The pressure to look beautiful has become increasingly present in today’s society. With TV shows, movies and magazines flaunting some of the best looking people in the world, it’s no wonder most of us feel like we don’t hit the mark.
The longing to appear more attractive has always existed for men and women alike, but the very definition of what is attractive and what is beautiful has changed drastically over the years. The Victorians depicted the epitome of beauty in their paintings as curvaceous, busty women, whilst long ago the Japanese celebrated the elegance and perfection of the Geisha. However, an increasing number of the population are feeling the burden of a new, modern-day beauty ideal: having a Western look. In a desperate attempt to fit into this image, some are choosing to go under the knife to achieve this new ‘look’.
This growing trend is already the norm in places like Seoul, South Korea, where one in five women have had some type of surgery to help them look more Western. In fact, there are now a multitude of procedures one can undergo with the aim to “westernise” non-Caucasian features. It has become so popular that these procedures now have a name: de-racialisation surgery.
Plastic surgery is sweeping across Asian countries in particular. With over 4,000 clinics across the country, South Korea takes the prize for plastic surgery capital of the world. Here the most popular cosmetic surgery is double eyelid surgery; making the eyes appear bigger and rounder. In close second is refining the nose using rhinoplasty to make the tip of the nose more prominent. Following that, jaw bone surgery to make the jaw appear softer.
An Australian SBS Documentary called ‘Change My Race’ highlighted some of these extreme procedures such as facial contouring, skin whitening, calf reduction and double eyelid surgery. In the documentary, Chinese-Australian presenter Anna Choy explores the hidden truth behind our obsession with looking Western and reveals her own inner battles with accepting her Chinese origins.
But why are so many young women in particular ashamed of their inherited ethnic features? Is it really worth erasing your identity to fit into a predominantly white society?
The Power of White
As much as we all think this is a new phenomenon, the truth is that this racial divide has been around for hundreds of years, and still some reminiscence remains. We may have moved on from slave labour and the Nazi revolution, but in turn we have moved into a new era filled with incredible technology and far reaching media influence. There is power in the colour white, and with power comes beauty and respect.
Magazines are becoming culprits in ‘lightening’ their models and even adverts are being slated for not casting a variety of races other than Caucasian. Even such music legends as Beyonce and Michael Jackson have been accused of “Westernising” themselves. Adorned with a blonde wig and using clever studio lighting, in a recent picture to promote her new album Beyonce looked much lighter than her natural skin tone.
Let’s not forget Michael Jackson’s radical transformation over the years. Could his rise to stardom have affected the way he viewed himself? His bodily changes were shrouded in secrecy and the reasons as to how and why his skin turned white became a controversial subject for years.
These celebrities may have outraged many by “betraying” their Ethnic heritage, but sadly, for a rising number of young people, this depiction of a “white, western global beauty ideal” has been accepted as a valid reason to go under the knife.
Outnumbered and Out-casted
Australia is an ever-growing multicultural society and houses a large number of citizens of many ethnic origins. According to Arthur Kemp in The Immigration Invasion,
In mid-2006 there were 4,956,863 residents who were born outside Australia, representing 24% of the total population. The Australian-resident population consists of people who were born in these countries:
China (Excluding Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau), 279,447; Vietnam, 180,352; India, 153,579; Philippines, 135,619; Malaysia, 103,947; Lebanon, 86,599; Sri Lanka, 70,908; Indonesia, 67,952; Fiji, 58,815; Pakistan, 19,768; and Bangladesh, 13,751.
Although these people make up a good quarter of the population they remain a minority for now. Discrimination against colour and race is still very much prominent in Western society. Children go to school with their Australian peers and are teased for looking different, despite being born and raised there.
But it’s not just their peers who make them feel like they do not fit in. In the SBS documentary they follow a 16 year old girl called Kathy. Kathy was born and raised in Australia by her Vietnamese parents. She is a sweet girl who seems carefree and content with the way she looks. However her parents feel adamant that if she were to look more Western she would have better success in her life and future career.
Her parents felt so strongly that they pressured Kathy into having cosmetic surgery to change her face. To please her parents she had fillers injected in her nose, eyelid surgery and a chin reduction procedure. Whilst her parents gushed over her new look, Kathy seemed emotionless.
At the young age of 16, having just undergone drastic surgery that could change her life forever, her only apparent feeling seemed that of relief. Maybe she hoped that the surgery would make her parents happy and get them off her back as any teenager would feel. But, is such an extreme measure worth it? I can only wonder how this girl might feel in 20 years time.
The Asian Culture
In Korean culture women are judged more on their looks than any other women in the world. As stated on seoultouchup.com,
Generally in Asia, good looks and having a good face are like stepping stones- for they do open up doors to many of life’s advantages.
Clearly this is the foundation for the reason that has lead to a high rate of cosmetic surgery in Asia. Its rise in popularity has made plastic surgery all the more affordable and accessible for the average person, and with the opportunity there to become more beautiful and successful, more and more young people are choosing the ‘easy’ path of surgery.
What was once seen as an extreme step in a bid for perfection is now seen as an everyday normality in countries like Korea. You could almost go as far as to say it is expected of women in such a society. If they do not conform to this ideal, they may be out-casted from what was once a network of friends. Non-conformity could even bring shame to their family.
The question still remains: what is perfection and beauty in their eyes? Are they just aspiring to a model of beauty that is completely unrealistic?
There’s Still Hope for the Future
We can only hope that in the coming years the world will open up and accept all races for what they are. After all, diversity is real beauty. I believe that having heritage is part of one’s identity. Your birth origin and ethnic background is an important part of who you are. All cultures should be celebrated and each of us should be proud of what is in our blood, not reject or suppress it.
If the victims of de-racialisation surgery keep growing we are at risk of losing not only our personal identities, but the world’s. The decisions, views, values and choices that we make today will shape the future of our offspring. Let’s strive to make the right ones.