Part Five in a Six-Part Series
by Alicia Potter
Obsessed with beauty — and competing with their friends and colleagues — more men than ever are going under the knife.
There's another way to look like the people in the magazines, of course, and here, too, men are venturing into women's territory. Rumor has it that the babes aren't the only ones on Baywatch with synthetic chests — yes, David Hasselhoff's may be fake, too.
Last year men accounted for about 20 percent of all plastic surgeries, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. All told, cosmetic surgeries on men rose 20 percent from 1994 to 1996, which wasn't too different from the increase for women. Liposuctions for males, though, increased 30 percent, compared to 20 percent for females.
"Women come in waving Victoria's Secret catalogues or Playboy clippings and say, 'I want those breasts,' " says Barry Davidson, a Newton plastic surgeon. "Men come in and say, 'I want to get rid of this fat.' Then they grab it."
Michael (not his real name), 34, had been grabbing his waist for years. Even in high school, when he was a skinny five-foot-ten, 150 pounds, Michael had love handles. He lifted weights and played racquetball five times a week, but the extra inches wouldn't budge. "Every morning I'd put on my pants, look in the mirror, and they'd be there," he says. "I just didn't like the way I looked."
Last year, he underwent abdominal liposuction. While Michael's weight remained at 185 pounds following the operation, his waist shrank from 34 inches to 32 inches. The fat he lost (diluted with saline solution) was enough to fill two two-liter Coke bottles.
"I couldn't be happier," he says of his new waistline. "I guess I'm a vain type of guy, but if I could afford it, then why the hell not?"
Most abdominal liposuctions cost about $3000. Just because you can foot the bill doesn't mean you're a guaranteed candidate, though. Davidson warns that the operation is no substitute for exercise or dieting. In fact, many plastic surgeons won't operate on someone who has not first tried traditional weight-loss methods. Age, however, is no barrier; Davidson operates on men in their early 20s to mid-50s.
Beyond liposuction, the anatomical possibilities for men border on the bionic. Doctors can lift the flap of skin on the back of the lower leg, insert a hunk of silicone, and presto: handsome, bulging calves. There are also pectoral implants (hello, Mr. Hasselhoff), hair transplants, breast reduction, and, of course, the very rare but much hyped penis enlargement. Davidson reports that most men seek surgery to contour hereditary soft spots that exercise can't tone. Love handles, a rounded belly, or excess tissue in the breasts are common complaints.
The main reason men and women choose surgery is to improve their self-image, reports one study. Beyond that, male patients said that they also hoped to enhance their careers and to keep up with a peer who's had surgery. It's a desperate scenario: men surreptitiously checking each other out at meetings or in the locker room, trying to figure out who had a tummy tuck or a chin job.
Is this what we're coming to: a silent competition over who's got the firmest pecs?
This article originally appeared in The Boston Phoenix
Part Six: Turnabout is fair play — female America reciprocates