Hansen: Is the idea of beauty a grasp at the past?

We never fall in love with ugliness.

It's beauty; it's always been beauty. Whether elegant lines or seductive shapes, beauty attracts us.

And for most people, that attraction is based on the past. We want to look younger. We want to be younger. We want to reflect the age that we feel inside.

Which is why there is plastic surgery.

Dr. Bruce Connell is a world-renowned, 84-year-old "retired" plastic surgeon and Laguna Beach resident. He is regarded as the father of the modern face-lift. Over the years, he has trained or influenced thousands of other plastic surgeons. Called "Connell Fellows," they continue to practice his techniques around the world.

What Connell teaches, among other things, is that people just want to look natural.

"Usually what they want is to have a restoration of the good looks they had 15 years before or so," he said. "That makes most people happy."

People just want to fit in and look refreshed.

"There's been a fortunate big change for people to have a natural look," he said. "And it's considered very objectionable now to have a nose that's been bobbed or have face-lift surgery that looks like they've been caught in a permanent wind tunnel and can't get out of it."

Beauty is no longer perfect. In fact, according to Connell, it never has been. While the definition of beauty has been debated for thousands of years, there are basic rules. There is geometry and proportion.

"There are many parameters that are variable," he said. "If you look at any person, male or female, there will always be one eye larger than the other, one side of the face larger than the other. If you wreck those natural asymmetries, it just doesn't look good."

Like viewing a painting or photograph, there are normal ways that the eyes see things.

"When you get the proportions that have been described years ago by the art of da Vinci — that if you have equal thirds — it is more pleasing to the eye than any other combination," he said.

However, "equal" is not exact, nor is it the final word. It's just the foundation.

"Then you get into variations, like a man may look feminized if his nose is made too pretty, too straight, or have no irregularities," he said. "Also, when you're changing the location of the brow … you can take some of the actors like Brad Pitt and others, they have practically no pretarsal skin (eyelid) showing, and they have no problem getting a date on Friday night."

What ends up being beautiful is not in the eye of the beholder, but it's pretty close.

There's a reason dog owners resemble their dogs — or spouses sometimes look like brother and sister.

While we are encouraged to reach beyond our grasp, we rarely do. And people are fine with that. People are happy. They feel comfortable.

"You have some people carry all their problems because of some physical flaw, and yet you have people with many physical flaws that adjust to life and are very happy, with more associations with friends than other people," said Connell. "So their attitude is probably more important than some minor flaw or major flaw."

Connell's views on attitude are not just academic. At one point in his career, it was said he wouldn't perform surgery on someone who didn't have a sense of humor.

In 1996, he was featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Magazine by Laguna-based writer Shawn Hubler, who interviewed several plastic surgeons. They all raved about Connell's approach and influence.

"What Michelangelo was to the Sistine ceiling," said Dr. Richard D'Amico at the time, "Bruce Connell is to facial aesthetic surgery."

"For decades, colleagues have flocked to his sold-out seminars and stalked him at medical conferences," Hubler wrote. "Other surgeons have pestered him to work on their own faces. Textbooks and scholarly papers have detailed his techniques for elective surgeries in every imaginable niche of the burgeoning market, from women whose necks sag to bald men who want brow-lifts.

"His former apprentices, known as Connell Fellows, gather regularly from around the globe as the collective Connell Society to learn from one another and their mentor."

All of this work, all of this beauty, is still ongoing. Remarkably, Connell carries a full and demanding consulting schedule.

"I've been working a very heavy practice until the beginning of this year," said Connell, who turns 85 in September. "I'm slowing down now because I've taught so much. I'm limiting my practice to charity work and teaching."

Beauty never rests. It is both classic and evolving. The kind we care about ages because it's human.

And when it's not human, it's obvious. We ridicule it as fake and obscene, even though it's just someone reaching for the past.

Hoping for a happier tomorrow.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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