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New you? New us

Call it another form of bonding. Couples are making a date for cosmetic surgery as men seek to stay in step with their transformed spouses.

April 10, 2006|Laurie Drake | Special to The Times

THE windows of the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon's office face west, which means that an afternoon consultation shines a particularly bright light on any imperfections, real or imagined.

When Cheryl Palmer, a 62-year-old real estate agent, came for a consultation, she sat before a triptych mirror and showed plastic surgeon Toby Mayer what was bothering her: a jaw line that had gone south, sagging upper eyelids, thinning lips and pucker lines. Her husband, Cliff Palmer, 61, a school psychologist, leafed through a big album of befores-and-afters. He was just here for emotional support.

But after Mayer explained what he could do for Cheryl, who had been contemplating surgery for several years, the subject turned to Cliff, a lean, muscular man who was accustomed to jogging five miles a day on the couple's horse ranch in Montana. Mayer took what he calls his "fancy Armani pointer" (a Q-Tip) and traced the deep nose-to-mouth lines on Cliff's face. "We can remove these, which would be a great improvement," Mayer said.

And sooner than you could say "consent form," Cliff had signed on for excision of those lines and, while the doctor was at it, a forehead lift and a hair transplant.

In consultation rooms across the country, husbands who just come along for the ride are finding themselves on the business end of a scalpel.

Many see it as the newest way to bond with their wives, with some likening it to just another activity they do together, such as renovating a house.

Others are trying to keep up with their partners, whose zeal for cosmetic improvement is making the men look old by comparison. Being mistakenly referred to as your wife's father is apparently quite the motivation.

"They're having eye jobs and forehead lifts so they don't get traded in for a new model," said Richard Fleming, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.

And as the cultural taboo against plastic surgery has lifted, a man is more likely to say "yes" when a woman suggests it. After all, wives often do all the advance work -- shopping around and interviewing surgeons -- so it's relatively easy for husbands to sign the papers when all the research is set before them.

"Men are figuring out what women figured out decades ago, which is that like it or not, our appearance really matters. We see it not only in men's pursuit of cosmetic surgery but also in the growing number of health magazines and skin-care lines directed at men," said psychologist David Sarwer, lead editor of the new book "Psychological Aspects of Reconstructive and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery."

For men, such surgical togetherness is part of a larger trend. The number of cosmetic procedures performed on men increased 16% from 2000 to 2005, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (The number of cosmetic procedures performed on women is up 42% since 2000.)

Though the organization doesn't keep statistics on which patients share the same household, its members performed 10.2 million cosmetic procedures in 2005, up 11% from 2004, with men having 1,196,392 of those procedures. Many of those patients were husbands and wives, or boyfriends and girlfriends, said Dr. Darrick Antell, a spokesman for the organization. He cites a 15% increase in couples in the last two years at his New York practice, and other doctors report a similar uptick.

"Perhaps it's due to all the makeover shows on TV, but men are paying a lot more attention to their bodies and realizing that having plastic surgery doesn't mean they're wimps," said Diane Gerber, a Chicago-based plastic surgeon.

Most of the couples surgeries she performs at her practice are instigated by the wife. "The usual pattern is, I'll do face or body work on her, and then subsequently she'll mention something like, 'My husband's eyelids are drooping,' and I'll say, 'Well, bring him in.' Often the man doesn't even know something can be done about the lids, and that it's not that big a recovery."

Among couples in their 30s and 40s, the women frequently seek a "mom's body tuneup" (a post-childbirth breast lift, tummy tuck and lower-body liposuction), said Barry E. DiBernardo, a plastic surgeon in Montclair, N.J.

"And the husbands, who suddenly wonder how they're going to stand next to their wives on the beach, get lipo of the chest, neck, belly and love handles, plus a hair transplant." Couples in their 50s each order "the blue plate special," as Mayer of Beverly Hills calls it (an eyelid-, brow- and face-lift).

Although partners can bring different motivations to the surgical suite, men and women alike feel the need to stay competitive in an increasingly youth-oriented workforce, plastic surgeons say. Some, however, have moved beyond the workplace and are now facing the prospect of a comfortable and active retirement, with lots of travel -- and a desire to look as good as they feel.

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