updated 09/13/2013 AT 8:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/14/2013 AT 12:00 PM ET
When Julie Chen decided to reveal her plastic surgery secret on The Talk last week, she had no idea that it would trigger such a huge response.
The cohost revealed that she had surgery to make her eyes look bigger after a former news director told her that she would never make it to the anchor desk because of her “Asian eyes.”
“The response has been a bit overwhelming,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively. “When I decided to reveal this, I thought it would only create dialogue in the Asian community, as it’s been a hot topic through the years for us.”
But it’s also led a discussion about the pressure women of all ethnicities feel to conform to what’s considered “normal” in terms of beauty.
“I thought those who are not Asian simply would not understand the issue and would not be interested,” the mom of one admits, adding that she’s “glad it’s caused a dialogue of sorts.”
Chen, 43, tells PEOPLE she would never have thought of having the surgery if she wasn’t a TV journalist.
She did a lot of soul-searching and consulted her parents before she decided to have the surgery and says she’s been disappointed by the criticism she’s received from other Asian-Americans.
“I am sorry to hear some within my own community are still judging me and don’t agree with a decision I made for myself, which had nothing to do with denying my heritage,” she says. “I want people to understand that there are Asians born with the crease I had surgically done to my eyes, so the goal was never to look less Asian.”
“The goal was to simply have bigger eyes so the camera didn’t make me look sleepy, bored, angry or disinterested in my interviews,” she continues. “The goal was to look, in my opinion, more alert and more interested on camera for my work/career.”
Chen got lots of emails after she told her story but there was one in particular that means a lot to her. It’s from her mom.
“She wrote, ‘I am so happy about your secret story, it is good that you brought it out and let people know that it is wrong to judge the book by its cover and it is obnoxious to discriminate against other races.’ ”
Reporting by MIKE FLEEMAN