Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 213–225 | Cite as

“Big eye” surgery: the ethics of medicalizing Asian features

  • Yves Saint James AquinoEmail author


The popularity of surgical modifications of race-typical features among Asian women has generated debates on the ethical implications of the practice. Focusing on blepharoplasty as a representative racial surgery, this article frames the ethical discussion by viewing Asian cosmetic surgery as an example of medicalization, which can be interpreted in two forms: treatment versus enhancement. In the treatment form, medicalization occurs by considering cosmetic surgery as remedy for pathologized Asian features; the pathologization usually occurs in reference to western features as the norm. In the enhancement form, medicalization occurs by using medical means to improve physical features to achieve a certain type of beauty or physical appearance. Each type of medicalization raises slightly different ethical concerns. The problem with treatment medicalization lies in the pathologization of Asian features, which is oppressive as it continues to reinforce racial norms of appearance and negative stereotypes. Enhancement medicalization is ethically problematic because cosmetic surgery tends to conflate beauty and health as medical goals of surgery, overemphasizing the value of appearance that can further displace women’s control over their own bodies. I conclude that in both forms of medicalization, cosmetic surgery seems to narrowly frame a complex psychosocial issue involving physical appearance as a matter that can be simply solved through surgical means.


Ethics Cosmetic surgery Asian Medicalization Blepharoplasty 



This research was funded by Macquarie University through the International Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship (IMQRES). I would like to thank Prof. Wendy Rogers for her comments that greatly improved the manuscript. Funding was provided by Macquarie University (Grant No. 2014092).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights statement

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of ArtsMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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