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Growing Ranks of Men Look to Cosmetic Surgery : Competition: Some executives feel the need to look younger in a tough job market and benefit from a mental boost.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 44-year-old computer executive felt just fine, but friends and coworkers kept telling him he looked tired.

“Even my kids were saying, ‘Dad, you really look old,’ ” he said. In fact, the dark bags under his eyes were deepening, making his lower eyelids so droopy that his contact lenses would sometimes pop out.

He began to think about plastic surgery, but didn’t want to appear vain. Then one day, during last winter’s recession, a corporate recruiter friend told him he looked so tired that perhaps he should consider a job change. Within a week he was sitting in a plastic surgeon’s office.

Cosmetic surgery, once performed almost exclusively on women, is gaining increasing acceptance among men. Many have plastic surgery for the same reasons as women: to correct jarring features or reverse the aging process. But a large number of men feel the need to look younger or more vigorous to compete in a tougher job market, surgeons and patients said.

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Last year, males accounted for 13% of all elective cosmetic surgeries in the United States, according to a survey by the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons in Chicago.

Nose reshaping was the most common procedure for men, followed by eyelid surgery and liposuction to remove unwanted fat from the belly or flanks. However, men also had 9% of all face lifts in 1990, a quarter of all cheek and chin augmentations, 7% of tummy tucks and 5% of surgeries to fix flabby arms, the survey found.

Dr. Bruce M. Achauer, an Orange plastic surgeon best known for his reconstructive surgery on David Rothenberg, who was severely burned after being set afire by his father, said his male clientele has been gradually increasing over the past few years. But Achauer noticed an uptick with the start of the recession last year, which hit the mid-level executive ranks hard.

“What you have is guys who are left on the job market in their 40s and 50s, and they feel less confident going to interview for a new job when their face is sagging,” Achauer said. “They may not have (had to job hunt) for 20 years.”

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Those who think plastic surgery will lift their sagging careers are clearly candidates for disappointment. Surgeons said they try to head off such problems in advance by making sure a patient’s expectations are realistic.

When job security is an issue, “it doesn’t mean they’re not a candidate for the surgery, but they may need more pre-surgery counseling and post-operative care from the plastic surgeon than other patients,” said Dr. Ronald Iverson, a Pleasanton, Calif., surgeon.

But in most cases, Achauer said, “it’s pretty clear when you talk to someone that they just want to look better when they go for an interview. In this job climate, that’s not surprising. . . .

“They don’t tend to blame me if they don’t get the job,” he added.

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Though there is no guarantee that better looks will bring career success, doctors and patients say that cosmetic surgery does give some people an important psychological boost. Any improvement in morale and self-esteem can help people perform better or feel better on the job, they said.

Iverson said he recently operated on a 40-year-old man who supervised a group of much younger people at a computer company.

“He felt that doing something for his face would enhance his rapport with those people and make his job more secure,” Iverson said. “That’s not all that unusual these days.”

The man had eyelid surgery and a nose reshaping, and later told Iverson he felt much better about himself.

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“When I asked him how he felt, he seemed to have a lot more self confidence in his job,” Iverson said.

Mark Alch, an Irvine employment consultant, isn’t convinced that plastic surgery helps people land or keep jobs. But he has seen several laid-off male executives who have opted for plastic surgery in the past year.

One man, a pharmaceutical sales manager in his mid-40s, told Alch he planned to have the fatty deposits under his eyes excised before he began job hunting.

“He wore glasses and you couldn’t tell he had that kind of condition,” said Alch, managing director at Drake Beam Morin Inc., a New York-based outplacement consulting firm. “After the surgery he looked a bit different, but it wasn’t something of a magnitude that I thought it would make a difference in the job market. . . . He was a nice-looking guy before.”

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The man felt that he would be competing against younger people in a shrinking market for executives. Alch advised him that competitors at the man’s skill level were unlikely to be much younger than he. Nevertheless, the man’s morale and self-confidence clearly improved after surgery, Alch said, and he landed another job within about five months.

“From a psychological point of view, he thought there was a handicap, and he overcame the handicap,” Alch said.

Other career consultants, however, said they were not aware of any increase in plastic surgery among job-seekers. However, they said it is not uncommon for job-hunters to dye their gray hair or begin diet and exercise programs.

While there are no academic studies correlating appearance with job success, political scientists have examined the role of looks in selecting presidential candidates.

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UC Irvine political scientist Shawn Rosenberg, for example, asked about 1,500 people to evaluate a person’s honesty and competence based on looking at photographs. In general, the older the person pictured, the more likely they were to be perceived as honest and competent, said Rosenberg, who has been doing research on the subject since 1985.

While age was clearly an influence, Rosenberg found no relationship between a person’s physical attractiveness and the degree to which they were perceived as honest or competent--except with men or women who were considered exceptionally beautiful or exceptionally ugly.

“In both cases, they were seen as less competent and less honest,” Rosenberg said. “They were trivialized.

“Appearance might prove to be surprisingly influential” in hiring and promotion decisions, Rosenberg concluded. “Now, whether these men and/or their surgeons are making appropriate decisions about their surgery is another question.”

