A year ago, J, a 33-year-old financial professional, visited The Sloane Clinic for a consultation. The clinic is known for offering a range of cosmetic surgery procedures, including nose jobs and tummy tucks.
But she wasn’t there for herself. It was for her husband.
“Ned* is in his late 30s and he was finding it extremely hard to lose some excess fat around his midsection through exercise,” she explains. “We both decided that liposuction was the only effective way, so we went to consult the doctor together.”
After that, Ned got fat from his tummy and love handles removed via liposuction and ended up with a trimmer core. “He definitely looks much better now, even when he dresses simply in T-shirt and jeans,” says a happy J, who confirms that both she and Ned are “very pleased” with his new hot bod.
So impressed was J by her hubby’s transformation, that she was prompted to get some “work” done to improve her own looks. She and her husband are both active, outdoorsy sorts who enjoy going for beach holidays. “Naturally, I wanted to look as good as him when we’re in our bathing suits.” So, with Ned’s blessings, she went for a boob job two months later to get a fuller chest.
She’s not at all fazed by being one half of a “plastic couple”. She believes that it’s important for both men and women to look presentable, never mind that they are far from au naturel.
“When you look good, it brings out your confidence and you emit a positive energy. This has a good impact on your work and social life,” she reasons.
It certainly has had a positive effect on her marriage. More than a year on, the couple are still enjoying each other’s “new look” and J claims it’s even helped put some sizzle into their relationship.
“We definitely enjoy our beach holidays a lot more now,” she says. “Honestly, I think I would have been jealous of Ned if I hadn’t gone for a procedure myself. Now, we just enjoy looking at each other!”
The “Ken Doll” phenomenon
These days, don’t bat an eyelid if your man ’fesses up to some nip and tuck. Like Ned, more Singapore men are opting for cosmetic surgery in their quest for physical perfection.
“It was like when male skincare first came out,” explains Marcus*, 36, a media and advertising consultant who has been treating lines on his face with Botox for eight years. “Now it is only a matter of time before men everywhere start getting aesthetic enhancements.”
“I do Botox and filler treatments every year or whenever “touch-ups” are required. To me, it’s as normal as getting a haircut.”
Five doctors who perform cosmetic procedures told Her World they are seeing more male clients. At the Singapore General Hospital, men now constitute 10 per cent of patients seeking cosmetic surgery compared to 5 per cent a decade ago, says Professor Colin Song, senior consultant of the department of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery.
Dr Tan Ying Chien, consultant plastic surgeon at The Sloane Clinic Plastic Surgery Centre, estimates a 15 to 20 per cent increase in the last few years, while Dr Colin Tham, director of the aesthetics division at Asia Health Partners, says figures at his clinic have doubled compared to five years ago – he now sees 25 to 30 men per month.
He adds: “Men are also less likely to conceal surgery from their partners.”
These men are usually white-collar workers, though doctors have spotted civil servants and even students. They cut across all ages, from undergraduates asking to correct ears that stick out; professionals getting liposuction so they can shimmy into slim-fit shirts, and even older towkays looking to “fix” eyebags and droopy lids.
Like Ned, some men come with their wives for “couple surgery”, says Dr Tan. “You’ve got the man getting liposuction to remove his moobs, while the wife’s next door getting her breasts done.”
The most popular and strangest requests
Doctors say the most popular procedures for men include liposuction, rhinoplasty, upper eyelid surgery and Botox.
Given how society loves rock-hard abs (who can forget that Abercrombie & Fitch ad in Orchard Road?), it’s no surprise that the torso is what men focus on the most. “The biggest concerns are flabby bulges on tummies and assorted bits and bobs, followed by male boobs or moobs,” says Dr Kevin Teh, medical director of Singapore Lipo, Body & Face Centre.
He says more unusual requests include men who ask for their butts to be shrunk so they can fit into their swimming trunks or to have their chests enlarged to look like breasts.
There was even one “wacky fellow” who asked for the fats in his tummy to be pumped into his too-small penis.
In case you’re wondering, yes, technically it’s possible. But Dr Teh says that in rare cases, injecting fat into the wrong place can block blood flow, causing the penis to get infected, turn black and shrivel up. “I turned him down flat!” he says.
Why so vain?
The growing figures suggest that it’s not just women who are fussing over their appearance.
For some, career advancement is a top consideration. “With our ageing workforce and the later retirement age, many men are fighting hard to stay competitive and employable,” explains Dr Elias Tam, a practitioner in aesthetic medicine and surgery, and a spokesperson for the Society for Men’s Health Singapore.
And looking good is one weapon in their arsenal. “Some men want to look younger because they’re afraid their employers will justify retiring them earlier because of their ‘old look’ – which indicates they have more experience and are more costly to retain,” says Prof Song.
