Not Unexpectedly, Coral Gables Has an Abundance of Doctors in the Business of Improving Your Appearance. Here Are Some of Their Thoughts on What Beauty is All About.
Even over our backlit Zoom video call, you can tell that Dr. Laura Davila’s teeth are brilliantly white, as she continues talking and flashes a smile. They are perfectly shaped and just the right shade of ivory, a glowing ad for her own practice, Coral Gables Dentistry.
“You know a mentor once told me that you could never be tall enough, skinny enough, or have white enough teeth,” says Dr. Davila, dentist, and prosthodontist. “But in reality, that’s just not the case. You can have perfectly beautiful teeth.” Her partner, Dr. Cristina Osorio, nods in agreement and smiles, flashing her equally brilliant smile before adding that age-old notion that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
But is that really true? Aren’t there certain commonly held notions of what’s considered to be beautiful? And isn’t the desire to attain that kind of beauty perfectly common?
Every year, Americans spend vast sums on cosmetic procedures to achieve a specific standard of beauty. Even in 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans spent over nine billion dollars on aesthetic plastic surgery, according to The Aesthetic Society. But how exactly do plastic surgeons, cosmetic dermatologists, and cosmetic dentists define “beauty”? And what makes someone beautiful? We asked a few local leaders in the industry for their insights.
Beauty in the Eyes of the Industry
It may be surprising, but most professionals in the medical beauty industry have a hard time agreeing on a singular definition of beauty. Standards of beauty are affected by factors that include culture, geography, upbringing, and past experiences, to name just a few. Some cultures find heavier women more attractive, for example.
However, most professionals in the industry do agree that there are some features, especially in the face, which are more attractive than others. “Beauty comes in so many shapes and varieties,” says plastic surgeon Dr. Stephan Baker. “But there are certain features that might distract from someone’s beauty. In terms of the nose, if someone has a pretty face but a rather large or oversized structure that is distracting, that could take away from their beauty.”
From a classical perspective, beauty has long been defined by proportionality and symmetry. There is the rule of three, where the distance between chin and nose, nose and eyes, and eyes and forehead hairline should be about the same. Then there is the symmetry rule, in which the eyes and cheeks should match – a sense possibly inherited from our genetics, since a lack of symmetry can reflect poor health, and hence someone you don’t want to mate with.
Size also matters. Noses and ears that are large are not considered as attractive as smaller noses and ears. The same can be said of breasts and buttocks; body parts that are too small or too large are considered unattractive.
But what about those of us who aren’t blessed with the golden proportions of beauty? That’s where plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures come in. Breast augmentation or reduction can balance your body. Fillers can erase those pesky crow’s feet. A facelift may help you look like your younger self. A nose job may enhance whatever natural beauty you possess.
Beauty in the Eyes of the Internet
An important facet of beauty to consider is individuality and uniqueness. What’s beautiful or looks good on someone else may not necessarily look good on you. Everyone has a different body and a different face.
“I have a lot of patients come in and ask for a breast implant of a certain size because their friend has that size, and well, of course she looks great. But I have to remind them that their friend is unique – and that implant will look completely different on them,” says Dr. Baker.
The scenario that Dr. Baker describes – using another’s appearance as a yardstick – is not new in the medical beauty industry. For years, patients have brought in magazine cutouts of celebrities or models and asked for procedures to mimic their features. And now, doctors are seeing younger patients bring in filtered and edited selfies and asking for procedures to create the look of their edited, virtual selves – with small symmetrical noses, flawless skin, large eyes, pouty lips, and prominent cheekbones.
The phenomenon, coined “Snapchat Dysmorphia,” can cause young patients to become hyper-focused on minuscule imperfections that may be more noticeable in a picture than in the mirror, ultimately pushing them to seek unnecessary cosmetic procedures.
“When you’re constantly taking pictures of yourself and posting them, you’re likely to be more critical of yourself,” says Gables facial plastic surgeon Dr. Carlos Wolf. “You see yourself in angles that you never saw before, and then you become more critical of your appearance in the picture.” Scrolling through hundreds of edited photographs every day can even cause conventionally attractive people to seek out cosmetic procedures.
