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Video close-ups: not for the vain

Some people opt for cosmetic surgery to make themselves look better on Skype or FaceTime

Written by New York Times |
April 22, 2012 2:15:15 am

Several weeks ago,a plastic surgeon in Virginia started a media frenzy when he publicised a new procedure that he said could help people look younger when they appear on Skype and other video chat services. He named the surgery the FaceTime Face-Lift,after the popular iPhone feature.

“People don’t come in asking for a FaceTime Face-Lift per se,” the surgeon,Dr Robert K. Sigal,of the Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery in Reston,Virginia,said in a YouTube video. “What they’ll say is that ‘I don’t like the way I look when I’m video chatting.”’ The blogosphere pounced on the news,often in moralising tones that painted Sigal as predatory and his patients as vain. “Ladies and gentlemen,prepare to be horrified,” The Huffington Post wrote. Gizmodo,a technology blog,wrote a snarky post,“FaceTime Is Making People Hate Their Faces So Much They’re Getting Plastic Surgery.”

But it turns out that the FaceTime Face-Lift was more than just provocative branding. Sigal,who charges $10,000 for the procedure,said that people usually gaze down into their video chat devices,which is just about the least flattering angle,foreshortening the face and accentuating any fat under the chin. He said the procedure he developed reduced sagging necks,but did not leave a scar under the chin–where the camera usually points–as traditional neck-lifts do.

Roughly a quarter of the 100 face-lift patients he has a year cited the way they look on webcams as a reason for going under the knife,he said,including his own wife. Dr Malcolm Z. Roth,president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons,said that other plastic surgeons have heard similar concerns.

The phenomenon is not surprising,given how pervasive video chats are becoming in everyday life,from job interviews to online dating.

A management consultant in Virginia who requested anonymity said she got a FaceTime Face-Lift in part because she communicates so much by video conferencing. In a video conference,the screen shows not only the other party’s face,but also the user’s,in a corner inset. “When you’re video calling someone,you can no longer ignore the fact” that your face and neck is starting to droop,the consultant said. Sigal likened it to “a mirror on steroids.” Rosalind W. Picard,a professor of media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,said that these new anxieties are a function of the omnipresent camera. “Back when you just kind of chatted with people,you didn’t know you had broccoli in your teeth,” she added. “Now the camera shows you all the horrible stuff.”

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