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Mask of Perfection focuses on the complex and ambivalent relationship between the beauty we perceive subjectively on the one hand, and the plastic surgeon’s scientific, geometry-based standard of beauty on the other.

Specific beauty ideals have seesawed over the course of history, but evolutionary psychology has demonstrated a high degree of consistency at the root level of perceptions of beauty (such as clear skin and a waist-hip ratio around 0.7). Accordingly, notable shifts in perceptions of beauty have been rare, and coincide with discontinuities in general history, and particularly art history. The Renaissance marked a shift toward sleeker body ideal, prizing a sleek figure and flattened chest. The Baroque became synonymous with a body type we describe to this day as Rubenesque. More recently, changes in the social order follwing the end of WWI manifested in the idolization of a slim, more androgynous female body type, epitomized by Hollywood stars such as Louise Brooks.

The current change in beauty ideal, however, is more profound than any that preceded it – in both kind and degree. Previous manifestations of a beauty ideal could be discovered in the flesh, and also represented in art. They were also concretized and rationalized by experts on the subject (think of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man). But any individual’s conforming to, or diverging from, the ideal of the time was a matter of “god-given” gift (or absence thereof).

The currently emerging ideal of beauty is unprecedented in that it is actionable, and that conformity to it has become widely available. Lips like Angelina Jolie; breasts like Scarlett Johansson; a butt like Kim Kardashian; less slanted eyes like a white woman; a wrinkle-free complexion like a cosmetics model? Available at a plastic surgeon near you. In other words, the emerging beauty ideal not only reflects changing taste, but represents a radical shift in the understanding of beauty itself. Conformity to an ideal of beauty used to be a daydream; now, it has become a line item on a shopping list. Whether this development is liberating or cheapens the concept of human beauty (or both at the same time) is a matter of individual judgment.

Hand in hand with these changes in kind and degree goes a change in mode of propagation: as more and more of the most prominent figures in contemporary society (celebrities, media personalities; increasingly also “serious” figures like politicians) are being adjusted by plastic surgeons to the scientific standard, the standard itself is influencing the way the general public perceives who and what is beautiful – and which parts of their own bodies members of the general public might consider to have altered.

Mask of Perfection literally superimposes the emerging scientific standard on the subjective view of beauty and, in so doing, reveals the discrepancies and tensions between the two. To achieve this, renowned New York City plastic surgeon Maria M. LoTempio, MD and I selected twelve women in their Twenties who conform to the natural standard of beauty (“the last people who’d ‘need’ any work done”): they are young, highly attractive, and don’t have any particular feature that would call for alteration.

Dr. LoTempio was given the assignment to do what it takes to “upgrade” these “patients” according to the standards of her profession. All patients were initially evaluated via a set of five clinical images (frontal, 3/4 and full profiles on both side) and then examined in person. Finally, they were marked with pre-operative markings – the Mask of Perfection. The images in this series were taken in this state.

The style of representation aims to prevent knee-jerk “for” or “against” reactions, and instead to inspire individual reflection. This is achieved by dual alienation effects: The markings “mar the view” of the subjects, preventing viewers from immersing themselves in their natural beauty. Meanwhile, the romantic, aestheticizing style of 1930s Hollywood portraiture was chosen to bar viewers from overly identifying with the plastic surgeon.

 

A Mercury Production

Cast (in order of appearance)

  • Yulia Zavyalova – Patient Y.Z.
  • Malliha Ahmad – Patient M.A.
  • Agnieszka Artych – Patient A.A.
  • Brookelyn Kelly – Patient B.K.
  • Jennifer Zator – Patient J.Z.
  • Olena Lysenko – Patient O.L.
  • Briahna Wenke – Patient B.W.
  • Darin Itdhanuvekin – Patient D.I.
  • Victoria Nicholas – Patient V.I.
  • Sandra Glinka – Patient S.G.
  • Anonymous – Perfection (published only in printed edition)
  • Direction, Photography – Marc Erwin Babej
  • Casting – Marc Erwin Babej and Maria M. LoTempio, MD
  • Plastic Surgery Advisor and Pre-Operative Markings – Maria M. LoTempio, MD
  • Assistant Photography – Alex Vanderheyden
  • Editing – Irfan Yonac
  • Printing – David Adamson
  • Makeup – Jennifer Zator

