about a prominent facial tattoo?

No, I'm surprised that people would ask Mike Tyson this to his face, considering his reputation for outside-the-ring violence.
posted by Harald74 at 6:24 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


you're surprised people would ask a guy about a prominent facial tattoo

I'm surprised that so many people don't care whether they have ears or not, yes.
posted by elizardbits at 6:47 AM on July 28 [21 favorites]


People do this all the fucking time! And they mean it so nicely, but it doesn't come off well in any way and I'd happily never hear it again.

Yeah, I confess that I'm not immune to the phenomenon of mixed-race-baby-squee, but I keep it to myself! It's my own psychological issue to unpack. The only comment parents need to hear about their babies' appearance is, "What a beautiful/cute baby!" (Maybe mixed with occasional compliments about the clothing they've chosen for said baby, which isn't really about the baby at all.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:43 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


(I think I look racially ambiguous enough that I could pass for Eurasian, especially given my command of English and my weirdo accent, but I'm not Media-Attractive by any means.)

Most people aren't Media-Attractive, though, regardless of skin tone and so on, and part of what this turns into are these huge industries of selling people this idea that if they just fix X, Y, and Z, they're going to look like the people they see in the media.

Colonialism contributes in so many ways--is there anything it doesn't touch?--but I can't picture the standard of beauty anywhere really approaching the regional average, because then what would they sell you? I hate those sites that're like "lol look at these Asians who want to look like white people" because going to big and expensive lengths to meet an unreasonable standard of beauty seems to be just a part of the human condition, these days. If I had the resources to deal surgically with some of my body image issues, I probably would, and then I'd just acquire all new body image issues. They've got a skin lightening cream to sell you, or a tanning bed, and if you somehow manage to get this week's exact approved skin tone, you get to move on to having the wrong bust, the wrong waistline, it's always wrong somewhere. This week you're using volumizing hair products and next week it's frizz control. I guess my point is, I don't know if there's a way to fix the problematic ethnic stuff without ditching the whole system, or what follows will be just as stupid.

Strange game, the only winning move is to resign yourself to spending a lot of time crying in front of mirrors because hah like we're ever going to be allowed to ditch the system.
posted by Sequence at 7:45 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Though mixed-race couples still report rudeness and outright hostility from ­strangers—there are plenty of places in this country where they would be reasonably wary of walking in public hand in hand—I would wager that almost as many have experienced the bizarre enthusiasm of strangers who marvel, “Your babies will be so beautiful.”

People do this all the fucking time! And they mean it so nicely, but it doesn't come off well in any way and I'd happily never hear it again.


This happens to us as well, and now that we're very obviously getting close to pushing out a mixed-race bebe, the pace has picked up a bit. And I think it's a bit sily to complain about the compliments. From extensive studies in squeeing, it seems that mixed-race bebes are just plain cuter, and pretty much everybody knows this, hence the squeeing. This should come as no surprise, scientifically. If in-breeding with your cousins results in non-squeeful bebes, then increasing the genetic distance should improve the squee quotient. I don't think there's any "racist" overtones at all, unless one is of the mind to find racism in every action.
posted by amorphatist at 8:06 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


This is a tangent, but it's a story I've been wanting to share. My (white) wife took our quarter-Asian baby to the leasing office in our apartment building a couple weeks ago to let them know that we'd be leaving. The two women in the office were squeeing over the little one, understandably because he is amazing. They told my wife that he looked just like her, and she said that she thought he had his father's eyes, his father is half-Asian by the way. And one of the women said: "now that you mention it, his eyes do look a little chinky".

Both women acted like this was a normal thing to say and appropriate for their fairly corporate office environment. My wife was caught off guard, and she could tell that no offense was intended, so she rolled with it. But of course, after the fact we're like WTF? This is in DC, and both women were twentysomething and black, so my theory is that this is acceptable terminology in the DC black community, but I have no idea. Can anyone weigh in?

Also, before the baby was born my wife had cousins tell her that she was so lucky to be having a part Asian baby. Which, again, well-intended but icky.

On preview: I think the that icks me out about this phrasing is that being part Asian gets grouped in with superficial traits like hair color or height. I think it is benignly racist, but usually comes from someone who hasn't thought about racial stuff very much. I don't think I'm of the mind to find racism in every action.
posted by jomato at 8:17 AM on July 28


I don't think it's benign, but a subtle and socially acceptable racism. There's "Oh he has your eyes and his hair!" which is universal to all babies, but then with mixed-race babies, it becomes "spot the stereotyped origin of each feature and discuss interracial breeding and eugenics for fun".

It's not about how cute your kid is but figuring out what box to fit them in.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:49 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I just get excited by mixed babies because I think: yay another one of us! Which, as a mixed person from when it was way less common (aka I'm old), is actually super exciting every time.
posted by dame at 8:52 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]


can we please not do the "child of cousins" thing here please? The risks associated with having kids with your cousin are more like the risks associated with having a kid in your 40s - we don't turn out to be inbred idiots. Also given how common it is in certain cultures the jab is also pretty racist.

Signed, a child of cousins who was pretty squeeworthy till age 8

posted by divabat at 9:04 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]


my theory is that this is acceptable terminology in the DC black community, but I have no idea. Can anyone weigh in?

