Photo Credit: Vincent Sandoval/WireImage
Long before she was hosting The Talk or Big Brother, Julie Chen was a struggling young news anchor in Dayton, Ohio. In order to move forward with her career, she did something that she has kept secret from the public -- until now. As part of The Talk's "secret" week, the Chinese-American anchor confessed that she had surgery to change the shape of her eyes. And though she says she has no regrets, the story is sad and infuriating. Watch Chen bravely reveal her secret in the clip below:
"My heart is racing," said Chen, 43, as she prepared to tell the story of her eyelid surgery.
So here's what happened. When Chen was 25, her boss at a local Ohio news station told her, flat-out, that she'd never be promoted from reporter to anchor. His reason? "Because you're Chinese," he said. Not only was Chen "not relatable" to the Dayton, Ohio, community, said her boss, but her "Asian eyes" made her look "disinterested and bored" when she was doing on-camera interviews.
"It felt like a dagger in my heart," Chen recalled. "My lifelong dream was to be a network news anchor, and if I can't even be an anchor in Dayton, Ohio, how am I going to get to New York City?"
To her credit, Chen ditched the racist boss and decided to check out her other career options. She had a talk with the best agent in the business, the one who represented "the most famous Asian newscaster" (we're assuming that's Connie Chung). Unfortunately, the agent told her the exact same thing: "I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger."
At this point, Chen was convinced that her best shot at her dream job was getting eyelid surgery. She turned to her parents for advice, only to end up dividing her own family. In the end, her parents agreed to support her, and even to pay for the surgery. So she did it.
As Chen pointed out during the segment, more than half of Asian people are born without a "double eyelid," the crease that we associate with Western eyes. The surgical procedure to create that crease, while controversial, has become increasingly popular among young women of Chinese and Korean heritage. (Here's a before and after picture of a woman who underwent the surgery that illustrates the effect.)
To this day, Chen says, she wondered if she "gave in to the man" by getting the surgery. And yet she credits it with jump-starting her career.
"No one's more proud of being Chinese than I am. And I have to live with the decision I have made...It got me to where we are today, so I'm not going to look back," said Chen.
Her Talk cohosts were supportive, as friends should be. But Chen's story is unsettling, to say the least. The worst part may have been her side-by-side comparison of "before" and "after" photos. She noted that she looked "more alert" and "more expressive" after the surgery.
Yet there are Asian women who have achieved success without altering their eyes. We'd never accuse Margaret Cho or Sandra Oh of not being "expressive." Glee's Jenna Ushkowitz has never seemed like she's not "alert." Lucy Liu certainly hasn't had trouble breaking into TV. So it is possible.
Would it have been possible for Julie Chen twenty years ago? She'll never know, and neither will we. But it's depressing to even consider that the success or failure of a talented women could come down to two tiny creases of skin.