All you need to do is scroll through your Instagram feed to know that fuller lips have become the new beauty standard, thanks to celebs like Kylie Jenner. In fact, Allure even pointed out that according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, requests for lip enhancements increased 50 percent between 2000 and 2016. But now NewBeauty reports that there’s another lip surgery that’s become very popular in recent years and it’s one you’d never expect. Women – mostly in Asia – are going under the knife to reduce their lip size. Yes, really.
NewBeauty noticed the trend on Instagram, where you can find well over 5,000 posts tagged with the #lipreduction. “The procedure involves surgically cutting at the wet-dry line and pulling the lip underneath inside the mouth to reduce overall size,” New York dermatologist Dr. Doris Day told the beauty site.
“Asian men and women typically prefer Caucasian facial features, which are narrower cheekbones, deeper eye sockets and thinner lips,” Dr. Nuttae Nuttapon, a Thailand-based dermatologist told NewBeauty. “The typical feature preference is the mix of Western features; large eyes, high nose and pointy chin, with Asian’s fair and flawless skin.” He also confirmed that this kind of procedure isn’t anything new. It has been popular in Asia for the past 5 to 10 years.
I can’t help but wonder, if lip reduction is just another example of “ethnic plastic surgery,” a procedure intended to change an individual’s appearance to fit white/European beauty standards? Whether it be with lip reduction, blepharoplasty, or rhinoplasty, the idea is nothing new. Anglo standards have been the standard bearer of what’s considered beautiful in many cultures for centuries and that still holds true today. It’s the reason why we still mainly see white women on the cover of beauty and fashion magazines (though we’ve made some progress), and it’s the reason why skin-whitening is still such an obsession in certain parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. So why would it surprise us if a woman of color decides to have her lips reduced, her nose done, or the shape of her monolid eyes changed in order to meet these “white ideals?”
When I initially read NewBeauty’s report, it immediately brought me back to a conversation I had with my mother when I was a little girl. Growing up, I remember my mother telling me the story of how my tía hated her full lips, because of how they were viewed in the Dominican Republic back in the day. Fuller lips were considered a negative trait, as it was immediately associated with “blackness.” My other tía (her sister) who inherited the same beautiful lips, eventually got hers reduced after growing frustrated of being called “negrita” and having her pout referred to as a “bemba.” It was the first and only time I had ever heard of lip reduction surgery before now, which is why this recent report instantly caused the pelos on my arms to stand up.
And while we can argue that my tía or any other person of color who gets plastic surgery to make a certain feature on their face appear less ethnic struggles with deep-rooted complejo, it’s hard to quickly diagnose this as “self-hate.” After all, would we say a white girl who gets a butt job or lip injections (a.k.a the Kardashian-Jenner clan) is ashamed of looking white and would prefer to look black? Or would we say she’s conforming to new beauty ideals? So why are we so quick to accuse a black, Latina, or Asian woman of wanting to look whiter when she dares to change her “ethnic features?”
There’s a reason why “ethnic plastic surgery” is so controversial and it’s because while it might make some of us cringe in disgust, to other’s it’s not that big of a deal. For The Talk’s host and broad-cast news veteran, Julie Chen, getting blepharoplasty wasn’t about looking “less Asian.” It was about looking “more interested and engaged when interviewing someone on TV.” She even defended her choice in an interview with Glamour.
We can argue about this topic for days. The self-righteous, judgmental, and incredibly proud Latina in me says: “Why would you want to erase the very features that tell the story of your ancestry? After all, aren’t full lips, wider and flatter noses, and monolid eyes just as beautiful as Western features?” But the kinder, more compassionate me says: “Why does plastic surgery automatically have to mean wanting to appear whiter?” I’m just saying that when it comes to beauty and race, there are a lot more nuances to consider and the answer isn’t always simple.