Growing up as Chinese-Americans in the primarily white Bay Area of northern California during the 1990s, Jenny and Willa Jin were realized their eyelids were different. “If only you had double eyelids, it would make your eyes look bigger and you’d look better,” Willa, now 21, remembers hearing her parents and family members say.
Double-Eyelid Surgery, also known as Blepharoplasty, was a hot topic in the Jin household. Both sisters were born with monolids — an eye shape characterized by the absence of crease. When Jenny, who is now 28, was 18, their mother offered to pay for Double-Eyelid Surgery. “I definitely didn’t feel like she was pressuring me,” says Jenny. “It was more giving me the option and letting me know it would be okay if I wanted to.”
So, in the summer of 2006, just mere months before Jenny started her freshman year of college, she flew to China, where the procedure costs less. (Willa, then 11, accompanied her for moral support). The two sisters, who used to have practically identical eyes, are now separated by a delicate piece of skin. Willa, who has often been asked if she would like the surgery, too, has never felt the urge. Willa and Jenny’s story draws attention to the middle ground of family, physical alteration, and cultural pressure.
According to the sisters, Double-Eyelid Surgery is copiously embraced in Asia. “There’s less stigma around Plastic Surgery and almost none around Double-Eyelid Surgery,” says Willa. “It was encouraged by my Chinese mother and grandmother.” Things may be changing around the globe, too: According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Blepharoplasty is the second most popular Plastic Surgery procedure following Rhinoplasty (Nose Surgery) in the U.S.
Jenny’s Blepharoplasty took less than an hour and only required Local Anesthesia. “It was really freaky,” she reminisces. “Imagine being fully conscious and having your eye region numbed, but being fully aware that surgeons were essentially sewing up your eyelids.” She went home that same day with swollen eyelids. “It looked like someone punched both of my eyes,” she remarks. After a week of healing, her stitches were removed and her new double lids emerged. “I was super excited! I could do so much more with my makeup,” she recalls. “I still felt like I looked the same, just with a subtle alteration.”
Even though monolids are most frequently associated with those of Asian descent, the trait sometime appears on European and African faces, too. Many critics consider Blepharoplasty a desire to conform to Western beauty ideals. “I don’t think my mindset was that I wanted to look less Asian or more white,” Jenny says. “It was more that I thought double eyelids would enhance my face.”
Regardless, it’s hard to ignore the cultural aspect. Like natural hair, stereotypically Asian features, like monolids, aren’t considered traditionally beautiful by today’s standards, says Willa: “It plays into the Western dominance over the rest of the world, not just in beauty standards but in other ways, too. No matter what, even subconsciously, it’s still an influence.”
An understanding of sociocultural pressures has not shielded Willa from them. “I have felt a certain level of shame in my life. Everyone around me was telling me I needed to look a certain way to be beautiful,” she says. In high school, when she was first beginning to dip her toes into the makeup world, she was frustrated by the number of YouTube tutorials for women with double eyelids. “I always felt like I wasn’t the norm,” she says. Today, age and wisdom have played a role in her decision not to undergo surgery. “Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with myself,” she says. “I was born this way, so why should I try to change it?”
Jenny never regrets her own decision to go under the knife. “I had something done to positively enhance my features and it’s made me more confident,” she says. She makes the distinction, though, that surgery is not a panacea for low self-worth. “For people who feel like there’s something wrong with them, Plastic Surgery is not going to completely solve your problems,” she says. “It’s more beneficial to people who are already comfortable with themselves, but just want that extra boost.”
The question persists: How does Willa feel staring into her own sister’s double-lidded eyes from her own unaltered monolids? “At this point, I can’t remember what Jenny looked like before. I was young, I just accepted it.” At the end of the day, she continues, “It’s a personal choice. If getting Double-Eyelid Surgery makes someone feel more confident, I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with that. Who am I to shame someone else for doing something for themselves?”
“Ethnic Facial Cosmetic Surgery is a personal choice meant to enhance one’s appearance and help increase self-confidence and self-esteem — it’s not meant to make everyone resemble Caucasian individuals or look like Kim Kardashian, Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber, or Barbie.” — Dr. Slupchynskyj
If you are a Chinese-American interested in learning more about Blepharoplasty, schedule your consultation today with Facial Cosmetic Surgeon Dr. Oleh Slupchynskyj, who is celebrated for helping Ethnic patients preserve their cultural identity.