TODAY -

The Methodical Magpie: Eye of the Beholder

Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam *



"When I see your face, there's not a thing that I would change
'Cause you're amazing, just the way you are
"
- Just the Way You Are, Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars, a popular music artist, tries to convince a girl in the song quoted above that she's beautiful just the way she is. In a world obsessed with the concept of physical beauty, this song isn't the first, nor will be the last, to dwell upon the subject. What's interesting is that if Mars's lyrics are ambiguous about whether or not they're addressed to somebody attractive by conventional definition, the video shows the singer crooning his heart out to a particularly good-looking specimen. On the one hand, this appears to defeat the purpose of the positive body image angle he might have been gunning for; on the other hand, it reemphasises the point - intentionally or by fluke - that many people are simply not happy with the way they look.

There are numerous ways of being dissatisfied with our appearance; body type, complexion, facial structure, skin quality, lack of hair, even hairiness are a few of the main concerns. It would be impossible to do justice to each of them on a single page. Today, I'll therefore focus on just one issue, that of double eyelid surgery, a type of cosmetic surgery that can restructure the skin around the eye to produce a clear-cut upper eyelid. Those who undergo this procedure have either single eyelids or an undefined upper eyelid.

Double eyelid surgery is also called "Asian Blepharoplasty" for a reason. Its clients are Asian, specifically of Mongoloid ethnicity. It's considered a rite of passage in South Korea and is fairly common in most countries of East Asia. The US has been catching up with the trend, especially in the Asian communities in California.

Is it unnatural to be born without double eyelids? No. An estimated 50% of East Asians have them; the rest don't. The shape of our eyes is designed by genetics, which are in turn dictated by evolution. People are definitely not paying for this surgery to enhance their eyesight. So far, zero connection has been established between the number of eyelids and strength of vision. If there were, I'd be wearing binocular-sized spectacles by now. On top of having negligible double eyelids, my eyes have faced extensive harassment over the years, what with my penchant for surviving on a diet of laptop and reading books in improper lighting and incorrect positions. Something far more insidious than basic needs like a functional body organ is at work here.

Before I get to that, a seemingly practical excuse for such procedures deserves to be mentioned: make-up. Those of us without clear-cut upper creases often find it hard to experiment with eye make-up. I vividly remember that one time a friend tried to give me the "smokey eye" look and I ended up resembling a Panda. Blepharoplasty is merely a recent solution; adhesive glue and tape were the go-to methods, and are still considered less risky options. Make-up, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Dr Kenneth Kim, a South Korean native now working in the US, informs on his website that "[blepharoplasty] has been able to give patients a much more beautiful and vibrant appearance through the desired formation of a crease." The keywords here are "beautiful", "vibrant" and "desired"; set against a header featuring a smiling Caucasian woman with tranquil blue eyes; no one is left in any doubt as to what these words apply to. That, in a nutshell, is what this surgery is mostly about.

When Vice magazine's reporter Charlet Duboc interviewed members of K-Pop band D-Unit during 2012's Seoul Fashion Week, she was told that "Because of [Koreans'] distinctive looks, our ideal appearance would be that of Westerners. Big round eyes, straight nose, round face."

In an interview with WeNews, an online magazine that covers women's issues, Alyssa Lai, a second generation Chinese-American, reveals that for her fourteenth birthday, her parents offered her a chance to get blepharoplasty so that her eyes would look "prettier" and she could assimilate with ease into the white community of San Jose, California. Korean actor Rain has been asked multiple times to change the shape of his eyes; he has resisted so far. Jackie Chan had one in the early 1970s at the behest of director Lo Wei. Aishwarya Rai's large blue eyes are a big deal, both in her country and abroad.

Make-up, then, is not the sole reason. The biggest evil at work here is negativity concerning one's ethnicity. Mongoloid eyes just don't seem to cut it; they even have the slur "chinky" to highlight their undesirability. Let me not make the situation sound more hopeless than it is, though. There are as many Asians resisting the trend, like Carrie Ching, the Chinese-American editor of the now defunct New York based and aptly titled Monolid Magazine, who blames peer pressure and parental instigation for its demand. In the same Seoul Fashion Week interview, models and make-up artists spoke to Duboc about their disapproval of blepharoplasty and their preference of the natural Korean look.

Why am I bringing this up? It's not as though hordes of Manipuri girls are going under the knife to achieve the double-eyelid effect. Rumours have surfaced of people wanting to, but I don't personally know anybody who has plans of getting the surgery. Besides, rumours aren't evidence, even if they exist for a reason. What I can vouch for is the general attitude towards small eyes that's prevalent in our society, the use of mitkhuba/mitkhubi to denote character defect, the sudden mass-production of Caucasian-looking dolls wearing Meitei garb, the doe-eyed Thabaton from the animated movie Kabui Keioiba, and oft-heard compliments such as, "They'd be perfect if only their eyes were larger."

We still have time to think about this, to stay away from attempting to fix what is not broken.


* Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
This article was posted on February 01, 2013



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