Made for TV Asian Beauty

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jeff Yang, contributor to the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog and editor of Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology, talks about the first South Asian Miss America and the comments she made about TV personality Julie Chen's decision to have plastic surgery to look less Asian.


Jeff Yang

Comments [35]

DTorres from Manhattan

Nobody seems to be happy with their skin color.
Blacks, even black celebrities use skin lightening cream and
Whites use tanning salons, all to change their skin tone.

Sep. 17 2013 04:09 PM

Did the high-powered agent tell Julie Chen to get her nose done as well? It's obvious from the before & after photos that she's had a nose job. If so, why didn't she mention that also? If not, why did she do it?

Sep. 17 2013 02:22 PM
The Truth from Becky

All of this nonsense over melanin! SMH

Sep. 17 2013 12:14 PM
Roy from Queens

@Cliff from Manhattan: You have a point, but Julie (born & raised in Bayside, Queens, BTW) was caught in a do-or-don't work situation. If the Internet existed when she started out, she wouldn't have to deal with the agent and been a freelance journalist. The fact she admitted her compromise in the first place is admirable.

Sep. 17 2013 12:01 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

What I find amusing is the amount of bias based on skin color while the tanning business is how big? People are going to the beach, risking skin cancer by lying in tanning beds, getting spray-on tans and buying skin creams that darken the skin and STILL look down on those whose skin color they are trying to emulate.

My husband is Indian but basically light-skinned, though slightly darker than I. He tans so beautifully in the summer that I am envious (I turn lobster red). In India, though, the Brahmins would look down on that. Talk about irrational thought processes.

Sep. 17 2013 11:04 AM
Alex from nyc

Theresa from Brooklyn and Independent_Noach, you are so right. It is short-sighted and very destructive to assume that the vicious sexism and objectifiction inherent in the "MISS America Pageant can somehow be "set aside" or "separated out" from the racism that has haunted the pageant throughout its history. As long as we live in a culture where ANYONE is readily denigrated and dehumanized FOR ANY REASON, the convergence of sexism on a readily available RACIAL OJBECT, and of racism on a readily available GENDER TARGET, and every imaginable permutation, will continue. As long as discussions like this one on the air continue to unfold in an unthinkingly free-associative, not-even-scratching-the-surface manner, these dehumanizing problems will always be with us, with all of us. What's needed here is thoughful analysis and guests who, because of a history of authentic and searching thought about such matters, can be counted on to engage in genuine and at least somewhat substantive reflection about the situation. As for the woman who describes hereself as a "fitness fiend" and thinks it's funny (laughs while she recounts it) that some man told her she should gain 200 pounds so she can be the fat black sidekick--what is she doing being broadcast? Whatever degree of self-consciousness she professes, whatever her race and gender, it is horribly damaging to broadcast her remarks on the air. What the ^%&*&^ is going on here?

Sep. 17 2013 10:57 AM
Sally from Cobble Hill

If a racist tweet falls in the woods and the media doesn't hype it, does it still make a sound?

Sep. 17 2013 10:52 AM

Tweets about Asians stereotyped as "7-11" owners?
Wouldn't that be plagiarizing an old Joe Biden line?

When will the hate end?

Sep. 17 2013 10:51 AM
Jon Larson from Oradell, NJ

Your commentator himself showed himself to be prejudiced in the same way that he was attempting to illustrate prejudice when he suggested that people in the Midwest are far more likely to be racist than New Yorkers.

Having lived for several years in Minnesota and, later, in the New York Metorpolitan Area, I can promise you that I have seen more racist behavior (and heard far many more racist comments made) in New York than I ever witnessed or heard in Minnesota.

Sep. 17 2013 10:51 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

If Miss America contest is supposed to be more than just a beauty contest, but to represent many facets of the present day American woman, including her intellectual capabilities and her personality. Miss America should not be purely seen as merely a beauty contest to pick the most beautiful woman in America.

Sep. 17 2013 10:47 AM
Clif from Manhattan

I feel sad too. Julie Chen is a sell out no matter how you cut it. If she was truly proud of her Asian background she would have told her agent where to go. This is how these ideas of "acceptable" are perpetuated. Nothing is changed by weak people who acquiesce to the paternalistic & racist views of others. And all for what?

Sep. 17 2013 10:47 AM
Sophia from Tappan, NY

As a Chinese American woman, it is hard for me to understand why people are still so blind to think that racism is hardly a part of our society. Living in Rockland County, a policeman commented on how interesting it is that my name is Sophia and how well I speak English.

