Ultimate identity change: we asked what’s possible with plastic surgery

When your email is leaked, you change it. If your phone number is exposed, you might get a new one. But what about a compromised facial identity? We asked a plastic surgeon if a movie-like scenario where you wake up as a new, unrecognizable person is possible and what it might cost you.

Yes, technically some procedures can significantly alter one’s appearance, and sometimes you do not need any expensive interventions such as rhinoplasty, facelifts, and others. Then, visual alterations can even influence personality changes. However, such procedures are almost never done for the purpose of identity changes, plastic surgeon Giedrius Stankevičius explained to Cybernews.

“Actually, it's hardly ever about changing your identity. Some people who already have congenital facial issues – like jaw, skull, eyelids, or nose problems – undergo major surgeries. When the main facial points are changed, it’s like crafting a new look. They may become almost unrecognizable. But if we talk about the everyday tasks of plastic surgery, it’s usually just an improvement of your existing facial features,” Stankevičius said.

He emphasized a few times during the interview that plastic surgeons do not aim to alter the gist of an individual’s look.

“Most people love themselves and don’t look for drastic changes, so that even their parents don’t recognize them. They just want to be and to feel beautiful,” Stankevičius said. “We are not trying to change a person, we are trying to enhance their beauty.”

What makes the face unrecognizable?

Stankevičius noted that our brain’s capacity to memorize shapes, relationships, and proportions among facial features, such as the nose, mouth, and eyes, is what renders faces recognizable. Can these traits be altered?

“A regular barber will affirm that, yes. If a person has worn a beard for 5 years and is completely shaved, half of the people he knows might not recognize him,” Stankevičius said. “When we are talking about plastic surgery, many of these key traits can be altered quite significantly.”

He observed that rhinoplasty, commonly referred to as “nose jobs,” are among the most significant face-altering surgeries.

“The nose is one of the key elements for recognition, and if we enlarge it, reduce it, lift it, remove the hump, the person’s face changes spectacularly,” Stankevičius said. “Interestingly, an unfortunate statistic reveals that the largest number of plastic surgeons who died at the hands of their patients were involved in nasal plastic surgeries.”

The size of the chin, whether too prominent or lacking, can also bring a very significant change, followed by the shape of the eyes, eyebrows, and cheeks.

Aging is a natural face-altering process that shifts and lengthens the nose and ears, thins the lips, and wrinkles the skin. However, people’s faces remain recognizable as they age, with things like body mass, proportions, and bone features not changing very much.

The price tag of a “new face” begins at a few thousand bucks

I couldn't resist asking the surgeon how much it would cost to drastically change someone’s face. As Dr. Stankevičius explains, each person's facial structure is unique. The same procedure can produce alterations from the subtle to the dramatic, depending on individual anatomy.

“If a person wants to change himself very obviously, then the first things to pay attention to are the nose, chin, and lips. These traits can be changed both surgically and with hyaluronic fillers if you want to increase them. Everything – nose, lips, chin, eyebrows, cheeks, can be injected with fillers,” Stankevičius said.

He estimates that it would probably take around 10-14 syringes of fillers to alter the appearance of a face beyond recognition, with each syringe costing around 400 euros (about $429). However, fillers only last for a limited time, usually 9-18 months.

“It takes 4000-5000 euros on average to change the face very obviously for one year. The younger the face, the less product it would take,” Stankevičius said. “For more significant surgeries, sometimes it’s the opposite. You would need more intervention to alter a young face than to rejuvenate an older one.”

The prices of plastic surgeries can vary wildly depending on the procedure and the country.

Giedrius Stankevicius

“There is a doctor in Dubai whose procedures cost around €100,000. Conversely, there are other countries where you can get certain surgeries very inexpensively. However, I don’t always recommend this as the best option, having seen the outcomes and performed corrective surgeries to improve the results,” Stankevičius noted.

He shared that a facelift in Europe may cost about €10,000, nose surgery would set you back about €5,000, and eyebrow lifts could range from €3,000 to €7,000.

