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    Oh, you’ve got green eyes / Oh, you’ve got blue eyes / Oh, you’ve got grey eyes

    Amritas, gallantly looking for ways to show solidarity with others of his genetic heritage by sharing their aggrievedness, found a piece on plastic surgery. He can’t seem to get too worked up over it, though:

    Although I think “racial anorexia” is an exaggeration, I never understood the appeal of eye surgery or hair lightening for Asians. I don’t necessarily think eye surgery makes Asians look more Caucasian because there are Asians born with ‘double lids’. But I prefer the ‘monolid’ look (which some Caucasians naturally have!). And I don’t think light hair goes well with Asian complexions. It looks fake.

    “Racial anorexia” is the Naomi Wolf-ish word the writers of the original piece at Model Minority used to describe…um, I don’t know exactly what they’re describing, but it sounds like some sort of inferiority complex that makes Asian-Americans compulsively erase their Asiatic features. That’s what the rest of us get for recklessly walking around looking white all the time.

    I think Amritas is right about the looks stuff. The reason that the Japanese categorize eyes as 一重 (hitoe: “single-layer”) and 二重 (futae: “double-layer”) is that both kinds of eyelids are common here. And some people, like my boyfriend, have single-layer eyelids but don’t have particularly small or sleepy-looking eyes.

    He’s also right about the hair. When Asians bleach their hair and wear it in a way you might call “decorative”–meaning, punkish and playful and frankly artificial, the way people do when they dye their hair green or purple–it sometimes looks cool. The natural-looking blond shades that can be achieved with today’s dyes don’t usually flatter Asian skin tones, though.

    Speaking of skin, it’s weird that no one involved in Amritas’s post mentioned it. Meaning, you can make the case that wide, alert eyes and angular features are prized because they look white, but it’s only fair to acknowledge also how porcelain smoothness and evenness of tone is associated with Asian complexions. Come to think of it, there’s a whole general constellation of this stuff: white guys who generally go for Asian women get sick and tired of having people assume that they like ’em docile, petite, mysterious in manner, and barely-above-jailbait in appearance. I’ve seen educated urban white girls get really, really worked up over this supposed phenomenon. (I say “supposed” because anyone who thinks Mother doesn’t rule the household in Asia just as firmly as she does everywhere else is mistaken.) To the extent that stereotyped standards of attractiveness prod people into changing essential part of themselves, it cannot be said that Asians are always seen as the ones who need to change.

    Amritas’s mention of white celebrities with features that are usually considered Asian reminded me of something else: several times over the years, I’ve been at parties where the conversation spontaneously turned to the topic, “What Asian nationality are you mistaken for?” Once, at a dinner party of a dozen people, this was the topic for a good twenty-minute stretch, with guesses submitted about everyone in turn. As in, “Well, Ryu-chan, you have kind of a flat nose, so I think you look Thai.” “But his mouth isn’t drawn up at the center as much as a Thai person’s! He looks more Vietnamese to me. With those earlobes, he could be Indian, though!”

    The first time it happened, I was dumbfounded. There’s no American equivalent that I’ve seen. I mean, sure, sometimes people will say they get their cornsilk hair and welkin eyes from their German ancestors, or what have you, but it doesn’t become this big group guessing game. (Smug aside: My Atsushi was given what I assume to be the highest possible compliment: “Atsu-chan, you’d never be mistaken for anything except a Japanese.” A handsome Japanese. Weary aside: And, naturally, this became yet another opportunity for me to be told, “Are you sure you’re American? You look so European! If I didn’t know you, I’d guess you were French.” No, there’s nothing wrong with being French; but I’m not, and I don’t like the frequent implication that “looking American” means being pushily fat and having a slightly blank expression.)

    [Ten-minute pause while I ogle Robert Conrad, the murderer on this week’s Columbo, who is working out in nothing but gym shorts while Peter Falk is questioning him. Woof!]

