It was trending on Facebook– “Justin Bieber Look-Alike: Man Who Underwent Surgeries to Look Like Singer Found Dead, Report Says.” Jumping from link to link, I impulsively made my way through to the bowels of the Internet. Here are my findings:
35-year-old Tobias Strebel was found dead in a Hollywood Motel 6 on August 21st. Drugs were found in his possession, though an official cause of death has not been released. Strebel is famous, in life as in death, for the more than $100,000 worth of plastic surgery he underwent to look like Justin Bieber. Included in these operations were liposuction, lip lifts, fat injections and at least six hair transplants. In photographs, his features appear pinched, as if there’s an unseen sheet of Saran wrap pulled tight over his face.
I eventually discovered a music video by a group called The Plastics, consisting of Strebel and two other celebrity look-alikes: Kitty Jay and Venus D’Lite, or Jennifer Lawrence and Madonna, respectively. “Are you one of the boring people who don’t want to be beautiful?” they sing. Am I? During the bridge, Strebel says, “If you have too much Botox you can’t smile…” and it echoes into an auto-tuned sludge. His posthumous performance terrifies me. I discovered him on Facebook as the man who tried to surgically replace his existence with that of another. Now, I think about how he died a liminal person, known for being “in between,” and how he couldn’t bear to be himself. For better or worse, The Plastics have 1,097,325 views on YouTube.
In a way, I had hoped this issue would help me make sense of Strebel’s story. Directly related are two articles that detail the world of plastic surgery—it is more expansive and volatile than I’d ever expected. Miles Cooper interviews a Floridian plastic surgeon who Snapchats his operations (p. 10), while Hannah Westerman (p. 48) deconstructs the perceived narcissism surrounding the industry. Thomas Crandall explores the notion of neuroplasticity and investigates memories of 9/11 (p. 16). Finally, Eliza Stein reflects on her mother’s traumatic brain injury (p. 34).
What I am left with is a feeling that we are fragile and uneasy people. Lucky for us, we cannot help but move on, and the ebb and flow of life is forgiving. Seven more issues of the Cipher will pile on top of this one by the year’s end. The uncertainty lies in how each issue will form. For now, I wish you my best as you make your way through the Plastic Issue.
RIP a true Belieber. Special thanks to Lori Driscoll. The Cipher lives.
- Charlie Theobald and the Cipher editors