INTERVIEW: LARA DEVGAN, THE PICASSO OF PLASTIC SURGERY
words by DANIELLE RANSOM• Fashion
A classically trained artist turned plastic surgeon, Dr. Lara Devgan is one of the leading women shaping New York’s beauty scene.
The New York Times Magazine dubbed her a rising star in her field, and top models and celebrities alike flock to her Upper East Side office for her cutting edge, non-invasive techniques. One things for sure, her cosmetic work is unlike anything I have seen.
JVB: When I look at what you do, I feel like you are more of a sculptor or painter, than a plastic surgeon. You understand light in a way that traditional plastic surgery has often ignored, or so I feel. Usually, cosmetic procedures have been more to pull and tug, without an understanding of what works for individual faces and their features.
DR. LARA DEVGAN: There is a huge artistic component in what I do. It’s surprising but tiny changes of a millimeter, or even less, can make a huge difference to somebody’s face and the balance and proportion of their facial features. Understanding light and shadows is one of these things any art photographer or fashion photographer knows well. Cinematographers, sculptors….
JVB: I think you’re a sculptor, [laughs].
LD: [Laughs], thank you! For a long time in plastic surgery, the focus was on ‘what is the most that we can do? What is the tightest, smoothest, or puffiest we can do?’ But now, in 2019, we are in the era of minimalism and subtlety. We’re really thinking - as a profession - what is the best we can do? Rather than the most. For facial beauty, this means tolerating a couple of imperfections in the interest of global facial beauty. We’re not chasing wrinkles - or at least that’s not how I regard myself. I’m thinking about the structure and balance of the face.
JVB: See, not everybody understands that. You’re the first person I saw who understands this. I feel that you adapt your vision to the faces of people. As you say, you understand their imperfections and make them into a beautiful feature.
LD: Right! Every face and every feature has something beautiful about it. Part of the conceptual aspect of what I do is figuring out what those beautiful things are, and working to maintain and preserve them. Otherwise, you can have this weird extreme where someone loses the character of their face; where their main distinguishing features look different, and it almost feels disturbing.
JVB: I feel like you don’t change people, you enhance them. Were you ever ever into painting or photography?
LD: I am a classically trained artist! I grew up in Malibu, down the road from the old Getty Museum, and every weekend I would to go to the Museum. There was this Tuscan antiquities [collection] and a big outdoor fountain area. My parents enrolled me in baby art classes, and I think since then, I began to learn to look at how people are.
One of the most interesting things I find about peoples faces is not what makes them beautiful, but what gives them an identity. [As a surgeon] it is important to understand the characteristics that create the feeling of you; what can we change and still look like ‘you’?
JVB: I like that you say that because body positivity is a big part of your platform, especially on Instagram. As a plastic surgeon, how do you balance helping patients feel better about themselves while making sure they don’t feel pressured to fit a certain beauty standard?
LD: I think that it is possible to be body positive and not be crazy about every little physical imperfection.
For so long, we have inherited this notion that either you are a person of substance or you care about your looks. That dichotomy is so limiting and doesn't ring true to so many modern men and women. The truth exists in the complex grey area in between. You can be a feminist with lipstick on. You can be a person of substance and still want to present your best face to the world. I think that’s the heart of it.
You can be body positive and feel great about yourself but still want to smooth out a wrinkle or want to get rid of a grey hair. It doesn't make you superficial, an airhead, or plastic surgery junkie. It makes you like every other person on earth!
Since the first neanderthal looked at his reflection in the puddle, people have been trying to smooth out their clothes and work on their abs at the gym. Just think about the little things that are involved in presentation. It’s not because we are all airheads. It’s because looking good makes you feel good - and it makes you perform better! For me, I'm not personally aspiring to be the supermodel on the cover of a magazine. I'm just trying to feel like the best version of myself. I walk into a room a little more confidently and not only perform better as a surgeon, but as a wife and a mom. I think that’s very coherent.
JVB: Beauty is definitely at an interesting time. You just had your panel about modern beauty at South by Southwest , where you sat down with Harper's Bazaar's senior beauty editor Jenna Rosenstein. What does modern beauty mean to you?
LD: To me, modern beauty means allowing everybody to be their own kind of beautiful, without judgment, hating, or toxicity.
Some of these people who have a visceral gut reaction to plastic surgery are the ones who would bristle at the idea of the government legislating what they can do with their body. And yet, here we are where people are like ‘Don’t tell me what to do with my body, but I’m going to tell you what to do you with yours’!.
I say, be what you want in a safe and medically responsible manner. Don’t take needless risks and don’t become obsessed with your appearance. If you can do a little something with what we have available in modern technology - and that little something is going to answer some of your own personal questions - then you should do it.
JVB: Would you ever tell a person to stop doing more if you think it is not going to enhance their beauty?
LD: Absolutely. I am very honest with my patients and I try to always be kind and empathetic. I never want to make someone feel judged. But if they are taking something a little too far, it’s not safe, or it won’t suit them, I’ll tell them.