    Amritas is probably right that the only real universal is bilateral symmetry. I think there’s a point to be made that, now that cosmetic procedures are more widely available, a lot of people are taking the opportunity to bring their features in line with the perfectly-homogeneous Karen Mulder sort of face, rather than being happy that they have a few distinguishing features. And it’s certainly true that that sort of neat-as-a-pin angularity is mostly found in people with Northern European genes. (Mulder herself, for example, is Dutch.) But there are also plenty of white people who don’t look like that and get surgery to do so, so whether idealizing it is some special kind of “racial anorexia” strikes me as an arguable point.

    7 Responses to “Oh, you’ve got green eyes / Oh, you’ve got blue eyes / Oh, you’ve got grey eyes”

    1. Toren says:

      The whole “light skin means you want to be white” thing is bizarre. Light skin has been a big deal in Japan and China back at least 1000 years, if literature is any indication. And how about your classic “Akita bijin”…? A friend of mine in Japan married a girl from Akita and her skin is, quite literally, whiter than mine.
      I heard an interesting story from the husband of my wife’s best friend in Japan. He’s very dark-skinned, with a broad, flat nose and lots of hair. He tells me that the more “Japanese-looking” Japanese are in fact displaying Korean ancestry (going way back, Jomon period) and those who look like him are showing genetic traits from the original natives of the island (like the Ainu). I’ve never looked into it but it sounds plausible, anyway.
      And yes, I used to get quite exercised when I’d get the “You just wanted to marry a servile geisha” crap from fulminating SF feminists. Now that Tomoko is living here, I just hand them over to her for disembowling. Now that’s entertainment.

    2. Mrs. du Toit says:

      When I worked with the Asian community in New York it was the first time I heard about the eye surgery thing–the nose job equivalent of common plastic surgeries in America.
      It was truly bizarro world.
      But bizarre is relative. Now ‘days parents actually CONSENT to tattoos and boob jobs for their teenagers!! My comparison, eyelid plastic surgery isn’t so bad.
      Hey, at least they aren’t clitorectomies like they still perform in other places on the planet.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      But, Connie, those are cultural traditions–you know, among people we can feel all close to nature and anti-materialistic by championing. Surely, you see the difference.
      Toren, what your friend says is what I’ve always been given to understand from people here. (For anyone reading this who doesn’t understand why this is funny, try telling a Japanese person how similar Japan and Korea are, then duck.)

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      At least she has a sense of humor about it. A Taiwanese-American college friend and I went out for dinner here while she was visiting once, and the waitress kept looking to her for the order. Then, when I’d be the one to answer, she’d give me this half-scared look, as if she were afraid she was hallucinating. (This sort of thing happens all the time, for those who haven’t spent time in Japan.) At first, my friend was just confused, but then she got pretty burned up at the fact that this girl couldn’t seem to internalize that the Asian woman in the party was not from Japan and didn’t understand her. It wasn’t the sort of thing I could really explain.

    5. John says:

      Hah! As you can imagine, I had that experience pretty much every day when I was living in Japan. Some of the business establishments we used to frequent on a regular basis got used to me speaking Japanese in her presence, though. It didn’t help that my wife is an amateur photographer, and so even further fits the stereotypical image of a Japanese tourist. The girls at the photo counter on the 4th floor of Yodobashi got used to it pretty quick, given the amount of business she sent them through me. A year after I left Japan I came back to get some reprints and they still greeted me by name.

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, if you’re as Aryan-looking as you’ve said, the girls behind the counter probably had a few other reasons to remember you. 😉
      But, yeah. I don’t mind in the slightest the initial assumption that, if I’m with an Asian, I’m the one less likely to speak Japanese. It does seem that after the first interaction, you don’t need that steep a learning curve to figure out that you continue to address the person who was able to answer you the last time.

    7. John says:

      You’re right Sean, that blong ko-garu look is just plain ugly on most Japanese complexions.
      What about people like my brother-in-law who has one single and one double eyelid? Are they half-bananas?
      If you really want trouble, tell an individual Japanese that you mistook them for Korean (or for real trouble – vice versa – Tae Kwon Do is a required Phys. Ed. subject in Korean schools).
      My wife has Tawainese Aborigine in her ancestry, and that combined with the South Asian looks of her Fujianese ancestors make her look decidedly un-Chinese. But she definitely has a bit of the Chinese chauvanism against SE Asia. When people ask her if she’s Thai, she replies “You’re half right – Tai-wan”.