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