STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
TV personality Julie Chen got people talking last year about her eyes. She revealed she'd double eyelid surgery years ago at the urging of a talent agent.
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JULIE CHEN: He said, I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger, and I did it.
INSKEEP: Her career then took off. But by getting this common procedure for Asian-American women, she was accused of trying to look more white. That is the beginning of a story for a series The Changing Lives of Women, NPR's Kat Chow reports.
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LAURA PHAN: Let's look at your eyelid, and let me just have you close gently...
KAT CHOW, BYLINE: Plastic surgeon Laura Phan is checking out my eyes in her office in Northern California.
PHAN: You have a nice crease, probably about a six millimeter crease, which is very nice for Asian eyes.
CHOW: I was born with double eyelids - a crease above the lash line. So about half the people of Asian descent are like me and have them. The other half don't. And for those patients, Dr. Phan will take a pen and draw in a crease where she'll create a double eyelid.
PHAN: But at the same time, also preserve their Asian appearance.
CHOW: The procedure usually costs a couple thousand dollars, and it's the topic of huge debate.
JOANNE RONDILLA: Even when people say, like, I just want a little bit - again, even that little snip is a move towards following a more Western standard of beauty.
CHOW: Joanne Rondilla is Filipino and worked as a makeup artist for more than a decade. She's now a lecturer at Arizona State University, where she researches race and self-image.
RONDILLA: You're not trying to be white, but you are trying to be aesthetically pleasing to a white standard of beauty.
AN NA: You can't create a standard without recognizing who's in power.
CHOW: That's author An Na. She wrote the young adult novel "The Fold," about a Korean-American girl considering getting double eyelid surgery.
NA: You can look across the board, and you see within every racial group the ones who are considered more beautiful tend to look more white.
CHOW: But what do people who are actually making this decision say about it? It was tough to find women who were willing to go on tape and admit that this was something they'd done. Then I met Yekki Song.
YEGYONG SONG: It's Yegyong Song, but I like going by Yekki.
CHOW: She grew up in Houston and had the surgery when she was 17. She wanted her eyes to look like those of Korean pop stars. But Song does admit, growing up, her white and Latino classmates teased her.
SONG: I was made fun of a lot for my small eyes. I didn't really like how I looked. And I always thought, well, if I didn't have these small eyes, then maybe I would like myself better.
CHOW: Anne Kim felt similar pressures to get the surgery. But for Kim, it was her mom and relatives in South Korea telling her to go under the knife.
ANNE KIM: It was just kind of like, oh, you should probably get it just to make yourself prettier - you know, like, have bigger eyes. Everyone wants bigger eyes if you're Asian.
CHOW: She refused to get the surgery and says, she is still happy with her single lids. So none of the women I spoke to who had the surgery or considered it said it had anything to do with wanting to look or become white. Here's Yekki Song.
SONG: You look at me, and you know I'm Asian. There's no changing that.
CHOW: The plastic surgeon Laura Phan says, like with any other cosmetic procedure, choosing to have double eyelid surgery comes down to how you see yourself. And for many women, that's complicated. Kat Chow, NPR News.
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