CHOP patient portraits help cast light on links between appearance, identity

    The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is unveiling four new patient portraits to kick off a weekend summit on the interplay between appearance and identity.

    The interplay between self-concept and appearance is infinite, said Dr. Linton Whitaker, a plastic surgeon and director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Human Appearance.

    “Everybody has a problem with appearance, you do, everybody does,” Whitaker said. “They want something a little bit better, if they are ‘normal,’ and if what they have is ‘not normal’ they want that made ‘normal.'”

    During the summit, participants will discuss why attractive people are more successful and the very limited research on whether cosmetic surgery makes people “feel better.”

    “There are a lot of topics about beauty, which I didn’t encourage as head of the center,” Whitaker said. “We deal mostly with trying to achieve normalcy for people who have problems of appearance, like mastectomy after cancer, or post-traumatic reconstruction of the face or body.”

    Whitaker helped develop “Face to Face: The Craniofacial Portrait Project” along with psychologists from CHOP and artists at Studio Incamminati Incamminati in Lower Bucks County.

    In one portrait, the telltale signs of a condition called Treacher Collins syndrome are right there on Isaiah’s face. His bones didn’t develop. His lower lids droop.

    Whitaker said the picture reminds him of the complex reconstruction — including bone grafts and moving soft tissue — needed to help Isaiah and other children.

    He sees something else as well.

    “There’s a bravado in his face that says, ‘I can deal with this,'” Whitaker said.

    “Through the eyes of an artist, people can be led into having a very different attitude of what might be considered disfigurement,” said Nelson Shanks, founder and director of Studio Incamminati.

    “As an artist I’m looking for what is inside as much as what is on the outside, soul, I’m looking for thought process, I’m looking for personality, not just the physical features that you might see in a marble statue,” he said.

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