How to be a Better Man

by Elizabeth Blandford

An article in the November 2000 issue of Esquire magazine, a men’s magazine aimed at the white, educated, upper middle class, 25-45 year old business male, details plastic surgery for men, subsequently glamourizing the procedures they cover in this article. Under the title, “The Better Man (A Work in Progress),” the article states, “Welcome to the Better Man salon, where looking better is being better, and being better doesn’t come cheap” (pg. 148). This article details hair, cheek, and chin implants, eyelid surgery, skin peels, and surgery to increase the length of the male genitalia. This article was not mentioned on the front cover, and was tucked towards the back half of the issue. This “hiding” of the article sends the message that it is all right for a man to surgically alter his face or body as long as the surgery scar is hidden or the surgery itself is not mentioned. From a social sciences point of view, it is interesting to note the increasing frequency and acceptance of plastic surgery in males today as compared to ten years ago. Previously, plastic surgery used to enhance or change the features was reserved for females, unless surgery was needed to repair the face or body after an accident, a burn, or a birth defect. In these instances, society seemed willing to accept plastic surgery in males. This attitude has slowly changed in the past ten to twenty years. Today, society puts pressure on males as well as females to attain physical perfection, for a price.

This article details a skin peel, or a “deep-burning phenol peel”, which would cost the reader about $5,000. The article claims that this procedure will give the reader “soft, clear, iridescent skin, the kind a woman loves to touch.” This type of statement transcends traditional gender roles in American society. For hundreds of years, it has traditionally been the woman who was expected to have soft skin, clear of blemishes. This statement suggests that these expectations are changing, and to keep up in this fast-changing world, a man should recognize these expectations because he will be expected to live up to them. Esquire encourages the reader “not to sacrifice quality for comfort.” The article briefly mentions a much less painful and cheaper procedure ($500), but goes on to tout the benefits of the phenol peel, which includes two full weeks of recovery time. This statement supports Esquire’s claim that “being better doesn’t come cheap.”

The article also describes telangiectasia, a laser procedure to have red spider veins on the patient’s face removed. Esquire makes the suggestion that to attract women, the reader should consider having this procedure done. “Like most fifty-year-old men, Mark Ross has red spider veins on his face. Like most women married to such men, Ann Kelly thinks red spider veins are nasty.” Again, Esquire persuades the reader by using women to scare him. The reader may have never thought about having plastic surgery done before, but after reading this article, his self-esteem and self-worth may begin a slow, downward spiral every time he glances in the mirror. This is similar to the pressure put on women for physical perfection. Women are attacked at every angle to have fine features, clear skin, a thin, toned body, small waist and derriere, and large breasts. It is suggested to women through the media, magazines, movies, music videos, and commercials that unless a woman looks this way, she is not good enough. This same suggestion seems to be applied to men now, too.

Esquire enlists the advice of a forty-year-old bodybuilder named Marty May. “I tan, I work out, I use a glycolic face wash and a hydrating skin toner.” Mr. May also suggests having botulin injected into the reader’s face to smooth out wrinkles. He argues, “It’s not as dangerous as it sounds. It just stops the movement of certain muscles so the wrinkles go away. The only thing you really need to worry about is, if they do it wrong, you get a droopy eye that lasts a couple months. After a normal injection, your eyebrows aren’t real expressive, but they can still go up a little bit. Here in West Hollywood, most people have it done.” West Hollywood has been associated with fame, money, power, prestige, and beauty for many years. That last statement by Mr. May is a powerful motivation for the man who feels discontentment with his life, and he may view plastic surgery as a way out of his discontent.

Esquire states that for only $2,000 per implant, the reader can have silicone cheek and chin inplants “because you can never be too beautiful.”

Donald Greene boasts,” So far, I’ve spent $115,000 on surgery. Last winter, I was on the table for fourteen hours straight. There were never less than four doctors present. One guy did my forehead, another did the cheeks, another did the eyes, another the jaw. Afterward, I got a skin peel, a tummy tuck, two laser surgeries, and $10,000 worth of caps on my teeth. I’m seventy years old and haven’t looked this good since I was forty. I know there’s other plastic surgeons who would have done it for twenty-five percent of the price, but I don’t care. I want the best. That’s why I drive a Lexus.”

The inclusion of this statement by Esquire perpetuates the idea that physical perfection and high class status are all-important. Mr. Green is bragging about how he has altered his face and body, what it cost him, and he includes the car he drives to try to impress the reader with his wealth and confidence. He seems to be saying, ‘Hey, I’m a real man, a wealthy man, with confidence and prestige, and I had plastic surgery done.’ Mr. Green leaves the reader with the impression that to be the best, he must look his best, use the best doctors to do it, drive the best car, and money must be no object.

In describing transconjunctivial bletharoplasty, or an eyelid tuck, Esquire reassures the reader that it “costs only $500, and by the end of the week, you’ll be able to see again.” Joe Logeman states, “I can’t afford to do anything else, but I’d let him [the doctor] do anything he wanted if there was no charge.” Mr. Logeman’s statement suggests that there is no limit to plastic surgery and it’s acceptance by society.

Esquire also encourages the reader to have phalloplasty, a procedure to lengthen the penis, performed. Esquire states they have “just the thing for your thing. No offense, but you could do better. We all could.” Esquire seems to be feeding on a man’s fear that his penis is too small. Esquire promises an added one-and-a half to three inches to the length of the penis. Dave Kost states, ” Afterward, you have to use an attachment with springs to stretch it out. I wear my attachment every single day, for twelve to sixteen hours. You get used to it. Also, there are scars for like a year. Girls can probably tell, but they don’t say anything. I did it for myself.” Mr. Kost seems to have no problem with the fact that he wears a contraption on his genitalia for three-fourths of the day. A sad fact is that many men feel that the size of their penis is in direct proportion to their measure of manhood. The larger the penis, the better the man.

Esquire does not include possible complications in having these plastic surgeries performed on the reader’s body. No statement is quoted from a reader who regrets having surgery done. This article glamourizes plastic surgery and it’s results, which is a detriment to the reader.The article does not warn readers to research the doctors or the surgery he is considering.

This article has many social and societal implications. The frequency with which men are seeking plastic surgery as a means to “repair” themselves is alarming. This crossing of gender roles suggests that the same expectations that have been placed on women for hundreds of years are beginning to apply to men as well.

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