“A lot of people have false expectations about what they can achieve. They see these fake Instagram smiles and want those smiles. And I say to them, ‘I can’t make your smile look exactly like that, but I can definitely improve it and make it better,’” says Dr. Osorio.
Other local professionals agree that social media and marketing have driven younger patients into thinking that they need fillers like Botox to combat “aging,” even to their detriment. “You get some young ladies who come in, and they’ve overdone the fillers so much that they actually look older than they are. They’re in their twenties, but it looks like they’re in their thirties and forties,” says Dr. Wolf.
Gables cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Oscar Hevia echoes Dr. Wolf ’s remarks. “Social media is definitely driving more young people to look a certain way, and it’s really unfortunate because you need to enjoy your youth and natural beauty while you have it,” he says.
Beauty in the Eyes of Your Mirror
If you don’t like the way you look, there are things you can do to actually improve your appearance. The rest, however, comes down to accepting what you are born with.
“Beauty is really about self-confidence. You define what’s beautiful, and you know when you look in the mirror, you have to stop and say, ‘Damn, I look good,’ because individual beauty is based on what you see when you see yourself in the mirror,” says Gable’s plastic surgeon Dr. Daniel Careaga.
Having said that, for those of us who look in the mirror and see something we don’t like – tired eyes, frown lines, excess belly skin, or a disproportionate nose – there are two things we can do to become more “beautiful.” One, live a healthy lifestyle. Two, get a cosmetic procedure. And the two work in conjunction to make you look like the best version of yourself.
Consider liposuction. Liposuction usually gets a bad rap because people think of it as a lazy way to lose weight. It won’t, however, replace healthy eating to make you thinner. But it just might reduce certain fat deposits you can’t seem to get rid of. “Liposuction is generally for people that are relatively fit. It’s for the people who can’t get rid of the love handles, the inner thigh bulge, the fat that comes out of the back of your bra, no matter what they do,” says Dr. Hevia.
Dr. Careaga adds that the results of liposuction or a tummy tuck are not something you can achieve at the gym, even if you work out ten hours a day. “Exercise and a tummy tuck are not interchangeable, but they can help each other,” he says. “Exercising regularly helps maintain and enhance results from the plastic surgery, while a tummy tuck can help repair stretched out muscles that we see with pregnancy.”
The Face of Beauty
The doctrine of health enhancing cosmetic appearance – and cosmetic procedures – also applies to facial plastic surgery. Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and sugar, while eating a balanced diet and getting enough exercise, can reduce the physical effects of aging. The simple act of drinking more water can lead to clearer and more beautiful skin, for example. Nonetheless, sometimes we need a little help.
“As we age, we lose fat and bone structure, and our skin gets thinner,” says Gables dermatologist Dr. Flor Mayoral. “So, as we age, we need help to keep looking youthful.” These include “neuromodulators” such as Botox that help reduce wrinkles from muscular contractions, and fillers – either synthetics like hyaluronic acid, or body fat – that can be used to restore lost facial volume. Then there are various skin “resurfacing” tools to restore a youthful texture, such as lasers and chemical peels.
Some things require surgery, however, such as removing sagging neck skin or trimming eye lids that are droopy looking. “In general, we understand the [repair] process better, so correcting aging in the face has become more and more natural,” says Gable’s plastic surgeon Jhonny Salomon. “In the 1980s you could tell a facelift from a mile away. Today it’s hard.” Above all, says Dr. Salomon, it is important for the physician to understand what the patient considers to be beautiful. Suggestions can be made, of course, but “I always listen to the patient first,” he says. “I don’t bring my aesthetics to the conversation. They know what bothers them and I let them guide me.”
Conclusion? A triangular shaped face, with large eyes, a small nose, symmetrical features, all in the perfect proportion of “three” may represent beauty by the book, but in a world where we’re surrounded by everyone else’s definition of beauty and influenced by an industry that makes its money from socially driven concepts of what is attractive, being “beautiful” may just come down to achieving the best versions of ourselves. On the other hand, if you want to get your teeth straightened and whitened, we won’t stop you.