 

 

  • Patient Y.Z., age 29
    Filler injected into the nasolabial folds, lips and cheeks, to even out asymmetries. Rhinoplasty to be performed, to narrow the nose. Botox injected into the muscles just lateral to the eyes, to minimize wrinkles.
    Patient Y.Z., age 29
  • Patient: M.A., age 24
    Botox injected into the forehead, to minimize wrinkles. Filler injected into the philtrum and lower lip, to even out asymmetries. Filler injected into the left nasolabial fold and right cheek, to correct depressions.
    Patient: M.A., age 24
  • Patient A.A., age 25
    Botox injected into the muscles of the forehead and crow’s feet, to minimize wrinkles. Filler injected into the nasolabial folds, to smooth out the depressions. Filler injected into the cheekbones, to create a more symmetrical look.
    Patient A.A., age 25
  • Patient: B.K., age 22
    Filler injected into the nasolabial folds, upper lip and jowl area, to even out asymmetries. Botox injected into the muscles between the eyes, to minimize wrinkling.
    Patient: B.K., age 22
  • Patient J.Z., age 20
    Filler placed in the nasolabial folds, lips and cheeks, to even out asymmetries. Botox injected into the region between the eyes, to minimize wrinkling. Narrowing of the nose tip and smoothing of the dorsal hump, to create a more feminine nose.
    Patient J.Z., age 20
  • Patient O.L., age 22
    Botox injected into the right forehead, to correct the asymmetric brows. Rhinoplasty to be performed, to straighten out the nasal dorsum. Filler injected into the nasolabial folds, right upper lip and philtrum, to correct asymmetry and depressions.
    Patient O.L., age 22
  • Patient D.I., age 25
    Filler injected into the nasolabial folds, marionette lines on the left and the philtrum, to even out depressions and asymmetries. Rhinoplasty to be performed, to straighten out the nose and build up the dorsum.
    Patient D.I., age 25
  • Patient V.N., age 24
    Filler injected to define the cheekbones, for a more dramatic effect. Filler injected into the lower lip, to correct the asymmetry. Filler injected into the jowl area, to create a more even appearance. Botox injected into the forehead and between the eyes, to smooth out asymmetries and create a more sleek appearance.
    Patient V.N., age 24
  • Patient N.J., age 25
    Botox injected into the right forehead, to correct the asymmetric eyebrows, and into the crow’s feet, to minimize wrinkles. Rhinoplasty to be performed, to straighten the dorsum of the nose, narrow it and to create a narrower, more defined, nasal tip. Filler injected into the philtrum and left cheek, to even out depressions.
    Patient N.J., age 25
  • Patient S.G., age 23
    Botox injected into the crow’s feet, to minimize wrinkles. Filler injected into the nasolabial folds, to even out depressions. Filler injected into the upper lip and and philtrum, for more symmetry.
    Patient S.G., age 23
  • Patient: M.A., age 24
    Botox injected into the forehead, to minimize wrinkles. Filler injected into the philtrum and lower lip, to even out asymmetries. Filler injected into the left nasolabial fold and right cheek, to correct depressions.
    Patient: M.A., age 24

Mask of Perfection focuses on the complex and ambivalent relationship between the beauty we perceive subjectively on the one hand, and the plastic surgeon’s scientific, geometry-based standard of beauty on the other.

