Jan. 25, 2001 -- Few Americans will admit to having cosmetic surgery -- but many say they'd go for it if it were free, safe, and well concealed, according to a telephone/Internet survey for Modern Maturity and My Generation,two publications of the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP). Most of those questioned were satisfied with their appearance as is, but apparently wouldn't turn down a free nip and tuck here and there.
"People are pretty satisfied with the way they look," says Gabrielle Redford, senior editor of Modern Maturity. "But maybe their nose is shaped a little odd or they may want to correct some signs of aging. They want to look better, but it's sort of making improvements."
Women were more likely to acknowledge a need for improvement. Sixty percent said if they were offered a free, perfectly safe "fantasy" cosmetic surgery procedure, they'd take it, with tummy tuck and liposuction the most popular options. Just 43% of men said they would take the free fantasy procedure. Atop the list for men: a hair transplant, followed by tummy tuck and liposuction.
And how many people actually have undergone a cosmetic procedure? Just 4% of those 45-54 years of age, and 9% of those 55-64, according to respondents.
"We had thought the boomers would be going to plastic surgeons in record numbers," Redford says. "What we found was that the 55-64[-year-old] group went twice as much. So we did get age-specific differences, but the opposite of what we expected."
Even more surprising: Although relatively few admitted to having cosmetic surgery, half the respondents said they knew someone who had. And there's nothing wrong with that, said 60% of those who took the survey.
What motivates the people to take the cosmetic-procedure plunge?
"First of all, you have to have some discretionary dollars," says Walter Earhardt, MD, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "I have had a number of folks who have come in and said, 'We finally got the kids through school. Now I really want to do something for myself.'"
Plus, he says, it sometimes takes years before these patients actually feel comfortable with their decision. "I'll ask patients how long they've been thinking about it ... invariably, they'll say a couple of years."
But it appears the next generation down -- the mid-baby boomers -- is coming to those decisions more quickly.
"There's no doubt over the years we've seen a shift with rejuvenation procedures to younger age groups," Earhardt says. "The other piece of this is 20 years ago, we had a limited number of things we could do. We didn't have lasers or liposuction. There's been an incredible evolution in cosmetic surgery."
And it's paid off for patients and practitioners, with a 175% increase in cosmetic procedures being recorded between 1992 and 1999, Earhardt says. The most common procedures: liposuction for both men and woman, eyelid surgery for men, and breast augmentation for women.