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VOGUE
COUPLES SURGERY

..."She looks fantastic! Fifteen years younger."
“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 Baker’s 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 we’re-in-this-together attitude. “These people tend to be very close and very supportive of each other. Which is great, because when you’re doing elective surgery, it’s important to have a partner who’s going to back you up.” It’s also important to have a partner who won’t flee the consultation room—possibly the relationship—when 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: “Crow’s-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 that—Ed 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 wife’s belief that if you’re going to do it, don’t 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, it’s in direct conflict with my basic approach to life—which 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 won’t be a line on his face he doesn’t 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 we’re here, why don’t you have him take care of that one? And that one?’ And these guys aren’t what you might think. They’re 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 I’m done, the one who was watching will say, ‘Why didn’t 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 I’m paying more attention to one than the other. Once, one of them actually said, ‘If you’re going to talk while he’s 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 she’s 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, ‘I’d like you to do this, this, and this to her.’ And the women would just sit there, silent. I don’t see that much anymore. Now I see married couples, and it’s not one person dragging in the other. These people like each other the way they are, but they also respect each other’s wish to look better. There’s a definite sense of camaraderie.”

According to Narins, conjugal camaraderie and male vanity aren’t the only factors motivating husbands to join their wives in her office.” Ever since the days of Ronald Reagan—who absolutely did look younger with his hair dyed—things 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 didn’t 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 culture’s new found fascination with men as pinup-style sex objects. In Calvin Klein’s crotch-grabbing Marky Mark campaigns, in Madonna’s 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 McConaughey’s pecs and Antonio Sabato, Jr.’s, abs to Tyson Beckford’s biceps and Brad Pitt’s 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 he’d rather be successful or handsome, he doesn’t even have to think about it. Whereas if you ask a women if she’d rather be smart or beautiful, she absolutely does. I mean, maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg wouldn’t say, ‘I’d rather be Cindy Crawford,’ but I’ll tell you this: She’d 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, ‘I’d rather be handsome than successful’? Though that hasn’t 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 memory—with the waiting list for one of Fendi's $7,150 mink baguettes hovering at three months—the 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 you’re 55, it’s 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”.

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