From Retouching To Plastic Surgery: Minorities And Assimilation | A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

From Retouching To Plastic Surgery: Minorities And Assimilation

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After writing so much about photoshopped, airbrushed and overall retouched photos that turn images of women into something so different that it looks like a new woman…

…I thought it might be interesting to bring this up, here:

At a plastic surgery clinic in Upper Manhattan that caters to Dominicans, one of the most popular procedures is an operation to lift women’s buttocks, because — as the doctor explains — “they all like the curve.”

In Flushing, Queens, surgeons have their attention trained a few feet higher, on upturned noses that their Chinese patients want flipped down. Russian women in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, are having their breasts enlarged, while Koreans in Chinatown are having jaw lines slimmed.

As the demand for surgical enhancement explodes around the world, New York has developed a host of niche markets that allow the city’s many immigrants to get tucks and tweaks that are carefully tailored to their cultural preferences and ideals of beauty. Just as they can find Lebanese grape leaves or bowls of Vietnamese pho that taste of home, immigrants can locate surgeons able to recreate the cleavage of Thalía, the Mexican singer, or the bright eyes of Lee Hyori, the Korean pop star.

They can also find a growing number of doctors offering layaway plans to help them afford operations. If the price is still too high, illegal surgery by unlicensed practitioners is available in many neighborhoods.

As these specialized clinics reshape Asian eyelids and Latina silhouettes, they provide a pore-level perspective on the aspirations and insecurities of immigrants in 21st-century New York — a mosaic portrait buffed with Botox.

“When a patient comes in from a certain ethnic background and of a certain age, we know what they’re going to be looking for,” said Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh, the president of Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, which has three clinics in the city. “We are sort of amateur sociologists.”

The extreme makeover is, in many ways, a tradition among the city’s immigrants. A century ago, in the early days of cosmetic surgery, European Jews underwent nose jobs and Irish immigrants had their ears pinned back in attempts to look “more American,” said Victoria Pitts-Taylor, a professor of sociology at Queens College who has written about popular attitudes toward plastic surgery.

“The bulk of those operations were targeted at assimilation issues,” Ms. Pitts-Taylor said.

So, I might be a little all over the place here, with this, and that’s okay. But does this mean that other minority groups also struggle with embracing and representing their own ethnic identities in a country with a mostly Eurocentric standard of beauty? And if other non-Europeans in America are struggling with the idea of representing themselves – eyelid surgery? – what does it say about the standard?

Am I mildly throwing shots at people who’ve endured elective plastic surgery with this post? I’m trying not to, but I can’t help but ask questions about why we choose to embrace certain standards imposed upon us by a society that doesn’t have our best interests in mind or at heart… and I can’t help but ask why we let these things push us toward going under the knife to conform.

…and if “surgery is no big deal” to you, that’s fine. It’s a huge deal to me regardless of whether it is cosmetic or vital.

Moving on, though:

Dr. Holly J. Berns, an anesthesiologist, feels as if she is on a seesaw when she travels from Dr. Yager’s office to suburban clinics. On Long Island, she said, “they’re doing everything they can to get the fat taken out of their buttocks.” In Washington Heights, “it’s the opposite — they just want their rear ends enlarged and rounded.”

Italia Vigniero, 27, a Dominican patient of Dr. Yager’s, received breast implants in 2008 and is considering a buttocks lift to attain, as she called it, “the silhouette of a woman.”

“We Latinas define ourselves with our bodies,” she said. “We always have curves.”

“My personality doesn’t go with small breasts,” she added. Using the words “pecho” and “personalidad” — Spanish for “breast” and “personality” — she coined a term that could serve as Dr. Yager’s motto: “Now, I’m a person with a lot of ‘pechonalidad!’ ”

I mean, the issue that I have with cosmetic surgeries – like butt lifts and lipo – is that you “need” the surgery because something in your lifestyle prevents you from obtaining that body without intervention of surgery… which is why people who have these kinds of surgeries regularly. It may be no big deal to them to have that procedure done regularly… but I’m cheap. I’m just sayin’.

Moving on, again:

Perhaps the most sought-after procedure among Asians is “double-eyelid surgery,” which creates a crease in the eyelid that can make the eye look rounder. Some people criticize the operation, which is hugely popular in many Asian countries, as a throwback to medical procedures meant to obscure ethnic features.

