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August 13, 2003

Mirror, Mirror . . .

Well I hate to make it look like I'm taking sides in the heated Racial Beauty Battle that appears to be taking place lately in our rather specialized neck of the blogosphere, but Time Asia's latest cover story about the plastic surgery boom in Asia seems too perfectly tailored to the theme to ignore. The biggest controversy of the boom is palpable:

The culturally loaded issue today is the number of Asians looking to remake themselves to look more Caucasian. It's a charge many deny, although few would argue that under the relentless bombardment of Hollywood, satellite TV, and Madison Avenue, Asia's aesthetic ideal has changed drastically. "Beauty, after all, is evolutionary," says Harvard psychology professor Nancy Etcoff, who is the author of Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty—not coincidentally a best seller in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and China. Asians are increasingly asking their surgeons for wider eyes, longer noses and fuller breasts—features not typical of the race. To accommodate such demands, surgeons in the region have had to invent unique techniques. The No. 1 procedure by far in Asia is a form of blepharoplasty, in which a crease is created above the eye by scalpel or by needle and thread; in the U.S., blepharoplasty also ranks near the top, but involves removing bags and fat around the eyes. Likewise, Westerners use botox, or botulinum toxin, to diminish wrinkles—while in Korea, Japan and Taiwan, botox is injected into wide cheeks so the muscle will atrophy and the cheeks will shrink.

Just as Asian faces require unique procedures, their bodies demand innovative operations to achieve the leggy, skinny, busty Western ideal that has become increasingly universal. Dr. Suh In Seock, a surgeon in Seoul, has struggled to find the best way to fix an affliction the Koreans call muu-dari and the Japanese call daikon-ashi: radish-shaped calves. Liposuction, so effective on the legs of plump Westerners, doesn't work on Asians since muscle, not fat, accounts for the bulk. Suh says earlier attempts to carve the muscle were painful and made walking difficult. "Finally, I discovered that by severing a nerve behind the knee, the muscle would atrophy," says Suh, "thereby reducing its size up to 40%." Suh has performed over 600 of the operations since 1996.

Here's one of their interactive graphics showing the most popular cosmetic surgeries in Asia. Indeed, most of them are to achieve common Western features. But chicken or the egg, right? The trend raises some dicey questions, ones that might not easily be answered. But on a blog not shy about picking the genetic side of arguments* it certainly puts us on the defensive.

As a side note, am I the only one who thinks the chosen title for this cover story seems a little offensive?

*Godless thinks that Rushton's order may apply to beauty as well, with men being Asian < white < black and women being Asian > white > black. Razib and I tend toward the agnostic on this issue though.

Clarification: by agnostic I mean we have yet to hear a convincing or unproblematic argument that any characteristic racial phenotype is more desirable as it relates to innate and universal preference. For instance Sailer's Is Love Colorblind? is a convincing (to me) example of innate preferences at work, but they are not universal preferences, they are contextual (b/c one's own body type plays a large role in what members of the opposite sex seem compatible. [e.g. men usually like to date women shorter than they are]). And while this article might suggest growing universal preferences, it probably isn't showing innate ones. Razib has his take in the comment box.
...one more related thing; who here has seen Gattaca? Aaiyyyiii!!!

Godless comments:

This could be possible, but American women (of all races) head to the tanning salon or the beach without us seeing the trend as evidence of internalized racism. Some men do it too.

Also, while I don't know about the breast implants, I do know that most blepharoplasty specialists do not believe that it is about making Asian women look more "Western"

"From having performed surgery since 1981, and teaching the surgical techniques to other doctors for the same period, I honestly do not believe that most of the Asian patients are wanting to look like Westerners or their Caucasian friends. Rather, they want to retain their Asian features with the addition of an aesthetically pleasing Asian eyelid crease, just like their Asian friends or siblings."

Of course, take that with a grain of salt...it's not in his interests to say that it has racial overtones. Lastly, it might be of interest to know that Greta van Susteren had one:

Before the debut of her show, On the Record With Greta Van Susteren, she had an eye lift – medically known as blepharoplasty. It was the talk of the media world.

