Why More Seattleites are Getting Plastic Surgery

Seattle’s tough job market is prompting a wave of plastic surgery and cosmetic dentistry.
Elaine Porterfield  |   January 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

Looks aren’t everything, but in the world of finance, they can be a key to success, according to Scott, a 57-year-old Seattle-area certified financial planner and wealth manager. Though things had been going well at work, Scott was worried about losing his edge. He’s physically very fit—a nationally ranked athlete—but until recently, his eyes sported noticeable bags, and his chin had spread enough that “when I smiled, I looked round and roly-poly,” he says, sighing. It wasn’t the image of vigor that Scott (who prefers to keep his last name private) wants to project, particularly in a tough economic climate. So Scott, like a growing number of Seattleites, finally opted to “get some work done.”

Seattle plastic surgeon Dr. Phil Haeck, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), says in the last few years, he’s seen increasing numbers of people seeking out plastic surgery. And, although women still get the vast majority of cosmetic surgery procedures, the number of men opting for it has jumped, Haeck says.

It’s not what you might expect here in all-natural, outdoorsy Seattle, a town so down to earth that we regularly land on national “worst dressed” lists. But Haeck says local professionals can’t ignore the realities of the current, intensely competitive job market.

“The increase in men [getting cosmetic surgery] was very dramatic in 2010,” he says. “They’re new to unemployment lines or afraid of losing their jobs. To some extent, I’ve heard that from women as well. In the past, when I did face-lifts on men … it would definitely be because they wanted to look more youthful, but also sexier. A typical request was ‘I don’t want to look old with my younger girlfriend.’ That’s why this trend caught us so off guard. Now it’s all about ‘my job.’ ”

Nationally, cosmetic plastic surgery procedures in men were up 2 percent in 2010 over the previous year, according to the ASPS. But certain surgical procedures increased even more than that among men—a lot more.

Male face-lifts rose 14 percent in 2010 (to nearly 113,000 face-lifts), while male liposuction increased 7 percent (to about 203,000 procedures).

The numbers are up for women, too; a recent ASPS survey found that 13 percent would consider having cosmetic surgery to make themselves more competitive in the job market. Fully 3 percent (nearly 3.5 million working women) say they’ve already had a cosmetic procedure for that reason. And 73 percent (almost three out of four, or 84 million working women) believe that good looks play a part in getting hired, promoted and getting new clients.

It’s also true that people ages 55 and older are among the hardest hit by unemployment, with nearly 41 percent reporting they’ve been out of work for a year or longer, according to government figures. Many of those who are working are now planning to work longer—retiring well past 65—so staying youthful can seem pretty desirable. From Botox and facial fillers to full-on face-lifts, Haeck says that increasingly, both men and women come to his office these days saying the same thing: “I’m suddenly the oldest person in my work group.” Haeck says many of his patients hope that cosmetic surgery will help build their on-the-job confidence.

For the same reasons, apparently, cosmetic dentistry and teeth whitening are on the rise. Dr. Michael Johnson, a Bellevue reconstructive dentist, says he’s seeing unemployed workers in his chair who are anxious to improve their smiles for job interviews. “Their teeth are sometimes not [very] healthy,” he says, and good teeth can help make a good impression. “[Teeth are] one of the first things people look at,” he says.

All of this renewed confidence comes at a price. The ASPS reports the average cost for an eyelid procedure was $2,828 in 2010; a full face-lift was $6,231. Dental teeth whitening runs about $500, though that can vary considerably. Veneers are more—as much as $700 or more per tooth—though again, those costs can vary. Very few insurance policies will cover elective cosmetic surgery or cosmetic dentistry, so out-of-work patients often look for doctors who offer payment plans. Others shop around or start with a relatively minor, more affordable procedure.

“Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a full face-lift,” says Haeck. “With guys, one of most popular operations is having the ‘baggies’ taken out of eyelids. It makes you look less tired and reduces how old you look. It’s easier to recover from than a full face-lift. It takes years off your [appearance] and gives you confidence.” And it costs much less than the full-fledged face-lift—likely a serious consideration for those who are out of work.

As for Scott, getting a little work done last year has worked out nicely. He’s had two procedures: a chin lift to tighten up the “wattle” area and work to reduce the bags under his eyes.

“It really has made a significant difference to my personal attitude,” Scott says. “I get comments on how good I look. Nobody knew what the difference was…that’s the best compliment. I just looked extremely well rested.” And the change has been more than skin deep, Scott says. “[The plastic surgery] actually heightened my interest in staying healthy and eating well and exercising. It all comes back to attitude and self-image, and if that makes me happy, I’m all for it. It’s not that I mind getting old; I just don’t want to look old.”

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