Boom in male grooming

British men are increasingly opting for cosmetic surgery to look good and boost their self-esteem, as Ahmed Zambarakji reports


It’s an amusing observation that the trend for facial paralysis fails to raise an eyebrow anymore. In fact, injectables such as Botox – or Bro-tox as it is affectionately known among its male enthusiasts – are so common in today’s image-conscious society that men are now happily turning to invasive surgery to tackle their physical hang-ups.

Where a nose job was once considered a bit on the vain side, men are now lining up for operations that run the gamut from tummy tucks and blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) to otoplasty (ear correction) and even penoplasties. Cosmetic surgery has been so thoroughly destigmatised that men now account for one in ten of the most popular procedures.

And while many men can justify a crafty nip and tuck as a “professional advantage” in the workplace, the real reasons that underpin our newfound desire to go under the knife run much deeper. As exemplified by the male grooming boom, our infatuation with our looks has less to do with vanity and everything to do with self-esteem.

Consider the leagues of men that spend thousands of pounds to restore their receding hairlines, for example. Male pattern baldness is a very potent fear among men, not least because we have long associated a full head of hair with power, virility and success. Recent research has shown that that a quarter of men aged 25 to 29 are more concerned with losing their locks than they are with other age-related inevitabilities, such as skin ageing or going grey.

From hairpieces to hairline micro-needling, there are innumerable ways to go about allaying this ubiquitous fear. Collectively, these therapies and products have created a follicular-focused industry worth more than £1.2 billion. The most advanced procedure is Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE), which involves removing healthy follicles one by one and grafting them back on to the bald patches. The painstaking and pricey process has received endorsements from celebrities including Wayne Rooney and Calum Best, both of whom sport natural-looking heads of hair that are a far cry from the unconvincing comb-overs of yesteryear. Not only have they retained their follicles, they’ve held on to their masculinity too.

As exemplified by the male grooming boom, our infatuation with our looks has less to do with vanity and everything to do with self-esteem

This may be a clichéd example of masculinity in crisis, but it illustrates how many men have come to associate their appearance with their sense of self. Previous generations simply didn’t suffer the same kind of social conditioning: they weren’t exposed to celebrity culture or hyper-masculine Men’s Health cover models. They weren’t bombarded with low GI [Glycemic Index] diets and they certainly didn’t spend their time questioning Tom Cruise’s eerie inability to age.

Recent research carried out by the University of the West of England’s Centre for Appearance Research in Bristol revealed that two thirds of men surveyed were unhappy with their level of muscularity in their arms or chest, while more than half were negatively affected by body talk. As Harrison Pope, Katharine Philips and Roberto Olivardia observe in their book The Adonis Complex, men are gradually falling prey to exactly the same kind of “body image preoccupation, dissatisfaction and distortion” that has plagued women for decades.

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But where women can openly complain about their aesthetic shortcomings, perceived or “real”, men are trapped in a silent epidemic and, being rational “problem solvers” by nature, they are more than happy to secretly undergo corrective surgery in order to tweak their appearance. And there is a high-tech industry waiting to greet them.

The most recent, and arguably most impressive, technique for body-conscious men is VASER, a procedure that’s taken the US by storm with the promise of completely redefining a man’s silhouette with minimal downtime. Rather than simply debulking areas, like traditional scar-inducing liposuction, VASER (Vibration Amplification Sound Energy at Resonance) involves emulsifying specific pockets of fat with a special wand that is inserted into inconspicuous incisions. The malleable blubber can then be selectively sucked out or “re-sculpted” around muscle groups. This allows surgeons to manually mould love handles or stubborn puppy fat into a rippling six-pack.

Another increasingly popular surgery is the penoplasty, as pioneered by Dr Roberto Veil. At £5,000 a go, the operation involves taking fat, usually from around the abdomen or thighs, re-injecting it and cutting the suspensory ligament.

Of course, not all men resort to surgery and with new innovations coming on to the market at an unprecedented rate, you can’t help but wonder if invasive procedures will eventually become obsolete. Former surgeon Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh now uses injectables, such as Botox and fillers, to postpone and even avoid invasive surgery altogether.

“If you wait until you’re 50 before you start taking care of yourself, surgery will often be the best or only option to address the ageing process,” he says. But, as men already know, a good offence is the best defence. “A lot of non-surgical techniques are available to prevent sagging necks, restore facial volume and to maintain the skin’s quality,” he adds.

But what separates the men from the women is their personal motivation and, consequently, the application of these non-surgical techniques. “Most of my male patients do not want to look ‘younger’; they want to look good,” says Dr Sebagh. “Accordingly, I will use Botox to reduce lines around the eyes and mouth, but I will also ensure that they can use their face expressively. I have to use restraint and an aesthetic eye with men.”

The inevitable ego boost following successful “work” can come with its own set of problems. While the Mickey Rourkes of the world represent extreme cases, it’s not unusual for the focus of one’s obsession to shift over time. Studies have shown that as many as a third of men seeking cosmetic surgery suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. As soon as the gut is deflated, the receding hairline comes into focus. As soon as the follicles are transplanted, the pecs are in need of beefing up. And as the demand grows, so does the technology, a relationship that continues to “enhance” an ever-growing industry.