You know the adage that men grow more handsome with age, while women merely grow older? It's a saying that makes women livid with frustration and anger at the unfairness of life, while men can remain smugly secure in their bald spot.
Well, hear this: it's headed for retirement. These days looking young is just as important in the boardroom as it is on the movie screen and men, who have for years merrily sat on the sidelines of the war on wrinkles, are finally joining the fight.
And like women, they aren't just arming themselves with creams and vitamin supplements; they're going for everything, from Botox injections to the full nip and tuck.
More men going under the knife
From the U.S. to Japan, the number of men going under the knife is on the rise. Men still represent far fewer than the predicted one-half of plastic surgery patients some forecasters anticipated a decade ago, but the number of men hoping to turn back the clock is on the increase in every time zone.
According to the International Society of Plastic Surgeons, men now account for 15 per cent or more of the total number of plastic surgery procedures in 11 surveyed countries, including Germany, Mexico and Singapore.
Even in countries where men's plastic surgery remains less common, there has been considerable growth. For example in the US, men undertook in excess of 800,000 cosmetic procedures in 2002, up from 520,000 in 1999, according to figures from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Nowhere is the battle against age being waged any harder than at the Longevity Clinic on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Founded by Oz Garcia, a nutritionist and author of Look and Feel Fabulous Forever, the Longevity Clinic focuses on reducing signs of premature aging - rather than changing the likeness of patients - through laser surgery, injections, and peels.
'Proper expressions of vanity'
This approach to aesthetic surgery makes men feel more comfortable with the concept, says Garcia, because they are particularly afraid of appearing vain.
"We are talking about proper expressions of vanity," says Garcia, adding that it is important to use plastic surgery as a part of a total health program.
"There's a difference in terms of artificiality; people getting surgery because they aren't taking care of themselves internally and people simply managing their appearances better," he says.
The bottom line is that many men want to look better, and that alone underscores a seismic shift in the attitudes of men towards their own appearance.
France-based Dr Claude Lassus attributes the change in men's perceptions of plastic surgery to the competitive job market. "When you have passed 40 or 45 years, it is difficult to get a job. It wasn't that way a few years ago, but now it is and men have to look energetic, strong and healthy," he says.
Likewise, Dr Mark Nussberger, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in Basel, Switzerland, says he's noticed that his growing group of male patients, who most often ask for lower eye lifts and liposuction, are increasingly concerned with their external image. "You can see advertising with beautiful men in all the magazines and the patients are identifying themselves with those images of beauty. Moreover, there is no taboo any more, it is not a problem any more to say, 'Yes, I had surgery to make myself feel better,'" says Nussberger.
Is the taboo truly gone?
But is the taboo truly gone? Not according to one Manhattan cosmetic industry executive, who keeps his $25,000-and-counting plastic surgery habit a secret from friends and colleagues.
In the past five years the 62-year-old executive has had the bags under his eyes removed, his neck lifted, and his stomach and sides liposuctioned. He also gets $2,000 Botox and collagen injections three times a year.
Despite all the different procedures he says he still looks like himself, only better, and no one can tell that he's been surgically altered. "People say to me, 'Gee, you look so young,'" he says.
Hiding plastic surgery procedures is such an enormous concern for patients of London-based plastic surgeon Dr. Adriaan Grobbelaar that many men, who might benefit most from a facelift, decide to go for less invasive treatments, such as eyelifts or face contouring through liposuction, which have faster recovery times.
"If you cut your hair short and can't wear make-up, then facelifts can be a little difficult to hide, and few people can take six weeks off work," says Grobbelaar.
Going to extremes
There are some men who go to even more extreme measures to maintain their surgery secrets. Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc's clinic in Jamaica's Montego Bay draws men from South America, Europe, and the U.S. who inevitably end up telling friends and contacts back home that their "discreetly" improved looks are the result of a relaxing vacation. "People go there to disappear," explains Lorenc.
Of course, not everyone can just conveniently drop off the side of the Earth for a few weeks. Case in point: a 63-year-old French necklift patient.
This retail director checked himself into his doctor's clinic on a Friday afternoon, drove himself home the next morning, and by Monday was on the golf course for a pre-scheduled meeting.
The fast turnaround time meant that a few of his friends would figure out that he had had something done, but the Cannes-based businessman didn't mind the limited exposure. "Their wives now are all saying they want it too," he laughs. And what about their husbands? "They're too scared."
From the surgeon's point of view, dealing with male patients can be tricky, since men tend to be more concerned about coming out looking drastically changed. "The interactions with men and women are definitely different," says New York surgeon Dr Thomas Loeb. "Most men want reassurance that they are going to look natural and restore the way they once looked. Women are probably willing to take a lot more chances."
But that's changing, if Dr. David Colbert's New York practice is any indication of what's to come. Dr. Colbert's many male patients are signing up for everything from acid peels to bloodless facelifts, and recently a 30-year-old male publicist requested a lip augmentation. Still, there were specific instructions not to make him "look like Meg Ryan." Says Dr. Colbert; "Men want to look worked-out, but not worked on."