That Nose, That Chin, Those Lips
With Plastic Surgery, a Makeover to Look Like a Celebrity
JAN. 15, 2014
By ABBY ELLIN
When Nino Dean looks in the mirror, the face staring back at him is eerily
evocative of Vanessa Paradis, the French chanteuse and former paramour
of Johnny Depp.
This is not a lucky roll of the genetic dice. Mr. Dean, a freelance
fashion stylist in Manhattan, had surgery 13 years ago to have his visage
molded to resemble, at the very least, Ms. Paradis’s second cousin, if not
her identical twin.
“I wanted her baby face,” said Mr. Dean, who is 37 but said most
people guess he is in his mid20s. “I still find her my favorite beauty of all.”
Magazines and websites routinely publish photographs of people who
have altered their faces to look like a movie star, pop singer, Mattel
product, Egyptian queen or, in the notorious and perhaps unintentional
case of the socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein, a wild animal.
While requests for these sorts of utter transformations do not take
place every day, doctors say they do happen regularly.
“About once a month, someone comes in who wants to look like a
family member, friend or celebrity,” said Dr. Sam Lam, a facial plastic
surgeon in Dallas. “One guy wanted to look like his cousin who was a2/6/2014 With Plastic Surgery, a Makeover to Look Like a Celebrity – NYTimes.com
model. Another guy wanted a chin implant to look like his older brother.”
Though a striking or jarring similarity can sometimes be achieved, it’s
impossible to recreate another person’s image. Bone structure, facial
proportions and ineffable characteristics all factor into people’s looks.
“We really cannot make someone ‘pass’ for someone else,” said Dr.
Steven Teitelbaum, a plastic surgeon in Santa Monica, Calif., and a
spokesman for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, a
professional organization. “At most, we can try to mimic a feature, such as
a nice nose, or even to put in a grossly disproportionate chin implant to
mimic the nearly cartoonish visage of Jay Leno.”
It is possible, however, to repeat the same overthetop procedure on
different patients — say, “an overly high brow lift, excessive nasal
reduction, excessively filled lips,” Dr. Teitelbaum said. “You can go much
farther to mimic features of a Michael Jackson, who is himself a plastic
surgical joke, than to create a resemblance to someone who has never had
Paying homage to a specific body part is also an option. Patients often
visit a surgeon’s office armed with a photograph of their favorite celebrity
Stacy Shanahan’s fantasy doppelgänger is Heather Locklear, circa the
Sammy Jo Carrington years. Ms. Shanahan, 49, an account executive for a
packing company in Mission Viejo, Calif., would give her right cheekbone
to acquire the luster of Ms. Locklear, with whom she shares the attributes
of blond hair, bluegreen eyes and delicate features.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I’d be happy being more like her,” Ms.
Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t miss how I look. She’s beautiful.”
Ms. Shanahan was so determined that she asked Dr. Burr von Maur of
Newport Beach, Calif., a plastic surgeon who had given her a breast lift, to
help. Dr. von Maur ended up performing a nose job on Ms. Shanahan (the
cost: $6,500) to evoke the “spirit” of Ms. Locklear.
“You can never duplicate something; you can’t clone somebody,” he
said. “It’s best to enhance the patient’s own features, so we can unearth the2/6/2014 With Plastic Surgery, a Makeover to Look Like a Celebrity – NYTimes.com
beauty that lies underneath without radically altering their appearance.”
Doctors say that a significant part of their job is weeding out patients
with a legitimate medical or aesthetic concern — arbitrary in itself — from
those suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, an intense preoccupation
with a minor or imagined flaw in one’s appearance.
“I had a patient who went from doctor to doctor trying to get surgery
to look like Brad Pitt,” said Dr. Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist and
psychiatrist on the Upper East Side. “There was this sense of, ‘My life will
be so much better if I had this person’s X, Y or Z.’ It can become an
Many doctors have ethical concerns about these sorts of queries. For
example, what if a patient is deemed psychologically healthy and still
wants to look like the devil? Should a doctor comply? Or what if a patient
earns his living as a Michael Jackson impersonator, and wants surgery to
enhance his career? A French artist, Orlan, after all, has used her face as a
surgical canvas to question established notions of beauty.
“You respect a patient’s autonomy,” said Leonard Fleck, a professor of
philosophy and medical ethics in the college of human medicine at
Michigan State University. However, if a doctor thinks the patient’s choice
is misguided, “he is not morally obligated to follow their wishes,” Dr. Fleck
said. “He can say, ‘I feel that that’s a really bad idea.’ ”
Joan Kron, the author of “Lift: Wanting, Fearing and Having a Face
Lift” and the contributing editor at large for Allure, said she believed that
it was a doctor’s responsibility to fulfill a patient’s wishes, within reason,
without imposing his or her own opinion.
“Most doctors are trained to ask you why you’re there,” Ms. Kron said.
“That’s usually the first question. If the doctor grabs you before you even
open your mouth and says, ‘I’ve got to fix your nose,’ I would walk out.”
As for the more outlandish requests, she questioned whether they
were any worse than other culturally accepted modes of body
“Is it worse to look like a cat or worse to be decorated on every inch of2/6/2014 With Plastic Surgery, a Makeover to Look Like a Celebrity – NYTimes.com
your skin with tattoos?” she said. If you want to look like a cat, she added,
“maybe you should be encouraged to have a dress rehearsal with makeup
first, to see if you really want to live with that look.”
Liberace’s former boyfriend, Scott Thorson, said he thought patients
should be able to do as they wish. When Mr. Thorson was 20, Dr. Jack
Startz performed rhinoplasty on him, gave him a chin implant and
restructured his cheekbones to look similar to Liberace’s.
Mr. Thorson, now 54, said that he was happy with his face, although
he did remove the chin implant.
“I’ve gotten so used to it,” he said. “People can do what they want to
do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”
Neither does Deborah Davenport, 41, who owns a real estate
technology consulting firm in McKinney, Tex. For years, Ms. Davenport
was told that she was a dead ringer for the actress Cameron Diaz, which
did not please her.
“My nose just seems to get fatter and fatter every year, Ms. Davenport
said. “I look at photos and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening to
She asked herself whom she would want to look like, and after
scouring magazines and movies, the answer arrived: Kate Winslet. She
went to Dr. Lam in Dallas, who shaved cartilage from her nose, injected
the dermal filler Sculptra to plump out her cheeks and squirted a little
Botox into her forehead and around her eyes to make her more
Winslettish. The bill was $15,000.
Few things satisfy Ms. Davenport as much as when she is told she has
a likeness to the Oscarwinning star. Never mind that Ms. Winslet has said
she is opposed to plastic surgery.
The irony hasn’t escaped Ms. Davenport.
“Here I am trying to have surgery to look like someone I think hasn’t
had surgery,” she said.
A version of this article appears in print on January 16, 2014, on page E1 of the New York edition
with the headline: That Nose, That Chin, Those Lips.2/6/2014 With Plastic Surgery, a Makeover to Look Like a Celebrity – NYTime