- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

LOS ANGELES - After performing makeovers on virtually every willing man, woman and house in America and beholding the result — attractive ratings — television had only one logical course of action. It had to improve the world.

Thus was born an international flood of programs aimed at taking an average-looking planet and giving it the kind of overhaul once reserved for Hollywood starlets eager to maximize their assets.

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” has aired from Scandinavia to Africa to Latin America; a poignant Iraqi version, “Labor and Materials,” restores war-damaged homes. The original “Extreme Makeover,” which started it all in 2002 on ABC, also is worldwide and jockeying for attention with other surgery shows.

The corporal makeover trend has allowed American standards of beauty, often as determined within Beverly Hills city limits, to establish new beachheads abroad. Don’t just dream of looking like your favorite actor; copy his or her perfection with plastic surgery.

But adopting American looks doesn’t translate to gaining an American psyche. Doctors who have worked on shows both foreign and domestic say there are distinct differences in how patients think about self-improvement and what it means.

There’s also a gulf between doctors here and abroad when it comes to TV fame and how, or whether, they can capitalize on it.

A British show, “Brand New You,” offers a window into cultural variations among patients. Airing on Channel 5 in the United Kingdom and on BBC America, the series tracks British women who gained an American beauty rehab with plastic surgeons, a dentist and stylists.

“Americans want perfection. The British just want to look better. They look better, they’re happy,” says Dr. Paul S. Nassif of Beverly Hills, a specialist in facial plastic surgery who worked on “Brand New You.”

According to data compiled by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there has been a 700 percent increase in cosmetic plastic surgery procedures from 1992 to 2004. There were more than 9 million procedures in the United States last year, compared to an estimated 75,000 in the United Kingdom. (Note: Of course, the U.S. population totals 297 million versus the United Kingdom’s 60 million.)

Patricia Pitts, a clinical psychologist who evaluated potential patients for “Brand New You” and TLC’s nonsurgical series “10 Years Younger,” noted sharp differences between Americans and British applicants.

“When I sat down with those from the U.K., their strong concern was would they be judged by family, friends and culture for doing cosmetic surgery,” she says. “They thought it would be misunderstood.”

Their typical goal: to look as young as they felt.

Americans wanted the same thing but had higher expectations. They focused on how their appearance could affect their chances for success in work and love.

“They’re big on first impressions. If you look younger, you have a better chance of getting ahead in life,” Miss Pitts says.

Makeover patients typically appear to be ecstatic over their transformations. The doctors who perform them often have reason to smile as well, as shows swell demand for services in general and the TV Pygmalions in particular.

Dr. Nassif, who already had European patients familiar with his work revising unsuccessful operations by other doctors, has seen his overseas customer base increase in recent years because of exposure from “Brand New You” and a much-aired BBC segment he did.

Dr. William M. Dorfman, the first dentist on “Extreme Makeover” and part of “Brand New You,” is another beneficiary. The perfect American-style smiles flashed in the shows have turned out to be a bounty for Discus Dental, a tooth-whitening products company Mr. Dorfman founded and partly owns.

However, participation in a makeover show left only a sour taste in the mouth of one Dutch dentist.

Dr. Harry-Paul Stassen took part in the “Make Me Beautiful” series, filmed at a dental practice in Oosterhout, Netherlands. The program disrupted the office schedule and cost the practice money because it was paying for half of each TV patient’s procedure.

Did it draw interest from potential new business?

“We got a lot of calls from people who thought we were a combination of God and Santa Claus,” Dr. Stassen says. “They wanted us to do the impossible and do it for free.”

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