We all have our style icons. I’ll be the first to admit that I spent the majority of my childhood enthusiastically dressing up as the Spice Girls and unfortunately most of my teens badly imitating Hayley from Paramore. In hindsight, the “shaggy and side-fringed” monstrosity of a haircut is a line I shouldn’t have crossed (yes mum, you were right), but it does raise an interesting question: at what point is it that idol emulation can go too far? More to the point, can it even go too far, or is it all a matter of personal choice?
We’ve all heard about the “Human Ken Doll” who has transformed himself into Barbie’s trusty sidekick with over 50 operations, but now meet Herbert Chavez, from Calamba City in the Philippines, who has spent thousands on plastic surgery to look more like his own childhood icon, Superman. Over the course of 20 years, he has undergone 23 surgical procedures, including nose jobs, pec implants, jaw realignment and liposuction. In addition to his physical transformation, Herbert also has one of the largest collections of memorabilia in the world, complete with a selection of life-size statues, that saw him bag a spot in the Guinness World Records for three years running.
Chavez first fell in love with history’s favourite comic book hero at the age of five, but unlike with most little boys, the obsession didn’t fade. His had his first surgery, rhinoplasty, when he was 21 years old and since then has made it his mission to transform his look, even undergoing skin lightening and wearing contacts to replicate Superman’s piercing blue eyes. However, it’s clear that if there’s one person Chavez really is a superhero to, it’s his plastic surgeon. He’s now such a regular customer that he now does all of his surgery for free, in exchange for promotion in the media.
Despite this helping hand, he admits that maintaining his permanent alter ego can be a struggle: “It is hard living up to people’s expectations as a living superhero. That is the reason I have had so many surgeries because I undergo maintenance procedures that need performing.” And just like Kylie Jenner and her famous fillers, even Superman has his problem areas: “For example, my cleft chin is formed of hydrogel, but it does not always appear balanced. The more dehydrated you get the smaller it gets, so you have to keep adding to it.”
Which brings to the mind the issue of the responsibility that cosmetic surgery providers have to maintain the difficult tightrope of patient safety and patient autonomy. In 2015, Chavez was refused further surgery after doctors discovered he had taken matters into his own hands and injected himself with poisonous ab-fillers, banned in the US, which caused spots and bumps all over his body. By his own admission, he likes chocolate too much for pumping iron at the gym to have the same impact. Although his next dream was to have leg lengthening surgery – one of the most painful types of plastic surgery – to take his five foot seven inch frame to Clark Kent’s six foot three stature, it is unclear as to whether doctors have granted him this wish.
Of course, there is nothing new about using celebrities for a spot of plastic surgery inspiration; some of the most commonly requested cosmetic procedures in the UK are the Duchess of Cambridge’s nose, Sofia Vergara’s boobs and Kim Kardashian’s bum – all of which are admittedly impossibly great. But celebrity worship syndrome is something different entirely: “Generally, the vast majority of people will identify a favourite celebrity, but don’t say they read about them or think about them all the time,” Dr. John Maltby, a Professor of Psychology, who pioneered the term explained to the BBC. “Like most things, it’s fine as long as it doesn’t take over your life”
To be fair to him, Chavez, who regularly dresses as Superman when walking around his home town hoping to teach kids good morals, seems happy enough with his transformation: “I am happy as Superman, and happier still to have Filipinos realise that Superman lives in the Philippines and they can see and talk to him in the flesh.” If there’s one thing all of this shows you though, it’s that mums all over the world needn’t worry about a bad haircut or misguided outfit – because it could be so much worse.