This weekend, doctors from all over the country will gather at Penn to discuss appearance and its effect on identity at a symposium that is the first of its kind.
On Nov. 2 and 3, the Center for Human Appearance will be hosting the Appearance ? Identity Conference, an interdisciplinary conference featuring lectures and panels from doctors across the country to discuss issues relating to how appearances shape human identity. The infinity symbol in the title of the symposium was specifically chosen by the organizers to denote the many infinite interactions of human appearance and issues of self and identity.
“One of our goals is to always look beyond the mask that is identified as the face,” said Linton Whitaker, founder and director of the Center for Human Appearance.
Each year, the center hosts two annual regional symposiums and one national symposium. The symposium this weekend is unique as, ”[this] is the first in the country that focuses on the idea of appearance and its effect on our identity and everything we do,” Whitaker said.
This conference is a chance to “cross-pollinate ideas for how we can work together to highlight human appearance as it relates to identity,” said Jesse Taylor, assistant professor of surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and co-chair of the event.
The national conference will kick off with an artistic project designed specifically for the symposium on the night of Nov. 1. The project, called “Face to Face,” is led by Studio Incamminati, a local Philadelphia art studio. It will feature portraits of children with facial differences painted by artists from the studio.
“The idea there is that the artist tries to see behind the facial mask, tries to understand the person beyond that, ” said Whitaker. There have been 12 portraits painted so far and they will be presented at the reception.
The Center for Human Appearance at Penn was created in 1987, arising from the discussion of doctors in various programs designed to treat cleft lip and palate in Philadelphia. The center soon became a place to deal with all aspects of appearances, from birth defects to cosmetic surgeries. It currently houses six different medical specialties with a primary focus on appearance.
The first full day of the conference will focus on interdisciplinary research in the field of appearances and will include research round table discussions to foster future collaboration and address issues and concerns in the field. These issues include how people perceive beauty and beauty’s societal implications.
The second day will feature a panel of specialists ranging from medicine, psychology, ethics and law to further discuss the issues and relationship between appearance and identity.
“One of the things that we’re particularly excited about is that we’re bringing in internationally known experts who focus on issues relating to appearance,” David Sarwer, professor of psychology in psychiatry and surgery and co-chair of the symposium, said.
The Appearance ? Identity Conference gives professionals in different fields the opportunity to explore the multiple ways that appearance affects the ways people identify themselves and interact with others.
“I think whether we feel that it’s a good thing or not, we have to have the acceptance that how we appear to the outside world is a very important part of who we are. It’s a truism and we need to be open and honest about it and talk about it,” Taylor said.
A previous version of the article stated the conference was being hosted by the Center for Human Appearances. It is the Center for Human Appearance.
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