Image: Plastic surgery created dimples
Dr. Gal Aharonov
Anna Garcia, 23, was born with a small dimple in her right cheek, but had one created for her left cheek.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/3/2010 7:59:26 AM ET 2010-03-03T12:59:26

While thousands of people shell out millions of dollars to have unsightly dimples removed from their derrieres, others are actually paying to have the more charming variety put in their faces.

That’s right. Dimples — nature’s most appealing defect — are available through cosmetic surgery.

“I’ve probably done a couple of hundred dimples in the last two years,” says Dr. Gal Aharonov, a board certified facial plastic surgeon with a private practice in Beverly Hills. “People will fly in from all over the world for it. There’s a certain segment of the population that’s always been fascinated with dimples.”

That little twinkle
Anna Garcia, a 23-year-old insurance agent and dimple devotee from Mammoth Lake, Calif., says she grew up loving the look because of her mom.

“My mom has natural dimples and ever since I was little, I was amazed by them,” she says. “When somebody smiles and they have dimples, it makes their smile so much more beautiful. It adds that little twinkle. I’ve always wanted them.”

Garcia recently had one dimple created in her left cheek (she already has a small dimple on her right) while her sister, age 25, had two put in (one on each side).

There are no statistics on how many dimple-plasties are performed each year, but the dimple fabrication procedure has recently popped up on beauty forums, consumer sites and on an episode of the television show, “The Doctors.” Considering the new crop of adorable celebrities with indentations — such as Carey Mulligan, who recently snagged a best actress Oscar nomination for “An Education” — instant dimples may even become the next star-fueled trend de jour.

“People usually see it on somebody else and then they want it. It’s an imitative type of thing,” says Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, a board certified cosmetic plastic surgeon also practicing in Beverly Hills. “They’re trying to look like some celebrity or model they think is attractive.”

Slideshow: Famous faces with dimples: secret of their success? Aharonov, who performed the procedure on the Garcia sisters, says the dimple seekers he encounters are usually 65 percent women (almost all of whom request cheek dimples) and 35 percent men (who sometimes ask for a chin dimple or cleft). After that, the dimple demographic is mixed.

“All sorts of people get them,” he says. “My patients are young and old and from all different types of socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The people who come in here just love them.”

Dimples through the decades
Commonly inherited, dimples are caused by a defect in the cheek muscle, a small adhesion where the skin is attached to the muscle.

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But it’s a tiny defect that’s been revered (some cultures believe a dimple signifies luck or fertility) — and, yes, recreated — for decades.

A procedure for artificial dimples via a “specially designed knife … a tiny, keen-edged scoop, and a very fine needle” was touted as early as 1896 in the New York Herald. In 1936, a New York woman by the name of Isabella Gilbert even came up with a “dimple machine,” a wire frame that people strapped onto their face at night in order to wake up with a pair of dazzling dents.

Today, the procedure — which can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the number, the variety (chin or cheek) and the patient’s geographical location — is much more sophisticated.

“It’s done in the office under local anesthetic and takes about ten minutes,” says Aharonov. “There’s no outside incision — everything’s done on the inside of the mouth.”

Healing can take anywhere from a week to a month, he says, although the dimple itself will take about three weeks to “fall out.” It will appear at all times until it fully heals, after that it will only appear when the person smiles, like a natural dimple.

Garcia, who got her dimple put in on a Saturday, says she was back at work the following Monday.

“It was easier than going to the dentist,” she says. “You do feel a little tugging when he’s working on it, but no pain. I did have some minor swelling and had to be careful when I chewed, but we had lunch right after we left.”

Digging deeper
Dimples are appealing for a number of reasons.

“One possibility is because it’s associated with youth,” says Stephen Franzoi, professor of psychology at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “Having dimples would enhance your perception of youthfulness and enhance people’s judgments of your attractiveness.”

There’s also something about having a pair of matching dents that appeals to people on a deeper level, he says.

“What that does is increase the perception of symmetry in your face,” says Franzoi. “There’s a lot of research that faces that a symmetrical are judged to be more attractive than faces that are asymmetrical.”

Dr. Aharonov has another explanation.

“I think part of it is the dynamic nature of dimples,” he says. “One second they’re there, the next second they’re not. I think humans — animals, in general — like things that grab your attention. We like things that are shiny, that sparkle. It’s like playing peek-a-boo with a kid.”

Dr. Ellenbogen, who says he’s been performing dimple-plasties for 30 years, says it’s not a particularly common request.

“I get maybe four requests a year and three of the four I talk out if it because they’re doing it for the wrong reason,” he says. “Some people think it will make their face look thinner.”

Dr. Alan Matarasso, a Manhattan board certified plastic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, says this kind of “dimple disconnect” is fairly common.

“Most of the time, people are looking for a more chiseled, angular face,” he says. “They express that desire by saying they want dimples.”

The downside of dimples
Of course, not everyone is a diehard dimple fan.

“I have two big dimples, one on each side, and I’ve hated the darn things since I was little,” says Danielle Menillo, a 32-year-old legal assistant from Seattle. “I feel like I’m not taken seriously because of the dimples.”

Menillo’s deep dimples — which she refers to as “craters” — aren’t just annoying, though. They sometimes hurt.

“I feel them pull,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt a tremendous amount but sometimes I have to hold my face when I laugh or smile.”

Menillo says she asked a doctor to remove them when she was six (she’d grown tired of strangers pinching her cheeks), but was told that was impossible.

Today, though, a dimple-ectomy is actually doable.

“You can get rid of them now,” says Dr. Ellenbogen. “There are all sorts of new injections and fat grafting techniques. You can use an instrument called a pickle fork under the skin to break the connection that makes the dimple and then inject fat into that area.”

For some, though, messing with Mother Nature’s “fingerprint” is truly pushing the ego envelope.

“Cosmetic dimples? That’s bizarre,” says Roma Edmundson, a 36-year-old hair stylist from Seattle, who has not one, not two, but three natural dimples. “I’m more of a natural person, so it seems weird to me.”

Diane Mapes is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World."

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