There are a certain names that salons know well. Gisele and Brigitte are perennial favorites. “The Rachel” is an old friend. In some parts of the country, “Karlie” is frequently pronounced. In retrospect, I would have been wise to invoke any one of those familiar faces, but instead, I reached into the LeSportsac tote I had received as a Bat Mitzvah gift and withdrew a folded photo of Hayden Panettiere. That was probably my first mistake. My failure to notice my hairdresser’s stricken expression was my second.
“Are you sure?” Angelo asked, meeting my gaze in an illuminated mirror.
At the time, I was barely a teenager and looked even younger. Desperate for some version of “grown-up hair,” I’d come across Hayden’s luminous visage and bouncy, blonde bob in a Neutrogena commercial and immediately decided that my own needed to be styled to similar effect. The only obstacle standing in my way was about eight inches of hair and the fact that we look nothing alike.
I should have known better than to imitate someone with whom I have literally nothing in common. I had a subscription to CosmoGirl, after all. Month after month, the magazine forced me to consider such tough questions as: “Who is Your Celebrity Doppelganger?” As a nice, Jewish girl from New York, I was not meant to emulate Hayden Panettiere. She has a heart-shaped face, pixie features, and the kind of wide, toothy smile that America falls in love with. At fourteen, I had brown hair that bordered on anarchic and braces. Of course, I ignored these red flags. A sophisticated bob would be just the thing to counteract the brackets then affixed to my teeth. I was sure of it.
In the end, I believe Angelo made the best of my determined instruction, but not even such concerted effort could change the fact that I spent three months looking like a human yield sign.
“I think you look elegant,” my father nicely assured me. “Like Hillary Clinton.” I burst into tears.
When my hair finally grew out, I vowed I would never again subject myself to such poorly executed mimicry. And I haven’t. Mostly. Except, you know, for the months I’ve spent trying to approximate Diane Kruger’s style or the special occasions on which I’ve attempted Emma Watson’s sultry, smoky eye makeup.
Surely, I’m not the only person to quote celebrity example. The habit is what mood boards and Pinterest pages and aspirational magazine spreads are made of. We all do it.
Last week, however, the New York Times investigated a more radical take on the practice. Dr. Sam Lam, a facial plastic surgeon, estimated that “about once a month, someone comes in who wants to look like a family member, friend or celebrity.” Patients interviewed for the piece include a woman who declared she’d be happier were she to more closely resemble Heather Locklear and another who “shaved cartilage from her nose, injected the dermal filler Sculptra to plump out her cheeks and squirted a little Botox into her forehead” to look more like Kate Winslet. Dr. Amy Wechsler, a Manhattan dermatologist, recalled a man who “went from doctor to doctor trying to get surgery to look like Brad Pitt.”
Obviously, there’s a Grand Canyon of difference citing a hairstyle — however ill advised — and seeking out a scalpel. The bob may have been a questionable choice, but it wasn’t grounds for mental care. At least I hope not. Still, the article does call the line between inspiration and imitation into question. Where do we draw it? Where should doctors and even hairdressers draw it?
Today, when personal style is at such a premium, how should one take cues from off-duty models and Academy-Award winners and Kim Kardashian and make those looks her own? Have you ever managed it? Better yet: have you ever failed as miserably as I did? If so, do tell!
Step away from the scissors. Let’s talk about it.