May 11th, 2006


Is blech-pharoplasty Western-eyes-ation?

Japanese women -- at least as they appear in the Japanese pop media -- are turning into bug-eyed monsters. I first noticed it in pop and porn stars; these days, the free movies page of a Japanese porn site like CPZ is a freak show of Photoshopped, fish-eyed and scalpelled eyes mooning at the visitor. These girls no longer look like real people, so they're no longer sexy.

Who or what do we blame for this grotesque and sad development? Ayumi Hamasaki is the highest-profile pop star to have had the eye-widening surgery known as blepharoplasty. (Blech-pharoplasty, I call it.)

"Blepharoplasty is the scientific name for this eye-widening surgery," explains Kevin James Wong in The Cavalier Daily. "Its original use was to smooth out the skin around the eyes in order to decrease the signs of aging. The process itself involves cutting the upper eyelid into two halves. Flesh and fat is then removed from the eyelid, and the lower part of the eyelid is reattached slightly beneath the upper part in order to form a crease. Thus, the process succeeds in widening the eye, and it creates the appearance of a crease in the upper eyelid, which around half of Asians lack."

Two Japanese doctors on Pub Med, a medical site, have an explanation:

"The reasons for the popularity of this procedure relate to changing concepts of beauty among the Japanese people. Facial anatomy contributes to the appearance of sleepiness and lethargy in the flat, monotone Japanese face. The narrower eye opening does not allow for the maximum viewing of the cornea. The shortened lateral canthus presents a facial balance that is not considered as attractive as one with an extended lateral canthus. The double eyelid procedure corrects these features, producing a face that is considered more beautiful."

Kevin James Wong is more judgemental; "This desire to conform to a Caucasian ideal of beauty is weak-minded and demonstrates a lack of cultural pride," he says. "It is shameful that Asians feel the need to change their eyes in pursuit of this Caucasian ideal."

But is it a Caucasian ideal? The widest human eyes in the world aren't to be found on Western faces (we're somewhat piggy, in fact), but in the images of an indigenous Japanese form, manga. Look at Sailor Moon. Does she look like a Western person?

To call these vast, cute, extra-shiny eyes "Western" is to make the same mistake about a Japanese phenomenon as people like Alex Rich make about the postmodern Japanese city when they call it "Westernized". Modernization does not equal Westernization. To make your eyes big eyes is not to make them Western eyes. Surely what we're seeing here is the ocular version of leapfrogging. Just as the Japanese saw Western toilets and decided to leapfrog us, going straight from holes in the ground to the electronic wonders of the Washlet, so they've leapfrogged Western eyes, going straight for huge ones. It's just a pity it makes them look like frogs.