Specific beauty ideals have seesawed over the course of history, but evolutionary psychology has demonstrated a high degree of consistency at the root level of perceptions of beauty (such as clear skin and a waist-hip ratio around 0.7). Accordingly, notable shifts in perceptions of beauty have been rare, and coincide with discontinuities in general history, and particularly art history. The Renaissance marked a shift toward sleeker body ideal, prizing a sleek figure and flattened chest. The Baroque became synonymous with a body type we describe to this day as Rubenesque. More recently, changes in the social order follwing the end of WWI manifested in the idolization of a slim, more androgynous female body type, epitomized by Hollywood stars such as Louise Brooks.

The current change in beauty ideal, however, is more profound than any that preceded it – in both kind and degree. Previous manifestations of a beauty ideal could be discovered in the flesh, and also represented in art. They were also concretized and rationalized by experts on the subject (think of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man). But any individual’s conforming to, or diverging from, the ideal of the time was a matter of “god-given” gift (or absence thereof).

The currently emerging ideal of beauty is unprecedented in that it is actionable, and that conformity to it has become widely available. Lips like Angelina Jolie; breasts like Scarlett Johansson; a butt like Kim Kardashian; less slanted eyes like a white woman; a wrinkle-free complexion like a cosmetics model? Available at a plastic surgeon near you. In other words, the emerging beauty ideal not only reflects changing taste, but represents a radical shift in the understanding of beauty itself. Conformity to an ideal of beauty used to be a daydream; now, it has become a line item on a shopping list. Whether this development is liberating or cheapens the concept of human beauty (or both at the same time) is a matter of individual judgment.

Hand in hand with these changes in kind and degree goes a change in mode of propagation: as more and more of the most prominent figures in contemporary society (celebrities, media personalities; increasingly also “serious” figures like politicians) are being adjusted by plastic surgeons to the scientific standard, the standard itself is influencing the way the general public perceives who and what is beautiful – and which parts of their own bodies members of the general public might consider to have altered.

Mask of Perfection literally superimposes the emerging scientific standard on the subjective view of beauty and, in so doing, reveals the discrepancies and tensions between the two. To achieve this, renowned New York City plastic surgeon Maria M. LoTempio, MD and I selected twelve women in their Twenties who conform to the natural standard of beauty (“the last people who’d ‘need’ any work done”): they are young, highly attractive, and don’t have any particular feature that would call for alteration.

Dr. LoTempio was given the assignment to do what it takes to “upgrade” these “patients” according to the standards of her profession. All patients were initially evaluated via a set of five clinical images (frontal, 3/4 and full profiles on both side) and then examined in person. Finally, they were marked with pre-operative markings – the Mask of Perfection. The images in this series were taken in this state.

The style of representation aims to prevent knee-jerk “for” or “against” reactions, and instead to inspire individual reflection. This is achieved by dual alienation effects: The markings “mar the view” of the subjects, preventing viewers from immersing themselves in their natural beauty. Meanwhile, the romantic, aestheticizing style of 1930s Hollywood portraiture was chosen to bar viewers from overly identifying with the plastic surgeon.

 

A Mercury Production

Cast (in order of appearance)

  • Yulia Zavyalova – Patient Y.Z.
  • Malliha Ahmad – Patient M.A.
  • Agnieszka Artych – Patient A.A.
  • Brookelyn Kelly – Patient B.K.
  • Jennifer Zator – Patient J.Z.
  • Olena Lysenko – Patient O.L.
  • Briahna Wenke – Patient B.W.
  • Darin Itdhanuvekin – Patient D.I.
  • Victoria Nicholas – Patient V.I.
  • Sandra Glinka – Patient S.G.
  • Anonymous – Perfection (published only in printed edition)
  • Direction, Photography – Marc Erwin Babej
  • Casting – Marc Erwin Babej and Maria M. LoTempio, MD
  • Plastic Surgery Advisor and Pre-Operative Markings – Maria M. LoTempio, MD
  • Assistant Photography – Alex Vanderheyden
  • Editing – Irfan Yonac
  • Printing – David Adamson
  • Makeup – Jennifer Zator