If this is the same as an "eye lift"...is it really racism? Might be worth checking out some statistics on plastic surgery in North America. Note that only 3% of North American clients were Asian Americans, but eyelid surgery was the fourth most common alteration, with more than 230000 per year. (link). The top 5 in 2002:

Nose reshaping 354,327
Liposuction 282,876
Breast augmentation 236,888
Eyelid surgery 230,672
Facelift 117,831

So it seems that these alterations are fairly common in North America as well. Anyone have stats on the frequency in Asia? Rates would be most interesting...I couldn't find them in the article.

By the way, check out the stunning before and after pics!

Posted by Jason Malloy at 01:33 PM




Another place that's crazy for cosmetic surgery is Brazil. When polled, something like 50% of men and 80% of Brazilian women say they would undergo some sort of cosmetic surgery if price were not an object. They also have the highest c-section rate of any country in the world - maybe a related phenomenon, I don't know...

Posted by: bbartlog at August 13, 2003 02:34 PM


Well one thing about that is that no one around here seems to take the position that black women are the most attractive, but in Brazil the most common surgeries seem to be about getting the fecund figures that are perhaps most easily associated as a West African type.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at August 13, 2003 02:55 PM


well, few people assert that australian aboriginal women are REALLY HOT BABES. that could be a human universal because the phenotype traits they have simply isn't found that congenial to humans-but, it could be that there aren't that many australian aboriginals around to participate in the survey, so the sexual selection factors that shaped their physique-what australian aboriginal men dug-are local developments and so not human universals.

what i'm getting at is that is if 90% of the world was european, you might find that it is a "human universal" that the european physique is the most attractive, ergo, if 90% of the world was black, you might find that black physiques are selected for as a "human universal." we have to distinguish between genuine human universals (no one likes fucking their sister) and those that seem to exist because subpopulation A is more numerous than subpopulation Z and it seems like 90+% of humans dig the the traits of A since 90+% of humans are members of group A....

i'm skeptical that the current plastic surgery trend in eastern asia is the result of some genetic predisposition to want to look white since the historical record indicates that before european hegemony japanese for instance would dye their hair black if it was brown (today they do the reverse) and thought that the epicanthic fold was attractive. after all, the jomon people who contribute 20% of the genes of the japanese, and are today called ainu, exhibited more "caucasoid" features despite their non-caucasoid genetic heritage and there is little record of sexual emulation of the ainu in japanese literature. additionally, the chinese were not unfamiliar with the europoid phenotype, as a non-trivial number of the people around the tarim basin have exhibited it-green eyes & red hair is a reccurring trait among foreigners in chinese historical literature....

Posted by: razib at August 13, 2003 03:04 PM


"As a side note, am I the only one who thinks the chosen title for this cover story seems a little offensive?"

Must be my unPC sense of humour but I laughed out loud when I read it.

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at August 13, 2003 03:12 PM


From personal experience, my Southern Chinese brethren (my mother's side of the family) already have the big eyes (bigger eyes than I've seen on some Europeans) and almost unnoticeable epicanthic eyefolds. I suspect there is a touch of Malay on my mother's side of the family. Northern Chinese and Japanese have smaller eyes but narrower and 'sharper' noses than Southern Chinese. So a good mix between the two could replicate both parts of the jigsaw.

Posted by: Jason Soon at August 13, 2003 04:09 PM


I had to think about the title for awhile, actually. I suppose an argument could be made that someone should have caught the potential racial slur, but I propose that the headline writer was probably trying to capture the hype of the new TV program on F/X called "Nip/Tuck," about plastic surgery.

Posted by: Brandy at August 13, 2003 06:06 PM


I was just kidding about the title. That it most probably wasn't intentional is what makes it funny. If it was intentional, then someone is seriously in need of a change in management. :D

Posted by: Jason Malloy at August 13, 2003 06:13 PM


if blacks, whites, asians are more fecund in that order, it would seem to imply that the attractiveness would also be in that order. Though, perhaps there's a male-female distinction that muddies the waters, since women and men have different strategies due to the number of procreative possibilities.

