Talk and reality show host Julie Chen told a national audience Wednesday that she was so traumatized while working at a local television station that she developed a complex that led to a Los Angeles plastic surgeon’s table.
During a special segment on CBS’ “The Talk” called Shocking Secrets, Chen said a former WDTN-TV news director told her she would never be accepted in Dayton as an anchor.
“It is cold out in the field. I wanted to try to get a seat on the anchor desk so I asked my news director ‘you know holidays, anchors want to take vacation could I fill in. You know, I don’t care, I will work Christmas.’ He said ‘you will never be on this anchor desk because you are Chinese.’ And he said ‘Let’s face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we really have here in Dayton? Our audience can’t relate to you because you are not like them,” Chen recalled.
She had set the scene by playing a WDTN story recorded here around 1995.
“And he said on top of that, ‘because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, sometimes when you are on camera and you are interviewing someone, you look disinterested. You look bored because your eyes are so heavy, they are so small’.”
Chen was a 25-year-old reporter at the time and said the comments devastated her.
“It felt like a dagger in my heart,” Chen said. “My lifelong dream was to be a network anchor and if I could not even anchor in Dayton, Ohio, how am I ever going to get to New York City?”
Chen, now a co-host on “The Talk” and the host of CBS’ “Big Brother,” said that the incident reminded her of being teased as a child growing up in her hometown of Queens, N.Y.
“It felt like a weird grown up version of adult racism in the work place,” Chen said. “I couldn’t challenge him. He was my boss. I started to develop a complex. I got very insecure about this.”
Chen said she recorded the newscast every night to watch herself.
“All I could see were my eyes,” she said.
Chen decided she could no longer work for the news director and sought out agents.
An agent she described as “big time” told her she needed surgery to make her eyes appear less Asian and bigger. Chen said the agent gave her a list of plastic surgeons that preform “double eyelid surgery.” The highly controversial cosmetic procedure reshapes the skin around the eye.
Chen said the agent told her she was good at her job and would go straight to the top if she got the surgery, which was condemned by many Asians.
Chen said she was torn.
“I thought, ‘Get it done, my dreams come true for my career. Don’t get it done, who knows what becomes of me?’” Chen said on her show.
She spoke with her family and had lengthy conversations about whether the surgery meant she would be turning her back on her heritage.
“Members of my family wanted to disown me if I got it done,” Chen said.
Chen ultimately got the surgery with her parents’ support and financial backing.
“After I had that done, the ball did roll for me,” Chen said.
She added that she often wonders if she had given in to “The Man.”
“I don’t like to live with regrets,” Chen said after hearing uplifting words from her co-host. “I did it. I moved on. No one is more proud of being Chinese than I am and I have to live with the decision I have made.”
Chen has indeed achieved a great many things since leaving Dayton.
A former reporter for CBS’ “The Early Show,” she married current CBS president Les Moonves in 2004. They have a son together.
“The Talk” is broadcast at 2 p.m. on WHIO-TV.
Contact this columnist at arobinson@DaytonDailyNews.com or Twitter.com/DDNSmartMouth