Editor’s Note: This interviewed was originally published by The Sophia News and is reprinted by permission.
Dr. Larry fan is an esteemed and award-winning plastic surgeon in San Francisco where he founded his nationally recognized boutique medical practice, 77 Plastic Surgery. Dr. Fan leads his medical team with the inspiration of the “beauty that surrounds and resides within all of us.”
The Sophia News recently chatted with Dr. Larry Fan about beauty and plastic surgery trends and issues. This interview was inspired by Dr. Fan’s prominence in the world of cosmetic and plastic surgery. In the interview Dr. Fan shared his philosophy for helping people reach their realistic goals for beauty, and gain more self-confidence in the process.
Sophia News: Please describe your passion and career path towards becoming a plastic surgeon.
Dr. Fan: When I was in college I decided to be a doctor, I wanted to help people in choosing my career. I enjoy being a surgeon When I was 21 I broke my nose playing basketball and I did not think it was a big deal at the time but over the years my nose became very crooked and it became a big issue for me over time. My nose began to make me very self-conscious, when I was out and about I could see people staring at my face and I was very comfortable.
I ultimately decided to get my nose fixed and with that experience I learned what it means to be unhappy with your appearance. That lead me to plastic surgery. When I was in medical school I realized, I liked plastic surgery more than other parts of medicine. I wanted to work with my hands and be very active. I grew up being an athlete and this physical aspect of plastic surgery appealed to me greatly. I find it very fulfilling.
The impact of positivity it has on people’s self-esteem is very powerful and I know it firsthand.
SN: How would you describe your average patient?
LF: My average patient is that there is no average patient. The ages and cultural backgrounds all vary. The reasons for coming to me and wanting plastic surgery are many and everyone has a unique story. Demographically, my patients are 85% women, though I have a greater portion of men compared to other doctors.
The age varies from young women who want larger breasts in their 20s to women in their 70s. Being in San Francisco I have all ethnicities, a very diverse patient format. Many south Asian, Hispanic, all sorts.
SN: Do you find that standards of beauty and sexuality vary greatly between San Francisco and Los Angeles or across the country?
LF: First, I think across the USA, everybody wants to feel beautiful, younger, and geography does not have much an impact about it. It’s a timeless desire for women. There are some subtle differences in expectations and pace in San Francisco Bay Area than Los Angeles. In San Francisco, they are more discreet and favor more natural looking results, versus L.A. that wants more dramatic or extreme.
In San Francisco, the people don’t want others to notice the surgery procedures as much as perhaps other cities. In L.A., it’s more dramatic and more flashy and more noticeable. In Beverly Hills for example, the population is far more made up and beauty-conscious than in San Francisco. There is a noticeable cultural difference in terms of beauty and self-awareness between San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is reflected in subtle ways.
SN: What do you find most fulfilling as a plastic surgeon?
LF: Helping people feel better about themselves. What I love about my career is that I get to help people; that I have firsthand experience that improving your appearance can help you lead a fuller more confident life. I have patients who come in dissatisfied and struggling with self-confidence. Something as simple as helping a flight attendant who was bothered by the size of her ears. She came to me to help her reduce the size and took time and courage for her to do this. She was in her 70s. Once she saw the difference she shed tears and gave me a hug; telling me, “I can’t tell you how much this helps me, and it was something I was dealing with and struggling with my entire life.” I feel lucky to help people in a profound way.
SN: Do you see the future of breast augmentation change greatly in terms of technologies and implants?
LF: It’s one of the most popular cosmetic procedures in the entire world. My patients generally have a challenging relationship with their breasts. This could mean desiring larger breasts, smaller breasts or changing their appearance or shape via a breast lift. Breast augmentation is a procedure that has been popular for a few decades and that over the years the procedure has become more refined and safer both medically and aesthetically. That means the implants have continually improved. Twenty years ago, there was a concern about leakage and safety of silicone. There were many studies and panels, and after five or ten years everyone agreed that silicone implants were safe and risks were dramatically reduced. Over the past ten years, new implants are more durable, hold their shape better, and appear more natural. The procedure is better and safer than ever as a result, though one must always remember there are risks associated with any surgical procedure.
