Only a few decades ago, plastic surgery was considered by many people to be the exclusive domain of white doctors serving white patients. Few African Americans underwent plastic surgery—either for cosmetic or for reconstructive purposes—not only because of concerns about scarring, a common problem for patients with darker skin, but also because many believed that such procedures would wipe away their ethnic features, making them look "too white." And until recently, only a handful of African-American doctors practiced plastic surgery in the United States. When Dr. Anthony Griffin, the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon featured on ABC TV's Extreme Makeover series, first told friends and family that he wanted to pursue the specialty, "Everyone was laughing at me saying, ‘Black folks don't get plastic surgery,’" he related to Jet magazine in 2004.
These trends, however, have begun to change. As a result of new surgical techniques that minimize scarring—pioneered by doctors such as Griffin—and fueled by the popularity of reality television shows focused on plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures are no longer considered taboo among African Americans. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, between 2000 and 2007 cosmetic plastic surgery procedures increased 129 percent among African Americans. Today, the most commonly requested procedures among African Americans are nose reshaping, liposuction, and breast reduction.
Griffin is one of a small but growing number of black plastic surgeons—about one hundred nationwide. He is considered one of the nation's top authorities on plastic surgery for African Americans and other ethnic skin types. In his practice he has sought to demonstrate that blacks need not emulate traditional ideals of beauty. "Minorities no longer feel like they have to look like Barbie dolls, and that's the way it should be," Griffin wrote in an Ebony magazine column in 2008. "One's natural ethnic features … are now something to be proud of." In 2002 Griffin took his practice to the national stage, appearing on the hit ABC reality series Extreme Makeover. He has used his celebrity status to bring attention to what he considers his most important work: Operation Smile, a medical mission that provides free surgical care to children with deformities in developing countries. It is this social mission that Griffin sees as ultimately defining his life's work.
Anthony Charles Griffin was born on March 1, 1960, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Growing up with a brother who had asthma, Griffin and his family were in and out of emergency rooms frequently, and the experience instilled in him a desire to pursue medicine as a career. But Griffin was also a creative child—he loved art class and often sketched comic book characters in his notebooks.
When, as a teenager, Griffin came across an Ebony magazine article profiling several black plastic surgeons, he knew immediately that was the career for him. Plastic surgery would allow him to combine his passions for art and medicine. "You have to have an eye for proportion and be able to see what you are going to do before doing it. Essentially, you are an artist. The … human body is probably the most difficult medium to sculpt," he explained in 2006 to interviewer Deardra Shuler of the Web site Black World Today.
Griffin attended Brown University, completing a bachelor's degree in biology, and then went on to the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. There, he earned both a doctorate in medicine and a master's degree in pharmacology. He trained as a general surgeon at the University of Chicago, then moved to California to complete a two-year residency in plastic surgery at the University of Southern California, specializing in burn reconstruction, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and hand surgery. After stints on the surgical staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and on the faculty of University of California, Los Angeles-Charles Drew University, Griffin opened his own practice, becoming medical director of the Beverly Hills Cosmetic Surgery Institute in 1998.
In his private practice Griffin has developed three signature procedures. The most popular, the Brazilian Butt Lift, relocates fat from the patient's abdomen to create a more rounded, voluptuous posterior such as that of celebrities Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé. The Six-Pack Tummy Tuck creates a slimmer, flatter abdomen, and the No-Tell Nose Job is purported to reshape the nose while leaving no scarring. Griffin specializes in scar-free surgery for scar-prone ethnic skin types (African American, Hispanic, and Asian), using techniques that do not require external incisions or that work with the natural folds and creases of the skin.
Griffin approaches his patients in much the same way that a psychologist does: He wants to understand what is driving them to seek cosmetic surgery. In an interview with the Web site LoveToKnow, he described his view: "My philosophy is that I think there are two different types of plastic surgery. One is vanity plastic surgery. That is the plastic surgery that most people think of…. Then, I think there is self-esteem surgery. People are born with certain distractions or have distractions that take away from their confidence and their ability to engage in life." It is the latter type of surgery that Griffin focuses on—surgery that, he believes, has a purpose beyond the patient's external appearance.
