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'The Talk's' Julie Chen’s Revelation Exposes Ugly Truth About Hiring Practices

Chen, who was born in the United States and is of Chinese heritage, had plastic surgery on her eyes after being told she needed to 'Westernize' her appearance.

September 13, 2013
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KEYWORDS hiring / prejudice
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Julie Chen

Julie Chen, far right, with her co-hosts on "The Talk."    Photo courtesy of CBS Entertainment

Appearances can be receiving.

By that, I mean the way you look is, unfortunately, still considered very important in making connections in the business world, and apparently pulchritude pays better, too.

In Daniel Hamermesh’s book “Beauty Pays,” the economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin said that good-looking people on average make $230,000 more in their careers than plain-looking folks.

And it’s a sad statement, but people who are deemed “beautiful” get more callbacks for interviews, according to a recent Italian study. In the research, attractive women got callbacks 54 percent of the time and attractive men 47 percent of the time. The average callback rate in the study was 30 percent. For people considered “unattractive,” the callback rate was a repulsive 7 percent for women and 26 percent for men, respectively.

That’s some ugly data for sure, but there’s more to look at than the beauty discussion when it comes to appearance. Prejudice also persists in the workforce.

As a fan of the CBS-TV show “Big Brother,” I read with interest the news that the host of the show, Julie Chen, broke herself yesterday during “shocking-secrets week” on her daytime job as co-host of “The Talk.” When Chen, now 43, was in her 20s, she said her boss, a news director in Ohio, told her: “‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.’ He said ‘Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we really have in Dayton? ... On top of that, because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, I've noticed that when you’re on camera, when you’re interviewing someone you look disinterested and bored.’ ”

Now that’s what I would call hideous.

Discouraged, Chen said she sought the counsel of a “big-time” talent agent who told her: “I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger.”

That’s even more hideous.

But she did go through with the surgery, and it paid off. Big time.

In other words, Chen, who was born in the United States and is of Chinese heritage, had plastic surgery on her eyes to “Westernize” her appearance. She is now a successful talk show host and a celebrity. Would Chen’s career have floundered without the surgery? We’ll never know.

My guess is some people are going to be upset with Chen’s revelation. How could she have done such a thing? Isn’t she proud of her heritage?

I would argue that she did what she thought she had to do to be successful. It’s unfortunate that we are still talking about appearance and prejudice over achievement in 2013, but, from the looks of it, that conversation isn’t going away anytime soon.

And that’s the ugly truth.

James Tehrani is Workforce’s assistant managing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Tehrani on Twitter at @WorkforceJames.

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