When Iranian teen Sahar Tabar’s photos began circulating around the internet this past fall, they sent shockwaves far and wide. Tabar claimed to have undergone over 50 plastic surgery procedures to look more like her idol, Angelina Jolie. But more startling than the number of surgeries the young woman underwent were the results. Though she did resemble Jolie, Tabar’s photos appeared eerily pale, her face skeletal, with jutting cheekbones and a sharp nose, earning her the nickname “The Corpse Bride.” Tabar’s lips seemed over-inflated to mirror Jolie’s famous lips, but Tabar’s seemed oddly flat and overdone.
While many cried hoax immediately, others weren’t so sure, and their concern raised a lot of ethical concerns about the alleged number of Tabar’s surgeries, and if those surgeries should have been performed on someone so young. Tabar eventually admitted that the photos were digitally altered.
Dr. Bruce Chau is a plastic surgeon in Berkeley, Michigan. Though Chau says it was apparent to him that Tabar’s look was a product of photo editing and not surgery, cases like hers do nothing to help the field gain mainstream acceptance.
“Whenever someone makes headlines for getting excessive surgeries, even when it turns out to be a prank, it reflects badly on the entire field of plastic surgery,” says Chau. “There is a feeling out there in the public of ‘How could a doctor let her do this?’ or ‘Who would perform so many surgeries on someone so young?’ But it’s very unlikely that either of those things would happen.”
That’s because, according to Chau, plastic surgeons worldwide adhere to a strict code of ethics that would prohibit them from performing so many surgeries on a teen – and to allow such disastrous results.
“There are surgeons who will perform multiple surgeries, and there are surgeons who will perform multiple surgeries on teenagers, but I have to hope that even the most unethical surgeon would stop before allowing a patient to look that unhealthy,” Chau says.
Tabar, for her part, claims the photos were done just to entertain herself at first, but then they caught the eye of her Instagram followers and began being shared around the web and on news and social media sites. Though she didn’t intend to shed a negative light on the field of plastic surgery, Chau says the damage may already be done.
“If you read some of the comments on articles that reveal her photos were a hoax, people are still saying things like ‘sue your surgeon.’ It just goes to show you that once something like this is out there, it’s hard to contain – and it’s bad journalism to report it as fact, too,” he says.
Chau recommends people look at future cases of extreme surgeries with a skeptical eye before believing someone would permanently transform themselves in such a way.
“The goal of plastic surgery is to make patients look better and feel better about themselves,” he says. “We take an oath to ‘do no harm,’ and in addition to cosmetic work, we do a lot of reconstructive work, too. We’re not in the business of making monsters.”