I had three couples in today, says Daniel Baker, M.D., possibly the most in-demand plastic surgeon in Manhattan. (If you call today, plan on waiting twelve months before nestling into one of the blood red-leather chesterfield sofas in Bakers elegant East Sixty-sixth Street office.) Asked to characterize the kinds of couples who seek out his famous scalpel, Baker says the tie that binds is a were-in-this-together attitude. These people tend to be very close and very supportive of each other. Which is great, because when youre doing elective surgery, its important to have a partner whos going to back you up. Its also important to have a partner who wont flee the consultation roompossibly the relationshipwhen he or she hears the elegant man or woman behind the beautiful mahogany desk reel off the Homeric list of your physical imperfections in words and terms appropriated from the animal kingdom: Crows-fleet. Turkey neck. Bat wings.
One couple Baker has worked on extensively over the years is 55-year-old Susan and 60-year-old Ed, two Upper East-siders who just celebrated their twenty-sixth anniversary. Although Susan is an enthusiastic veteran of cosmetic surgery-having had her first facelift at age 43 and rhinoplasty many years before thatEd belonged to the old school. Meaning he steered clear of the OR, even though the ever-growing folds of loose skin between his chin and neck were a source of increasing self-consciousness. But the combination of his neck and the realization that Susan was looking better and better while he was looking older and older finally proved too much, and last year Ed finally bit the bullet, as he says, putting not only his neck but his weak chin and drooping eyelids in Baker's hands. In keeping with my wifes belief that if youre going to do it, dont do it in dribs and drabs, I took care of everything that was bothering me at one time.
As if to confirm that a man's attitude about cosmetic surgery is related to whether he grew up in the Age of Eisenhower or in the Age of Aquarius, Ed adds, somewhat philosophically, It's odd. I'm completely happy with what I did, completely satisfied with the results, and yet I have a kind of sense of shame for having done it. Even though I realize that, one, that's not rational, and, two, its in direct conflict with my basic approach to lifewhich is do whatever you can to improve yourself mentally and physically.
Frederic Brandt, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist who practices in both Miami and Manhattan, faces no such moral dilemma. Some people say, Men get better-looking as they get older. I say, Nonsense! There's only one Cary Grant, offers the perpetually Prada-clad doctor. And many of his male patients agree. I have couples who come in together for Botox or collagen, and there wont be a line on his face he doesnt want eradicated, reports Brandt. Whereas she will have maybe two or three lines she wants done. But he'll nudge her to do more, saying things like, Honey, since were here, why dont you have him take care of that one? And that one? And these guys arent what you might think. Theyre Mr. Average American Husband.
Brandt adds that he is also seeing a competitive spirit emerging among many of his her-and-his patients: A lot of times a couple will be in a treatment room together, and each will watch me work on the other very closely. Then, when Im done, the one who was watching will say, Why didnt you do that for me? I also have one couple in their early 40s, and every time they come in they start bickering about whether Im paying more attention to one than the other. Once, one of them actually said, If youre going to talk while hes working on me, you have to go in the other room.
Rhoda Narins, M.D., says she can gauge the distance couples have traveled over the 30 years shes been in practice by looking in her waiting room, I used to see a lot of older men bringing in these magnificent younger women, saying, Id like you to do this, this, and this to her. And the women would just sit there, silent. I dont see that much anymore. Now I see married couples, and its not one person dragging in the other. These people like each other the way they are, but they also respect each others wish to look better. Theres a definite sense of camaraderie.
According to Narins, conjugal camaraderie and male vanity arent the only factors motivating husbands to join their wives in her office. Ever since the days of Ronald Reaganwho absolutely did look younger with his hair dyedthings have changed dramatically, she says. Because in the early nineties,when the job market got tight and companies started letting people go in droves, youth became a commodity. so guess what? Suddenly, it didnt seem like such a big step for a man to go from coloring his hair to whitening his teeth to liposuction to the next thing.
The recession-initiated pressure on men to look youthful was made even more intense because it coincided with popular cultures new found fascination with men as pinup-style sex objects. In Calvin Kleins crotch-grabbing Marky Mark campaigns, in Madonnas hunk-littered music videos, in movies and magazines and diet Coke commercials (remember Lucky?), the message was clear. Not only were men fair game for unprecedented physical scrutiny,but from Matthew McConaugheys pecs and Antonio Sabato, Jr.s, abs to Tyson Beckfords biceps and Brad Pitts glutes, their body parts were the talk of the town.
If Narins takes some small delight in a trend that resulted in the word buns figuring prominently in the national vocabulary, she has her reasons. Traditionally, if you ask a man if hed rather be successful or handsome, he doesnt even have to think about it. Whereas if you ask a women if shed rather be smart or beautiful, she absolutely does. I mean, maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg wouldnt say, Id rather be Cindy Crawford, but Ill tell you this: Shed think about it. Because it has always been an accepted fact of life that women need to look better than men do. I mean, have you ever met a man who said, Id rather be handsome than successful? Though that hasnt totally changed, what has is, today, everyone needs to look better.
And everyone seems to know it. Perhaps because even today,with the recession but a memorywith the waiting list for one of Fendi's $7,150 mink baguettes hovering at three monthsthe obsession with youth is as intense as the obsession with Ricky Martin. FINISHED AT 40, blared the cover of the February 1 issue of Fortune, which reported that once youre 55, its almost impossible to find a job in business. But a new trend is emerging: In corporate America, 40 is starting to look and feel old.
While her-and-his Ph.D.s may seem unlikely candidates for her-and-his cosmetic procedures, 49-years-old Ira and Zoe dispel the myth that academics are somehow immune to both vanity and professional anxiety. They are also one of those rare couples where he went first.
I was getting fat, says Ira, And I am not a fat person. But at a certain point my waistline just started.