I guess you could say I was ahead of my time.
Twenty-five years ago, I had my first cosmetic surgery procedure — liposuction on my chest and love handles — to achieve a slimmer, more masculine appearance. Low self-esteem at 18 years old told me that a more contoured physique would generate the favorable regard from my peers that was absent while I was growing up.
In 1993, when the commercial internet was still barely in its infancy, I surmised from images on television and in magazines — and from relentless bullying by schoolmates — that my enlarged breasts and flabby waistline weren’t desirable features on a man’s body.
Sure, I’d been able to somewhat cover the “trouble areas” with oversized shirts and baggy pants throughout high school, but I was preparing to head off for my freshman year of college — an opportunity, I believed, to shed the bulges and walk into a new chapter of my life as someone worthier of positive attention.
“A lot of people grow up not knowing how to love themselves,” says Rachel Shimoni Simons, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Beverly Hills, California, “and there’s a certain amount of shame that comes from the cognitive dissonance between how you see yourself and who you’ve been told you should be.”
It’s true. Doing something proactive, and that yielded near-immediate results, to get the physical characteristics I wanted felt like a relief and a surefire way to feel better about myself, which Shimoni Simons says is essentially a method of self-care.
Because my father is a physician, we had a number of family friends who were plastic surgeons. I was up to date on all of the various procedures and had easy access to the best care at virtually no cost.
So, I took myself on a “wishful shopping spree,” during which I purchased the kinds of pants and shirts I wanted to feel comfortable wearing following any type of surgery. I then staged a fashion show for the doctor, modeling each outfit and pointing out areas that, in my opinion, needed to be altered.
Basically, I was tailoring my body to fit the clothes instead of the other way around. It made some sort of twisted sense as a teenager.
At that time, cosmetic procedures were associated mostly with women, many of whom went about the process slightly differently. They’d show up at a surgeon’s office and describe what they were looking for.
As interest in plastic surgery increased, so did the ways in which patients identified their beauty ideals.
“It got to a point where they would bring in rip-outs from magazines of people who were models and celebrities who had features that they wanted to duplicate,” says Dr. Jeffrey Janis, FACS, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and executive vice chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
I know that point well. Eventually, I’d reached it, too. I was never shy when it came to talking openly about my initial surgery; in fact, I wore it like a badge of glamour.
My contemporaries always sounded impressed — they would whisper about the things they would “fix” if they had the access or the money. It was a status symbol and perceived as something that was available only to people who were cutting-edge and successful.
I looked for additional things I could have done to make myself seem even more interesting and more “Hollywood.”
Sure enough, some famous faces and figures featured in People magazine caught my attention, and I brought the images to my doctor as a guide for what would turn out to be my perfectly straight nose…and then my flatter stomach.
A growing trend
My self-appointed position as a pioneer in plastic surgery for men provided a sense of approval during the many years I was uncomfortable in my own skin. But, time slows for no man — especially one who wants to enhance his appearance — and other men began to catch up with me.
Today, it’s commonplace to see men taking advantage of grooming services — manicures, pedicures, waxing — procedures that were once hush-hush have become the focus of national television shows. Media cues have given men permission to care about their looks.
The latest Plastic Surgery Statistics Report released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows a substantial increase in cosmetic procedures among males.
In 2017 alone, more than 1.3 million cosmetic procedures were performed on men, with the most popular being nose reshaping (rhinoplasty), eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty), liposuction, and breast reduction.
Between 2000 and 2017, the number of men having breast reductions, liposuction, and tummy tucks is up 30 percent, 23 percent, and 12 percent, respectively.
What changed so quickly?
“Number one is the removal of the stigma or the taboo of talking about plastic surgery,” Janis says. “Twenty years ago, plastic surgery was not something you talked about out loud to many people.”
If it was talked about, it was done among family and select confidants; it hadn’t even yet made its way to the water cooler. Since then, though, the subject has gone through a progression of exposure — from chatter inside the house to gossip at the water cooler and now to open dialogues with complete strangers.
Thanks to a variety of social media outlets, people are discussing it with folks they don’t know at all.
“When you look at some of these social media outlets, people are talking to complete strangers about plastic surgery that they’re thinking about having or already have had,” Janis says.
This openness has not only helped to lift the shame attached to altering one’s appearance for cosmetic reasons, but it has also helped to drive interest among those who might not have considered it before.
And, it’s not just the patients who are posting. Many plastic surgeons themselves publish alluring “before” and “after” photos of their work to drum up business.
“The second part is what I would call the ‘selfie culture,’” Janis continues, pointing to the fact that, nowadays, people are taking more photographs of themselves. They’re seeing their images through a more critical lens, so much so that they’re now bringing filtered pictures of themselves as proposed “after” photos. “Oftentimes, people use front-facing cameras and filters that smooth them out — where lines and wrinkles are removed and, in some cases, features are exaggerated.”
They want to look like the perfect selves they see through their beautifying apps.
“Social media is run on this philosophy of ‘likes’ and attention,” says Shimoni Simons, “and, for the first time, men are being valued solely for their physical appearances.”
They are competing for “likes” and “follows” on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and, in a “swipe right/swipe left” world, looks can make or break the popularity of an account.
“I think, at some point, people want to live their online presence in reality,” says Dr. Jason Roostaeian, an associate clinical professor in the Division of Plastic Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “The social media thing definitely has us taking more pictures of ourselves, and people want their online, positive-feedback profile to actually be real.”
Because of that, even minimally invasive procedures — such as tissue fillers (up 99 percent since 2000) and Botox (nearly quadrupling in popularity since 2000) — are much more common among men these days.
In fact, the now often-used term “Brotox” has put a masculine spin on the idea of wanting to erase the signs of aging, some of which can be attributed to the “executive edge” concept.
“People today are working longer; they’re not retiring at age 65, and they’re looking to extend their careers,” Janis says.
The workplace is a competitive environment and more experienced men want to look as energetic and enthusiastic as they feel.
“At the end of the day, there’s a value to plastic surgery that cannot be quantified,” says Janis. “It can give people a self-confidence that would otherwise be very difficult to achieve.”
In my case, that proved true. Following a few liposuctions, a rhinoplasty, and a host of injectables — Botox, Restylane, and Radiesse, to name a few — I expanded my wardrobe to include tighter fitting clothes that better fit my frame, and I presented as a more self-assured, assertive man. I also became the brave, go-to friend whom other men engaged with when considering plastic surgery.
The downside, though, came when I continued to look for minor imperfections and subsequently wanted them fixed.
“There’s a danger in never being truly content,” Shimoni Simons confirms.
Those who are chasing an unattainable physical ideal often subject themselves to multiple procedures that yield varying degrees of satisfaction.
I eventually embraced the fact that bodies and faces will never be perfect — mine included — and that I no longer wanted to suffer elective pain for superficial positive feedback from other people.
I was happy with the procedures I’d had done, but it was time to generate positive feelings by simply being the genuine man underneath the nips and tucks.
Bestselling author, marketing executive and television producer Josh Sabarra is a frequent on-air contributor to various broadcast and cable news programs. Josh’s writing can also be found in outlets including the Huffington Post, The Advocate, Out and Gay Times (U.K.).