Can plastic surgery hide your identity like it does in the movies?

If you’re familiar with some older 80’s and 90’s action movies, you might wonder: can plastic surgery really hide your identity like that? The relationship between plastic surgery and fiction has always been somewhat problematic and fluid. What plastic surgery can and cannot do is sometimes muddied by what a good story calls for. Can plastic surgery really hide your identity in a convincing way? Let’s find out.

If you’ve watched a lot of movies (or 80’s TV shows, really), you’ve probably come across this trope: the villain hides his identity by getting plastic surgery to look like someone else. Can plastic surgery really hide your identity like this? Basically, yes. But that’s not what it’s actually used for most of the time.

Can Plastic Surgery Really Hide Your Identity?

Let’s back up a little bit and break this down into several categories. Because, if you remember your 80’s TV shows, this type of plastic surgery was used in several ways:

  • Changing the face to hide someone’s identity
  • Changing the face to look exactly like someone else
  • Changing the face to make it look one way and then changing it back to the original later

None of these are particularly realistic uses of plastic surgery. They are each fraught with their own, well, inaccuracies (to be nice—there are some serious problems with this). But, still, it’s kind of fun: let’s take a look to see: can plastic surgery really hide your identity like it does on TV?

Using Plastic Surgery to Change Your Features

Most people who undergo plastic surgery procedures are looking for a subtle transformation. They still want to be recognized as the person they are. If Erin goes in for a rhinoplasty, she still wants to be recognizably Erin afterwards. But making changes to the face (more so than the rest of the body) can make you harder to recognize.

For example, there’s the case of the group of women who went to South Korea for plastic surgery and underwent such a transformation that they had trouble passing back through customs on their way home.

So it is certainly possible that plastic surgery can change your features. A rhinoplasty can dramatically alter your nose. A facelift can have a broader effect on the way you look. This is certainly possible. You could even get so much plastic surgery that you’d look entirely different. The hard part would be finding a surgeon who would ethically agree to perform such an operation. Board certified plastic surgeons, after all, are typically held to an incredibly high ethical standard, and that includes ensuring that the motivations of their patients are healthy.

That doesn’t even begin to touch on the complications that can arise from changing the way you look so drastically. You might want to get in touch with a good lawyer and get documents drafted if that’s really your intent!

Using Plastic Surgery to Look Like Someone Else

The second major way that plastic surgery is often showcased in movies is as a kind of infiltration method. Someone would get plastic surgery to look like someone else. Or two people would do a kind of face swap (you can go back and watch the cult classic Face/Off to get an example of that).

This is a problematic depiction of plastic surgery. True, there are some very real examples of something like this. Some patients want Angelina Jolie’s lips. Or Brad Pitt’s jawline. Some patients spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to look like Barbie.

But these are the outliers. And there are several reason why this would not work as a kind of infiltration tactic:

  • Recovery time for these procedures can be extensive
  • Results are predictable, but only within a range; getting a perfect likeness can be challenging and may take several procedures
  • There are some plastic surgery procedures that cannot be performed concurrently
  • Achieving a perfect likeness can be exceptionally difficult
  • Results would be permanent

You Can’t Go Back Again

And, of course, that list brings us to the third way that plastic surgery is used in these old television shows. The star has plastic surgery to look like the villain. And then, once the mission is complete, plastic surgery is able to restore the star’s good looks.

The problem is that plastic surgery is effectively permanent. The notion that someone could use plastic surgery like a mask is problematic at best. Recovery is always capable of throwing a wrench in the works.

To be sure, plastic surgery can be used after a traumatic incident to help you look more like you. Reconstructive surgery is often used for exactly this purpose. And sometimes revision surgery is performed to reverse the appearance of a previous procedure.

The unrealistic part is that these techniques would be employed over a wide area (the entire face) and so routinely.

Our Ideas of Plastic Surgery Have Evolved Lately

In many ways, the modern conception of plastic surgery is due less to 80’s TV shows and action movies and more to reality television. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although it still provides a relatively incomplete picture of what plastic surgery actually does.

But television is notorious for only showing part of the whole picture. Luckily, we’re around the fill out the rest as best we can. Can plastic surgery really hide your identity the way it does on television? Well, sure—but you probably wouldn’t want it to.

In fact, most patients and surgeons work extra hard to make sure that your identity stays intact throughout the process. That’s how plastic surgery works today. But, then again, plastic surgery has come a long way since those 80s action movies.

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