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Nip/tuck times two

When one identical twin has cosmetic surgery, often the other one does too. After all, looking alike is a big part of their bond.

July 04, 2005|Daniel Costello | Times Staff Writer

Just before her 48th birthday, Jane Kochan decided it was time to do something about her droopy eyes and the deepening lines around her mouth. After months of indecision, the financial manager booked an appointment with a New York plastic surgeon she'd read about in her favorite fashion magazine.

There was only one thing left to do: persuade her twin sister, Joan, to go under the knife too. "I never even considered doing it alone," says Jane.

Joan, who lives a few floors below her sister in the same Clearwater, Fla., apartment building, quickly agreed. "It's a competition thing," says Joan, whose voice sounds nearly identical to her sister's. "I didn't want her coming back looking better than me."

Even before their back-to-back face-lifts, performed according to their birth order (Joan went first), it was difficult for most people to tell the Kochan twins apart. Now they look as similar as ever. "Sometimes," Joan says, "I will just look at her and think, 'Wow, I look really great.' "

Although cosmetic surgery among twins might strike some people as unusual, it doesn't seem odd to most identical twins or people who know them. Many twins share an extremely close relationship throughout their lives, and researchers say their close physical resemblance is a significant part of the bond they feel for each other.

Years ago, twins had few options as they grew older and began looking different -- an inevitable change, considering that scientists estimate that only a third of the effects of aging are related to genetic factors. Psychologists who study twins say it is common for them to feel a disquieting sense of loss as they watch their physical appearances gradually become less and less alike.

Still, twins who get cosmetic surgery face a unique set of monozygotic dilemmas. What if one twin wants surgery and the other doesn't? Twins also have to settle on which procedures they want, which can pose difficulties if one wants a smaller nose or a less noticeable face-lift.

Not surprisingly, the siblings' different financial situations can affect their decision. Earlier this year, a reader wrote to Dear Abby asking for advice because her twin sister could no longer afford the face-lifts they both had been planning. Abby's response: If twinship is important, the sister who could afford surgery should forgo it because it could make her feel guilty about abandoning her twin. (The column generated a flurry of responses on Internet sites for twins, with some suggesting the sisters pool their resources and get only the procedures they could afford.)

No one knows for sure how often twins are getting plastic surgery together, because there are no statistics on the topic. But new cosmetic surgery techniques have made these procedures far more accessible to everyone, including twins. And surgeons who specialize in such procedures say they are seeing more twins go under the knife to recapture both their youth and their shared physical identities.

A few cosmetic surgeons in several cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, now specialize in twin surgeries. And some researchers are starting to use twins in medical studies to help determine the effectiveness of different cosmetic procedures.

"Twins are no different than anybody else. They want to look younger, but they also want to make sure they look as similar as possible," says Dr. Darrick Antell, a New York plastic surgeon who says he performs nose jobs, face-lifts and breast augmentations on several sets of twins each year.

So why would twins want to recapture the identical appearance they shared as children? Psychologists say many twins grow up used to the idea of looking like someone else; it becomes a central part of how they view themselves and how the world sees them.

"Twins have two identities: their own identity and their twin identity. They have a commonality and a sense of team membership because of what they share, especially their appearance," says Nancy L. Segal, a professor of psychology at Cal State Fullerton and author of several books on twins.

A generation ago, identical twins often were encouraged by their parents and doctors to accentuate their similarities. In the last 20 years, however, attitudes have shifted, and now many psychologists recommend that twins be encouraged to develop more as individuals. Some psychologists believe that twins should develop a separate life from their sibling to build their own sense of self and help foster other close adult relationships.

"Twins who see their twinship as their raison d'etre have an artificiality to their lives that makes it hard for them as adults," says Patricia Malmstrom, president of Twin Services, a national counseling service in Berkeley. "They depend too much on their twin and their shared appearance in determining who they are."

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