“Jaw surgeries are usually longer and require special orthodontic treatment. It would be an easier procedure if only the chin is altered, but would still cost about €6000- €10000,” Stankevičius said.

Can the voice be altered surgically?

“Yes. Individuals transitioning from male to female may undergo vocal cord surgery to raise the pitch of their voice. Hormonal therapy usually suffices for the reverse transition, and generally, people can adapt to speaking in different voice ranges quite easily by themselves.”

People don’t ask for radical changes, surgeons dissuade

For Stankevičius, plastic surgery is a treatment method to restore self-confidence and fight aging rather than a way to alter the identity.

“First of all, we’re doctors. Our goal is to treat. As a plastic surgeon, I realize that I’m treating some deficiencies, self-doubt, and the effects of aging,” he said. “I think that the transformation alters the mind in the first place. Ultimately, self-confidence is the axis around which everything revolves.”

Responsible surgeons prioritize patient wellness over unrealistic requests or standards.

“People who approach me aren’t looking for a radical change, and I don’t advocate for such transformations. I believe there’s no need for drastic alterations. Instead, it’s necessary to foster self-confidence. When people love themselves, they behave differently and often achieve greater success in business and personal life,” Stankevičius explained.

Attempting to become someone you’re not usually leads to disappointment.

“The negativity that haunted the individual before surgery tends to resurface,” Stankevičius warned.

Sometimes, reconstructive surgery is a way to restore functionality and aesthetics after severe accidents, with surprising outcomes.

“Sometimes, when you compare what you saw in the operating room to the healed face, it looks like a miracle,” Stankevičius said.

One of the cheapest procedures, such as eyelid plastic, can bring a great deal of satisfaction to an individual.

“I remember one patient who had eyelid surgery. Three months later, I didn‘t recognize her, she was a whole new person. She had to remind me. I even checked the photos in the system, and still, they looked like two different people. And she explained to me, ‘Doctor, in the past, all people would ask me why I looked so tired, so sad. And that constant questioning would sadden me to believe it. When I got my eyelids restored, people told me how well-rested and relaxed I was. And I started feeling that way.’ So, three months was enough to change even her personality,” Stankevičius recalled.

What about if someone brought Lionel Messi’s or Taylor Swift’s photo and said that they wanted to look like their idol?

“I would ask very nicely, first, why. Because no matter the operation, the question of ‘why’ inevitably arises. If a doctor has doubts or questions about psychological or logical deviations, I believe any plastic surgeon would recommend consulting a specialist. This helps to understand if the person truly wants such a drastic change. Because once it’s done, going back is much more difficult,” Stankevičius said.

AI makes people disappointed with their bodies

Photoshopping photos online has already elevated beauty standards to unattainable levels. AI may exacerbate this trend even more.

To Stankevičius, while computers aren’t perfect, humans are.

“AI brings more negativity in the world because everything that appears to be too perfect affects us. We want to be perfect too and can be disappointed when we understand that it’s not possible.”

“The body we own is the most perfect thing on Earth. We have a brain, we have a mind, we have fantastic alignment, and we’re able to fight bacteria, viruses, or protozoa. Our bodies use energy the most efficiently, and we are able to adapt to changing conditions. But some still want to belong to a particular social group,” Stankevičius said.

The demands of plastic surgery vary geographically, with South Korea being at the top due to high cultural beauty standards. The US and Brazil also have many procedures. He cautioned that teens are especially susceptible to unachievable aspirations, limited by the human anatomy.

“You are not any less valuable in this world compared to someone who is closer to an elusive ideal.”

In his practice, the most grateful are everyday people, like mothers who need some help in restoring their bodies post-labor or those who have undergone facial rejuvenation to rediscover new motivation in life.

“Former patients write to me not because they like a new cheek I formed. They write when they feel great about their revitalized lives. Lifted breasts or liposuction may change a woman’s life, and she comes back happy. Conversely, you could sew four missing fingers back onto a person, and all you’ll ever hear from them is, ‘ok, thank you.’”