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September 13, 2013 at 4:03 PM

Julie Chen, Harvard’s Riptide report: Why bother leaning in?

Corrected version

It’s been a week of surreal debate about women and journalism.

Julie Chen, co-host of CBS show “The Talk,” revealed that she had undergone plastic surgery on her eyes after a former news director and an agent told her that she looked too Chinese.

Earlier, Harvard released a landmark study about why the news industry has floundered, showcasing interviews with more than 60 people — five of which were women.

Here’s the common thread between them: Men dictate how we see the world. Their perspective becomes the history of record and dictates the shape of things to come.

Why bother leaning in?

In Chen’s case, the words of powerful men made her future. Her news director in Akron, Ohio, and a talent agent’s remarks motivated her to get plastic surgery to enlarge her eyes. She is open about the fact that her career took off after she underwent the procedure. She moved out of local news to the network, joining CBS’s “The Early Show” before going to “The Talk.”

At Harvard’s Kennedy School, three male researchers undertook an important project to document the downturn in the news industry over the last 30 years. Funded by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, they interviewed 60 thought leaders in technology and journalism, ranging from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. Five of the people were interviewed were women. Dubbed Riptide, it was history told by men about men.

(The study had other serious diversity issues regarding race and age; here is a statement from UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, which I serve on the board of.)

I don’t have a problem with Chen’s decision. She was brave to share it and open herself up to the inevitable criticism. Hopefully she’s created space for people to talk openly about the challenges women face in in broadcast journalism.

Incidentally, many Asian women living in Asia get eyelid surgery. A cousin of mine, who grew up in Asia and now lives in the U.S., had the eyelid surgery done. (We have never talked about it. She’s a distant relation.)

It’s unfair to criticize Chen for her plastic surgery while overlooking the many other broadcast journalists of all races, men and women, who quietly undergo chin tucks, face lifts, hair implants and brow lifts.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Hate on the beauty and fashion industry that worships youth and European features. Remember when Don Draper said in “Mad Men” that love was invented by ad men to sell nylons? Beauty was invented too.

Here is video of Chen’s confession:

This blog post, originally published at 4:03 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2013, was corrected at 11:40 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2013. The previous version incorrectly referred to an organization by its former name UNITY: Journalists of Color.

Comments | Topics: journalism, women


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