“You want to be part of the acceptable culture and the acceptable ethnicity, so you want to look more Westernized,” said Margaret M. Chin, a professor of sociology at Hunter College who specializes in Asian immigrant culture. “I feel sad that they feel like they have to do this.”

During consultations before surgery, Dr. Lee shows patients a slide show of a white woman with a natural crease in her eyelids and Asian women without it. He discusses the techniques — a stitch here, a cut there — that can bridge the anatomical differences. But he, like several other Asian plastic surgeons, said the procedure had little to do with assimilation.

“One of the traits of beauty is to have large eyes,” Dr. Lee said, “and to get that effect you have to have the double eyelids.”

For all the cultural differences, New York plastic surgeons acknowledge that ethnic neighborhoods are not islands. American pop culture, they say, has strongly influenced how immigrants and their children believe they should look, and reality television shows like “Bridalplasty” have encouraged surgical solutions.

In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Dr. Elena Ocher, a Russian immigrant, attributes the wave of young Russian women requesting breast implants — by far her clinic’s most popular procedure among that group — to American culture, not Russian. “The new generations of Russians are very American, and there’s something in America about large breasts,” she said. “What is this fixation?”

Maya Bronfman, 30, an accountant from Moldova, said many of her Russian friends had undergone procedures, but she shrugged off notions of American beauty ideals. “Everyone in New York is some sort of an immigrant,” she said. “They’re just doing it to feel good.” [source]

I mean, by the definition in this article, Black Americans aren’t immigrants, but um…. is there anyone else that is seeing the same similarities that I’m seeing, here?

As I read this article, my heart just sank lower and lower. Sure, there are examples of individuals who didn’t seek to obscure their ethnicity, but think of those numbers – 5% of Asians, 3% of Latinos and 4% of whites? Each year? And the doctor shows a patient a powerpoint of white women with “desired eyelids” next to Asians who don’t have them? People need surgery to “feel good?” Television – one of the most non-diverse environments ever – is influencing how children think they should look?

“One of the traits of beauty is to have large eyes,” Dr. Lee said, “and to get that effect you have to have the double eyelids.”

In other words… “one of the traits of beauty is this thing that isn’t found in my culture at all, but I’m going to embrace this foreign standard anyway and undergo surgery to obtain this trait.” I mean, that’s basically what that means, right?

That leads me into my final point.

I’m at a point in my journey where I have to truly sit and think about what I want my body to look like… and every time I try to decide on an acceptable personal standard, I take the time to think about “why.” Did I want to be “thick?” Why? Did I want to have huge boobs? Why? Did I want to have an extremely curvaceous figure? Why?

The trick, here, is not to conform to someone else’s standard of beauty, but to identify and feel secure in defining my own. My own standard that isn’t in existence because I want to attract a mate or because I want to use my body as a status symbol among other women (hell, other men, either.) My own standard that exists because it not only keeps me fit, but protects my health, as well. No keeping an excess of fat because I’m scared of losing my booty; no starving myself because I want to look like [insert actress].

If I create my own standard while keeping in mind that it exists because of my own health and happiness, not creating a body that makes me happy because it makes “someone else” – usually men, especially since they seem to like a lot of pechonalidad – then guess what? The amount of confidence that comes from that can never be shaken. Ever.

 

 

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

22 Comments

  1. Michalet Corbett-Clark

    February 28, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Whenever I’m in china people come up to me and compliment my eyes too. I’m definitely not white. It was explained to me that wide eyes see more and therefore are wiser. The criteria for being a police officer is large earlobes. More alert to sound. (Kanye shrug). It isn’t all about the white ideal until you go to Hong Kong who was under the rule of Europeans until recently. American Asians are a whole ‘nother issue. I’m sure it’s media based.

    • Bannef

      January 19, 2012 at 12:06 AM

      Yeah, I did want to mention that the assumption that small eyes is an Asian trait… Is a very Western assumption. I talked to some Japanese girls about it, and they think white people have the small eyes. :D I just wanted to mention that the double eyelid does naturally occur in many Asian people, and while Western values of beauty absolutely do affect other countries and communities, sometimes I think white people get a little caught up on the assumption that everyone wants to look like us.

      I completely agree with everything you said – we need to really THINK about our standards of beauty no matter where they are coming from! It’s just that specific issue is something that I’ve seen come up elsewhere, and I think it’s an interesting point, if not that relevant to the issue of social pressures.

