In recent months, celebs including Trinny Woodall, Meg Ryan and Renee Zellweger have come under scrutiny for their changing looks. When we’re browsing the latest celebrity news online and we come across a well-known actress or model, we’ve all had the same thought – they look unrecognisable! So, why is it that some people can seem to look so different in photos and how is it possible that we can’t reconcile their new image with their former appearance? Daniel Ezra, a leading oculofacial plastic surgeon, says that cosmetic surgery can help to maintain a youthful look. However, if it is “over-done” or performed poorly, particularly for a key area of the face (such as the eyes) then the way we look fundamentally changes.
Daniel continues saying that “the eyes are a central aesthetic feature of the face, mediating much of our interpersonal interaction and communication. So, essentially, the shape of our eyes, the upper lids and brows, make each of our faces unique and instantly recognisable to others. It is essential to remember that safety is particularly important around the eye, brow and midface areas where the integrity of the eyes can be easily compromised as a result of poorly planned surgery. He adds, “overall, there is something very special about the way in which our brain processes the human face. There is a huge body of research which indicates that we are able to extract an enormous range of information from faces. This includes someone's traits such as their gender, race, age, emotional state, gaze and physical health.”
Research has also revealed that the way in which we recognise and view other people’s faces is determined by our ability to identify and assess biological “barcodes” in human faces. The study published in the Journal of Vision reveals that we tune into horizontal lines such as the eyelids or brows, which fall into clusters or “barcodes” in the face in order to identify people. However, if the orientation or mapping of these lines is changed significantly, for example through cosmetic surgery, these barcode sequences are altered and we are unable to process the information and distinguish a person’s identity in the same way.
This may explain why relatively subtle changes around the eyes seen after poorly planned cosmetic surgery can change appearance dramatically. Renee Zellweger and Uma Thurman are good examples of this, where the natural hooding of the upper lids was removed during cosmetic surgery. This will have changed the ‘barcoding’ configuration around the eyes, thereby changing their look dramatically. These cases illustrate just how carefully cosmetic interventions need to be planned to ensure that the patients look is unaltered, whilst providing for a more refreshed and youthful look.