Life in plastic

Model Ashley Cardenas. Photo illustration by Rachael Rosenberg.

In his Beverly Hills office, which is like his second home, Dr. Jay Calvert’s fingers hold a scalpel drenched in red liquid that slides into the flesh of a patient lying on an operating room table. 

As he cuts through the cartilage, blood seeps out. Removing a white chunk from the patient’s septum, Calvert begins to smooth the bridge of the nose. The thread woven inside of the nostrils will dissolve, leaving a “new nose.”

Whether it’s for self-esteem or medical reasons, Calvert is an integral part of an industry often synonymous with Los Angeles culture. From 2000 to 2020, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), reported an increase of 131% in cosmetic procedures.

Dr. Jay Calvert holds a septum nasal speculum in an exam room in his office in an exam room in his office at Beverly Hills on Oct.16, 2023.

Calvert, a board-certified plastic surgeon who has worked in the field for 29 years, said the rise in cosmetic procedures has made it almost commonplace. 

“Since the time I’ve been practicing here, plastic surgery has become very acceptable,” Calvert said. “It’s almost like, ‘Who’s your plastic surgeon? Where do you get your Botox? Who does your lasers?’”

According to RealSelf, a healthcare marketplace where consumers research aesthetic treatments, Los Angeles is ranked third for cities with the highest concentration of plastic surgeons in America, behind only Miami and Salt Lake City. RealSelf also reports that the average price of rhinoplasties in Los Angeles is more than $9,000, while liposuction averages at about $6,000.

“They’ll come here and they’ll pay the money to be in the place where they know that they’re getting high quality surgeons doing high quality work,” Calvert said.

Dr. Shawn Moshrefi, a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon who works in Beverly Hills and Calabasas, said that prospective patients have to be motivated for the surgery rather than pressured by someone.

“There’s some people’s lives you get to change, whether it be reconstructive or aesthetic surgery,” Moshrefi said. “Sometimes it’s just giving people their confidence back or their ability to look back in the mirror and feel good about themselves.”

Dr. Shawn Moshrefi talks to a patient at his office at Modern Plastic Surgery in Calabasas, Calif., on Nov. 9,2023.

Self-esteem is one of the most common reasons people seek out procedures.

Calvert remembers a situation that led to a woman finding her partner.

“One of my most memorable operations was a revision rhinoplasty,” Calvert said. “She was immediately freed from all the distress that she was in, so much so that she got engaged right after that.”

Psychology and statistics professor Angela Belden said that it’s important to know your mental state before receiving plastic or cosmetic surgeries.

“It’s a medical technique that can sometimes be psychologically really healthy for people and also sometimes psychologically unhealthy for people, depending on the individual situation,” Belden said.

According to a scientific study, that National Library of Medicine concluded that there is a high prevalence of individuals with body dysmorphic disorder seeking cosmetic surgery, and that appropriate interventions, such as pre-screening for body image disturbance, should be mandated.

Aram Karamanian is a creator of filters for many social media platforms. One of the filters he created digitally applies makeup to faces and landed him a partnership with Kat Von D Beauty. Despite that, he recognises that filters can warp users’ mindset about their appearance. 

“I have these phases where I make filters that don’t alter the face and I get the most positive feedback and the most happy people,” Karamanian said. 

In many cases, plastic surgery can be life-changing in a positive way. 

“I think there’s just a lot of confidence that gets restored when your breasts get reconstructed after breast cancer,” Calvert said.