In addition, our understanding of the variables involved with breast implant technologies is better than ever as a result of these studies. We can now, as a result of the knowledge, make precise pockets and calculations when inserting the implants; respecting the patient’s tissue and other variables that decrease the risk of problems in short and long term. Understanding the variables help with the safety and overall cosmetic results.
There will always be a level of risk since it is a surgical procedure, and I tell my patients, “you need to understand that getting breast implants is a lifetime choice.” I tell them, “there are risks and over the next ten years there is a small chance you may need a second procedure to replace the implants or for some other reason.”
In the last two years, there has been a small link between silicone breast implants and a rare form of lymphoma that has garnered media attention and it is something I tell my patients. I try to tell my patients that the chance is extremely low; I want people to be aware of all the risks.
SN: What level of consultation do you provide for married women and their husbands concerning expectations? Is it common for you to temper expectations?
LF: Many of our patients are married women. Typically, the husbands are involved at various levels. The most common scenario is that the women are doing the procedures for themselves. Typically, the husband is supportive and will say, “I think you are perfect and you don’t need anything, but if this is important to you then I am here to support you.”
At the same time, I tell all my women patients that it is important that you should only make changes to your body that you want and not do it for anyone else. When I do on occasion see that a woman feels pressured to undergo a procedure because of pressure by her husband, I will convey my input.
SN: Do you ever have patients who are celebrities or in the public eye? If so what types of special services do you offer them for privacy?
LF: I do get celebrities and public figures regularly. When people in the public eye come in we do provide a level of customized care for privacy and discretion. My team is experienced in providing privacy and special needs to all patients, not just celebrities. I value everyone’s privacy, regardless of whether or not a patient is a celebrity. I am comfortable with the needs of those in the public eye. For example, I have a famous millionaire who is a male patient, and we work with him and our assistants to give him a few special requests regarding services. We try to minimize waiting times and we are happy to help people with special needs such as hours of visit, security, and other things. We try to accommodate everyone’s special requests.
SN: What is the most challenging aspect of being a plastic surgeon today?
LF: I think one of the most challenging aspects is managing the expectations of my patients. As a surgeon, I want perfection, and so do my patients; whether it is the result, the care, or the appearance that someone has. And yet plastic surgery, like all surgery and all medicine, it is both an art and a science and there are factors that are out of my control or our control. It is impossible to guarantee any results. Complications and poor results are possible.
Patients have various levels of understanding and expectations of what they are going through. Especially people who are younger, they expect things to be perfect with no hardship, even if they are starting from a base of genetic appearance, their expectations are sometimes unrealistic.
For example, I do get women who are perfectly fit or beautiful who may have put some weight on and want to be a size zero when they are already fine. They want liposuction to work magic and make them meet an expectation of self-image that is not realistic. I spend a lot of time communicating the importance of realistic goals and expectations to them. Even when I spend a few hours with my patients about this, at the end of the procedure I can tell they may still be struggling with disappointment, and this is a challenging for me personally.
SN: Why do you think so few actresses are willing to admit they have had a cosmetic surgery procedure?
LF: It is true that cosmetic surgery is far more accepted by society at large than by celebrity culture. More and more people are actually considering plastic surgery procedure. And yet if you look at cosmetic surgery from certain perspectives and traditions within the USA, there are people who are more moralizing, and there is a big divide culturally in American society where it is not accepted.
In Hollywood, beauty standards are all about entertainment and fantasy. For movie stars their cache is predicated on looking like goddesses and gods who cannot do anything wrong, who are naturally perfect and who do not need any medical intervention to maintain their appearances; hence the reluctance to discuss and admit to plastic surgery procedures. Hollywood perpetuates this fantasy of perfection and beauty, which is not real and not realistic. For an actress or actor, the appeal must be that their looks are effortless and God-given. This is an illusion. Plastic surgery puts a lie to this myth, this image of fantasy perfection. I imagine one day with the continuing popularity of cosmetic surgery procedures Hollywood’s attitude may evolve.
SN: Does philanthropy or charitable giving play any role in your work and career?
LF: Yes, philanthropy is important.
I performed emergency and elective reconstructive surgery for the indigent and underserved in the San Francisco Bay Area on a weekly basis for more than a decade (at a public hospital, San Mateo Medical Center). I stopped earlier this year because of the business of my practice and because taking call was talking too much time away from my family.