Elective Collective

The plastic surgery industry launches a new magazine

Finally, a magazine all about plastic surgery! The relief is almost palpable in the west Chelsea art gallery filled with shapely, symmetrical women, the doctors who made them that way— and, of course, the publicists, who seem more plentiful at Form & Figure's opening fete than the scalpel wielders themselves.

Not that the surgeons are hard to spot. They're the ones with those old-fashioned, slightly crooked faces. They're usually male, not all that thin, and don't have bleached blond hair. What they do have, according to most of the party goers, is a refined, artistic sensibility.

Surgeon and art collector Robert Vitolo has "a great aesthetic eye," says his imaging consultant, Christine Olson. Olson is developing her own eye as she promotes Vitolo's work at health clubs and spas, using a computer program to project the best-case results of prospective plastic procedures. Frederic Newman, who works with skin cancer patients as well as doing cosmetic work, is an amateur photographer and "surgical minimalist." And George Peck says the skill he's employed in doing close to 1000 nose jobs comes in part from having learned to draw and having studied classical Greek painting.

"It's all in the symmetry," Peck muses. "The most beautiful woman that I could produce is something that's very natural. That's perfection."

Natural— as in without biotechnical intervention— isn't in the air at this particular gathering. Talk of fat sucking, bone chipping, and implanting flows along with the champagne and Sade covers. So do heartfelt statements describing how surgery can make people feel better about themselves, as in one from Form & Figure editor Suzanne Sergile. Sergile, a physician who also paints, notes that heretofore patients have had to deal with the shame and embarrassment that surrounds cosmetic surgery on their own. "What if you wanted to get your eyes done or something and you didn't tell anybody and you had to go see a doctor by yourself?" asks Sergile. "That's kind of bad."

Helping such vulnerable souls is one reason for founding a plastic surgery magazine. Another, as Form & Figure publisher Bill Fischer himself notes, is that there is advertising money to be made from the booming aesthetic medicine industry. Fischer insists the magazine won't let its plentiful advertisers determine its content, of course. "We could just be rah-rah about the industry," says Fischer. "But we want to be an information provider, so we need a more objective view." This perhaps explains the hard-hitting story on "the young person's facelift," in the first issue, which cautions that "the mid-face facelift is not right for everyone." Or the "no tell hotel" article, which provides its price and telephone number so Form & Figure readers can have a place to recover after having "work" done.

But if this infomercial on ultraglossy paper is uncomfortable with its blatant product-plugging, the crowd at its opening has no problem reveling in the joys of nipping and tucking. Joan Kron, whose new book— and new face— are featured in the debut issue, says her face-lift left her feeling "marvelous." The surgery lifted her flesh as well as her spirits, which had been in the self-image toilet. "When you lose your face, you grieve for it," she said. "It's like losing someone close to you."

Until 10 years ago, Emily Peterson had been similarly aggrieved by a bump that used to be part of her nose. "I used to hide behind my makeup," remembers Peterson, now a "thirtysomething" curator and art consultant. Her nose job "took away an ethnic type of look that I felt I was attached to," says Peterson, who, despite her Barbie-like appearance, is Italian.

Just a few days ago, Peterson further distanced herself from her genetic destiny when surgeon Vitolo inflated her breasts with saline. Showing off the little scar where the tube went into her belly button, Peterson confesses. "I feel hotter than fire now." Since she's taking her prescribed antibiotics, we can assume that's not because her incisions are infected.

No, it's just that Peterson's inflated breasts are making her feel sexy. She's been thinking about sex appeal a lot lately as she's put together the Marilyn Monroe exhibit that provides the backdrop for the Form & Figure opening. Monroe sets the perfect tone for the party, explains Peterson. "She's all about femininity and how you're perceived. Marilyn is what women hope to feel like— that sexiness, that confidence." Monroe herself had a chin job and her nose tweaked, Peterson notes happily. "She wasn't getting any work before that."

Of course, Monroe's sexiness didn't prevent her from dying young and miserable, a point that Peterson chooses not to dwell on.

"Some view it as very tragic that she was never really happy with herself, that she was always searching for love and affection . . ." says Peterson. "But that's why we do these things."

slerner@villagevoice.com

 
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