There is an expression in my field, ‘discretion is the better part of valor’, meaning that sometimes, holding back a little bit is the winning answer. I think that’s more true in surgery, especially when people have a little bit of an unrealistic idea of what they want or they are wrapped up in chasing perfection.
JVB: When I look at your work, that’s exactly what I can see. It’s the most tasteful transformation in a such a subtle way.
LD: There is no such thing as perfection. It’s like this asymptote in the distance on the horizon. All we can ever do is try to get closer to it, knowing that it’s never really there. I always tell patients [to] think of anything that we do as an improvement over baseline - not the shortfall from perfection.
I am the mom of two young daughters and four young sons, but I always think about my girls in this. I want them to grow up feeling great about themselves. I want them to look in the mirror and feel beautiful, exactly how they are. I want society to judge them for their brains and not for their looks. I want them to feel like they are 100 percent complete and that they don’t need any plastic surgery, and that’s how I am going to raise them. BUT, if they’re 25 years old and mature, and insightful, and they are bothered by one little thing on their [body] and that’s something that can be resolved for them in a safe and medically responsible manner, I won’t personally do it, but will absolutely enable that and support that.
JVB: What are the treatment trends you see more commonly with the younger generation?
LD: I think that minimally invasive treatments are very hot. [The] combination of modern technology and subtlety in aesthetics has come together and really married the idea of injectables and minimally invasive treatments. There is a huge emphasis on skin quality at the moment, so micro-needling and micro-infusion are really popular treatments. It gives you this really beautiful, glowy looking skin.
This trend toward subtlety means many patients are choosing to have [smaller] surgical procedures at a younger age, rather than a major overhaul [on their] 60th birthday.
JVB: So, it’s more preventative. Which is smarter because then you don’t have to worry about looking like a different person all of a sudden!
LD: Yes, preventative is a huge thing. Procedures like baby-botox, pre-rejuvenation, and little ‘tweakments’.
JVB: I like that your message is you can feel better about yourself without having to become a supermodel.
LD: And you don’t have to be that. Just be yourself. In a way, there is nothing more boring or obvious than trying to be another person. You’re definitely going to fall short. You’re going to be a poor facsimile of another person. It’s so much better to be the real version of yourself.
JVB: What is your most popular treatment?
LD: Surgically, my most popular treatments are a facelift, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), and breast augmentation. The face and eyes are the heart of your facial identity as a person, so that's why those treatments are important. They can be very subtle in terms of results. It can be just a little bit of jawline tightening, smoothing under the eyes, or brightening of the eyes. Breast augmentation is popular too, because so much of our idea of femininity is tied up in the female figure, specifically the breasts.
In terms of non-surgical, the most popular in my practice are injectable fillers. That can be things like facial contouring in the cheekbones and jawline to build structure, or non-surgical rhinoplasty, which is where I use injectables to almost create the illusion of a surgical nose-job.
JVB: Which is impressive by the way. You still see the person. It’s really impressive work.
LD: Thank you! Fifty percent of my practice is non-surgical. It’s all injectables.
JVB: And if patients are not happy with their injectables afterwards, you can inject something to dissolve it, right? I find that really fascinating.
LD: Exactly, which is so comforting to people. It’s kind of like, an erasable pen! An undo button!
JVB: On top of your very fascinating cosmetic work, you have your own beauty line. Why did you decide to come up with your own beauty line?
LD: Knowing everything I know about medicine, I would go around finding products and mixing them to create something a little different, or getting a prescription retinoid from the pharmacy and blending it with something else. I spent all this time and effort trying to create what I felt was the best medical grade skin care regimen for myself. The reality is, everybody is judging everyone else based on how they look, and as a plastic surgeon in the world’s most critical city, I feel like I can’t go around with signs of tremendous facial aging.
[My beauty line] started as a passion project. My goal was to marry the best in clinical science (ingredients that have all been validated in large scale studies) with the luxury of the type of product that keeps you using it every day. If you don’t have a product that is appealing enough to actually put on your face, then it has no value.
JVB: I loved your rose mask by the way. It’s really great and so much fun.
LD: Thank you! I wanted to create a line that I, a discerning person, would use myself. And I use all my products. We’ve gotten incredible support for the products and extremely organic social promotion. It’s been great. I’ve had little pop-ups at places like Bergdorf Goodman and other retailers, and I’m launching part of the line on Violet Grey in April.
JVB: Where do you see the future of plastic surgery heading?
LD: I like this expression ‘stay current or go extinct’. You have to keep changing and adapting. Adaptability is intelligence and I think plastic surgery is a very smart field because we are always changing. Some of the most important things that I do in my practice didn't exist when I was born. Just during my lifetime, the field has changed so tremendously, even just basic stuff like injectables and micro needling.
JVB: And for the better, I would say.
LD: I agree.