      • Naomi

        May 7, 2012 at 12:36 AM

        Replying to emphasise this point:

        “Yeah, I did want to mention that the assumption that small eyes is an Asian trait… Is a very Western assumption. I talked to some Japanese girls about it, and they think white people have the small eyes. I just wanted to mention that the double eyelid does naturally occur in many Asian people, and while Western values of beauty absolutely do affect other countries and communities, sometimes I think white people get a little caught up on the assumption that everyone wants to look like us.”

        The Asian beauty ideal of light skin and big eyes is definitely tied up with Eurocentric ideals of beauty but … it’s complicated. For Asians in Asia, there is no conscious desire to want to look “more white”.

        It’s harder to say for Asian-Americans, whose experiences are varied. I know many Asian-Americans who grew up with exposure to Asian media and pop culture, and for them, the big-eye beauty ideal is more about looking like a Lee Hyori than a [insert white actress here], but I can’t speak on behalf of Asian-Americans who grew up in predominantly white communities and surrounded by white American media.

  2. Ladi Ohm

    February 28, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    Okay… so this was right on time for me. I was recently approached with the comment that my exercise regimen and eating habits were a form of assimilation as well. It was really disturbing because I am seriously striving for a healthier life. To have my ‘blackness’ questioned because I’d rather have a salad than some Popeye’s (and yes… that was the exact situation) hurt. I guess veggies and the stair master make me ‘Euro-centric’ but whateves. Like you said… I’ve gotta figure what I want to look like for me, me alone, and maintain my own standard of beauty. Great post Erika!

  3. Daphne

    February 28, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    What I think is really sad is that there is a “reward” for these surgeries. How many women are complimented on how good they look afterwards? How many women receive more male attention than they did before? How many women receive better opportunities otherwise, whether in the job market or the social scene?

    I don’t think the procedures would be growing in popularity if there was no reward that outweighed the risks. Goodness knows how many celebrities have gone under the knife? I notice there is only criticism on plastic surgery when it’s gone wrong or looks off. Not in the practice itself. See anyone criticizing, say, Halle Berry for her nose job? Nope, she is frequently touted as one of the world’s most beautiful women. REWARD.

    I can’t see myself going under the knife for cosmetic surgery, ever, unless it is absolutely necessary for my health and well-being. But…depending in what social circle one runs in, that choice could be to one’s detriment.

    It seems to me you need a strong sense of self and a willingness to buck some social norms to really be comfortable in your own body.

    • Rooo

      May 17, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      “What I think is really sad is that there is a “reward” for these surgeries. How many women are complimented on how good they look afterwards? How many women receive more male attention than they did before? How many women receive better opportunities otherwise, whether in the job market or the social scene?
      I don’t think the procedures would be growing in popularity if there was no reward that outweighed the risks. Goodness knows how many celebrities have gone under the knife? I notice there is only criticism on plastic surgery when it’s gone wrong or looks off. Not in the practice itself. See anyone criticizing, say, Halle Berry for her nose job? Nope, she is frequently touted as one of the world’s most beautiful women. REWARD. “

      I think Daphne pretty much nails it all down right here.

      • Amanda

        November 1, 2013 at 1:17 PM

        I second that opinion. It is one thing to say you can accept yourself but it is another to actually do it in a society that rewards physical traits that you don’t have.

  4. Emma

    March 1, 2011 at 6:22 AM

    I actually read the same article about minorities getting plastic surgery to assimilate too, and it made me angry. Not at the PoC getting surgery, at the doctors who were feeding them that stuff. “One of the traits of beauty is having big eyes”? Since when do we have a universal “trait of beauty”? Beauty is subjective and though yeah, here in the West we definitely have ideas of traditional beauty that the media pushes on us, that doesn’t make those ideas fact.

    I’ll create my own idea of beauty.

  5. michelle

    April 19, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    I find the idea of plastic surgery intriguing. I think the only thing that stops me is what would be a diminishing of my pride in how I GOT to where I am. I am proud to say that my figure is not enhanced or fake anywhere. I think its easy to look amazing if you have help. Can you have three kids and get back in shape NATURALLY though? That impresses me. The one thing I have wanted for years and will definitely get when I have the extra income is a tummy tuck. No matter how much I work out it doesnt take away that little fold of skin from my three c-sections. I think its the difference between me wearing a size 10 jeans and a size 8. Im 5’10 so Im happy at a 10..I would just love a flatter belly and I dont think thats assimilation related. Thats just part of having a more youthful appearance. Keep up the good work though…I love the blog.

