Caitlyn Jenner made her first public debut in true Keeping Up with the Kardashians fashion: on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine with photography by none other than Annie Leibovitz, and she looks … stunning.
Maybe it’s the photographer. Let’s face it: Leibovitz is far more of an Ace with a camera than the average plastic surgeon who takes his or her own before-and-after shots. Or maybe it’s the surgeon’s skill and expertise. Media reports tell us that Harrison H. Lee, MD, and Gary J. Alter, MD—Beverly Hills plastic surgeons specializing in transgender surgery—performed Jenner’s surgeries. Alter disclosed that he performed the body work and Lee performed the facial feminization on Caitlyn Jenner. (Neither plastic surgeon would comment on the exact procedures performed.)
Jenner’s public journey will have two main effects on the practice of plastic surgery. The first is what I call the “I’ll have what she’s having” effect. Plastic surgeons should expect inquiries from non-transgender patients as well as other transgender women about what she had done and why she looks so great.
Jenner’s results certainly raise the bar on what patients will expect to look like after plastic surgery.
Noted transgender facial feminization expert Jeffrey Spiegel, MD, the chief of the Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Boston University Medical Center, once explained the phenomenon that may well underline Jenner’s awe-inspiring results.“As women get older they look more masculine, so all of the anti-aging surgery is really facial feminization,” he says. “We often see women who are not beautiful, but aren’t unattractive. They are just not gorgeous. When we think about what to offer them, you may think, ‘Well, they don’t need a facelift, rhinoplasty, or their lips made fuller. What do they need?’ They need to look more feminine.”
Spiegel identifies and corrects the features that are non-gender confirming, or non-gender enhancing—as opposed to trying to just fit faces to the ratios and proposed measurements that are thought to represent objective beauty. It seems like this is the same theory that Jenner’s facial plastic surgeon operated under.
The second major effect of Jenner’s public journey will hopefully be an opening of the floodgates. Her courage may give other transgender men and women the strength to live their truths. For some, this may involve plastic surgery procedures.
To that end, GLAAD, formerly known as the “Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation,” put out a tip sheet for media on how to talk about Caitlyn. This super-helpful resource can also help surgeons who may now be treating more of these transgender individuals. The tip sheet is all about Caitlyn, but it could just as easily refer to any and all transgender men and women. Some highlights include:
- DO describe people who transition as transgender, and use transgender as an adjective.
- DO use female pronouns (she, her, hers) when referring to Caitlyn Jenner.
- DO refer to Caitlyn Jenner’s female identity as her gender identity, not her sexual orientation.
- DON’T use transgender as a noun.
- DON’T use “transgendered.”
- DON’T use the phrase “born a man.”
This tip sheet helped me greatly. I hope it does the same for any surgeons who treat these brave individuals in any capacity.