It appears that just about all races or cultures downgrade people of darker skin. Asians look down on darker Asians. Darker skinned Chinese are many times looked down upon by lighter skinned Chinese.

What will change people's minds?

Sep. 17 2013 10:46 AM

In the entertainment business agents are known to have no imagination when it comes to what their clients are supposed to look like. They are so desensitized to the human experience that anybody who sits in front of them is subject to their very narrow views. I once had an agent tell me that if I were a black man she would represent me and I would have an easier time getting work. Seriously.
I should have had that surgery but I am a white woman, that would've been tricky.
If we all bowed to will of people like Ms. Chen's agent then we never would have the Miss America we have today.

Sep. 17 2013 10:45 AM
carolita from New York

Julie Chen is from another era. Growing up, I was encouraged to look more white than hispanic by my mother (she wanted me to lighten my hair, offered me plastic surgery, yes, she did). Thank goodness those days are over. Yes, people are no longer encouraged to alter their physical appearance to that extent. That doesn't mean that we've become any less superficial. If you're going to be not white, you're still going to have to be PERFECT. And if you're a woman, no matter what your background, you have to be 'hot' and look young. So, even if the battle for etchnic acceptence has been won, the objectification of women has not stopped. The bar has simply been raised on all of us.

Sep. 17 2013 10:43 AM
laura from brooklyn

i believe times have changed since julie chen had her eyes done. racial and ethnic diversity is recognized more readily in American media. however, in korea, large numbers of young women are having eye surgery to become more "marriagiable". this is just another form of self-mutilation to accommodate the larger culture's concept of "beauty"-- in this case, having larger eyes like Europeans.

Sep. 17 2013 10:43 AM
Glenn from Queens

I love how news lately has devolved into parsing tweets. What a sad state of journalism.

Sep. 17 2013 10:43 AM

Nina Davuluri is dark-skinned?? More of a cafe au lait, don't you think. Goanese are darker-skinned Indians, not Miss D.

@Moonching Wu - Good on you for NOT getting the surgery. The agent who thinks a beautiful client needs to have surgery in order to get work needs to improve his knowledge of the available markets for talent. Getting plastic surgery in order to conform to someone else's idea of beauty is bad.

Sep. 17 2013 10:42 AM
Mark Greene from Manhattan

Some thoughts on the racist backlash.

Sep. 17 2013 10:42 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Since we are talking about "race," I'd like to offer the Biblical perspective on this. According to the Biblical myth of Noah and his offspring, he had three sons, Yafet, Ham and Shem. Now Yafet or Japhet is allegedly the ancestor of the Caucasians and Europeans, etc. The "Aryans," so to speak. The root of the word Yafet is the Hebrew "Yafeh" which means beautiful. So the trait of physical beauty was supposed to be used in the service of God. For Ham, the progenitor of the mostly Black peoples, the word itself in Hebrew means "hot" or "warm" and represents the spirit, as in movement and dance, also to be used to invoke and please God. As for Shem, the word means "name" and represents The Word. So the semites are the people of words, and books, and psalms and poems. So each of these "races" was named for traits all of which are supposed to be used in godly ways, not for prurient or self-aggrandizing, or self-serving purposes.

Sep. 17 2013 10:41 AM
Bonn from East Village

What's the big deal about Julie Chen changing her face for her TV job (not that I think she is all that relevant). Not so different from any actors, models, my relatives! getting their faces, noses, teeth and boobs rearranged, not to mention tummy staples. Hey, Chris Christie. Just don't go all Joan Rivers! It's a matter of personal choice. If it makes you feel better and look better, go for it.

Miss NY/America is beautiful. The backlash is so sad.

Sep. 17 2013 10:40 AM
IC from Hawaii/NY/Montreal

I grew up with tons of Asian girls in Hawai'i doing the same as Julie Chen. Regardless of whatever reason anyone gives for having cosmetic surgery , short of accidents, is all about vanily. No excuses will side track that. One should just be glad of who you are.
My own father grew up with a huge scar across his face, and also Asian, but he lived with it proudly despite many surgeons volunteering to correct it. We are all proud of him just the same.

Sep. 17 2013 10:40 AM
Kate from Brooklyn

So Miss America is more intelligent about questions of plastic surgery, selfhood, and race than a so-called journalist.

