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Plastic surgery might not only help make people look younger or more attractive. It can make them look more likeable, trustworthy and feminine, researchers say.
Women who got face lifts, eye lifts and other cosmetic surgery not only looked a little younger or rested, but they looked, well, nicer, says Dr. Mike Reilly of Georgetown University, who led the study.
“In general, women who undergone facial rejuvenation surgery tended toward increased feminity and increased attractiveness and that was not surprising to me,” Reilly told NBC News.
“But then we also found they had increased likeablility and were perceived to be more socially skilled,” he added.
People also tended to say the women looked more trustworthy, Reilly and colleagues report in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.
It really hit Donna Andersen when she was in Home Depot with her husband.
“We were checking out because we’d bought a lot of supplies,” Andersen told NBC News.
“The lady looks at me and said. ‘Oh what are you having done? You sure look happy’,” said Andersen. “When’s the last time somebody said that to you at Home Depot?”
“My theory … it’s kind of, you know, basically resting bitch face,” said Reilly.
“But some people, you just look at them and you think this person, they’re smart. They know what they’re talking about. I trust them. Or wow, I would love to get to know that person better.”
Andersen, who lives in Waldorf, Maryland, sought out Reilly because she felt she looked angry all the time, even when she was actually feeling happy. Like so many people, her mouth naturally turns down a little at the corners and by her mid-60s the natural effects of aging had accentuated the effect.
“People I worked with, they would say, ‘Well what’s the matter?’ she said.
“Well, nothing is the matter! Why would you think something’s the matter?”
But Andersen, a bubbly 67-year-old, knew what the matter was. “When I look at myself in the mirror, the corners of my mouth just naturally turn down and I think as I became older it became more pronounced,” she said.
The retired federal worker had three procedures – an upper and lower eye lift, and some neck tightening. Reilly says the eye lift, especially, can change how people view someone else.
“I just feel like I am being treated differently,” says Andersen. “I wasn’t looking for that so much. I just didn’t want to perceived, when I am meeting somebody, as angry.”
It’s the first study to look beyond the most obvious effects of plastic surgery, both good, and in all too many cases, bad.
“In the media you certainly can see…you’ll see one kind of crazy, unnatural result after the next,” Reilly said. “And it started me thinking about is there some way to study, quantify, some of these changes that are happening?”
Over five years Reilly and colleagues collected before and after pictures of willing patients. They settled on white women for consistency’s sake. They found 30 patients willing to go all the way.
They showed before and after pictures to a panel of 24 people for each patient.
Of the eight traits that were evaluated, plastic surgery improved assessments of likeability, social skills, attractiveness and femininity. “Improvement in scores for perceived trustworthiness also approached statistical significance,” they wrote. There weren’t measurable changes in scores for aggressiveness, extroversion or risk-seeking.
“Facial plastic surgery changes the perception of patients by those around them,” the researchers concluded.
It makes sense to Reilly, who looked at decades of studies done on facial expressions.
“If you have, quote, resting bitch face, you’re approximating a frown,” he said.
“The frown is why people don’t like you. But if your resting facial expression (is one) where the corners of your mouth turn up a little, it (may not be) a smile but people think you are more likeable and more socially skilled,” he added.
The same is true for rounder cheeks. “Rounder cheeks, when we smile that is what is happening -- the muscles pull the fat up higher into your cheeks. So…you are always going to look like you smiling or laughing.”
The effects may look subtle in the photographs, but Andersen says the $13,000 worth of surgery is worth it for her.
“I am the talk of all my friends,” she said.
Reilly’s next study? Men. “I felt like men, especially, were getting disfigured by surgery, especially Hollywood men,” he said.
“Kenny Rogers and Mickey Rourke for example. I was thinking, my god we are taking these good-looking men and just making them look horrific.”