You see it show up in rap lyrics occasionally, pretty much always as a description of a person's eyes, never as a descriptor for language, food, history, art, etc. When it shows up in a song, it seems to be primarily used to describe the way someone's eyes appear after getting high, but I've heard at least a couple of male rappers describe the eyes of a woman they find attractive -- and, yep, exotic -- with the term. (Including the otherwise progressive Yassin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def.)

I wouldn't say it's in widespread use. I think most people know it's breathtakingly offensive. I've never heard any black person -- not that I know all black people, of course! -- use it in casual conversation, but these things do vary by region and age group, so take what I've said as something to consider, not as the definitive statement.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:41 AM on July 28


my theory is that this is acceptable terminology in the DC black community, but I have no idea. Can anyone weigh in?

As diverse as the DC area is, I am pretty comfortable saying that many people here lead fairly insular lives, so while I haven't heard it directly I would not suspect it's out of the realm of reason. Also, they could have just been a couple of particularly dense individuals.
posted by psoas at 9:46 AM on July 28


Also, they could have just been a couple of particularly dense individuals.

Yes, this. Overall I would probably steer away from assuming that casual use of an ignorant/offensive term was commonplace within a minority community just because 2 members of that minority community were okay with doing so.
posted by elizardbits at 10:31 AM on July 28


You're right, of course, and your point is well-taken. This wasn't just two members of a community, though, this was two people who had passed an interview process (which I assume selects for people who are unlikely to say offensive things to tenants) and work in the same office. So one possiblity is that by random chance two people who don't realize this is an offensive term were independently chosen to work in the office, and another possiblity is that there is a correlating factor (I also mentioned age and geography). My experience has been that most people know not to say this, so the probability of the first thing is like 1 / (most people)^2.
posted by jomato at 10:51 AM on July 28


It is possible for POC to act racist towards other POC from different backgrounds. Power dynamics get really complicated, but it's still there.
posted by divabat at 10:53 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


And there are a lot of seemingly reasonable, even progressive people, who say racist things without thinking. I wouldn't put their qualifications as proof that they are more racially enlightened (pun unintended).
posted by divabat at 10:56 AM on July 28


The thing that makes me feel most uncomfortable about all of this is not that people will go to extremes to change their own body to look more like X, it's the fact that all of these changes will do nothing to the underlying genes. Which means we end up with kids who won't look like their parents without surgery. I mean, that's great if you're a surgeon looking for future income, but sucks for the kids.

I could see someone developing a stupid comedy where two very caucasian-looking people have a kid that is obviously not white, centering around the idea that both had extensive surgery but neither admitted it pre-marriage. Throw in a Hollywood standard accusation of unfaithfulness. Cut a few years into the future, where they get into all kinds of shenanigans because they can't get anyone to believe that the kid isn't adopted. I don't know. It would be a dumb movie. But most movies are dumb these days. If some studio releases a movie based on this idea next year I'll just sue. Y'all are witnesses.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:53 AM on July 28


the article talks about how white people react against surgeries that they perceive as trying to make people more white - and the author suggests that one reason is that white people don't want POC to "pass" -

but, while I don't know about others, for me, it's pure white guilt. I can't help that I was born with pale skin, freckles and dead straight hair - no matter how much I have wished for browner skin and curly hair. Then I feel guilty when I hear about people lightening their skin or straightening their hair - let alone undertaking dangerous surgery - because I blame the systemic racism of western society. I benefit from it, and I don't want to.

That said, I've thought that it's a bit western centric to assume that all of the modifications undertaken by Asian people in Asia have to do with western beauty standards. As the article (and a comment above) notes, small jaws are an Anime style thing; contemporary western beauty values strong cheekbones and wide jaws on women (think Angelina Jolie). And what I've heard about South Asian people wanting to lighten their skin - or pressure to stay out of the sun - seems to have to do with class & region differences, where elite Indians are primarily from the north and have lighter skin.

on a completely different note - I now know how to improve my jawline: chew more gum. (Too bad I hate artificial sweeteners). I've always wanted a strong, even masculine jawline.
posted by jb at 12:52 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]


Jb: re Fair and Lovely South Asianness - it may have some roots in caste, but there's still a contemporary race element to it m. For Yoni Ki Baat this year ( think South Asian Vagina Monologues) one of the pieces tackled this, and the piece included how relatives tell people about to migrate to the West to "do better than them but come back looking like them".
posted by divabat at 7:21 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


divabat: thanks for clarifying.
posted by jb at 7:53 PM on July 28


risks associated with having a kid in your 40s - we don't turn out to be inbred idiots.

Signed, a child of cousins who was pretty squeeworthy till age 8


I'm sure you're most squeeworthy still, and any one instance of cousin-coupling of course can turn out fine. However, repeat that process over generations, and you will have less-squeeworthy babies, to put it mildly.

Also given how common it is in certain cultures the jab is also pretty racist.

Cultures are races now? FFS, cut that shit out will you? I have distant cousins who were into the inter-marrying thing, didn't know I was being *racist* against those hillbillies.
posted by amorphatist at 8:04 PM on July 28


By cultures I mean places like South Asia and Middle East, where their okayness with cousin marriage is used against them as "look at those backwards brown Muslim".
posted by divabat at 8:35 PM on July 28


Unless you've got a particular history of recessive gene inherited disease in the family, you generally need many generations of repeated close-relative marriage before you start getting your Hapsburg jaws and such.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:14 AM on July 29


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