After her eyelid surgery in June, Ly Duong stepped outside into a whole new world.
“It felt funny because my eyes were so different,” she said. “I saw more light.”
She waited eight days for the redness and puffiness to fade before she made the big reveal. She posted a self-portrait on Facebook that highlighted her newly creased eyelids.
“I put, ‘Oh yeah, it feels good to have big eyes,’ ” she said. “One of my best guy friends said, ‘Oh, my God, what did you do?’ I told him I got my eyelids done. He said, ‘Before, you looked like a peasant, and now you look like a princess.’ ”
Duong, 28, a hair and makeup stylist from San Jose, Calif., has no qualms telling friends and clients about her surgery.
Cosmetic eyelid surgery has long been popular in Asia, particularly in South Korea. Patients whose eyelids don’t have a crease or whose crease is hard to see can get an incision along the eyelid to make a new crease, so the eye appears bigger.
The procedure, popular in the U.S. over the past several decades, remains a touchy, racially charged subject. Among Asian Americans who’ve grown up in the United States and live in the San Francisco Bay Area, opinions are split on the matter: Some say they should avoid the surgery and embrace their heritage, while others say it is less of a taboo.
Debate over the procedure flared up again recently when “Big Brother” television host Julie Chen said she had the surgery 18 years ago after her boss in Ohio said her eyes looked too heavy for her to be a news anchor.
The surgery’s stigma — that those who get it abandon their heritage — makes it hard to find people who admit they had it but easy to find people with opinions on it.
“Nobody ever talks about it when they have it,” said Lisa Wang, 24, a San Franciscan who grew up in Plano, Texas. When one girl from her high school came back from a summer in China with different-looking eyelids, some classmates who weren’t familiar with the surgery asked what happened. “She told people it must have been something in the water,” Wang said.
It’s difficult to pin down statistics on the surgery among Asian Americans because plastic surgery statistics don’t often categorize patients by race. But in a 2012 national survey, a smaller percentage of surgeons — 44 percent, down from 61 percent in 2008 — listed eyelid surgery as the most popular procedure among their Asian American patients.
“Patients used to come in and they would want Westernized eyelids — ‘I want the fold,’ ” said Carolyn Chang, a San Francisco surgeon. “I don’t get that request nearly as much as I used to 10 years ago.”
The procedure used to be “more aggressive” in the ’70s through the ’90s, said Chase Lay, a San Jose surgeon whose practice is almost all eyelid surgeries on Asian American patients. Surgeons used to remove more skin, or creases were made deeper and were set farther from the eyelid’s edge.
In 2012, blepharoplasty — any kind of eyelid lift — was the third-most-popular facial plastic surgery procedure in the United States, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports. A surgeon cuts open the eyelid where the crease will be created and removes some skin, and occasionally fat, before closing the incision. Another option involves making a series of small slits along the eyelid that are then tightened and closed. An eyelid lift costs around $3,800.
Parents sometimes guide their children toward the procedure, especially young men.
“They’ll say, ‘I believe that he’ll do better in college or in the workforce,'” Lay said. “Some parents are very up-front about wanting their children to have the best shot possible at the best spouse possible.”
Women who told The Chronicle about getting the surgery dismissed the racial connotation. Many said it helped with makeup application; almost all said they wish they’d gotten it sooner.
Julianne Chai, a 39-year-old Korean American from El Cerrito, said she “always had double-eyelid envy” growing up in Milpitas. She would wear a tiny piece of tape on her eyelid — a quick-fix way to add a crease — and carried a roll of Scotch tape and little scissors in her purse at all times. She had the surgery while studying abroad in South Korea.
Bigger, creased eyes may be considered more beautiful, but no one wants them to make themselves look more Caucasian, said D. Nguyen, 36, from Sunnyvale, who had the procedure last year.
“Believe me, Vietnamese people don’t want to look like a white person,” she said. “We don’t want to look Caucasian. We just want to look more beautiful.”
Ellen Huet – San Francisco Chronicle