Chen, 43, discussed the experience on "The Talk" Thursday. She and her co-hosts have been sharing secrets on the air this week.
"My secret dates back to ... My heart is racing. It dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter," she said.
"I asked my news director ... over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, 'You will never be on this anchor desk, because you're Chinese.' He said: 'Let's face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? On top of that, because of your Asian eyes, I've noticed that when you're on camera, you look disinterested and bored.'"
Chen said an agent echoed his assessment, so she had plastic surgery on her whole face, including a procedure to trim excess skin above her eyelids.
"And after I had it done, the ball did roll for me," she said, adding she sometimes wonders, "Did I give into the man?"
Chen went on to become a CBS news anchor and is now the host of the prime-time reality show "Big Brother."