By Ann Shin
A National Film Board of Canada Production
Imagine looking in the mirror and seeing another face staring back at you. Would it change your identity? How much do your looks have to do with who you are?
Western Eyes examines the search for beauty and self-acceptance through the experiences of Maria Estante and Sharon Kim, young women contemplating cosmetic surgery. Both of Asian descent — Maria is Filipina and Sharon is Korean — they believe their appearance, specifically their eyes, affect the way they are perceived by others.
For Maria, surgery is an expedient way to solve her crisis. "I could spend $5,000 to fix my nose and eyes and feel better," she confesses as she sits in front of a mirror applying makeup and criticizing her facial features. "Or I could go into therapy — but who has the time to spend two or three years in therapy?"
Troubled by their relationships with their mother, their ancestry and their physical appearance, both Maria and Sharon feel somewhat unsettled in Western society. "I am recreating myself, I am balancing East and West. I'm getting it done because I want to feel better," explains Sharon.
Layering interviews with references to super models and other pop-culture icons of beauty, award-winning filmmaker Ann Shin draws viewers into the real-time emotional journey of Maria and Sharon as each contemplates surgery. Shin uses a variety of cinematic tools to reflect shifting perspectives, illustrating the relative nature of beauty. Using the camera to look beyond appearances, Shin captures the pain that almost always lies behind the desire for plastic surgery.
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"[A] remarkable video... Western Eyes tracks the decision of two young immigrant women to undergo cosmetic surgery in the hope that a new look will make them more acceptable in the predominantly white... city where they live. A smooth, flowing, even lyrical visual production."- General Anthropology Newsletter
"Western Eyes captures the emotional pain that these two women experience because they feel they don't measure up to some perceived standard of beauty.... Although both are attractive young women, they talk movingly of being made to feel different in school, being called names, and feeling insecure about their looks."- Voice of Youth Advocates
"Amplified by cinematic techniques... this video takes viewers on a journey fraught with emotional conflict and pain. This exploration of the pressures of pop culture makes an interesting addition to high school, college and public library collections." - Booklist
"Straightforward interviews with the women, their friends, relatives, and doctors... prove most interesting. This film is particularly recommended for young females." - Library Journal
"RECOMMENDED for... Asian and Women's Studies collections."- Educational Media Reviews Online
Awards & Conference Screenings
2002 Association for Asian Studies Film Festival
2001 National Women's Studies Association Conference Film Festival
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To rent or purchase this film, please visit the Icarus Films website