Cosmetic surgery among men is becoming an unspoken norm. (Photo: Getty Images)
If you think the men you know are looking a little less tired, a little more chiseled and a lot fitter these days, you’re right, and there’s a big reason why. From “Brotox” and injectable fillers to Board Short Tucks and CoolSculpting, men are stepping up their game when it comes to maintaining their appearance. But does the uptick in aesthetic procedures symbolize a new era of access and empowerment when it comes to men, or will it open the floodgates to the same body image concerns that women have been battling forever?
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, over 400,000 men had Botox injections in 2014 (up 337 percent from 2000) and over 90,000 received fillers (which marks an 86 percent increase since 2000). Similarly, RealSelf.com (an online community that connects people considering aesthetic treatments to others undergoing the same procedures, and to board certified doctors) reports a 59 percent jump in male visitors over the last year. According to a recent poll of 400 board-certified plastic surgeons, 73 percent said their number of male patients has increased compared to last year. Dermatologists, who often also specialize in hair restoration/transplants as well as skin treatments, saw that number rise 87 percent.
So why are men suddenly so ready to focus on their appearance—something that was considered vain and unmanly until not long ago? “The definition of masculinity is in flux,” argues James Fell, a fitness columnist who writes frequently about men’s body image. “Guys are finally getting the chance to create their own definitions of masculinity—and if it doesn’t gel with the old school version, these days it’s pretty much like ‘who cares?’”
The fact that celebrities like Simon Cowell are increasingly candid about using Botox is also helping obliterate any remaining stigma and embarrassment around men focusing on their appearance. “At this point, it’s just another thing men do to take care of themselves,” Kyle Stanley, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, CA, whose practice also offers Botox tells Yahoo Beauty. “It’s like going to the gym or getting clothes tailored or having a personal trainer.” And to ensure that patients fell comfortable asking questions without embarrassment, Dr. Stanley is upfront with them about his own usage of injectables. “Men need to see examples of who is actually having these procedures done,” says Dr. Stanley. “I consider myself a walking billboard for my own services.”
Examples are also plentiful online. Last month, Botox launched a new website for men aiming to debunk myths (“Myth: It’s Only For Women” and “Myth: You’ll Look Like You Had Work Done”) and further de-stigmatize the notion of men seeking out aesthetic procedures. Options like the CareCredit health care credit card, which which offers promotional financing options are also cropping up, making it easier for men (and women) to afford procedures that aren’t usually covered by medical insurance. Also changing the landscape: Male-centered clinics, such as W for Men in Washington, DC, which is staffed by male nurses and office administrators. According to Terrence Keaney, MD, founder of W for Men, though the niche of male aesthetic patients has been steadily growing, men have been underserved. “The aesthetic treatment of men and how to treat the aging male face are different processes than treating women. Men’s faces tend to be flatter and wider, and tend to have less subcutaneous fat. So filler need to be used differently in men than women,” Dr. Keaney tells Yahoo Beauty. Furthermore, as men age and skin sags, some of the traits associated with masculinity such as a strong jawline can become obscured. “We can highlight a patient’s masculine features by recreating a strong hairline or reshaping a jawline, which actually makes the patient more manly,” says Dr. Keaney.
Turns out, men’s goals are also different when it comes to aesthetic procedures. Since the economic recession of 2008, Lindsey Marshall, DMD, a cosmetic and general dentist in Ardmore, PA, has noticed more men investing in their appearance via cosmetic dentistry in an effort to remain competitive at work. “They’re afraid of getting replaced by someone younger, and this is a relatively affordable way to try to prevent that.”
Men apparently aren’t seeking eternal youth or perfection either, but rather to be the best version of themselves for their age. “It’s more about looking relaxed, like you’ve just come back from vacation or that work stress isn’t getting to you, or that you haven’t been up all night with crying children,” explains Dr. Stanley. To that end, more men in their 30s are taking preventative measures of reversing sun damage via lasers early on to prevent wrinkles in middle age. And who can blame them? Beauty and youth are precious commodities in our culture, and science has proven that people interact better with those they find attractive. Plus thanks to social media we’re all seeing ourselves more than ever before, which makes it easier than ever to obsess over minor imperfections and signs of aging. Add in that today’s improved surgical techniques often make work undetectable, and the idea of trying out some procedures becomes a no-brainer for many. “Back in the 1990s, many surgeons endeavored to make patients wrinkle-free,” says Brent Moelleken, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara, CA. “Today, it’s about improvement without artifact—and that makes surgery more appealing to people.”
But while some men are just testing the waters when it comes to cosmetic enhancements, others are diving right in. After spending over a year making serious lifestyle changes that including quitting fast food, smoking and drinking plus starting to work out, Russell, 55, of Scottsdale, AZ couldn’t fully lose the beer gut that built up from years of unhealthy living or saggy skin that resulted from losing weight. So since 2013, he’s had a tummy tuck, reduction of his love handles and “man boobs,” and started using injectables like Juvederm and Botox. “I wanted my body to reflect the vitality and energy that I was feeling inside,” Russell says. In fact, Russell’s so thrilled with the positive outcome, he posts Facebook check-ins from his surgeon’s office when he’s there for fillers. “Any embarrassment I felt at the beginning has been totally offset by the results I’ve gotten—and I want other men to know they can do this, too,” Russell says.
Sure, they can do it—but should they? For starters, it’s expensive. It’s also raising the bar on appearance standards for men. “The landscape of pressure on men and boys has changed dramatically over the past 30 years,” explains Roberto Olivardia, PhD., a clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School and the co-author of The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession. “And part of the result is an increase in male eating disorders and body image issues, which we see now in boys as young as ten and eleven.” Simple, accessible cosmetic enhancements can also lead to increased dissatisfaction with other “imperfect” areas of the body. In other words, they can be a gateway to a place that women have long tried to leave. “Men getting cosmetic procedures to get an ideal body means they’re heading toward the same self loathing many women experience for not fitting into a cultural ideal,” says Jennifer Berger, Executive Director of About-Face, a San Francisco-based non-profit that aims to equip women and girls to resist harmful media messages. “I wouldn’t wish on men any of women’s body image problems developed for us by our culture and media throughout the years,” says Berger. “That’s not the kind of equality women have been hoping for.”