Posted by: eric f at August 13, 2003 06:37 PM


The thing I really like about Gattaca is it truly is a science fiction movie. So many movies marketed under the "science fiction" label are really just horror or action movies set in space.

Posted by: Jacqueline at August 13, 2003 07:28 PM


I don't get why the title is either funny or not funny.

Posted by: Jacqueline at August 13, 2003 07:30 PM


Nevermind. I was looking at the wrong title. I get it now.

Posted by: Jacqueline at August 13, 2003 07:33 PM


Reminds me of the high incidence of nose jobs amongst American Jews, especially the Hollywood sort. I think Dorothy Parker once said about an actress that she '"Cut off her nose to spite her race."

Posted by: fredrik at August 13, 2003 08:03 PM


Fck, those are some serious facelifts there.

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at August 13, 2003 08:49 PM


Yeah, I'm glad I wasn't born an ugly bastard.

Saved me a cool $15k in "upgrades". :P

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at August 13, 2003 09:59 PM


godless, how much Japanese anime have you watched? I have seen my share- from Hentai to Robotech. Based on that, I think it plausible that many Japanese regard 'White' standards of beauty as the most appealing.

I mean this is an art form they completely control, and I am hard pressed to actually see a person who looks Oriental in 95+% of them. From the small, soft noses to the big eyes to the often colored hair, the characters almost always look 'White'.

It is very plausible (although admittedly not definitive) that many Japanese are getting these surgeries to look 'White'. Considering the popularity of Jap anime across the Pac Rim, it is also plausible that vast segments of other Oriental groups might harbor similar sentiments.

BTW, it is fascinating that these same Jap anime characters have 'Japanese' names despite their Caucasoid features. Obvious significant exceptions abound, like 'Rick Hunter' from Robotech.

Posted by: R at August 13, 2003 10:07 PM


I disagree. From most of the anime I've seen, the characters *do* look more Japanese, but with overly exagerated Western-ish features as far as eyes, nose is concerned. Hair is usually left as is, along with skin color. Even height seems asian-ish as far as i can tell.

I've just never had the perception of seeing "white people" in anime, whether its dubbed or subbed; it all seemed very Japanese to me.

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at August 13, 2003 10:25 PM


Godless, I quoted the article in this very post saying that blepharoplasty is one of the top surgeries in the U.S. as well. But it's more about reducing the puffy parts that happen with aging than creating a double-eyelid. In the US AAs account for 7% of blepharoplsty cases, which I got from this Salon article on the topic. It calls the surgery the Jewish nose-job of the East. LOL.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at August 13, 2003 10:41 PM


"Finally, I discovered that by severing a nerve behind the knee, the muscle would atrophy," says Suh, "thereby reducing its size up to 40%." Suh has performed over 600 of the operations since 1996."

No wonder these Japanese chicks have such chicken legs.

Posted by: duende at August 13, 2003 10:51 PM


Johnny:
"I disagree. From most of the anime I've seen, the characters *do* look more Japanese, but with overly exagerated Western-ish features as far as eyes, nose is concerned. Hair is usually left as is, along with skin color. Even height seems asian-ish as far as i can tell."

I dunno how much you are actually disagreeing with me. My point is that the eyes, nose etc... as represented in anime are not typical Japanese superficial characteristics. They simply make the characters look more 'White'. The fact that they also usually have Japanese names suggests that the Japanese are trying to suggest the characters are Japanese despite those non- Japanese facial features. I'll reiterate: it is rare to see an anime character with an UNAMBIGUOUSLY Japanese look (i.e. shorter nose, wider nose, slanted eyes, etc).

As far as hair color, I've seen my share of anime with multi- colored hair in the women, and to a lesser degree in the men. Would you at least agree these hair colors are represented in anime disproportionately more than than in the Japanese population itself (without hair dyes)?

