"The Talk" co-host Julie Chen revealed on the show Thursday that she underwent surgery to widen her eyes and look less Asian for the sake of her career.
Chen, 43, recalled that when working as a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, starting in 1995, she wanted to become an anchor. "So I asked my news director" whether she could be the holiday fill-in. "And he said, 'You will never be on this anchor desk, because you're Chinese.' He said, 'Let's face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our community? The audience can't relate to you because you're not like them.' And he said, 'On top of that . . . because of your Asian eyes, sometimes I've noticed when you're on camera and you're interviewing someone, you look disinterested, you look bored.' "
Chen recalled, "It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all my life my . . . dream was to one day be a network news anchor."
She began meeting with agents for advice. "And this one big-time agent basically told me the same thing. . . . He said, 'I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger.' "
After discussing the situation with her parents, Chen recalled, her mother said they'd support her decision and even pay for surgery. "After I had that done, the ball did roll for me," Chen said. "Which I struggle with: 'Wow, did I give in to the man and do this?' " But, she assured, "I don't like to live with regrets. I did it, I moved on, no one's more proud of being Chinese than I am."
A statement from the Asian American Journalists Association praised Chen, noting that "her story chronicles some of the daily struggles Asian Americans face in the workplace across all industries."