The Myth of Westernization: Here’s the Real Truth About Asian Plastic Surgery

14 Oct 2014 at 4:30pm

Written by Beverly Hills Facial Plastic Surgeon Dr. Donald Yoo

Julie Chen Before and AfterWhen a prominent media personality speaks out about getting plastic surgery to “look less Asian,” as news anchor Julie Chen recently did, there’s a natural tendency for the mass media to label all Asian cosmetic surgery as an attempt to become “Westernized” — to look less Asian and more Caucasian.

On E!’s plastic surgery reality show Botched, we heard the unfortunate story of Cheryl Ling, a Chinese woman who also encountered some of the same pressures that ultimately drove Julie Chen to pursue plastic surgery. While these motivations may hold true for a small percentage of Asian patients who have undergone these procedures during the last century, the contemporary landscape of Asian cosmetic surgery is a bit different from this media portrayal.

Asian plastic surgery in Asia, and in modern day America, is about enhancing and improving one’s own natural beauty — just as it is for almost every patient seeking cosmetic procedures. The term “Westernization” is really an antiquated term created by “Western” plastic surgeons with cursory familiarity with the desires of Asian patients. The divide is particularly apparent when you consider the fact that the term was contrived during a time when Asian cosmetic surgery procedures were being innovated and perfected by Japanese and Korean plastic surgeons.

When it comes to Asian eyelid surgery, it’s a common misconception that the motivation to undergo the procedure is an attempt to look more “Western.” This is rarely the case. A supratarsal crease, or a “double eyelid,” is naturally present in about 50% of Asians. For most patients, Asian eyelid surgery is about achieving a look that occurs naturally within their own ethnicity, rather than acquiring one that’s outside of it.

The goal during Asian eyelid surgery, then, is not to achieve a high, dramatic crease such as Angelina Jolie, but a lower, fuller, slightly more delicate and distinctly Asian crease:

Angelina Jolie vs. Asian Eyelid Surgery

Asian rhinoplasty is another procedure that the media has labeled as “Westernization.” However, this is about as accurate as Caucasian patients seeking out rhinoplasty to appear more “Eastern.” Caucasian patients who undergo rhinoplasty to straighten their profiles or make their noses smaller are not trying to look more “Eastern.” They simply want to refine and enhance their appearance. The same can be said for Asian patients seeking to augment their noses to make them taller. The goal is the same: to refine and enhance.

Song vs. BlakeAsian patients commonly look to South Korean actress Song Hye-kyo, whose nose has moderate bridge height, length, and tip projection. They are not seeking Blake Lively’s nose, which has more significant height, length and projection. The goal for these patients is to refine the characteristics of their ethnicity, not to erase them.

With the globalization of commerce and plastic surgery, patients on all sides of the globe are exposed to ideas and influences originating from outside their sphere of knowledge. As a facial plastic surgeon and an Asian, it’s my hope that as this free exchange of ideas continues to progress, American mass media will also become more aware of the actual desires of patients seeking Asian cosmetic surgery and portray this topic in a more balanced light.

Dr. Donald Yoo

About Dr. Donald Yoo

Dr. Donald Yoo is a facial plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, California. Learn more at