I don't know if this tells us that the Miss America pageant is becoming less shallow or that television journalism is simply worse than ever.

Sep. 17 2013 10:39 AM
Aparna from Morningside Heights, NY

I think what was most striking was Miss New York being crowned with Miss California standing next to her: two Asian-American women representing an ideal of beauty. Whether one could argue they meet a standard of Western beauty that a Julie Chen might have been encouraged to emulate or not...unclear. Of course, it's wonderful to see people who look like me (another Indian-American) on that stage but notable that they represent coastal states where diversity is the norm. Don't want to stereotype, but how much of the backlash is coming from people in the middle of the country?

Sep. 17 2013 10:39 AM
Liz from Westchester

Please address the issue of the concerns of the Asian male stereotype. I have 2 Chinese children, a boy and a girl, and worry so much more about the way my son perceives himself and is perceived by others in our society, than I do about my daughter.

Sep. 17 2013 10:38 AM
Brenda from New York City

The standard for American female beauty is white and Northern European. Looking at the photo of Ms. Chen it's clear she had her nose done as well. It would be hard to find any woman in the public eye today who has not done something to her face or body to fit the ideal. It's less about specific races and more about very rigid parameters for women.

Sep. 17 2013 10:37 AM
Moonching Wu from brooklyn

There was pressure to have eye surgery ever since I was a little girl.
No need to be in the profession where beauty mattered,
I was taught that i needed to improve my looks so i can marry well, a doctor, a lawyer, someone who wanted pretty girls.
My grandmother to her dying day often offered to pay for my plane ticket back to Taiwan to get surgery. My aunt would pay for my surgery, because if I did it, she would also-she needed it only on 1 eye. Ironically I found out this year that she never had surgery because her husband wouldn't allow it-he said she was beautiful the way she is.

Sep. 17 2013 10:36 AM

Hey, Brian, Playboy's PMOM is considered 'the girl next door' (albeit with large breasts). I don't know when an Asian Indian-American first 'graced' their pages but I'm pretty sure it was years ago.

Shame on those folks who are upset that an Indian American has been crowned Miss America. Good on New York state pageant officials for sending another winner to the contest. If memory serves, Vanessa Williams was also Miss New York, too.

Sep. 17 2013 10:35 AM

Can you please acknowledge that the new Miss America was recorded referring to her predecessor as fat as f***? The backlash against Ms. Davuluri is offensive, but prejudice against people based on weight should be just as offensive.

Sep. 17 2013 10:35 AM
Theresa from Brooklyn

Why aren't we talking about why we still have such a sexist practice as beauty pageants, and why we can' t seem to get away from this ridiculous anachronism?

Sep. 17 2013 10:35 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Personally I would rather have see an native American "indian" win for once. None of the Miss Americas have EVER represented the first true "Americans."

Sep. 17 2013 10:32 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Having just viewed the side-by-side of Julie Chen, it is apparent that she had more than just her eyes done. The photos don't even appear to be of the same person.

Sep. 17 2013 10:32 AM
mwong from nyc

Bryan-- this is no vote yea/nay but Asians, celebs and civilians, in Asia have been getting plastic surgery eyes, and more for years now. ie: Jackie Chan.

Sep. 17 2013 10:32 AM
Tariq from Manhattan

race, race, race... can we focus on real pressing issues facing this country already?!! Is the R in NPR race? What happened to this program?

Sep. 17 2013 10:31 AM
Tony from Canarsie

Will the press please stop describing Nina Davuluri as "Indian"? She was born in Syracuse, NY, 'fer cryin' out loud.

Sep. 17 2013 10:10 AM

1.) Please address the influences of anime, manga and pornography in perpetuating stereotypes and images of Asian women.

"Both sexual objectification and pornography have been integrated into the mainstream of all media in some direct form or implication."
~ From a review of the film, 'The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality & Relationships'

(Incidentally, one of the producers of this film, Chyng Sun, whom I heard interviewed, would appear to be an Asian woman.)

2.) Isn't the continued existence of the Miss America enterprise and, particularly, its endorsement (de facto, at least) by even the highest levels of United States society*, rather appalling?

"What a strange illusion it is to assume that beauty is goodness."
~ Tolstoy

*I had a very quick look at the Wikipedia entry on Miss America and was struck by a photo with the caption,
"Miss America contestants visit Andrews Air Force Base in 2003".

Sep. 17 2013 04:09 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.