He says I don't look that bad but that as I have aged, gravity has caused the fatty pads that cover my cheeks to start sliding. I suddenly have an image of my cheeks as breakaway glaciers heading toward Miami. Then there are my baggy eyes, or "fat herniation of the lower eyelids." I've had a set of Samsonites under my eyes since my 20s. I used to think it gave me the look of the young Jeanne Moreau or the young Bob Dole. Sitting in Dr. Gravity's chair, I realized this look is no longer working, especially since the old Jeanne Moreau and the old Bob Dole have had their eye bags hacked off.
Dr. Gravity suggests several fixes: 1) liposuction on my jaw to tighten it up; 2) a lower-lid eye-bag removal; 3) a midface face-lift. To do this last surgery, he would make a half-inch cut alongside each eye. He would tunnel down, locate my wandering cheek pads, suture them back where they started, and take away some extraneous skin. This would also take some pressure off my nasal-labial fold, the line that runs from the corner of the nose to the mouth. "People are obsessed with their nasal-labial fold," he explains.
I was surprised to hear that the doctor would leave my upper lids alone. He explained that when he was getting his training in the '90s, someone with eyes like mine would have been told to do the upper lids. The prevailing philosophy was to cut and suck away as much as possible. Now the style is to leave the uppers alone unless someone looks like a Shar-Pei. The problem turned out to be that while the cut-and-suck looks good initially, as the aging process continues, the eyeball begins to sink into its socket. I wonder if all the people who paid to get the living-corpse look will get refunds.
Cost for all the procedures: $6,500.
Dr. Centerfold and his partners work in a temple to plastic surgery—all blond wood and frosted glass. A sculpture of nymphlike figures emerging from a fluid stands in one corner. In the luxurious waiting room, I fill out forms, one of which certifies that I understand any electronic imaging of my improved face will not necessarily bear any resemblance to the face I end up with once the scalpels start flying. There are a large number of bustling, unwrinkled female employees, all of whom have shrink-wrapped jaws and Vulcan-like brows.
A pretty young woman, my patient consultant, brings me into an office. She tells me that Dr. Centerfold is wonderful. He did her jaw liposuction and her brow-lift. She takes a digital photograph of me and downloads it. I tell her I'm dissatisfied with how I'm aging, and she runs the mouse over my photograph erasing all my lines and sags. The retouched me looks fantastic, and I think it would be cheaper and safer if I just glued a printout of it on my face. Alas, the doctor's insurance company forbids them to give patients a copy.
Dr. Centerfold, who is 44, comes in. He is tall and thin with a bulbous nose and deep nasal-labials. The realness of his face makes him the most attractive person in his office. He warns: "You only get three face-lifts in a lifetime. If you have more than that, you start to look very weird." But if I had my first one now, he says, I'll get better results than if I wait till I'm 60 when there's so much more to cut away. He rolls up to me on a stool and gently pushes and prods my face.
He rolls back. He agrees with Dr. Gravity—I need a midface face-lift. He adds, "We have to address your lower lids." He touches the area right under my lower lashes: "There's supposed to be a ridge right here." He moves his finger down almost an inch: "Yours is here." And like Dr. Gravity, he would leave my upper lids alone. "I like them. They're bedroomy." Actually, he starts thinking aloud, he would plump them up with a little fat. I have plenty to donate to that cause.
I ask Dr. Centerfold how many face-lifts he's done. He tells me more than a thousand and almost all are satisfied customers; one is a recent Playboy Playmate of the Month. He continues to look at me and starts musing, like someone who is remodeling the kitchen and realizes the dining room also needs work. "Because your face is narrow and your chin is slightly recessive, I thought of doing a chin implant," he says. Wait a minute! In all the time I have spent in front of the mirror, how is it that I missed that I'm chinless? But, he goes on, he would have to "burr the bone a little bit," so I probably don't want that. No, probably not.
I ask him about scars. He says I should talk to some of the women in the office who've had face-lifts, that they'll show me what the scars look like. Dr. Centerfold leaves, and while my consultant works up a fee, I talk to another consultant. When she walked in, I assumed she was about 50. Not because she looks it—there isn't a line on her face—but because there isn't a line on her face yet it's still apparent she's not young.
It turns out this consultant is 46, but she's already had an eye-lift, a full face-lift, brow-lift, nose job, and a second jaw-tightening. The first face-lift resulted in her lips looking too thin, so she's had a procedure to turn some of the inside of her lip out—four tiny white scars bracket her mouth. She lets me in close to inspect her scars: a small one under her chin, virtually invisible ones in front of her ears, ugly red welts behind her ears. Looking at her I wonder: If you can tell someone has had plastic surgery, is that by definition bad plastic surgery?