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CHEEK TO CHEEK : The latest wrinkle in cosmetic surgery gives new meaning to the term togetherness. As face lifts have become more popular with men, the surgery is now a form of bonding between couples. Despite costs topping $10,000, husbands and wives are having face lifts within days of each other.

December 07, 1989|DENNIS MCLELLAN | 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.

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