July-August 2012 | Features in Bethesda Health


When it comes to cosmetic procedures, more and more men are crossing the lines

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During economic downturns, men who’ve suddenly lost their jobs might not be able to afford cosmetic surgery, but they’ll still opt for less expensive, nonsurgical options such as Botox to improve their chances of getting hired, Baker says.

Plus those nonsurgical procedures require less downtime than surgery, says North Bethesda plastic surgeon Joseph Michaels. “A face-lift is several weeks of swelling,” he says.

Then there’s what Chevy Chase plastic surgeon Navin Singh calls “the C-SPAN effect” (or if you prefer, “the CNN effect”), perhaps more common in the Washington area than elsewhere in the country. Singh, who estimates that nearly a third of his patients are men, says the pundits will come in for Botox, saying, “I was on TV, but everybody said I looked angry.”

And sometimes men just want to have fun. One of his oldest male patients, Olding says, was a recently widowed 80-year-old who wasn’t interested in dating women his own age. “He is very youthful and very youthful-minded,” Olding says. “He functions like a much younger person.” But when he looked in the mirror, the man told Olding, he’d think “nobody’s going to want to go out with me the way I look.” After talking with Olding, the man opted for injections of his own fat to fill out lines in his face.

Even married men feel pressure to look more youthful in their partners’ eyes. “With some of my patients, their wives are pushing them to do it,” Michaels says. Husbands of women who’ve had work done don’t want to “feel like the old guy next to the young lady,” Singh adds.

Of course, women compete for jobs and romantic partners, as well. But Olding says they’re more likely to undergo cosmetic procedures to feel better about themselves, not to make prospective employers or partners feel better about them.

Perhaps that’s why men tend to wait longer than women before deciding they’d like to look younger, plastic surgeons say. Men feel better about their aging faces longer than women do, not surprising in a society in which it’s more acceptable for actors to flaunt their etched faces and graying hair—we’re talking about you, George Clooney—than it is for actresses to do so.

“Men look distinguished,” Georgetown’s Baker says. “Women look old.”

When women have work done, they appear to be far more likely than men to flaunt it. Forty-four-year-old Courtney Thorne-Smith, the former Melrose Place cast member who now has a recurring role on CBS’ Two and a Half Men, heaps praise upon Botox on its home page, telling the world that she has been getting treated for 10 years. You probably won’t find any male actors crowing about it, though.

“I get the sense with women it’s almost conversation: ‘Let’s go for coffee, let’s go for Botox,’ ” Baker says. “It’s kind of like you [the plastic surgeon] are the hairdresser.”

Visit any full-service nail salon in Bethesda and you’re likely to see at least one guy getting a mani-pedi. And while he might not look you in the eye, he won’t be wearing a paper bag over his head to disguise his identity. “It’s definitely sort of on the down-low,” Michaels says. But forget about asking that guy whether he has ever had work done by a plastic surgeon. Most of the doctors interviewed for this story said none of their male patients from Montgomery County would talk about their cosmetic procedures, even with the promise that their names wouldn’t be used.

“Frankly, I’ve never shared it with my colleagues,” Don says of his Botox treatments. None of them has shared it with him, either, but he says he wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the men he knows have gone under the Botox needle. As for his wife, who’s the same age, she’s “blessed with a youthful face” and untouched by any cosmetic procedure, Don says.

Olding says he occasionally is asked to consult about cosmetic procedures with members of Congress in their of­­fic­­es. “They are very, very concerned about anyone knowing.”

Though women might be more open about having undergone a cosmetic procedure, no one really wants others to be able to recognize that they’ve had work done, Baker says. “Even with a well-done face-lift, people should look at you a few weeks later and say, ‘Oh, you look like you’ve been on vacation,’ not, ‘Who did your face-lift?’ ”

Chevy Chase plastic surgeon Harris, who calls himself “primarily a face guy,” says “my approach is taking little small steps.”

Take Patient 9 in the eyelid-lift gallery on Harris’ website (www.harrisface.com). He came to Harris complaining of looking tired because of his puffy lower eyelids.

“He had Botox,” Harris says. “I removed a little bit of skin from his lower eyelids,” a procedure called blepharoplasty, also known as an eyelid lift.

A month later, after the man’s eyes had healed, Harris extracted fat from the man’s belly and used it to add a little plumpness to his cheeks. The man still looks like himself, only more rested.

As far as Don can tell, only his wife knows for sure that he has had Botox.

Yet the change in his face after his first treatment a decade ago “was really quite dramatic,” he says. “The wrinkles relaxed, the deep crevices went away. I had a totally different appearance to my face. It better reflected the fact that I was not upset, and I was not angry.”

Don, who worked in upper management at the National Institutes of Health until he retired three years ago, says co-workers stopped asking whether he was mad or upset. But other than that, they didn’t seem to notice that “dramatic” change in his face, he says.

Or “if they did, they never said anything.”

Rita Rubin is a former USA Today reporter who lives in Bethesda.