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Using Illusion Power to Look and Feel Better

May 07, 1985|URSULA VILS | Times Staff Writer

Marvin Westmore calls it "the ultimate illusion"--paramedic makeup.

The man who transformed humans into "lizards" for the television series "V" also spends a fourth of his time helping disfigured persons, especially teen-agers, look better and feel better about themselves by teaching them how to cover and/or minimize facial defects with makeup.

Westmore, the third generation of the famed Hollywood makeup family, spoke to a group of about 35 Saturday morning at a program sponsored by the plastic surgery division of Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles.

Gives Demonstration

After a slide/lecture presentation, Westmore demonstrated how makeup can highlight good features and minimize flaws, using volunteer Arlene Sutton, 20, a cleft lip victim, as a model.

Providing background on the medical and psychological reasons for Westmore's presentation were Dr. John F. Reinisch, head of Childrens Hospital's division of plastic surgery, and Nancy Dodge, clinical social worker for its cranial/facial clinic.

Reinisch's patients include those with congenital defects such as cleft lip, cleft palate and birthmarks as well as victims of accidents, burns and animal bites. The issue of appearance is especially important to children, both younger ones whom peers may ridicule and teens to whom appearance is crucial to self-image and confidence, he said.

Corrective Surgery

Yet corrective surgery--when possible--may have to wait until the patient matures to a certain age, Reinisch said.

"With growing children we sometimes want to wait for surgery," he said. "The teeth should be in place, and it may take two years of orthodontia before we can do (facial) surgery.

"Much of this plastic surgery is not reversible, and if it is not done well there is little that can be done to correct it. Our best shot is in the beginning."

Reinisch told about one patient with a cleft lip.

"She had a poor surgeon who did not do a good job in repairing the cleft lip," he said. "It was bad surgery.

"Her teeth don't fit properly and she has a lot of pain eating. She needs a lot more, both orthodontia and surgery. But she is 20 now and her funds from California Children's Services run out in eight months--so how is she going to be able financially to get the medical care she needs?"

Insurance usually pays only for medically essential procedures; Westmore said that his services as a paramedical cosmetologist are paid only if the insurance company contacts him on the instruction of a doctor. Yet social worker Nancy Dodge sees the need for such services as a psychological necessity in many cases.

"Kids, especially teen-agers, have such psychosocial needs," she said. "Appearance is so important during adolescence. I would like to see more events like this (Westmore presentation) for kids growing up."

Appearance a Concern

In counseling with young people, Dodge often finds them greatly concerned about their appearance although they may specifically deny such feelings to their parents.

"I evaluate the patients, see if they really want corrective surgery, how they are coping with their own feelings of self-image," she said. "My role connects families with other resources also, such as the Cleft Parent Guild which provides support, education and sometimes financial help."

Among the groups offering aid in reconstructive and restorative surgery for needy children is Women in Show Business, whose philanthropy chairman, Lynn Helsel, attended the Westmore program. The group, financed by a charity celebrity ball and individual donations, has helped hundreds of children, she said, usually preferring to follow the progress of an individual child from one procedure through subsequent surgeries.

Cleft Palates

As Marvin Westmore applied powder, blusher, eye shadow and mascara to Arlene Sutton, Reinisch spoke of his work. He turned first to the problem of cleft palates.

"With a cleft palate there is a greater chance the child will not hear well," he said. "These patients are subject to ear infections, and they don't speak well, both because of the cleft palate and because they do not hear properly.

"In school they are often placed in classes for the mentally retarded, yet when we test them we find they are not retarded at all. We test them psychologically, give them a hearing test, see if they need a speech therapist.

"We have a team of 17 specialists, including orthodontists, prosthodontists, social workers, psychologists, speech therapists and others who consult about the needs of a patient. It's hard to find good people--but we've got good people."

Sensitive to Feelings

Marvin Westmore, whose paramedical consulting office is in Sherman Oaks, makes a point of being sensitive to each client's feelings also.

"I find out their age and where they come from--what you want to look like in a small Midwestern town may be different from Los Angeles," he said. "I learn what they are accustomed to and what their desires are.

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