Julie Chen reveals she had cosmetic surgery for her "Asian eyes"
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 09/12/2013
Julie Chen has revealed a big, personal secret she has kept private for a couple of decades.
The 43-year-old Big Brother host has revealed she previously responded to racism by having plastic surgery on her eyes to alter her Chinese appearance in the hopes of one day making it big as a network anchor.
When Chen was 25-years-old and working as a local news reporter in Dayton, OH, she asked her news director if she could occasionally fill in for an absent anchor. During Wednesday's broadcast of The Talk, Chen told her co-hosts that the news director had replied, "'You will never be on this anchor desk because you're Chinese.'"
Chen continued, "[He said], 'Let's face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we really have in Dayton? The audience can't relate to you because you're not like them... You look disinterested. You look bored because your eyes are so heavy. They're so small.'"
Chen described the news as a "dagger in her heart," because she realized her career success might be hindered solely because of the way her eyes looked. Chen told her The Talk co-hosts she then developed a complex and became increasingly insecure about her eyes. She'd play back tapes of her live reporting and "all I could see was my eyes," she said.
Chen attributed the news director's opinion to racism and decided to leave that job, assuming it was a one-off incident. She then sought out a "big-time agent" in Los Angeles who worked with "the biggest names" to help her find a new position. Unfortunately, the agent offered the same exact insulting perspective.
The agent said, "'I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger. But I will tell you this, you're good at what you do. If you get this plastic surgery done, you're going straight to the top,'" Chen explained.
The agent then gave her a list of plastic surgeons who have done the operation before.
Chen went on to state that more than half of Asians are born with a double eyelid called a "crease" and have additional fat on the top of their eyes, which makes them appear "hooded and heavy." Chen said when Asians with the "crease" open their eyes, the excess skin or fat hangs down and makes their eyes look droopy.
In her mid-twenties, Chen believed plastic surgery would be the equivalent of achieving her lifelong dream. She then shared the option with her mother who was "destroyed" by the idea. However, Chen's mother came around and decided to have a deeper conversation with the Big Brother host's father and entire family.
Chen's family apparently had a drastic difference of opinion. Some of them supported her, while others admitted they'd disown her because they felt she'd be denying her Chinese heritage. But Chen knew this agent already represented who she believed to be the top Asian broadcaster in America at the time, so she was convinced he knew what he was talking about.
Chen's parents then contacted her after many discussions and expressed their support and love -- saying they'd fly to Los Angeles, pay for the surgery and hold her hand through the recovery if the procedure was something she truly felt she had to do. At that moment, Chen decided to follow through with the surgery, and it took her about a year to heal.
Now, Chen said, her "eyes are bigger. I look more alert, more expressive."
Chen explained she still wonders at times whether she made the correct choice, but she admitted, "After I got that done, the ball did roll for me. I struggle with, 'Did I give into the man and do this?'"
However, Chen is currently happy and successful.
"Look, I don't like to live with regret," Chen told her co-hosts. "I did it. I moved on. No one is more proud of being Chinese than I am. I have to live with the decision I had made... It got me to where [I] am today, so I won't look back."