The Latest Endangered Species: Asian Eyelids

If you are Caucasian you probably aren’t even sure what the term “Asian eyelids” means.  If, however, you are a member of the East Asian community in the States or live in the affluent sectors of Seoul, you probably know exactly what people mean when they use the term “Asian eyelids.”  You also know “Asian eyelids” is not a term used to denote beauty within your community.

As countries like South Korea have begun to reap the rewards of their participation in the global marketplace and to acquire the benefits that go along with Western modeled lifestyle, they have also begun to model more than just business practices.  Along with the fancy suits, luxury automobiles and American style business cards have come a Westernized aesthetic about appearance. 

So it is that the plastic surgery community has developed in East Asia to answer this newfound demand to look more “Western.”  Thus even as foot-binding has receded into the misty past of Chinese history—now considered a barbarous and wholly unnecessary practice—a new form of mutilation to achieve an esthetic standard has arisen like a phoenix form its ashes.  Asian surgeons extend noses, painfully stretch leg bones, thin cheeks, and increase breast size--all this shaping in the service of an alien beauty standard.

By far, however, the most popular surgery of all is the surgery to replace Asian eyelids with the large eyed Caucasian eyelids whose perfectly symmetrical creases have become the standard of beauty on the streets of Seoul.

East Asian Blepharoplasty

Plastic surgeons term eyelid surgery, blepharoplasty.  Although eyelid surgery is also common in the West to remove the drooping bags that make so many of us look tired, in the East, double-eyelid blepharoplasty is so common Asians simply refer to it as “the surgery”.  Asian women take to it in order to not only increase their attractiveness but also because it opens new career paths as many bars and restaurants hire based on physical attractiveness.

The purpose of the surgery is to create the crease that characterizes the Occidental eyelid.  About half of all Asians are born without this feature on their eyelids.  Even those who have this prized feature naturally, however, find that it is irregular in Asian eyelids occurring at varying distances from the eyelash ridge.  Thus, even if you are lucky enough to have the fold from birth, you might still find yourself a candidate for this surgery anyway. 

Typically, the surgery involves a simple incision across the eyelid to form the much-treasured Western crease.  The surgery takes only ten minutes and the recovery is relatively short.

Unfortunately, shady surgeons with dubious credentials crowd the East Asian cosmetic marketplace taking advantage of the shortage of certified cosmetic surgeons and the high prices the legitimate surgeons charge.  Although most any well-trained cosmetic surgeon can perform a blepharoplasty in ten minutes without complication, lawsuits against plastic surgeons in the East have spiked in recent years.  The lack of regulation in the Asian marketplace only increases the possibilities for fraud.

Cultural Evolution (or Devolution)

Although Asian culture has until recently had a strong prohibition against such displays of vanity and greed, the plastic surgery industry has literally capitalized on another cross current in Asian culture that demands cultural conformity.  For those for whom surgery is out of reach, the cosmetic industry has developed tapes and glues that can temporarily achieve the same effect of the surgery for much less.  Thus, this foreign standard of beauty has displaced the Asian standard and created a whole new pool of consumers who have grown up to find themselves as targets for a whole industry looking to profit from their insecurities.  It is in this way that the triumph of consumerism develops another emerging market.

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