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Ashlee Simpson’s nose. Natalie Portman's cheeks. Beyonce’s behind.
It seems every day I see a new patient who wants to change a part of his or her body in order to look like a celebrity.
A study by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons listed Angelina Jolie as the first choice for women and, no shock, Brad Pitt for men. Most celebrities look great — that’s why they’re celebrities — but do “regular” people go too far when they want their body to look like a favorite star?
Twenty years ago, I walked into an oral surgeon’s office with a photo of Andre Agassi. During high school my jaw had grown enormously due to a medical condition. I looked like an Asian Jay Leno. Only Jay’s jaw was smaller. The oral surgeon studied Andre’s jaw line and told me he would do his best. He broke my jaw in two places, set it back, and wired it in place. Success! I no longer looked like Jawzilla. Sadly, I don’t think you’d mistake me for Andre Agassi.
Since I went for a celebrity look — at least in my jaw — I guess I shouldn’t cringe when my patients bring in photos of celebrities to show me how they want to look. But bringing in photos of celebrities could be an indication that a prospective patient may have unrealistic expectations. That is my No. 1 reason for turning a patient down for surgery. When I presented that photo of Andre to my oral surgeon, I honestly just wanted to show him what I considered an acceptable looking chin. I might have chosen any photo — celebrity or civilian — whose chin jutted within the range of “normal.”
Unfortunately, some patients don’t desire simply to look “normal.” They really do want to look as much like their favorite celebrity as possible. This desire to look like another person could be a sign of serious psychological issues, including body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a psychiatric condition in which a person looks in the mirror and sees something completely different than what others see.
To a person with BDD, a small bump on the nose appears to be the size of a melon. These troubled individuals undergo multiple plastic surgeries in misguided attempts to correct deformities that don’t exist. People who suffer from BDD sometimes define physical perfection in terms of a celebrity whose photo they bring to a plastic surgeon’s office. They’re never happy until, in their minds, they look exactly like that celeb.
Early in my career, a woman with undiagnosed BDD consulted me for plastic surgery. You would think the moment she pulled out a photo of Jennifer Aniston, 25 years her junior, a warning bell would go off in my head and my inner voice would scream “She’s crazy! Don’t operate on her!” You would think wrong. I performed a facelift on her and lived to regret it.
While everyone who saw her afterward thought she looked fabulous, she was devastated by what she perceived as a “botched job,” pointing out nonexistent scars and lumps that you couldn’t see under a magnifying glass. She exploded into a terrifying tirade in my office, screaming “I’m a monster!” and threatened to perform her own version of a facelift on me, and then hit me with her car. For the next two years I looked over my shoulder every time I walked out of my office, worried that I’d see her behind me, scalpel in hand.
Years ago, my plastic surgeon mentor said, “Plastic surgery is not meant to make people look different, but to make them look like a better version of themselves.” I firmly believe this.
As plastic surgeons, we should ask the question: When have we gone too far? I think the answer is when we perform plastic surgery to make someone look different and not better.
Most people agree that Ashlee Simpson looks much better after her alleged rhinoplasty. If you looked at photos of my hideous cartoon jaw you would agree that I look much better today. And most people would agree that Heidi Montag looks worse after her 10 plastic surgeries in one day. Heidi looks like a changed person. In plastic surgery, change is not necessarily better.
I try to do my best to give my patients what they’re looking for, if possible, even if they come in waving a photograph of somebody’s famous nose, chin, or chest. I draw the line at patients who insist on trying to transform their entire bodies into their favorite celebrities. This could be BDD speaking; these patients need therapy rather than plastic surgery. Thankfully, in most cases it’s impossible to change someone so much that they resemble their favorite celebrity. You can’t build a Porsche using Hyundai parts.
Dr. Anthony Youn is a board-certified plastic surgeon, the author of the new memoir and runs a popular celebrity cosmetic surgery blog. He practices in Detroit, Mich.