CHEEK TO CHEEK : The...

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seated in the living room of their Tustin home two days before his wife was scheduled to have a face lift, Robert Langford couldn't help raving about how fabulous June is going to look. "It'll be a metamorphosis," enthused Langford, 62. "I'm just a plain-looking fellow, but my wife years ago was a great beauty. She has natural beauty and that's not just a husband doting on his wife. To me, I'd get great pleasure in seeing that definement of cheek bones and everything all restored."

As June Langford tells it, she has been talking about having a face lift for the past five years but always put it off. Until now.

"Let's put it this way," said June, 60, seated across from her husband of 39 years and smiling wryly: "I don't want him to look like my son, do I?"

Joking aside, there is only one reason June Langford decided to finally go through with a face lift and having the fatty tissue removed from her neckline--that "little turkey gobble" as she calls it: Less than two weeks earlier, Robert underwent cosmetic surgery himself.

He not only had his protruding right ear repositioned and his sagging neck skin tightened--to repair the effects of old Rugby injuries--but he also had the bags under his eyes removed and had his eyebrows, which had drooped with age, raised to a more pleasant level.

"To me, he looks 10 years younger," said June, adding that her own anxiety about having a face lift has been lessened considerably by seeing how well Robert sailed through the process.

"It's something I wouldn't believe," Robert said, bounding out of his easy chair and leaning down to show his face to a visitor. "Just take a look at this forehead. The healing process is so remarkable. In two weeks you can't even see the forehead (incisions)."

Welcome to the latest wrinkle in cosmetic surgery, one that gives new meaning to the term togetherness.

The British-born pair are part of a small but growing trend in cosmetic surgery: couples having face lifts together.

"It is very definitely a trend and we have any number of couples that we've done and are going to do," said Dr. George Brennan, a Newport Beach cosmetic surgeon. "They want to go through the same experience simultaneously. It's like a new (form of) bonding."

In Linda and Stuart Smith's case, that meant having face lifts the same day. The couple, in their 40s, recently flew to Newport Beach from their home in Maui for surgery at the Brennan Institute.

"From the very first time we talked about it Stuart always said 'we,' so there was never a time where it was going to be one or the other," said Linda Smith in their hotel room the evening before surgery. (With the exception of the Langfords, the other couples interviewed for this story asked that their real names not be used.)

Dr. Frederic Corbin, a Brea cosmetic surgeon, said men sometimes accompany their wives or girlfriends to his office--and vice versa--and wind up scheduling cosmetic surgery for themselves.

"One sort of breaks the ice and gives the other the opportunity to ask about a cosmetic procedure," he said. "Sometimes there's a fear and they see what the other partner goes through and say, 'Gee, this isn't so bad.' "

Couples having cosmetic surgery within days or weeks of each other is the logical extension of a broader trend that began in the '70s: More men are having cosmetic surgery than ever before.

Brennan, who performed cosmetic surgery on Newport's 56-year-old reigning sex symbol, Mamie Van Doren, said that when he started his practice in the early '70s, about 10% of his patients were men. Today they make up 25% to 30%. (Nationwide, men made up only 12% of the 48,480 face lifts performed in 1988, according to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. But between 1984 and 1988, the number of men undergoing all types of cosmetic surgery rose 69%, from 54,476 to 91,924.)

Although couples often come in for structural surgery such as having their noses reshaped, Brennan said that, based on his experience, most come in for rejuvenation surgery. And among his patients, the average age for men and women having rejuvenation surgery is--listen up aging baby boomers--the mid-40s.

"There are a lot of dynamics working here," Brennan said. "One is the realization that you're getting old. I don't want to get too philosophical about it, but (turning 40) reminds you of the end.

"But another very significant factor is that since the Kennedy years there has been such an influence on society to not only look young, but to look good. The importance of physical appearance is paramount, and a lot of the barriers (against having cosmetic surgery) have broken down because everybody wants to look good."

As for his patients who are couples, Brennan said: "It's simply two people that in the same time frame came to the same realization that they like the way they look. And generally these people are very attractive people. They simply want to stay looking good.

"So now," he added with a grin, "couples are growing old graciously together by having cosmetic surgery."

The realistic goal of any face lift, as Brennan sees it, is not to make the patient necessarily look younger but to look better. For a cosmetic surgeon, he said, there is no better compliment than to have a patient's friends tell the patient afterward that he or she looks rested.

"You want to do the surgery in such a way that you make the person look better, but it's not obvious, not a telltale sign," he said. "You do it in such a way that there are no visible scars and the patients look better and rested and the friend says, 'What did you do? Lose weight? Change your hair?' They know you look great, but they can't put their finger on it. That, to me, is the most successful surgery."

Looking "rested" does not come cheap: A full face lift--the forehead, face, neck and back of the neck--costs in excess of $10,000, and only in rare cases, such as when drooping eyelids obscure vision, is even part of it covered by medical insurance.

"There's no question it's expensive," Brennan said, "but on a relative basis, it is a bargain. I'll guarantee you women spend more on cosmetics and skin products and having their hair done than they ever will on cosmetic surgery because they spend that on a daily and a weekly basis."

Money was not a determining factor for Will Hemingway of Newport Beach getting a face lift a day after his wife, Lucille, last spring. As he says, "I had the wherewithal, so why not?"

Money was also no object 10 years ago when Lucille had her first face lift, but the retired real estate investor gave no thought of having one himself at the time.

"No," he said with a laugh, "I still looked like a million bucks then."

But when 62-year-old Lucille went in for a second face lift this year, 63-year-old Will decided to have one too: "It was needed. There's no denying I had some superfluous skin and 'saggiosis' and all that jazz."