I cannot easily gauge the height of the anime characters to say whether this is relevant to this discussion. Also, regardless of race, the height for adolescents (who make up the vast majority of anime characters) is going to naturally be shorter than the height of adults.

Posted by: R at August 13, 2003 11:01 PM


The variance in hair color is quite a bit, yes.

Perhaps we were both agreeing on the detail that most anime characters seem to be asians with some exagerated Caucasian features.

Height is perhaps not so relevant. Still... If it were relevant, that combined with "body build" (at least as far as the women are concered) does contribute to more of an Asian appearance. i.e. the females in anime have a typically Asian body build, even if they are action heroes. The males tend to be taller and more muscalar then they actually might be - to be expected.

Watch Love Hina. Now that is a VERY Asian anime in the sense that they try very hard to make most of the characters actually resemble asians. Naturally, they overemphasize the girls' breasts and a few of the characters have brown/red hair but apart from that they're very Japanese. (No, it's not a hentai - romantic comedy).

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at August 14, 2003 01:22 AM


dunno how much you are actually disagreeing with me. My point is that the eyes, nose etc... as represented in anime are not typical Japanese superficial characteristics. They simply make the characters look more 'White'. The fact that they also usually have Japanese names suggests that the Japanese are trying to suggest the characters are Japanese despite those non- Japanese facial features.

IIRC, anime's style comes from early efforts to copy Disney. This was from a time when pretty much anything Western was being embraced in Japan, simply because the West was economically and technologically far ahead. After a while, the technique stuck; I guess no one has been adventurous enough to strike out in a new direction, given that seniority reigns in animation studios like everywhere else. Besides, most cartoon characters look exaggeratedly neotenous.

And even Disney themselves didn't do the best job of making all the characters' facial features look unambiguously Asian in Mulan (though, to be fair, if they exaggerated the slant or smallness of their eyes too much, some aktivist would have whined that they were perpetuating stereotypes of slanty-eyed bucktoothed chinamen, and then started a boycott).

And anyway, despite its popularity among overseas Asiaphiles, anime is considered something of a fringe preference in Japan. (The word "otaku" itself originated from other Japanese people making fun of the way anime characters and the nuts who imitated them in real life talked to each other in such an exaggerated style; then, the anime nuts themselves took it over, kinda like "queer" in the US). Plain old printed comics are more popular among various age groups both in Japan and other Asian countries, but these contain more adult themes (violence, highly masculine-looking characters) and characters who look closer to the Japanese norm; pick up a Weekly Jump! sometime or something and have a look ...

Posted by: Eric Lien at August 14, 2003 01:38 AM


Eric Lien wrote:
"Plain old printed comics are more popular among various age groups both in Japan and other Asian countries, but these contain more adult themes (violence, highly masculine-looking characters) and characters who look closer to the Japanese norm"

Anime is no less adult-themed than manga. Both mediums have their Dragon Ball Z's and Sailor Moons, but I'm sure you know there is plenty of adult-themed anime (and no, I don't mean Hentai). Neon Genesis Evangelion? Serial Experiments Lain? Even less philosophical series' like Trigun and Cowboy Bebop can't really be described as "for children".

Posted by: Chris W at August 14, 2003 04:22 AM


All I can say is that their spouses are gonna be surprised at how ugly the kids are.

David

Posted by: David at August 14, 2003 02:34 PM


Chris W:

I've always taken the anime characters as being in a sort of ambiguous state between Caucasian and East Asian. There never seems to be much effort to differentiate the two when asian and caucasian characters are present. For example you mentioned Evangelion, in which Asuko is supposed to be German and the other female characters are presumably Japanes. Difference? Nope.

What I find very curious, and very interesting for the "sociological construct" aspect, is the way that a diverse range of ethnic groups are intentionally represented in Cowboy Bebop. Blacks, "Hispanics", and arabs are all painstakingly differentiated, but the caucasian and east asian characters aren't really differentiated. Some characters are obviously one or the other, but many are ambiguous.

Weird.

Also, I can't seem to remember any South Asians in the series. Anynone else?

Posted by: temporary_account at August 17, 2003 08:56 PM