As an undercover police detective, Joe, 36, was used to becoming other people. His life depended on looking the part convincingly. But when he looked at himself in the mirror, he didn’t always like what he saw. A regular at the gym five days a week, Joe was by no means overweight. But despite his workouts, he still wasn’t well defined. At the gym, he was afraid to take off his shirt, favoring loose sweats instead. A little bit “chunky” is how a fellow workout buddy described him. He just felt fat.
“I worked out hard, but no matter what I did I couldn’t get rid of the love handles,” he says. Joe adds that he had simply reached a fitness plateau. Regardless of what he did or how his workout changed, it didn’t seem to help. But he refused to give up. Instead, he did what women across America have been doing for years: Undeterred by images like that of the 400- pound man on the evening news or the hypervain college student made famous on MTV for his desperate (obsessive) desire for calf implants, Joe decided to turn to a plastic surgeon for a bit of medical intervention. His procedure of choice? Liposuction for those pesky love handles, plus a tummy tuck to reduce the excess skin puddling around his midsection. Together, the two procedures are known as a torsoplasty, and they’ve become an increasingly popular procedure among men looking for a way to sculpt away their flab.
Joe isn’t alone. Cosmetic surgery among males has surged steadily over the last six years, increasing by 8%, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Last year, men received a record 1.1 million cosmetic procedures, ranging from relatively benign Botox injections to all forms of liposuction (which, not surprisingly, remains overall one of the most popular procedures for men). That makes male cosmetic surgery a major portion of a $12.2 billion-dollar-a-year industry.
“Surgery goes hand in hand with the rising trend of improving health and fitness. People are taking better care of themselves and want to look as good as they feel,” says Richard A. D’Amico, M.D., president-elect of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “The old myth about plastic surgery was that it was a lazy-person’s substitute for diet and exercise. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best use of plastic surgery is for it to be part of a healthy lifestyle that is lifelong.”
Although men are still a minority, at about 10% of cosmetic surgery patients, the days when a little nip and tuck was confined to Hollywood or others in the public eye are long gone. Increasingly, plastic surgeons are seeing relatively young, fit, everyday men—guys just like Joe—flood their reception rooms. And for men in their 20s and 30s, body contouring of all forms has never been more sought after.
Take Dan, a 31-year-old banker from Denver. He decided to turn to surgery after a two-year battle with a problem he realized he would never be able to fix: man boobs (excess breast tissue, a condition doctors call gynecomastia). In the end, Dan weighed his options and decided to fork over nearly $7,000 for male-breast-reduction surgery. For him, the decision made sense. No matter how hard he worked or how perfect he made his diet, experts told him surgery was the only way he’d ever end up with a flat chest. For Dan and the thousands of guys out there just like him, doctors say the problem with their bodies isn’t always the result of poor lifestyle or bad diet (although both obviously contribute to breast growth and obesity). Rather, the issue may simply be heredity.