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Dr. Alan Gold, a prominent New York plastic surgeon, said he sees one male for every five or six females in his practice--a ratio that hasn’t changed over the past five years. Gold questions how many men who seek plastic surgery are truly motivated by career concerns.

They may tell themselves--and their doctors--that they need to look younger to compete on the job market, Gold said, when in fact they are embarrassed to admit that they simply want to look better.

“It’s a more socially acceptable excuse,” Gold said. “They come in for the same reasons that women come in.”

Nonetheless, Gold said, the stigma of plastic surgery has clearly diminished for both men and women as “people realize it’s not just for the wealthy or the Hollywood set.”

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Some male patients are quite frank about their motives, telling their doctors they want to look younger, look better or keep up with a younger girlfriend or wife.

“One not insignificant reason that men now get aesthetic surgery is they are now paired with a younger woman, and they don’t want to be mistaken for her father,” Achauer said.

Tonci Martinic, 43, who owns a machine shop in Cypress, said he was so pleased by the results of his wife’s plastic surgery that he decided to try it himself.

He said he paid more than $2,000 for liposuction to remove his abdominal fat and “love handles” 16 months ago and another $2,000 for an eyelid lift seven weeks ago.

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“The results are excellent. I was surprised,” Martinic said. “Especially the love handles. I did gain weight again and it didn’t show up as much.”

He has also had two operations to shrink the bald spot on his head, and plans to get a hair transplant soon.

“Now I’m healthy and I have money to pay for it,” he said. “In 10 years, I don’t know if I’ll be healthy or have the money to pay for it.”

Martinic doesn’t tell people he’s had the surgery--though he says his hairdresser noticed immediately--but he isn’t ashamed of it, either.

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“It’s a personal thing. I don’t care what other people say. I’ve got to make myself happy before I make other people happy.”

Although a man who has plastic surgery may no longer be branded ipso facto as hopelessly vain, men still tend to be far more closed-mouthed about the procedure than women, surgeons said.

Iverson said his male patients generate fewer referrals and more discreet ones. “His boss will say, ‘You should go see Dr. Iverson,’ but usually the man will not know that the boss has had his eyelids done,” the surgeon said.

Robert Walters, a 62-year-old aerospace engineer from Anaheim, said he still had black eyes when he returned to work four days after surgery on his upper and lower eyelids. Some people noticed, but to casual acquaintances he passed it off, saying, “You should have seen the other guy.”

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He did tell co-workers he was close to, however, and found them accepting.

For Walters, who was widowed two years ago, the surgery was part of an effort to bounce back that included losing 20 pounds. Career issues didn’t influence his decision, he said, “but I’m sure it didn’t hurt my professional standing.”

Walters said he sees age discrimination in employment. “Most senior managers want younger people in there, mainly because they are cheaper,” he said.

The computer executive who had his drooping eyelids fixed agreed. All things being equal, he said, a 30ish man will land a sales job over a 40ish one. But when he interviews job applicants, he said, he looks not at their ages but into their eyes.

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“Some guys who are 35, 36 years old, you look in their eyes and they are exhausted,” he said. “I didn’t want my eyes to give me away.”

In the plastic surgeon’s waiting room, he saw several children with severe deformities, as well as several well-dressed men in their mid-40s.

“I remember looking at the kids and saying, ‘This is pretty damn vain considering what their plight in life is,’ ” he said.

But when he struck up a conversation with the other men, the talk turned to the difficult job market. “They were saying the recession’s tough, work’s tough,” he said. “I definitely got the sense that that was what was on their mind.”

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The surgery, he said, was less painful than dental work. As the incision was made from the inside, there were no external scars. He hasn’t told anyone except his immediate family, and no one seems to have noticed.

“I basically look the same,” he said. “I don’t have anybody come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you look really tired. What’s wrong?’ ”

Plastic Surgery For Men

Cosmetic surgery, no longer just for movie stars and the insufferably vain, is attracting a growing male clientele. Males had 13% of all cosmetic surgeries performed in 1990, according to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. While most men are sticking with well-established procedures such as rhinoplasty (nose sugery) and blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) predominate, a few are venturing into the plastic frontier. Among the 643,000 cosmetic procedures performed on men last year, 263 were calf implants and 139 were pectoral implants to beef up scrawny chests.

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Most Common Cosmetic Surgeries for Men, 1990 1. nose rehaping 2. eyelid surgery 3. liposuction

Average Male % Surgeon’s Operation of total Fee (1) Nose reshaping 28% $2,590 Chin implant 25% 1,060 Cheek augmentation 24% 1,760 Dermabrasion 22% 1,260 Eyelid surgery 16% Lowers only 1,400 1,400 Upper and lower 2,450 Fibrel injections (2) 12% 240 Liposuction 10% 1,480 Fat injections 9% 600 Face lift 9% 3,880 Forehead lift 8% 1,980 Gynecomastia (3) 100% 1,970 Hair Replacement (4) 100% 2,700

Notes: (1) Hospital and anesthesia charges may be added. (2) Reduces facial lines. Fee is per cubic centimeter injected (3) Reduces excessive breast development in men. (4) Includes grafts, scalp reduction and other methods. Prices vary. Source: American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons


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