Critical Film Response (Western Eyes)
The documentary film ‘Western Eyes’ by Ann Shin presents two Canadian women of Asian descent who are contemplating having plastic surgery to permanently change their looks. The aim of their surgeries was to westernize their appearances. Sharon, who is of Korean descent, wants to have eyelid surgery done to give her eyes ‘more of a fold’. Maria is of Filipino descent and was considering changing both her eyes and nose at the beginning of the film. Sharon, the eldest child in her family, was often neglected by her parents during her childhood. During the film, her mother admits to feeling guilty for not ‘being a wise and understanding mother’ and blaming Sharon for everything when she was younger. She also talks about how Sharon was really understanding from a very young age. While her mother was talking, Sharon began to silently cry. Her tears show how much emotional pain she has been suppressing and how her decision to have surgery is much deeper and more complex than a simple desire to change her appearance. Throughout the documentary, Sharon recalls some of the painful memories of her childhood. As her suppressed emotions begin to resurface, Sharon becomes visibly and increasingly upset and even says ‘I really don’t want to film this’ at one point. Some of these memories include being called a ‘chink’ and a ‘poor, dirty girl’ by other kids at school. She also talks about how her Oriental looks always made her feel like an outsider and ‘not feeling accepted for your true state’. Another exceedingly painful recollection that she talked about later in the film was one where kids called her and her grandfather degrading names, including ‘chink’, while they were innocently waiting at a bus stop. They even threw rocks at them, and Sharon seemed incredibly upset as she described how helpless she felt at that particular moment. All of this emotional pain shows the real reason for Sharon’s strong desire to get eye surgery; to look more Western and thus not only feel more accepted by others, but also to accept herself. In the beginning of the film, Sharon described her eyes as ‘slitty’, and said that the surgery would ‘open up new doors for her’, as she was always being perceived as Japanese or Chinese. She felt like she had no sense of true identity. Her mother wasn’t really helping Sharon overcome her feelings, as she was always encouraging her to get the surgery done. Her mother’s strong approval of the surgery probably only made Sharon feel worse about herself, particularly because she also described her as having eyes that were ‘too Oriental’, especially since ‘her face looked fairly Western’. Sharon said she wished she could have ‘long eyelashes that she could bat’ to feel truly pretty, and said that her looks made her feel ‘not completely beautiful.’ All of these negative comments from her mother regarding her looks, as well as being bullied for being Asian when she was younger, are the causes of Sharon’s extremely low self-esteem and the reason that she is extremely unhappy about the way she looks. Also, the fact that eyelid surgery is quite common amongst the Korean community probably encouraged her to get the surgery done as well. As Sharon was neglected by her mother as a child, and she knows how much her mother would like for her to get the surgery done, she probably conformed and got it done so that she could feel accepted and loved by her mother. I think she wanted her mother to accept her just as much as she wanted to accept herself. When Sharon made the final decision to get the surgery done, she described it as ‘re-creating’ herself. She wanted herself to be what she was always told was the beauty ideal. It was more than just changing how she looked, she wanted to change how people looked at her, how she was perceived and treated by others. She also said she was ‘balancing East and West together’ by getting the surgery done. Although her friend Andrea strongly disagreed with...
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