As More Minorities Go Under the Knife, Some Fear Cosmetic Surgery Could Obscure Ethnicity

Number of minorities going under the knife has doubled in the past decade.

ByABC News
October 3, 2014, 2:52 PM

— -- Kendra Elia is on the hunt for the perfect face. She even flew from her hometown in Fresno, California, to New York City to undergo plastic surgery for the nose she’s always wanted.

“I just looked in the mirror one day and just maybe, you know, makeup's not changing anything. Not helping. Maybe it's my nose,” she said.

This will be her fourth attempt at rhinoplasty, but for the first time, she is having her surgery done by Dr. Oleh Slupchynskyj, who specializes in what he calls “ethnic cosmetic surgery.”

“We talk about ethnic cosmetic surgery -- we typically refer ethnic to African American, Asian, Hispanic,” Slupchynskyj said. “Those are the three big groups of ethnic patients, as opposed to either Eastern European or Caucasian.”

Plastic surgery is more popular than ever now. Numbers for racial minorities turning to cosmetic procedures have doubled in the past decade, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. From 2005 to 2013, cosmetic surgery procedures performed on Asian-American patients has increased 126 percent, in African Americans, 56 percent and Hispanics, 84 percent.

Slupchynskyj says he sees patients of all races, though he admits that many of them seem to want similar looks.

“There's this influence that the consumer, the patient gets that's dictated by what magazines put in their magazines and how they Photoshop their models and their celebrities,” he said. “I certainly have a fair amount of patients that come and bring me photos of either Halle Berry or Beyoncé or any of the other super celebrities that are walking around either half-Caucasian, half-African-American nose or half-ethnic nose.”

Elia, who is biracial, identifies as an African-American woman. As she joins this growing number of patients getting procedures, her mother, Sylvia Barnett, worries that her daughter is losing her ethnic identity by changing her nose.

“I just always believed you work with what you have,” Barnett said. “I mean, there are other ways you can -- makeup, or, I don't know, other ways you can make yourself look better. ... I'm blessed. I'm proud of my blackness, always been that way, and I don't want to change a thing.”

Some critics agree, arguing these surgeries are masking deeper desires to erase ethnic identity. Martin Wong, co-founder of now-defunct Asian pop magazine, said that many surgeries like these are simply indicative of the shame patients feel about their ethnicity.

“I think the problem is even if they’re not purposely trying to cover up their race or their ethnicity or culture that’s the message they’re giving,” Wong said. “They’re telling other people I wasn’t happy with the way I looked naturally and they’re saying you know I want to look more like the supermodels on the cover of, you know, European magazines or North American magazines ... or comics.”

Some scientists believe that there is a scientific formula for the “perfect” face. In 2009, researchers at the University of Toronto conducted a study comparing different female features to what others deemed attractive and came up with a model. Some experts say it all comes down to symmetry, an equation averaging equal distances between features.

But some psychologists argue that this symmetry model is a Western beauty ideal that perpetuates a glorification of fair skin and narrow features, and doesn’t embrace faces like Elia’s.