When asked if his Botox-ed face has helped his career in the media and advertising industry, Marcus admits it’s a bonus factor that can sometimes help him “seal the deal” at work.
“I’ve noticed that clients subconsciously like to be around attractive consultants. I also tend to give more attention to partners and vendors who are better looking. While it sounds shallow, it’s a very basic human instinct to want to be around beautiful people,” he says.
Like Marcus, Tom, 30, a product manager, is hooked on Botox and facial fillers. He got started four years ago, when he saw lines forming on his forehead, and continues to do it because of the pressures of his job.
“I travel a lot for work and give presentations to my company’s senior management. It’s hard to get sleep when you’re in and out of different time zones,” he says.
Going for his jabs helps Tom look relaxed for these meetings. He checks himself into the Singapore Aesthetic Centre to get his “fix” every six months. The Botox and fillers help smooth any lines around his eyes and on his forehead, and make his skin look moist and supple – so he doesn’t appear tired when making presentations.
“I believe in putting my best face forward. I want to look as young as possible, for as long as possible,” he says.
Most men will tell it all
Unlike women who tend to be coy about getting work done, doctors say that men are usually more open. “Only a handful hide their treatments from wives or girlfriends,” Dr Teh confirms.
Take Fred Yeo, 26, who says he has no qualms telling friends and family how he spent almost $20,000 earlier this year to subject his tummy and lower back to high-definition Vaser liposculpture. Unlike regular liposuction, which simply removes stubborn fat, this treatment also defines the contours of the body’s muscles more sharply – for instance, sculpting Magic Mike-worthy abs and a more prominent V-shaped torso. The 1.75m-tall Fred dropped from 98kg to 83kg, and got “an instant six-pack”.
“Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I don’t really care what people think. Even if people gossip about me, I still think it’s better than being fat and obese,” he says.
A self-professed sports buff, Fred did it because he couldn’t shed the flab through twice-weekly gym sessions. Attracting a date with his hot bod will be a bonus, says the singleton.
Because of their openness, several men have made “converts” out of their girlfriends and wives, nudging them to improve their looks. “Among older couples, it’s usually the man who comes in for treatments first, before bringing his wife and children,” says Dr Yeak Hwee Lee, medical director of Singapore Aesthetic Centre
One of her clients, Avichal Agrawal, 30, spent one and a half years going for skin resurfacing treatments – just to look his best for his upcoming wedding. He did 10 treatment sessions to reduce acne marks on his face, spending $5,000 in total. He’s also received anti-ageing facial injections costing $1,500 and plans to go for more sessions this year. The result? Smoother and softer skin.
“My fiancee is especially happy with the results and she’s looking forward to great photographs on our wedding day,” says the project manager, who has told his friends and family about his sessions.
His fiancee, who wants to be known as Mrs Agrawal, says she didn’t push him to improve his complexion, but liked how he made an effort to look good for their nuptials. Impressed by his transformation, the 26-year-old marketing manager started thinking about bettering her looks. While she won’t go for a nip and tuck, she’s started to venture beyond her regular facials.
“Avichal’s results encouraged me to look at some for myself. Right now, I’m using ‘invisible dental braces’ for nine months to improve my smile,” she says. The braces cost $4,000 and will help close a gap between her two front teeth.
But not all women are as cool. Mike*, a 20-something finance professional, says his girlfriend doesn’t approve of men going for plastic surgery.
So he waited until she went on an overseas job posting for a few months before getting liposuction on his tummy. His hectic job doesn’t leave him much time to exercise. “I felt guilty but had no other choice. I wanted to get a better waistline and couldn’t get rid of the flabbiness any other way.”
He’s happy with the result, rating his new look as an “eight upon 10”. By the time his girlfriend returns, the post-surgery scars will heal, leaving behind just a small, barely noticeable
“dot” on his torso. It will simply look as if he’s lost weight – the natural way.
He’s even concocting an alibi now so she will not get suspicious. “Whenever we talk on the phone these days, I tell her I’m going to the gym regularly. She won’t know that I’ve slimmed down because of the surgery.”
*Names have been changed
would you get “fixed”? Men say…
“After all, society often judges us on our appearance first.” – Darren Tan, 24, student
“There’s an increasing expectation for men to have the total package: looks, money and career. Plastic surgery is just a tool that gives people confidence.”
– William Chia, 33, teacher
“We should be more appreciative of what we’re born with.” – Mohamed Nurizzat, 26, civil servant
“I think you should be proud of what you look like.” – Muhaimin Mohamed Hamin, 27, civil servant
“After all, imperfections make us unique.” – James Ong, 40, online and social media editor
ADDITIONAL REPORTING RUBY TAN PHOTOS SHOWBIT.COM, DREAMSTIME & GETTY IMAGES PHOTOS OF LEE TENG THE STRAITS TIMES
This article was originally published in Her World magazine April 2013. Information was correct as of print time.