At a Glance …
Born Anthony Charles Griffin on March 1, 1960, in Kenosha, WI; married Belle. Education: Brown University, BA, biology; Washington University School of Medicine, MD and MA/MS, pharmacology, 1987.
Career: Washington University, surgical intern at Barnes Hospital, 1987-89, surgical resident, 1988-90; University of Chicago Pritzker Medical School, resident in general surgery, 1990-91; University of Southern California, resident in plastic and reconstructive surgery, 1991-94; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, surgical staff, 1995; University of California, Los Angeles-Charles Drew University, surgical staff, 1998; Beverly Hills Cosmetic Surgery Institute and Beverly Hills Robertson Surgery Center, medical director, 1998—.
Memberships: American College of Surgeons; American Medical Association; American Society of Plastic Surgeons; American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Medical Association; California Medical Association; California Society of Plastic Surgeons; Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce; Los Angeles County Medical Association; Los Angeles Society of Plastic Surgeons; Charles Drew Medical Society; Rhinoplasty Society.
Awards: Outstanding Achievement Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Golden Cannula Award, Lipoplasty Society, 1993.
Addresses: Office—Beverly Hills Cosmetic Surgery Institute, 8641 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 305, Beverly Hills, CA 90211-2921. Web—http://www.griffinmd.com.
In 2002 Griffin was approached by ABC network executives to take part in a new reality television series called Extreme Makeover. Producers had learned of his work from Dr. William Dorfman, Griffin's dentist, who had already committed to being featured on the program. During the show, which ran until 2007, ordinary men and women received extensive makeovers that included plastic surgery, dental work, exercise programs, hair and makeup, and wardrobe.
Though Griffin was initially reluctant to put himself in the spotlight, he proved to be one of the show's most popular doctors, as audiences were attracted by his skill, compassion, and sensitivity. Griffin's role on Extreme Makeover has made him a celebrity in his own right, leading to appearances on CNN, the Discovery Health Channel, and the Learning Channel, as well as features in Time, Essence, and National Geographic magazines.
On top of an already demanding private practice, since 1995 Griffin has donated his time to the volunteer organization Operation Smile, a medical mission that provides free reconstructive surgery to children suffering from cleft lips and palates in developing countries. He has worked as part of a team of forty to sixty doctors, nurses, and therapists, performing as many as two hundred operations in a week. Operation Smile has taken him across the globe to Peru, China, the Middle East, the Philippines, and other locations. It was during a mission to Kenya that Griffin met his wife, Belle, who was then working as a volunteer nurse.
For Griffin, Operation Smile is by far his most gratifying work as a surgeon. "It's just absolutely changed my whole life and perspective," he told the Los Angeles CityBeat newspaper in 2006.
"What You Should Know before Getting That Nip & Tuck: Choosing the Right Surgeon Is the First Step," Ebony, April 2008.
Black Enterprise, November 2000.
Ebony, August 2004.
Jet, April 12, 2004.
Los Angeles CityBeat, February 2, 2006.
Anthony Griffin, interview with LoveToKnow Skincare, http://skincare.lovetoknow.com/Interview_with_Dr._Anthony_Griffin,_%22Extreme_Makeover%22_Surgeon (accessed August 19, 2008).
Anthony Griffin official Web site, http://www.griffinmd.com (accessed August 19, 2008).
"Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery and the Path of an Unlikely Artist," beverlyhillspeople.com, http://www.beverlyhillspeople.com/pages/Dr-Griffin.html (accessed August 19, 2008).
"Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Procedures for Ethnic Patients Up 13 Percent in 2007," American Society of Plastic Surgeons, March 25, 2008, http://www.plasticsurgery.org/media/press_releases/Cosmetic-Plastic-Surgery-Procedures-for-Ethnic-Patients-Up-13-Percent-in-2007.cfm (accessed August 19, 2008).
Shuler, Deardra, "Dr. Anthony Griffin: The Expert on Ethnic Skin," Black World Today, September 13, 2006, http://www.tbwt.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=805&Itemid=2 (accessed August 19, 2008).
—Deborah A. Ring
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