The Era of Plastic Surgery Culture

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate p...

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate photograph; otopexy correction; Woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hanna Byun

This is a very interesting and educative topic entailing the cultural dynamics of different communities regarding beauty and appearance. Plastic surgery has become so standardized that everyone talks about it. Instead of “where did you get your designer handbag?” people might ask you where you got your chin, eyes or nose done. To understand these insights, two sources of information will serve as the basis for ideas of the authors about plastic cosmetic surgery.

The article by Alexander Edmonds titled, “‘The Poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil” discuss the dynamics of the cosmetics industry in Brazil over the last two decades. He focuses on the poor population of Brazil that has recorded a high rate of plastic surgeries, and that has been influenced by the diverse social origins of the general population. According to Edmond, poor people in Brazil have judged their appearance from different social origins as an “aesthetic defect”. The beauty industry, therefore, became a solution to the problem by diagnosing and treating it through plastic surgery. He cites a racialized “beauty myth” in clinical practice and marketing as one of the main motivators for the pursuit of plastic surgery. Outward appearance affects social mobility, glamour, and an individual’s association with modernity. By having plastic surgery, poor people believe that it gives them the means to compete in the Brazilian neoliberal economy. In Edmonds’ perspective, the capital flows of the modern capitalist economy are to blame for the commercialization of beauty and the absence of regulations in the cosmetic industry. The poor are simply doing so to achieve a class body that society has unknowingly decreed as the quintessential appearance of a person who fits in a higher social stratum.

The blog post by Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes discusses about the increasing number of plastic surgery penchants among Asian Americans. She observes that more Asian Americans are going for plastic surgery to improve their appearance without necessarily changing their ethnic appearance. The blog identifies different reasons that prompt Asian Americans to go for plastic surgery. Her reasons are:

  1. Some Asian plastic surgery seekers want to boost the confidence while attending job interviews;
  2. They want to achieve romantic success by looking younger;
  3. It is a way of trying to assimilate into mainstream Americans.

For instance, many want to brighten their eyes a little a bit without altering their ethnic appearance. Others want their nose reshaped just to look better than they think. All they want is to retain their natural looks, but bridge them with the mainstream American appearance. I personally agree with her on the fact that more and more young Asians are getting their faces done. People in younger generations, who are in middle school or high school, and also their parents, accept and believe that earlier they get ‘work done’, the more natural look they look they will have as they grow. And it is very common nowadays get plastic (cosmetic) surgery as a graduation or birthday gift from adults.

Both insights from Edmonds and Bagala, have one thing in common: the tendency of plastic surgery seekers to conform with ‘appearance myths’ in their respective societies. Appearing in a way that conforms to the ‘myth’ improves the seekers’ self-esteem as they move up the social ladder or attempt to fit into contemporary culture. As long as plastic surgery continues to be a psychological issue largely influenced by the ethnographic differences of the society, it is likely to may not end soon.  Furthermore, it is also bolstered by the market economy with massive influential marketing techniques. It is quite difficult to regulate the cosmetics industry without infringing on people’s rights on their bodies.


Bagalawis-Simes, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22.

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Expansion of plastic surgery, a new era of beauty culture

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surge...

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surgery Procedure being Performed by Facial Plastic Surgeon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kiho Kozaki

Plastic surgery is a widespread phenomenon today, and is more popular and accepted than ever. Aman Garg once said that plastic surgery is a medical specialty concerned with the correction or restoration of form and function. Now some studies and surgeons insist that plastic surgery is the “correction” of facial features. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) conducted a survey which is the 17-year national data for procedures performed from 1997-2013, and during that period, there was a 279% increase in total number of plastic surgery both surgical and nonsurgical procedures. Though the statistic covers only procedures done in the United States, I assume that same result would be seen in elsewhere in the world.

The survey also shows that the plastic surgery’s popularity among racial and ethnic minorities, who had approximately 22% of all cosmetic procedures: African-Americans 7%, Asians 5%, Hispanics 8%, and other non-Caucasians 1%. The percentages vary depending on the studies, however, as a common observation, racial and ethnic minorities seem to seek out plastic surgery more than Caucasians.

Nadra Kareem Nittle, a race relations expert, said that is because minority groups still feel pressure to live up to Eurocentric beauty norms. They alter traits such as prominent noses or hooded eyelids. Moreover, weaves, wigs and skin whitening creams continue to enjoy mass appeal in communities of color. Then, this phenomenon of plastic procedures raises a question: do they undergo these procedures in order to look like Caucasians? Or just to gain self-esteem and to look good?

Since the standard of beauty seem to be a Westernized ideal, some people are dissatisfied with their ethnic features and believe they are ugly. Angie Rankman wrote that the appearance of mostly unattainable model normalizes certain body images, and then people perceived problems with their own features. The result is that many people are left with deep seated psychological insecurities about themselves and their body image, often resulting in unreasonable expectations in regard to cosmetic surgery.

As Alexander Edmonds, a lecturer of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, notes, mass media uses this ‘market value of appearance’. I argue that is not necessary to conclude that they want to look like Caucasians. Of course there is a big influence by mass media remaining people dissatisfied with their features and the desire for Caucasians may exist but that does always not mean they want to cross racial and ethnic lines. Some people may wish to, but I assume that majority of people still want to remain as who they are.

Dr. Samuel Lam, a plastic surgeon cited in Bagala’s article, called it ‘ethnic softening’. It means the softening of facial features that patients deemed overly ethnic but still preserving their ethnicities. Most of the patients are becoming more willing to work with their ethnic features rather than work against them.

