How Plastic Surgery Can Make a Face Feminine

3 minute read
Dr. Jon Turk is a board-certified facial plastic surgeon practicing in New York.

As a plastic surgeon, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Bruce Jenner’s physical evolution, and the fascination with Jenner’s changing look is only going to deepen now that he has decided to come out as a transgender woman.

One thing almost everyone asks is, “What do surgeons do when a man comes to them asking to look more like a woman?” There are certain aesthetic characteristics that typify the feminine face, including a more laterally arching eyebrow, a narrower nose, smoother skin and fuller lips. Male faces, meanwhile, typically display deeper forehead furrows, straighter and thicker eyebrows, broader noses and rougher skin.

When treating male patients who are not transitioning, plastic surgeons are usually careful to avoid anti-aging or cosmetic treatments that “feminize” the face. Sometimes men with feminized faces aren’t going through a gender transformation—they may have gone to a plastic surgeon for one (or a hundred) too many little procedures resulting in that stereotypical Hollywood face with overly plump cheeks, inflated lips and flat-ironed skin.

If someone desires a fuller cheek or bigger lips and wants to look more like a woman, we can certainly enhance these features in a subtle and natural-looking way. But areas of the face such as these need to be treated conservatively or, rather than looking softer and more feminine, they may wind up as looking androgynously unnatural.

See The Life of Caitlyn Jenner

1976 Olympic Games. Montreal, Canada. Men's Decathlon. USA's gold medal winner Bruce Jenner.
At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Bruce Jenner won the gold medal in the decathlon, setting the world record at 8,616 points.Getty Images
Bruce Jenner celebrates during his record setting performance in the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Jenner became a national hero following his Olympic win and was later inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986.Tony Duffy—Getty Images
NBC Sportscaster - Bruce Jenner
Jenner became an NBC Sportscaster in the late 1970s following his Olympic performance in Montreal.NBC/Getty Images
Bruce Jenner and Linda Thompson
Jenner married actress Linda Thompson, above, on Jan. 5, 1981, following his divorce with Chrystie Crownover.Getty Images
Nancy Reagan With Celebrities
Jenner was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. In October of 1985, he received the Outstanding Learning Disabled Achiever Award from then-First Lady Nancy Reagan alongside stars such as Cher and Tom Cruise.Getty Images
Bruce Jenner
Jenner was a successful race car driver in the 1980s, though in a 2013 interview he said, "I was a lot more badass runner than I was a driver.”Ann Clifford—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Bruce And Kris
In 1991, Jenner married Kris Jenner, previously Kris Kardashian, just one month after she finalized her divorce from Robert Kardashian. The two had dated for only five months.Maureen Donaldson—Getty Images
Kardashian Jenner Family Portrait
Their marriage merged two already large families, evident here in this 1991 portrait.Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Bruce Jenner
After his sports career, Jenner, seen here at a celebrity golf event in 1993, had a number of small acting jobs and television appearances.Stephen Dunn—Getty Images
"Cinderella" Release on Video
The family poses at an event in 1995, the year Jenner and Kris welcomed the first of their two children together, Kendall Jenner.Ron Galella—WireImage
Former US gold medal decathlete Bruce Jenner (C),
Kylie Jenner was born two years later in 1997. The girls can be seen here on the red carpet in 2000, long before they covered magazines and appeared on TIME's Most Influential Teens list.Scott Nelson—AFP/Getty Images
E! Entertainment Television's 2005 Summer Splash Event - Arrivals
Jenner, seen here in 2005, would re-enter the spotlight thanks to Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which first premiered in 2007.Steve Granitz—WireImage
Bruce Jenner
Jenner spoofed his reality-star fame with a commercial for Tropicana Juicy Rewards in 2010.AP
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
Jenner and Kris, here at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2011, announced their separation in 2013. She filed for divorce the following year.Kevin Winter—Getty Images
Bruce Jenner On "Extra"
Jenner poses with a box of Wheaties in 2012. He appeared on the front of the box first in 1977 after his Olympic gold-medal win, then in 2012 when Wheaties rolled out a retro series.Noel Vasquez—Getty Images
Brandon And Leah Album Release Party For "Cronies"
Jenner appears with two of his sons, TV personality Brody Jenner and musician Brandon Jenner, who records with his wife as Brandon & Leah, at an April 2013 release party.Chelsea Lauren—WireImage
Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - October 20, 2014
Jenner walks with step-daughter Kim Kardashian in October of 2014 — about five months after rapper Kanye West became his son-in-law.Bauer-Griffin—GC Images
Bruce Jenner Vanity Fair Caitlyn transgender
Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, appeared as a woman for the first time on the cover of Vanity Fair's June 2015 issue, photographed by Annie Leibovitz.Annie Leibovitz—Vanity Fair
The 2Caitlyn Jenner 2015 Espys Arther Ashe Award015 ESPYS - Show
Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award onstage during The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles.Kevin Winter—Getty Images

It’s important to note that our concept of what is a typically male or female look is evolving, as are the debates over boundaries between genders—thanks, in part, to moving portrayals of transgender individuals on television shows such as Transparent and Orange is the New Black. I would argue that if one were to examine the transgender character that Jeffrey Tambor plays in Transparent, one would notice that the changes reflective of a male-to-female transition are as much internal as they are external, if not more so.

It is Tambor’s overtly masculine physical characteristics (balding, bulging belly, hirsutism, jowls and wrinkles) that prompt the viewer to rely on more intrinsic emotional and psychological facets to give credence to his character Maura’s transition. Laverne Cox as Sophia on Orange is the New Black embodies some of the more stereotypically “bombshell” feminine attributes; though hormone replacement is part of her character’s plot line, Sophia is generally portrayed as simply living as a woman, whether it’s trading contraband for hair products or giggling with her prison girlfriends. Both Tambor’s Maura and Cox’s Sophia portray a realistic and believable combination of physical and emotional feminizing traits that champion femininity and gender identification.

As far as Jenner is concerned, the years of living in the Hollywood fishbowl of reality television, and in a family of women for whom physical appearance is an integral part of their business, will distort public perception. I hope it does not affect how he sees himself.

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