Overdone or Subtle?

When most of us see facial cosmetic surgery results that we judge as poor, we often see “overdone” as the problem. Too tight, too gaunt, paralyzed. Overdone plastic surgery looks like a mask, just as overdone makeup looks like a clown face. There’s a clue: makeup. Carefully add shadow or color until things look right. Aiming for perfect when you never looked that way in your life, will get you to overdone, the dreaded clown.

An aesthetician who used to work with me, Brandy, is also a makeup artist. Doing entire wedding parties, she would have each one looking her personal best, rather than some iconic standard. Trying to find obvious makeup evidence on them, I found only harmony. How did she do this? Whether or not Brandy would take credit in this way, I believe that she diminished features that fell outside her standard of beauty and augmented those features that were beautiful. Her results were elegant, individual and poetically subtle.

With overdone makeup, correction is just a wipe away. Plastic surgery is more problematic. Many years ago in the operating room, I unwittingly demonstrated to many students, residents and nursing students how the single-minded pursuit of perfection is almost blind to the best result possible. One can easily surpass the normal relationship between effort and result, thereby ending up in the “Why didn’t I stop sooner?” region. I now teach my students about being aware of a gradually diminishing improvement as one continues to make effort. This “flattening of the quality curve” is now my reminder that a hair beyond perfection, just up ahead, the curve heads downward, and rapidly into the “Overdone Zone”. Humility is the tool I have learned over the years to help me see the curve as a challenge and a danger, not as my next perfect result.

Every living thing is a mixture of wonderful and beautiful features and distorted disharmonious ones. The patient is a far better judge, most often, of what is distracting them from the notion that they are normal. It is my job to listen, to temper my mathematical, symmetry-obsessed and judgmental Left brain with my more humble, aesthetic-loving, and accepting Right brain to help me help my patients find their wonder.

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