  6. Navylady

    April 26, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    I throughly enjoyed your article and can understand your thoughts about surgery. However, at almost 50, and having lost about 100+ lbs over the past 5 years I am left with thighs that I absolutely HATE! I HATE THEM…not the public, not my man, mother, gfriends, etc. I DO. I want the surgery because even though I work out 4x a week and have been for the past 2-3 years and wavier between a size 12 and 14, I still cannot get my thighs as toned as I want them. I’m not trying to look like Beyonce, or any other female on or off tv. I just want to be able to wear a one-piece bathing suit without having to wear one with the attached skirt (remember Henrietta Hippo?) or a wrap or a damn coverup for my thighs! I’m happy with the rest of me…my average breasts, my big and not so toned behind, and even my “belly” fat…I just want to feel as good about myself when I look down as I do when I look in the mirror. I don’t think my issue is about assimilation but more about feeling comfortable with the skin I’m in. I learned way back that my idea of beauty is different and that I haven’t fit societies version of beautiful in a long while. I’m happy with the skin I’m in, just want a little less of it on my legs…LOL! I love your blog! I recommend and refer friends to it often. Keep up the good work both for yourself and the rest of your”sisters”! I welcome your feedback.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      April 26, 2011 at 8:16 PM

      If the only thing keeping you from “feeling good about yourself” is a jiggily thigh… I’m wondering if your self-esteem is as high as you think it is. And I don’t think surgery is going to tend to that.

      If you’re working out so strenuously and you’re still bouncing between a 12 and a 14, then you need to modify your diet and your intake. As we age – no matter our age – it becomes a more calculated task to lose weight accordingly. And I’m only bringing this up because even if you decide to get some surgery anyway, if you eat like a 150lb woman, even though surgery made you a 130lb woman, you’re GOING to gain the 20lbs back. It’s THAT simple.

      I can’t challenge a woman’s life. I don’t live it. I can point out holes in your logic and let you know the realities of your decisions… and I can also hope for the best for you, with love.

  7. Marion@affectionforfitness

    July 11, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    My mother-in-law is Korean and had the eyelid surgery, though she doesn’t admit to any of her plastic surgery. After the thousands she spent on her face, she still acts extremely inadequate about her looks. And if you say the word, “wrinkle,” or “freckle,” she has noticeable panic. There’s no plastic surgery that can fix the inner anxiety and feelings of inadequacy about her looks.

    I, on the other hand, look a lot like my favorite grandma, who was intelligent, humorous, and artistic. Every year I age, I look a little more like her, which is okay with me.

    :-) Marion

  8. Ruth

    March 8, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    Well, I see this is an older post, but I felt like throwing in my 2 cents. lol
    I have lost almost 100 pounds, I work out pretty hard, it’s been a year of maintenance and I still have loose skin. Now I am trying as hard as I can to accept the flaws and focus on the success, but I feel like this skin is just holding me back at times. I don’t know if this falls into the whole doing it for society’s standards. I want to leave the old me totally behind and move into the future without the “baggage” . I am 44, and I guess the skin just isn’t as elastic as I had hoped it would be. I don’t have a problem embracing flaws I am born with, or scars from things that have happened, but this skin issue is something more to me. I know I have been putting in the work, and I see rewards, but now I guess I am ready to let surgery take care of what I can’t seem to do myself.
    Lol….it’s such a hard decision, I feel almost like a failure to admit how badly I want the surgery, but without it, I don’t think I can ever see the results I have earned. It’s like I have to explain myself to myself over and over, when it reality someone with a flaw they hate would just have the surgery and be happy.

  9. Vee

    April 3, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    After losing 100lbs I am considering getting plastic surgery (liposuction) I want to lose some more weight. I currently weigh 144 and my ideal weight is between 125-130lbs.

    I met with one physician last week and he quoted me a price. I don’t see anything wrong with getting plastic surgery especially after having sagging skin. I have upped my weight training to 3 days. I want my stomach to be flatter without my pouch sticking out and love handles and my triceps toned.

