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Instant brawn

More men are turning to cosmetic surgery to give their bodies and self-image a boost. Now, chest implants are rising in popularity.

October 21, 2002|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

Frank (not his real name) is talking from New York City (not his real home) about his chest (not his real muscles).

When Frank was a kid, he felt skinny, that his chest wasn't big enough. Even after four years of swimming for his university, it wasn't big enough. Even after lifting weights for the past 20 years, it still wasn't big enough.

"I got compliments on my arms, legs, back, everything but the chest," said the 5-foot-9, 180-pound investment broker. That changed about nine months ago, however, when the 49-year-old Hollywood resident decided to get pectoral implants. It turns out the pair of palm-sized, solid silicone discs were enough.

"I'm like a peacock strutting his feathers," said Frank, who wanted to remain anonymous because friends don't know he had the procedure. "I feel more positive about myself than ever and I'm not self-conscious anymore about wearing an open shirt. I've got nice cuts. I like the way I look."

As American men confront a barrage of images of pumped-up male perfection, plastic surgeons across the country say that a growing number are willing to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 to put in what God, genetics or exercise left out of their chests. Precise statistics on the number of pectoral implants, or "male chest enhancements," performed in the United States are unavailable because the trend is still young. Many plastic surgeons expect pectoral implants to continue to rise in popularity for a variety of reasons. The procedure's best sales pitch is transmitted across the cultural landscape where chiseled masculine chests are displayed on everything from fitness magazines to underwear ads to Hollywood action heroes.

And the bulking up has not been limited to mere fantasy. Today's professional athletes, especially in major sports such as football and baseball, are bigger, stronger and more muscular than a generation ago. Michelangelo's David has been crushed and replaced by the Rock.

"Give it five years, you're going to see a lot more pec implants," said Roberto Olivardia, a Harvard psychiatrist who co-wrote "The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession," which concluded that a growing number of men feel shamefully ugly because they consider themselves to be too fat or too underdeveloped muscularly. "Men are being targeted by the media and advertising with the kind of images that women have been bombarded with for years. And like women, it's making men dissatisfied with their bodies."

Another possible reason for the growth in pec implants and other cosmetic procedures in men is that baby boomers tend to place a high premium on a youthful, fit-looking appearance and seem to have more trouble adjusting to the aging process than previous generations, say plastic surgeons. Not only do workers feel the need to dress for success, but increasingly their bodies must reflect that credo too. Another factor is that most cosmetic surgery is relatively uncomplicated and can be performed in outpatient clinics.

Last year, nearly 1 million American men elected to have cosmetic surgery, a figure that represents almost 15% of the overall plastic surgery market, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Twenty years ago, today's top five surgical procedures for men -- nose reshaping, liposuction, eyelid surgery, hair transplants and breast reduction -- were virtually unheard of men.

Seeking 'a quick fix'

"Men want to achieve that magazine look [in the chest], and if they can't do it through discipline, they'll try it through other means," said Dr. Josh Korman, a plastic surgeon in Mountain View, Calif., and a clinical faculty member at Stanford University Medical School. "People want a quick fix."

The original demand for pec implants came from bodybuilders in the early 1980s. By that time, the 1977 documentary "Pumping Iron," featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, helped to fuel a nationwide surge in the sport. Despite their exhaustive hours in the gym, some bodybuilders soon discovered genetics were imposing limits on their muscle size.

Today, it's not just bodybuilders who want a larger chest. Models, personal trainers and actors are among the most likely professionals to seek the procedure, say plastic surgeons. But even men whose livelihood doesn't depend on working shirtless -- car mechanics or attorneys, for example -- have gone under the knife to expand their chest size. While the surgery has been performed all over the country, the majority of procedures are done in Southern California and Florida, according to plastic surgeons.

"The general population is interested in implants now. They don't want to look like a bodybuilder," said Dr. Adrien Aiache, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who has designed his own line of pectoral implants. "They want to look more macho."

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