Because of the healing process--initial healing to the point where the patient looks "presentable" takes about a week and the final healing takes about a month--Hemingway said it seemed only logical to have his face lift at the same time as his wife.

"If you're going to disappear for 10 days, you might as well do it simultaneously," he said. "You're not exactly incapacitated, but you're not running down the streets."

Hemingway said it's hard to say how much younger he looks now. "When people do find out how old I am, the vast majority say they're amazed. I'm hit for around 50, 52. Sometimes, if the light's in my favor, high 40s."

And before his face lift?

"Maybe I looked my age. I don't remember," he said. "It's not something you ask: How old do I look? And you're not a good judge of yourself. You've been looking at yourself for years."

For the Smiths from Maui--both real estate agents--having face lifts was important from a business standpoint.

"I think it's important to be competitive in business and people like to do business with someone who looks good," said Stuart Smith, 45, who also had the fat removed from his neck.

"If you feel good," said Linda Smith, 43, who also opted for a nose job, "you don't want your face to look tired because you're trying to project that you feel good."

One Anaheim Hills car salesman in his early 50s, who had a face lift about the same time as his wife, said he knows some couples who have not been pleased with the results of their face lifts "because their surgeries were so bad. Their face was pulled so tight it looks like they had a mask on." But he and his wife are thrilled with their results.

"Our goal was to look fresh instead of tired and that's exactly what we got," he said. As he sees it: "The most important thing is that you look good for your age. Anybody who doesn't have a face lift is a fool, especially in California. In California you're what you wear, where you work, what you drive and where you live, and one of the most important things in California is how you look." Like the Smiths, the Langfords sell real estate and they see getting face lifts as good for business.

"In our business," Robert Langford said, "where you're meeting the public, I think appearance makes a statement before you open your mouth."

"There's nothing worse," said June Langford, "than somebody saying: 'Hey, you don't look too well, don't you feel too good? You look so tired.' I mean that's awful, isn't it? I mean you weren't really tired until they said it."

With her own face lift two days away, June admitted to being apprehensive, despite the confidence she gained in seeing Robert go through it.

"You have to think, 'What will I look like in two weeks?' " she said. "You think, 'If I go through a little bit of discomfort for a week to look that much better for the rest of my life, and if I procrastinate and don't get it done I'll look the same and wish I had done it.' "

"When it's all finished and I'm done," June added with a smile, "I have a red dress I bought last year. I've never worn it yet, so that will be the day."

Drowsy from a sedative given to her 30 minutes earlier, June Langford was wheeled into the operating room at the Brennan Institute where she was transferred from her hospital bed onto a special contour chair for the outpatient procedure. (With the overwhelming majority of cosmetic surgeries now being conducted in outpatient facilities, both Corbin and Brennan stress the importance of going to a properly staffed and equipped facility.)

An anesthetist began monitoring June's vital signs. He then gave her small, incremental doses of anesthesia.

Brennan then gave June an injection of medicine into her face and neck to prevent bleeding, bruising and post-operative pain.

With a purple surgical marking pen, Brennan began marking the proposed incisions, drawing along the front border of her right ear, under the earlobes, in back of the ears and into the hairline--to minimize scarring.

With a scalpel, Brennan then followed the purple line, making an incision about a quarter-inch deep. He separated the skin from the deeper tissue with specially designed scissors.

Now able to look under the skin, he began tightening the muscle layers by shortening the length of the muscles with stitches.

That done, Brennan began the "liposculpturing" procedure on the right side of June's neck: Through the incision he inserted an instrument to sculpture the neckline by suctioning out the fatty tissue.

After repeating the procedures on the left side of June's face, Brennan began redistributing the excess skin: pulling the skin toward the ear and overlapping the incision. He then made skin-splitting incisions similar to darts in tailoring fabric, carefully measured the excess skin and trimmed it with a scalpel.

The final step was to close the incisions to ensure good healing and minimize scar tissue.

Brennan then put on a dressing, which resembles a nun's habit, that left June's eyes, nose and mouth exposed.

An hour after beginning, Brennan was done.

June had the option of going home 1 1/2 hours later but chose to spend the night at the facility. The dressing was removed the next morning and June, her face a little puffy but in no pain, was told she could resume non-strenuous activities, including showering, shampooing and putting on makeup.

"It's turned out just beautifully," raved Robert Langford three days later. "I look at her and I can't believe it. It's a transformation. He's pulled the face so that all lines have gone out of her face. She says, 'How do I look?' I say, 'I'm not lying, you look about 35.' "

For June, the excitement is looking into the mirror and no longer seeing that "matronly" profile.

"It gives you a new lease on life," she said. "You feel like a new person, as if you're reborn."

"I think if I hadn't gone first, she never would have gone," Robert said.

"He's the one who gave me all my confidence," June said. "I'm glad I had it done, and any woman my age should treat herself to a face lift. Why look old when you can look younger and make the best of your last years? It makes you feel better, and gives you more vitality, more confidence."

"And," she said, "your husband looks at you with pride. It's like you're recapturing your youth."

The capper came the next day, when Robert took June to lunch at an expensive restaurant to celebrate and the waiter referred to June as "Miss."

"He said, 'Miss, would you like some more butter? . . . Miss, would you like some water?' " June said, laughing. "It's a long time since they've called me that. Before I'd go into a restaurant and the waiter would say, 'Maam, would you like. . .'

"So there you are: For one week's inconvenience--and no pain--you can turn the clock back 20 years--why not?--and have some boy call you Miss in four days."

June Langford doesn't joke about her husband looking young enough to be her son anymore.

"We're bookends now," she said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°