    I don’t see plastic surgery as ‘assimilation’ if someone wants to get some work done to improve themselves and no one else I am all for it :)

  10. kiko

    September 19, 2012 at 12:34 AM

    Hi Erika, I appreciated this whole article and especially your last point. It really is difficult to imagine my OWN standard of beauty and health, disregarding all outside influences. I’m not even sure if that’s possible. If we don’t take into account media and cultural influences, where, then, do our personal standards come from? Perhaps then my standard should be what makes me feel physically good. In that case, I’m already there. But I do have to admit, I wish I were thinner and I wish I had a bigger behind.

    I know people from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and it’s interesting to see how widely their personal standards of beauty differ. I get a totally different message from my parents (“being thick is unattractive, big thighs and hips are bad”) than I get from people who are not white or asian. It’s helped me see how subjective beauty standards are.

    Oh and by the way, I did get a breast augmentation four years ago. I have to say, I don’t regret it at all. Yeah, it’s crappy that people go under the knife to feel more attractive and therefore better. But we put on makeup and dye, perm, and style our hair for the same reason. I have immense respect for people who don’t succumb to following mainstream beauty norms in order to feel good. I’m not that strong yet. Still, I think it would be great to set my own beauty standards and work toward attaining them.

  11. Alicia

    June 8, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    I lived in Korea for almost 6 years (just recently moved back to the US). Getting eyelid surgery for a double eyelid or bigger eyes is not a desire to look white. It is something that is attractive to them. I’ve had this discussion so many times with Korean friends.

    Why are people so obsessed with judging other people’s choices?

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 9, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      I think, because many people are oblivious to the myriad ways that society and their collective community inform their choices, even if tacitly.

      Just because a person says to me “No, I didn’t get eyelid surgery to look like white people,” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re aware of the fact that a European standard of beauty encourages people to give benefits to people who look European… and that those benefits – benefits like, for instance, being found “more beautiful” – contribute to someone wanting the surgery. If you tell me “There’s something attractive about these new eyelids,” and think that a European standard of beauty doesn’t inform that, then I’m going to need a deeper understanding of what you think truly informs that. And, quite honestly, my assumption will be that you might

      That’s just like Black people who say “No, I don’t judge people with ‘ghetto names’ because of white superiority…I judge them because how are they ever going to get a job?!” No, the reason why people with “ghetto” names can’t get jobs is because the assumptions made on the part of the HR director when they are met with a “ghetto name” on a resume prevent them from wanting to hire an assumedly “ghetto” person… and by “ghetto,” I mean “non-white.”

      Like, just telling me that “white people” didn’t have a direct influence on one’s decision to undergo an invasive procedure isn’t enough to prove to me that “white people” didn’t have any influence, I’m sorry to say.

      I hope that helps a bit.

      • Alicia

        June 9, 2013 at 5:59 PM

        It’s not new and that’s my point. It’s not something that Asians have started doing because they moved to the US.

        Going back centuries, things like “whiter” skin have been looked favorably upon in Asia because it meant you weren’t a farmer or laborer working outdoors and were, therefore, more financially well to do. That ideal of beauty has continued to where there are whitening creams and whitening agents in almost all makeup– It was very rare for me to ever find makeup in Korea that didn’t have ‘whitening’ on the label.

        Clinics in Asian-filled immigrant areas specializing in eye surgery did not pop up to make Asians “look white”. All over Korea, China and Japan especially, you can find plastic surgery clinics that perform an incredible number of these surgeries. There are many Asians who are naturally born with a double eyelid. Getting double eyelid surgery does not make an Asian look white.

        I also do not understand where your reference to “ghetto names” has any correlation to make comment as it had nothing to do with what I said.

        You are making some insanely broad generalizations…

        • Erika Nicole Kendall

          June 9, 2013 at 6:01 PM

          “I also do not understand where your reference to “ghetto names” has any correlation to make comment as it had nothing to do with what I said.”

          Of course you don’t. You’re missing my point.

          • Alicia

            June 9, 2013 at 6:03 PM

            No, it’s very easy to see what you’re about. Good luck with being so negative in your life.

          • Erika Nicole Kendall

            June 9, 2013 at 6:11 PM

            “No, it’s very easy to see what you’re about.”

            Obviously not, since you so clearly missed my point and now want to insult me for not agreeing with you, LOL.

            1,200 posts on my blog, I tell someone that ignoring societal pressures is short-sighted, and I’m negative? Whew, the Internet is cold. LOLOL

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