________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 18 . . . . May 11, 2001

cover Western Eyes.

Ann Shin (Director). Gerry Flahive (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2000.
39 min., 30 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9199 289.

Subject Headings:
Surgery, Plastic-Social aspects.
Self-perception in women.
Asians-Canada-Race identity.

Grade 8 and up / Age 13 and up.

Review by Tom Knutson.

*** /4


What you get is, like, a Western eye.

I want to get it done because I want to feel better.

I'm torn between having the surgery, and not having the surgery. I have to think about this, about what my intentions are.

I still think it was a mistake. But she feels good, she feels like she can walk around, and who am I to judge?

I always thought that she was beautiful. But her eyes were too Oriental, especially since her face looks fairly Western.

Western Eyes examines the impact of racism and societal and parental pressures on two young women of Asian descent who consequently view cosmetic surgery as a means of raising their self-esteem and acceptance in society. Sharon Kim and Maria Reba Estante reveal their experiences of growing up in a world where beauty and success are usually measured by one's physical features according to media-driven stereotypes. By undergoing eye and nose surgery, Sharon and Maria hope to overcome the labeling that has affected how they feel about themselves. As the title suggests, they want to 'westernize' themselves. As they go through their decision-making process, friends and family members also contribute their perspectives, demonstrating the complexity of this issue.

      Western Eyes' approach evokes the upbeat and trendy style of music videos and high fashion media, both of which espouse the importance of physical appearance. Split-second images flash by in rapid succession, interspersed with quieter interview segments, contemplative moments, and footage from old films illustrating earlier perceptions of beauty. Supporting the visual movement is a music score that ranges from exotic to "cool" to ethereal. The dialogue is often contrapuntal, with lines fading in and out on top of one another as individuals express conflicting feelings and opinions.

      Given the subject and its presentation, Western Eyes will appeal to many young women who identify with the pressure of conforming to a certain look, not only facially but in all physical traits. The perpetuation of fashion stereotypes, extending progressively into younger age groups (as demonstrated by the Spice Girls' popularity with pre-teens) makes this film appropriate for teens, both female and male, as a look at one of the most prevalent and internalized debates that adolescent women face.


Tom Knutson chairs the Young Adult and Children's Section of the British Columbia Library Association.

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ISSN 1201-9364