Marc Erwin Babej’s Mask of Perfection

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.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
Patient: V.N., age 24. Filler injected to define the cheek bones for a more dramatic effect. Filler injected into the lower lip, to correct the asymmetry; filler injected to even out jowl area. Botox injected into the forehead and between the eyes, to smooth out asymmetries, to create a more sleek appearance.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
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.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
Patient: B.K., age 22. Filler into the nasolabial folds, upper lip and jowl area, to even out asymmetries. Botox injected into the muscles between the eyes, to minimize wrinkling.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
Patient: A.A., age 25. Botox injected into the muscles of the forehead and crow’s feet, to minimize wrinkles. Filler injected into nasolabial folds to smooth out the depressions. Filler injected into the cheekbones to create a more symmetrical look.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
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.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
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.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
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.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
Patient: O.L., age 22. Botox injected into the right forehead, to correct the right asymmetric brow. 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.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD
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.© Marc Erwin Babej, Pre-Operative Markings Maria M. LoTempio, MD

What I found interesting about this was the concept of natural beauty vs. the plastic surgeon's view. These are two different concepts of beauty.

Beauty is subconscious: we know it when we see it. It is hard to put into words. We think about ourselves having individual tastes, but the society has a pretty large overlapping common denominator in terms of what we find beautiful—even though we can’t describe it. The plastic surgeon's view is very different. It’s all about geometry, angles, symmetries. A plastic surgeon can not only put into words what is beauty, they have to be able to capture this beauty using medical instruments.

My friend Maria [M. LoTempio, MD], who is a plastic surgeon, and I had talked about how she [professionally] evaluates beauty. It hit me; if I had Maria mark up a, in my view, perfect model, the marks would come to signify the discrepancy between natural beauty and of course the plastic surgeon's view. Her marks by definition would be the discrepancy. You see those marks on a face you otherwise would think was a very naturally beautiful face.

Really at heart it’s not a conflict, but the discrepancy between faith and reason, where natural beauty represents faith and the plastic surgeon's view is represented by reason.

I thought the casting was going to be really difficult, but the models were all excited to find out what was imperfect. As one of the models put it to me, it was the first time she didn’t have to be perfect in front of the camera. I expected the shoots to be kind of tense and for people to be nervous and those were the most relaxed shoots of which I’ve ever been a part. We were looking for a range of different looks, a wide sample. At the same time they had to fit a criteria, people who were beautiful in such a way that any reasonable person would look at them and think there wouldn't be anything that needed to be changed. Then Maria was given the assignment making them 'perfect,' marking whatever was 'wrong.'

In some cases her observations and marks were very disconnected from the way I would see it. But I think there are several ways to look at this. Beauty is much more democratic than it used to be. Way back when if you had what would be considered an ugly nose, you were stuck with it. Now it has become negotiable, beauty is more malleable and available.

"Mask of Perfection," will be exhibited at Paris Photo Nov. 13-16, 2014 at Feroz Stand C2 and in the inaugural exhibition of the Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum beginning November 9.

Marc Erwin Babej is a regular contributor to American Photo. See his work here.

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