Edmonds says there is a slippage between the national cultural notion of a ‘preference’ and a racial-biological notion of a ‘type.’ So, according to Edmonds, operations like breast surgeries can be linked to national but not racial identities.

Plastic procedures are much complicated that we cannot simply conclude why it gets more popular than ever among racial/ethnic minorities. Now, we are in the era of expansion of beauty culture. Though patients who underwent plastic procedures may insist that was their personal choice, and that they wanted to look better to boost their self-esteem, it is not simple as they insist. We should note that their assumptions and beliefs may be constructed from deep-rooted national cultural norms, racial-biological norms and certain expectations of appearance. Right now we are in the middle of seeking a new way of accepting and dealing with the widespread beauty norms.


American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. (2013). 2013 ASAPS Statistics: Complete charts [Including National Totals, Percent of Change, Gender Distribution, Age Distribution, National Average Fees, Economic, Regional and Ethnic Information]

Bagala, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. ore-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Garg, A. (n. d.). Plastic Surgery. Cite lighter.

Nittle, K, N. (n. d.). Race, Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Procedures. About News. d-Cosmetic-Procedures.htm

Rankman, A. (2005). Obsessed With Beauty: The Rush To Cosmetic Surgery. Aphrodite Women’s health.

Actor Parry Shen talks with Ritsumeikan students

by Robert Moorehead

Actor Parry Shen, who played the role of Ben in the 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow, spoke with Ritsumeikan University students about his experiences as an Asian American actor, his work in Better Luck Tomorrow, and the role of race in Hollywood.

Douglas Kim’s “I’m Asian American” Challenges Stereotypes

by Robert Moorehead

Let’s turn the lens from racial stereotypes Japan to those in the United States, to appreciate Douglas Kim’s music video “I’m Asian American.” Parodying Ben Fold’s “Rockin the Suburbs,” Kim takes on the stereotypes that all Asians look alike and don’t speak up, that they’re all on track to becoming doctors, pressured by Amy Chua’s Tiger Mothers, and ignored by Asian American women.

As Kim writes in the YouTube description of his video, “Our friendly neighborhood American Asian is just a regular guy trying to get through life in America without getting hated on by Asians and Americans, is that too much to ask?”

I’m thinking of showing this video in my upcoming class on Race and Mass Media, between the Slanted Screen and Better Luck Tomorrow. For my Japanese students, these American stereotypes of Asians are completely foreign. My students often struggle to imagine the experience of being in the minority and subject to such stereotypes. When I’ve shown clips of yellow-face characters like Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles, I expected students to get angry. Instead, they dismiss the images as simply inaccurate. Some even say they understood that others might stereotype the Japanese and other Asians, just like the Japanese and other Asians stereotype other people.

At first, I was struck by how seemingly blasé they were to the images, but gradually we realized that these images were but one of many images of Asian people that those living in Asia see everyday. They see Asian actors playing every role, from doctors and lawyers, to janitors, mechanics, and office workers. From this perspective, seeing one ridiculous caricature might not seem like such a big deal.

In the US, on the other hand, Asian characters in film and on television have been much fewer and farther between. So those few portrayals carry much greater weight—just there are few non-Japanese on television and in film in Japan, and many foreigners seethe when they see a gaijin playing the fool. Tarento (performers) such as Bobby Ologun and Rola make viewers laugh with their misspoken Japanese and silly expressions, and the ability to entertain others is a great thing—but not at the exclusion from other performing other types of roles.

Kim’s video highlights the stereotypes of Asian Americans, and then smashes them, like the cello he destroys at the end of the video. And just as his Tiger Mom shifts to rocking out with him, hopefully Kim’s viewers will come to see past the stereotypes.

Here are the lyrics:

Let me tell y’all what it’s like

Being Asian we all look alike
It’s a bitch if you don’t believe
Read about it in a magazine
Sham on

I’ve got Tiger momma on my brain
So intense that I can’t explain
All alone in my Asian pain
You know they’ll punish me if I complain

I’m Asian American
And my friends are all pre-med
I’m Asian American
Get a B and I’ll be dead
I’m Asian American
I take the grades and face the facts
Some advisor with computers puts me on some shitty track

I’m pissed off but I’m too polite
When Asian girls all want a guy who’s white
Mom and dad you made me so uptight
Can’t ever party on a Friday night

Don’t know how much I can take
Give me something I’m allowed to break

I’m Asian American
Doing what my parents said
I’m Asian American
And it made me talented
I’m Asian American
I write on facebook and face the facts
Typing wall posts on computers is the only way I mack

In a haze these days
I’m cursing my poor eyesight
And I can feel something’s not right
I can feel someone’s trapped me in a lame cliche
Sending dirty vibes my way
Cause I would not be their robot
And I would not be a white collar slave

It wasn’t my idea
Never was my idea
Just drove to the store for some ramen and jap chae

Y’all don’t know what it’s like
Being Asian we all look alike
It gets me real pissed off and makes me wanna say

“Oh hello! Being Asian American has had profound unique effects on one’s psychological disposition, and as such, they’re not always able to effectively communicate their feelings in a way that doesn’t seem contrived, irrationally angry, oh thank you, or insecure. Wait, what’s that…”

Stuck in someone else’s song
I’m Asian American
Where the pho do I belong
I play some ball and face the facts
Can’t just sit behind computers
Gotta take it to the rack these days

Yeah yeah
I’m Asian American

You better watch out because I’m gonna say