Is Beauty Based on Geography?

Overdid it on the plastic surgery? Move to L.A.

Jenna Bergen

Plastic surgery scares me. Botox scares me. Truly, the thought of undergoing any procedure where a needle or a knife comes into contact with my face, the one body part where mistakes cannot be covered with a piece of clothing, gives rise to anxiety. But as the days and weeks of my 29th year flip by, I know that it won’t be long until I join the large group of women looking to fill wrinkles and tighten skin and erase fine lines. According to some, I’m nearly past the point where Botox can be thought of as a preventative measure. People my age and younger are already opting to freeze a muscle here or a muscle there to keep character lines from forming.

So, as I was sitting across from Kevin Cross, medical director and the director of plastic surgery at Deme, on Monday evening, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There to discuss the latest and greatest ways to revitalize one’s smile, we fell into conversation about one of the most popular procedures in our area: lip augmentation.

As we chatted, I was surprised to learn that the over-inflated mouths we commonly see on TV aren’t the norm. “When people hear the words ‘lip filler’ it’s a common misperception to think that you’ll end up with that over-injected ‘duck lip’ that all the women on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills seem to have, but that’s not the case. At this point, there are thousands of people walking around Philadelphia with a little extra volume in their lips and you’d never have any idea that anything has been done.”

Hmm. I was still a little skeptical. But aren’t those crazy housewives filthy rich? Can’t they afford the best doctors? The best care?

Sure they can, Cross told me, before shocking me with this: “But the perception of beauty tends to get distorted geographically to some degree.” Of course, when I took a moment to think about it, it made sense. Consider all of the body modification that happens in African tribes, where increasing sizes of lip disks are inserted in the mouth until the lower lip is stretched beyond recognition. In a way, L.A. is a tribe unto itself and so is Philly. So while we might look at an overworked, duck-lipped mouth and double-D boobs and cringe, that look tends to be the ideal in L.A. Go to Miami, says Dr. Cross, and you’ll see women parading around with cheeks pulled so tight and high that they’re shiny—downright reflective. Thankfully, here in Philly, Dr. Cross says we are a lot more into the natural, can’t-tell-I’ve-had-anything-done look.

Of course, there are still a few Philadelphians milling about that seem to have gotten lost and are living with the wrong plastic-surgery tribe; The ones that cause even the best of us to find some flimsy excuse to turn around and discreetly stare.

One thing to keep in mind: Once you start down the road of nips and tucks and fillers, it’s not that hard to forget that you’re living with the East Coast “don’t overdo it” tribe. For example: Say you get your lips plumped, just a little. At first, you’re thrilled. You feel kissable and gorgeous and ready to take on Angelina in a pout contest. And then, a few weeks later, that volumized version of yourself seems to have disappeared. You race back to the doctor, insistent that you need another hit.

But nine times out of 10, those lips haven’t shriveled back to their former, thinner state, says Dr. Cross. You’ve simply gotten used to your new, puffed-up pair.

“It happens all the time,” says Dr. Cross. “It’s our job as plastic surgeons to pull out your ‘before’ pictures at every visit to ensure that you don’t lose perspective on how far you’ve come. Unfortunately, a lot of surgeons don’t do this and patients will continue to do more and more. They won’t realize they’ve overdone it until they hear people whispering about them behind their backs.”

And that, folks … Well, that’s when you know it’s time to head west.