Designing Facial Beauty

plastic surgery -- doc and patient
The story was originally broadcast on May 20, 2007.
The poet Khalil Bibran tells us that beauty is not in the face but in the heart. Try telling that to the millions who spend billions pursuing physical beauty.

But can attractiveness be reduced to a formula-replicated design? Or is beauty something only an artist can create?

High in the hills above Los Angeles, an artist lives in a house surrounded by gardens of his own design. Richard Ellenbogen, who also writes music, spent his college years studying to be a painter, until he switched to medicine.

"I became a doctor in my spare time," he told Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith. "You know, I needed a hobby."

The former painter is now one of the most prominent cosmetic surgeons in Beverly Hills. His patients are his works of art.

"I can create beauty," he said. "I can give someone a 'wow.'"

But before he picks up a scalpel, Ellenbogen picks up his paint brush and uses a few dabs of color to show patients what their new faces will look like.

"The way I think of myself is, I make people happy," he said.

Jennifer Lee, a 30-year-old mother of two, hopes to be one of them. She wants a new look and has put her face in Dr. Ellenbogen's artistic hands.

"Dr. Ellenbogen was telling me that it's all about just making your nose match your face, she said. "He's not picturing what a perfect nose is, he's picturing how he can make my nose look, to go with the rest of my face."

Ellenbogen pioneered a technique called fat grafting. Instead of cutting and pulling, he injects the patient's own fat back into their faces and literally sculpts them a new face.

"I totally trust him," Lee said. "I trust him 100 percent."

Ellenbogen says that there is a general formula that he uses to design a nose.

"The nose should be exactly a 30-degree angle," he said. "The width of the nose should be no wider than the two points at the center — the center of the eye."

But it turns out that there is a more precise mathematical design for physical beauty: The phi mask, made up of interlocking geometric shapes that compose a perfectly proportioned face.

Dr. Steven Marquardt, who taught and practiced facial surgery for nearly three decades, found that out by studying fashion models' faces.

"As I started studying these faces, I found out that the width of the eyes is exactly the same, the width of the mouth, the thickness in the lips, the width of the nose. The more beautiful they were … they were like each other," Marquardt said. "It turned out they all could fit one way or another a certain pattern. As I worked with this pattern over years, I discovered there is a pattern. I didn't create this pattern. I want to be real clear that I didn't invent this pattern or create it. I just realized this [about] how faces are made."

Marquardt's mask is sometimes used as a template for people considering cosmetic surgery. To show how the mask works, he used Smith's face.

According to the mask, her jaw line was too wide, her upper lip was too prominent, and eyebrows were all wrong.

For Ellenbogen's patient Jennifer, it turns out that less was more. Two weeks after surgery, the change is visible but subtle, and she thinks it's beautiful.