It's not just women going under the knife
Perhaps you are familiar with the tell-tale signs that suggest a friend or colleague has visited a cosmetic clinic: the mysterious half day of leave; an icepack held gingerly to one side of the face; curiously plumped cheeks. ‘Tweakment’ is now the term of choice for cosmetic medical procedures that are considered non-surgical or minimally invasive. Common examples include Botox and injectable fillers, but also the unpleasant-sounding ‘threadlift’, which involves medical-grade thread placed under your skin to pull it into a tauter position.
These procedures are primarily aimed at women, social pressures upon whom continue to generate the insecurities that are the bread and butter of the nation’s plastic surgeons — 93% of all surgical cosmetic procedures in the UK were performed on women in 2021. But as these enhancements become normalised and tweakments offer a less invasive, non-surgical option, the industry behind them is setting its sights on men.
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A 2021 survey found that only 26% of UK men aged 16 to 40 are happy with how they look, while two in five say they feel pressure to have the perfect body. These findings show that there is a potentially large market for the cosmetic industry to tap into, with masculinisation packages pushed by plastic surgeons allowing us to peer into a world in which increasing numbers of men seek these procedures.
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons claims that men prefer to “look tweaked rather than tucked” and UK clinics now offer procedures explicitly aimed at men “seeking enhancements of signature masculine features”, such as a stronger jawline. One clinic that advertises itself on Instagram is currently promoting a ‘masculinisation package’ that includes adding definition to the chin and cheeks and refining the nose.
This so-called masculinising effect is achieved with the judicious use of fillers, seeking to replace softness with more angular features. This is in comparison with facial surgeries more often sought by women, in which the jawline may be softened and the nose shaved down. The fillers used by surgeons to masculinise a man’s face are often temporary, using hyaluronic acid, and their effect fades after a year to eighteen months.
With limited data, it is difficult to get a sense of the men who pay for these procedures, but the clinics that benefit are all too keen to emphasise that any man can become a happy recipient of their services. One American clinic actually suggests that the hitherto widespread male disinterest in plastic surgery has been the result of “toxic masculinity”.
If this seems like a Los Angeles problem, remember that it is de rigueur for Love Island contestants, including men, to cosmetically enhance themselves with fillers, veneers and liposuction before heading to the villa. Three million people watched the first episode of the most recent series and, alarmingly, there are plastic surgeons who say the show has powered an increasing interest in the decision to seek cosmetic enhancements.
Predictably, the ubiquity of tweakments that non-surgically but radically change the landscape of a face can have a bleak, homogenising effect on human beauty that is currently most obvious in female celebrities. This weird uniformity has been dubbed ‘Instagram Face’ and an unmistakable, uncannily similar set of features described: “catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes…a small, neat nose and full, lush lips”. This erosion of distinctiveness is what happens when everyone shows their surgeon a photo of Kylie Jenner or Kim Kardashian.
A male version of Instagram Face has not yet been classified, but it is a future that the cosmetic clinics pushing masculinisation packages on social media are actively seeking to create: it is a bland, square-jawed future.