The Fall of Men: Plastic Surgery for Guys Increases

This wasn't the way gender equality was supposed to work

I confess I had to look at the headline twice. “Taj Mahal to give away $25,000 in plastic surgery,” the story on Page A13 of the Press of Atlantic City blared from the top of the page, just above a story about the severance package of the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I worked in Atlantic City for two years in the earlier years of the casino age, so its general wackiness—and the tackiness of the casino culture—is hardly foreign to me. But pulling a slot lever and winning a facelift? Really?

To be accurate, you can’t throw boxcars and then hop a gurney to your closest plastic surgeon. To win the particular extreme makeover in question, you have to be a Trump loyalty card holder and formally enter a sweepstakes, whose winner will be announced at the end of the month. “We wanted to change the face of a typical casino promotion, and with this one we are literally doing it,” Trump veep Kathleen McSweeney, whom I am sure herself has a very lovely face, declared sunnily in a release quoted by the paper.

It all got me thinking about plastic surgery and how commonplace it’s become in our culture, something I suspect is largely the fault of the E! Television Network. I was out in Los Angeles last year and went to a cocktail party where someone told an outrageously funny joke, and I was amazed that no one else seemed to be laughing. Until I realized they were, in fact, laughing, but that their faces had been so frozen by surgery and injections that their facial muscles couldn’t move. It was like being at a celebrity roast on a dais of department-store mannequins.

I think I’m more attuned to this these days because the last frontier of plastic surgery—men—has been so aggressively breached. If you watch Dancing With the Stars (and let’s face it—you do), you’ve no doubt seen the audience sweeps catching a glimpse of former Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, who is now tangled up in that awful and seemingly inescapable Kardashian family. The first time I saw him I thought he has been in a terrible fire. His face has been stretched and smoothed like a painter’s canvas, giving him the look of a particularly well-rested Frankenstein monster. This should come as little surprise, perhaps, country crooner Kenny Rogers already having proved that men can overdose on the nips and tucks just as badly as Joan Rivers and Cher. And there are stats to back this up as well: A study released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in March showed a 14 percent increase in facelifts for men year-to-year from 2009 to 2010; of the 252,261 nosejobs performed in this country in 2010, a quarter were done on men. Overall, men underwent more than 1.1 million cosmetic procedures last year.

Is the fact that we have now succeeded in making men just as paranoid as women about their physical and cosmetic appearance truly progress in equality for the sexes? Somehow I suspect the intent should have been in the other direction. No one wants to look terrible, and we all are rightfully flattered when someone guesses our age and lands at a number a few years south of the truth. But normalizing “Does my butt look fat in these jeans?” to a national obsession with gender parity hardly seems sensible. It seems rather tragic. Call me old-fashioned, but when I walk into a casino, I’d like the prospect of winning some cold, hard cash, not rhinoplasty.

Full disclosure here: I’ve had plastic surgery. It was about a decade ago, when I found myself working at a glamorous fashion magazine (think The Devil Wears Michael Kors) and suddenly supervising an entire department of twentysomething women all thin, pretty, and sporting immaculate hair professionally blown-out once a week. Reverting to high-school norms much more quickly than I care to admit, I went in for some strategic nipping and tucking, temporarily thrilled to be (here’s Cher again) turning back time.

Only it didn’t work. Yes, I looked better for a brief period (I mercifully didn’t go Jenner with all of this nonsense), but at the end of the day undergoing the knife did nothing for my self-esteem, my insecurities, or the fact that time was still going to relentlessly march across my face, body and hairline. There is something refreshing, empowering, about owning your aging, a lesson I learned only after I had spent too much money trying to convince myself otherwise. Which is perhaps why in the end I came home to Philly, away from New York and Los Angeles and all of the public shelves of human Barbies and a growing number of Kens. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that we in Philly are mercifully behind the pack in following this trend, our city still teeming with folks sporting all sorts of misshapen parts.

I don’t gamble in Atlantic City very often. But the next time I do, I’m skipping the plastic surgery sweepstakes and sticking to the slots.