Turkey Jowls, Wrinkles Send Males To Plastic Surgeons -- More Faces And Brows Get A Lift

Steve Sweetin took a break from selling cinnamon rolls and cookies at a livestock show the other day and explained why he spent about $13,000 on his face.

Why the face lift, the brow lift, the chin liposuction, the lip work, laser treatment to erase spidery veins and the implants to smooth what he called "the bulldog things," the creases from his nose to the corners of his mouth?

"You know," he said, "you get tired of looking tired when you're not tired."

Sweetin, 59, of Springfield, Mo., had his first face surgery about a year ago. "I've always felt like if you can do anything to make yourself look better, you should do it," he said.

More and more men agree. Face lifts and other "rejuvenation" surgery to the face - once associated with aging starlets and society matrons - is becoming increasingly popular among men, even guys still in their 40s.

The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons says its members did 5,000 face lifts on men last year, up 80 percent from 1992. Much more common is work on the eyelids, either to remove bags under the eyes or shore up sagging tissue under the eyebrow. The society counted about 11,200 male patients for eyelid procedures last year, up about 25 percent.

Then there's the brow lift. While a face lift works below the cheekbones, removing jowls and sagging neck skin, the brow lift smooths forehead wrinkles and raises drooping eyebrows. The surgical society said members did 1,900 of these on men last year, up 42 percent from 1992.

The trend is not new; some surgeons say they've seen their male practice grow since the 1980s.

Kansas plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Clark figures he is seeing twice as many men for rejuvenating procedures as he did five years ago.

"We're seeing a lot more men having eyelids done now than we used to," said Clark, who practices in Wichita. And "I've done face lifts on these guys - they're like 65 years old, they've been a rancher all their lives - whereas you didn't just used to see that."

Still, men rank far behind women. They accounted for just 14 percent of the nation's face lifts, less than a tenth of brow lifts and about a quarter of the eyelid surgeries last year, according to estimates by the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery.

What drives a man to a plastic surgeon? Well, take those turkey wattles . . . please.

Many of these guys can overlook crow's feet, but sagging skin on the neck "makes them crazy," said Dr. Wayne Larrabee, a facial plastic surgeon in Seattle.

A 55-year-old Kentucky man says he mulled his "turkey-gobbler look" for two years before getting a face lift last summer. "I'd thought only big shots and movie stars do this stuff," he said. "But then I looked in the mirror and I thought, `You know, this looks really ugly and I can fix it.' "

Some men have professional reasons. Dr. William Beeson of suburban Indianapolis tells of a banker who came in for a brow lift after overhearing a commercial loan customer say, "I don't want to have that grouchy-looking guy."

And a salesman told Beeson, "I would never think about making a sales call in a wrinkled suit, so I don't want to make it with a wrinkled face."

Those reasons are certainly not new. But in recent years, men are saying they want an edge in a competitive workplace. Baby boomers are getting old enough and financially secure enough for touch-up surgery. What's more, they've been working out and they want to look as good as they feel.

"The body was holding its own, but the face wasn't keeping up with everything else," said a 54-year-old Kentucky businessman who lifts weights and got a face lift last year. The man, who like most other patients interviewed for this story asked not to be identified, reckons he now looks 42.

And before his surgery?

"Let me put it this way," he said. "They were beginning to serve me senior citizen's coffee at McDonald's."

Men have also come to see cosmetic surgery as more acceptable, surgeons said.

The surgery isn't cheap. A face lift in Kentucky can cost about $5,000. Clark often does a face lift, brow lift and eyelid surgery at the same time, for a total cost of about $15,000.

In Seattle, Richard LaPlant, 65, paid about $9,000 recently for a face lift and surgery on his upper and lower eyelids. The retired chemical salesman says it was worth it.

"I'm really pleased . . . that this big jowly thing isn't hanging down on my neck," LaPlant said.

He and other patients said their friends noticed a difference but thought it came from losing weight or getting a good rest.