By Vivian Po, New America Media
Last year, Frank Chang spent about $1,500 on non-surgical cosmetic procedures. This year, the 35-year-old Chinese American may go a step farther.
“I may be getting a lift for my eyes,” said Chang. “The reason I am not doing it yet is because I am a bit afraid of the pain.”
Chang said if he were happy with the results, he would continue to do more surgical procedures “in a healthy way.”
Chang is one of an increasing number of Asian-American men defying a cultural stigma to engage in cosmetic surgery in order to improve their appearances. Experts say what is motivating men to seek plastic surgery may be the need to raise their chances of surviving a job market that is increasingly favorable of younger workers, and to be competitive in romantic relationships.
Although in general the number of people from ethnic communities going for plastic surgery continues to rise, Asian Americans are the fastest growing segment. According to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Asian Americans underwent 866,000 cosmetic plastic surgery procedures in 2008, a 290 percent increase since the year 2000. Hispanics had a 239 percent increase and African Americans a 145 percent increase.
Despite the fact that women are 10 times more likely than men to undergo cosmetic procedures, plastic surgeons said they had witnessed a new trend of Asian American men, especially those within the middle-age bracket, showing up at their clinics.
“Five years ago, 5 percent of my Asian patients were male, now it is about 10 percent,” said Dr. George Sun, a Chinese-American plastic surgeon who has been in practice for 16 years in Los Angeles, with a large Asian American clientele.
Dr. Sun noted that 60 percent of his Asian male clients are over 40 years old.
“It has become more obvious in this one to two years,” said Dr. Sun.
Dr. Charles K. Lee, a Korean-American plastic surgeon in San Francisco, also said he had noticed this new trend of Asians seeking plastic surgery.
“Three years ago, it was the younger Asian men,” said Dr. Lee. “Now, they are in their 40s to 50s.”
Dr. Lee said he had treated older Asian men in the past, but mainly for practical reasons, such as removing extra eyelid skin obstructing the client’s vision. But the new clients are coming in for the “look,” he said.
“Men in their late 30s or above, are trying to compete and want to look useful,” said Dr. Lee.
Dr. Lee added that during pre-surgery consulting sessions with middle-aged Asian men, they told him that people, especially in the work place, made comments about them “looking tired.”
In fact, 75 percent of plastic surgeons agree seeing more people requesting cosmetic surgery to remain competitive in the workplace, according to the 2008 American Academy of Facial Plastics and Reconstructive Surgery Membership Study.
Dr. Sun further explained that Asian men from the older generation might feel more pressured to do so because they still withhold a dominant role in family in their culture.
“The more dominant the male figures are, the greater the pressure the men face in staying competitive within the job market,” said Dr. Sun, who also writes periodically on beauty and health issues for Vivid Magazine, a publication for Asian business men and women.
That is why anti-aging procedures, such as Botox injections, skin and neck tightening, saggy under eye removals, liposuction and hair restoration remain to be the most common procedures among middle-aged Asian men.
In addition to staying competitive, Dr. Sun cited the fact that Asian Americans are gaining a more important status in the United States, and Asians globally are having an impact in the growing international economy as reasons why they are seeking surgery. Because of this new status Asian men have developed a confident self-image, which they want to keep, Dr. Sun said.
“It’s not like 20 years ago,” Dr. Sun said. “Their confidence level is up and they want to maintain it.”
Because elevation social status leads to better paying jobs and increased income, Asian males, especially older men with more established careers, have extra money to invest in themselves. Asian men usually spend about $200 to $2,000 on non-surgical procedures, and $2,000 to $15,000 on surgical procedures, according to Dr. Lee.
Asian-American men who undergo cosmetic procedures may also simply want to appear more attractive to boost their romantic life.
“Plastic surgeons have said to me that they think men are doing it for romantic opportunities as much as women, but hesitate to admit as much,” said Virginia Blum, a professor at the University of Kentucky and author of “Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery.”
But Chang, the Chinese-American man, did not hesitate to admit that romance is the reason he sought plastic surgery.
“I got out of my relationship and I want to appear at my best,” said Chang.
Chang is also a successful equipment manufacturer, proof that his surgery had nothing to do with the job market.
Dr. Sun said some Asian male clients in relationships with someone a lot younger might go for cosmetic surgery to “match” their younger wives.
There are other factors that motivate Asian men to receive cosmetic procedures, such as gaining greater social acceptance and the availabilities of safer, cheaper and less painful procedures.
Although more Asian men have overcome the stigma of cosmetic surgery, it is still taboo for the older generation to openly discus it.
Professor Rosemarie Tong, who coauthored “Cutting to the Core: Exploring the Ethics of Contested Surgeries,” explained that gender, ethnicity and age all play a part in their reluctance to talk about it. Tong said, men in general feel “problematic” to “admit their appearance is not their natural look”, while the “cultural attitude to maintain privacy” in Asian communities, and the way older generation view their bodies have also contributed to their silence.
“The younger generation will think this is my body, my decision,” said Tong. “And the older generation will think they are given a body.”
However, such conservative attitudes will gradually change as more Asian men are actively seeing cosmetic help to improve their appearance, she said.
“Recently, I had a 65-year-old Korean client who finished a face lift and said he may recommend his wife to it,” said Dr. Hop Le, a Vietnamese-American plastic surgeon in San Francisco, adding that in the past it was usually the wives who brought their husbands to plastic surgeons, Dr. Le said.
Dr. Le said Asian male clients are more cautious about the results. They are also more likely to bargain.