There is an old phrase that says “you only have wrinkles where smiles have been”. Mine, however, are showing up in some of the strangest corners of my 54-year-old face.
Appealing to a surgical solution hadn’t been on my radar until recently, after a surprising increase in the number of men seeking “a touch-up” last year.
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons says a third of its members saw an increase in inquiries from men last year.
Could it be because we’ve all spent the last year forever watching our reflection on work video calling screens?
“We know that more and more people have been on social media and on conference calls because they have been trapped at home,” says Dr. Helena Lewis-Smith, a psychology researcher specializing in body image at the University of the West of England.
“There is a tool in Zoom, for example, that allows people to smooth the appearance of their skin. People who are more likely to press that button during these calls are more likely to focus on their appearance and have a worse body image.” .
The growing trend of male cosmetic surgery is most pronounced in the United States, where demand has tripled in the last two decades.
“Our society places great importance on youth“says Dr. Alan Matarasso, former president of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons.
“Men are as concerned as anyone else about their appearance.”
“And there has been a change in the culture of male grooming: it has become socially acceptable to men, whereas before it may not have been.”
The changing patterns of modern work also provide stricter business logic.
“We are no longer in a world where someone lives in the same house or works at the same job all their life,” says Matarasso.
“And whether you subscribe to this or not, many of us we judge people based on our first impressions of them“.
I hadn’t been pressing any buttons to alter my image on video calls, but was curious to see what all the fuss was about.
I had already discussed my plan with friends and family, whose responses ranged from smiles and alarm to fascination and, in one case, poorly concealed envy.
Plastic surgery begins to feel like the front of an undeclared culture war, with prejudice and shame generously dispensed from both sides.
For those who take the plunge, probably the most popular intervention (for men and women) is Botox.
Also known as botulinum toxin, it is the commercial name of a protein that in much larger volumes is active in the disease called botulism.
But don’t let that necessarily put you off. Applied minimally to the face, it is considered to help smooth wrinkles, such as crow’s feet and fine lines, paralyzing muscles for a period months.
“We have older, successful businessmen and the owner of a racing car company,” says Dr Salinda Johnson, describing some of the clients who visit the London Cosmetic Clinic.
“Older men are more concerned with aging. And we also have younger workers from the City of London who want to look more handsome and attractive.”
After a brief consultation, they invite me to lie down on their sofa, receive a generous layer of antiseptic on my forehead, and then a series of punctures.
It is a very fine needle. The injections were not uncomfortable for me, although they did warn me of possible short-term headaches and to avoid vigorous exercise in the hours after the procedure.
But I am still debating with myself whether my lines and folds are not simply an indication of experience or character.
“There is a limit to how much character we want to have!” argues Matarasso, who says that, for many of his male patients, the experience can be transformative.
But he cautions that he is not in the business of providing eternal youth. “We are here to make people look as good as they feel. We really can’t turn back the clock on a 65-year-old and make them look like they are 25.”
Social media and media are flooded with stories warning of plastic surgeries gone wrong.
There is no shortage of highly reputable physicians offering cosmetic treatments, but there is also an army of untrained physicians, particularly in less regulated countries, drawn by the huge profits made in this industry.
While the risks associated with a Botox injection are low, anyone planning treatment is urged to thoroughly verify the qualifications of those who provide it, as well as aftercare options.
“Television shows and social media are normalizing what can be very risky procedures,” warns Dr. Lewis-Smith.
“People experience some degree of greater happiness and bodily satisfaction (after cosmetic surgery) in the short term, but we don’t know how will they feel in five or ten years“.
The expert is concerned about the tendency for men and women to try so hard to perfect themselves, especially when trends around appearance and body shape tend to change.
“Now it’s all about the Kardashians, 10 years ago it was Kate Moss,” he says. “Think about the different body types of those people. Women may now want to have butt implants, breast implants, lip fillers, but what happens after a few years when they sell us a different ideal?”
Two weeks after my Botox injections, I don’t see any major change in my own appearance, although I have general numbness on my forehead.
I have been told that freezing the muscles will help inhibit the creation of future wrinkles.
Botox is actually more preventive than transformative, and will require another round after three or four months If I’m determined to keep the effect
This is said to be the way prominent Hollywood men have clung to their youthful skin for longer than one might imagine. Although some, like George Clooney, say they are not tempted.
It is anticipated that the global cosmetic surgery market is worth $ 67 billion in 2026.
For Lewis-Smith, the concern is where this relentless search for cosmetic enhancements leads us.
“We are trying to adapt what we were born with so that the beauty industry makes money,” he says. “So, to be honest, I’m scared.”
“We are giving them our money because we want to feel better about ourselves and match those ideals with what they show us. They are negotiating and exploiting people’s dissatisfaction“.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.