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America’s Asian fetish frenzy: An Indian American wins Miss America and CBS’s Julie Chen reveals a different kind of affirmative action

 
 

For those of us who scan mainstream American culture for blips of Asian American life, it was quite a wild weekend when the two biggest stories in our universe–Julie Chen’s secret revelation of double-eyelid surgery and the unprecedented Asian American representation on the once lily-white Miss America pageant–dramatically intersected.

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Julie Chen, before and after. Which one could be Miss America?

In that key segment I call the decisive “pageant interrogatory,” eventual winner Nina Davuluri, 24, Miss New York, was asked what had people buzzing everywhere I went. Essentially,the question was, “What do you think about Chen’s decision to have plastic surgery to make her eyes look less Asian?”

Davuluri’s response, based on reports: “I don’t agree with plastic surgery, however I can understand that from a standpoint. More importantly I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door. And Miss America is always evolving… I wouldn’t want to change someone’s looks. Be confident in who you are.”

Considering all the manipulative cosmetics that go on in pageants, from simple Vaseline and protuberant implements to plastic surgery itself, I’m sure Davuluri understood what was at stake. And she gave an answer that would help her win–the safe “feel good” answer.

It was an answer that definitely played to where the Miss America Pageant wants to position itself when it comes to the subject of mainstream beauty in a diverse America.

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Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, the first Indian American to wear the tiara.

In 2013, the pageant apparently means business when it comes to really looking like America and not some white-washed version.

It was back in 2001 that Filipino American Angela Baraquio from Hawaii became the first Asian American to win. In 2013, there were three Asian Americans in the top five: Davuluri, the Bollywood dancing pre-med from University of Michigan; first runner-up Crystal Lee from San Francisco; and Minnesota’s Rebecca Yeh, the fourth runner-up.

More than a decade later, we had an unprecedented showing for Asian Americans. But honestly, beauty pageantry is still institutional sexism on