Asian Time on Dr. Phil

September 21, 2007

First up was James, an Asian American man married to Roseanna, who is half Mexican and half Irish. Roseanna complained that her husband was controlling (won’t let her have her own money, monitors her communications), racist (thinks Asians are smarter than other races), and sexist (expects her to be obedient). She was afraid that he was raising their son to demean and objectify women.

In the video introduction before the couple sat down to talk, James said “If my wife does not like my rules, I would encourage her to leave. Dr. Phil, how can I not have my wife challenge my authority in my home?"

Very nice. Way to enforce stereotypes of Asian men as domineering and sexist on national TV. It also didn’t help that James spoke like an unfeeling robot.

James defended himself by saying he was not a bigot because he had been married to a black woman for 17 years and had 3 half-black children. Sounds like a variation of the "I have friends who are black so I can't possibly be racist" defense. Newsflash: just because you have friends and family of another race doesn't mean you can't be prejudiced. Exhibit A: Asiaphiles who marry Asians.

The next segment was very brief and about eyelid surgery. On the pro-surgery side was an Orange County surgeon and one of his patients who had the surgery to put folds in her eyelids. On the stop-buying-into-whitey’s-idea-of-beauty side were 2 people only identified as Deanna and Martin. I recognized Martin as the publisher of Giant Robot. But I bet most people watching the show aren’t as up on their indie magazines. Sheeesh Dr. Phil, is it really that hard to take a second to establish the credentials of your guest? Isn’t it helpful to know that your guest is the editor of a magazine about Asian culture and not just some dude you pulled off the street?

The woman who had the surgery, Stephanie, explained that she was ashamed of the eyes she was born with and wanted to look more like the people she saw in magazines. In other words, she wanted to look more white.

Oh Stephanie, you are a sad, sad girl.

At least the segment ended on a good note. Dr. Phil then called out a Filipina who worked on his show. The staffer, Chastity, said that her family members wanted her to get a nose job to fix her flat nose, and that when she was young, they would even pinch her nose in the hopes that it would gain more height.

Dr. Phil asked if she was going to get the surgery.

“I’m fine. I’m good with the way I am,” she said.

The last segment was about an Italian American who wanted a nose job to reign in his huge nose. His family was against it.

So, issues like the controversy over eyelid surgery are making it out of ethnic magazines and on to mainstream TV. It's like the talk show world has suddenly discovered eyelid surgery. If I recall correctly, Martin was also on the Tyra Banks Show not too long ago discussing the same issue. Is it better for Asian Americans to be airing our disagreements on TV rather than not being on TV at all? I guess so. I really could have done without seeing this James guy though. I thought his appearance was damaging to Asian American men. (Where do they find these people anyway?)

To read the blow-by-blow of each segment, click here.


Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. A native Texan, she lives in California. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.



my asian mom and my latina stepmother both bugged me with the nose pinching thing. it's sortof horrible.
nose pinching - still happens (i'm not the one doing it!), unfortunately. poor babes. my nose was also pinched as a kid.
I think that "Deanna," on Dr. Phil, discussing the eyelid surgery, was Deanna Lee from "Asia Society." Why weren't their last names given on the show? Odd.
This reminds me of a Tyra Banks Show episode that featured similar stories of guests who had had cosmetic surgery. One of the guests was Korean and she had had double eyelid surgery, and Tyra lectured, yelled, etc. I'm not necessarily supportive of this kind of procedure, but I still felt sorry for the girl.
Wanna be white? Twenty years ago the National Banking Association ran a commercial in which a number of organizations claimed they were just like a bank. In the end the voice says that only place you will get banking service is in the Bank.Asian women getting nose and eye jobs are telling the white man that they are just like white women. But in the end, if a white man wants a white woman he will not come looking for a reconstructed Asian woman who is a white wannabe....just like in that banking commercial of twenty years ago.
Hi, thank you so much for posting this. I was wondering if this show ever aired. I was asked to be a guest on the show in August, but I declined after I read the release the camera crew presented for me to sign at the last second. I know I ultimately made the right choice, but I've often wondered if I gave up my 15 minutes of fame. From what I've read, NO.
I don't think the eyelid surgery is about being more "white." there are lots of asian women that have the double eyelid (naturally). for those that don't have it, i guess they just feel like something's missing. the crease accents the eyes. there's a certain femininity associated with it.for me, i am the only girl in my family without the crease. it has never bothered me and it will never be an issue.
interesting that america now cares so much about asians and their double eyelid surgery. first, the tyra banks show and now dr. phil. soon middle-aged women will be better than me at spotting the surgery. =)unfortunately, they always set the show up to portray this larger issue among asians in a ridiculous, caricature-like way, although no different from typical talk show fare. even when good, valid points are made by the asian american guests, the show is constantly brought back to this idea of "ethnic tweaking" as tyra puts they try to explain (in defense of the procedure), there is no way any asian person actually thinks in their mind that this surgery will make them look more white. no one thinks at that level, and this one modification to the eyes can't result in anything nearly as drastic. people have the surgery with the hopes that it makes their eyes/face look better, more beautiful (this statement being a debate in itself).they mention how these things need to be considered in context, with a larger cultural perspective in mind. in our world, beauty is defined in a very eurocentric fashion. its not just eyes... its everything. you can make arguements for skin color, hair (as tyra mentions over and over), hair color, eye color, size and shape of the body. the eurocentric definition of beauty is an issue in itself, and only part of the reason why asians are getting this surgery in vast numbers. there's also the issue of whether or not plastic surgery is an acceptable way to feel better about yourself (in korea, it is widely accepted with little debate). and finally, there's a huge issue in why these surgical procedures are so popular. the eyelid surgery is not so common because so many people want to look white. its because the value of women are held to such an extent based on their looks. this is true in american society, but particularly true in asian societies. asian societies traditionaly put so much value in a woman's ability to be married off - if not explicitly, than in more subtle ways like constant mention of your wide nose throughout childhood and the rest of your life. social pressures placed on women are more of an issue than "trying to look white."its important to separate the different issues from each other, not mash them together and arrive on an overly simplistic conclusion to judge this one person.and you don't need to put an asian girl on tv to set her up for a spectacle of judgements like "insecure, shallow asian girl just trying to look more white."
I don't think asian women are trying to look white.It's been the norm in Asian cultures for girls with big, doe eyes (double eyelids), sharp nose and a small mouth to be considered beautiful.As far as I know I don't want to be white. I just want to adhere more to my culture's/race's sense of beauty.CNN was the only one who did a passable job on the subject. Tyra didn't even allow the girl to explain herself. They should LISTEN more and do more RESEARCH before they even bother.
Stephanie said she had the surgery done to look more like the people she saw in magazines. I assumed this to mean American magazines, which are filled with images of white people. But perhaps she was referring to other magazines with other people in them. I gave too simplistic of an explanation. But that's about all the time Stephanie was given on the show, so we don't really know anything more about her motivations. Still, I think it's sad to not think your own eyes are beautiful just because they don't have a fold.