For Christmas this year, 24-year-old Amanda Haack, an optician in suburban Michigan, is getting the gift of so many young women’s dreams: a tummy tuck, courtesy of her sister.
Haack’s surgery is scheduled for Jan. 6. To quell nerves and kill time between now and then, she’s spending the holiday season exercising furiously and arranging for child care for her son, Conrad, who is 2, while she recovers at home with her parents. Once Haack has her bikini body back, she’ll jet off to Boca Raton, Fla., to start a new life, with a new abdomen, in 2012. She expects the surgery to help her career prospects and her self-image going forward. “I’ll just feel very svelte and happy,” she says.
The economy may be a shambles this holiday season, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the cosmetic-surgery business. After a slight dip at the peak of the recession in 2008, the industry has rebounded in the last two years, even as most Americans were scrimping and saving on so much else. Between 2009 and 2010, Americans spent 3.8 percent less on food, 2 percent less on housing, 1.4 percent less on clothes, and 7 percent less on entertainment. At the same time, we spent 1.3 percent more on breast augmentation, 5.1 percent more on lipo, 8.1 percent more on eyelid surgery, and a whopping 24.4 percent more on butt lifts. The average American income during this period fell 0.6 percent, to $62,481.
Of course, the people who can afford such surgeries tend to have more disposable income, but relatively few are in the top 1 percent—or even close to it. Nearly one third of cosmetic-surgery patients make less than $30,000 a year, and about 70 percent make less than $60,000, according to a 2009 study by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. And those who can’t afford it finance it: in recent years, a whole industry has sprouted to lend money to people who want to alter their bodies. General Electric’s CareCredit is one such company; Cosmetic Surgery Financing is another. CareCredit works with more than 150,000 doctors around the country and charges interest rates up to 26.99 percent on loans.
Some doctors say this holiday season is their busiest yet. Haack’s surgeon is Dr. Tony Youn, and his calendar has been booked for three months. In a four-week period, he’ll perform a dozen breast augmentations, 11 liposuctions, and eight tummy tucks. His patients come from all walks, from the well-to-do to the struggling, the very successful to the unemployed. Around one in six of Youn’s patients will borrow money to pay for the procedures.
Also booked solid is Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel, who runs a cosmetic-surgery practice in Texas that saw approximately 2,000 patients last year, around 90 percent of them women. Most come in because they want to look younger, period, he says. But lately, more than a few have said they’re also banking on a career boost. “Plastic surgery may allow you to stay competitive,” says Kenkel. “A lot of people feel like at least it allows them to stay in the game.”
Just ask Angela Hitsous. In early October, the 59-year-old physical therapist and garden designer attended the Fab Over Fifty Beauty Bash, a two-day event at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan. For a $170 entrance fee, attendees could consult with cosmeticians, hair experts, a “menopause makeover” specialist, and—the main draw—cosmetic dermatologists and surgeons, some of whom did live demonstrations onstage. There were “Dr. Howard Sobel’s Trifecta Lift—Live!,” “Great Breasts After 50: Lifts, Implants and Reductions,” and “The Secret to Rapid Healing After Surgery.”
“There are pressures to look young in the workplace,” says Hitsous, whose own dermatologist was on hand to perform three facial cosmetic procedures on her: a fractional laser to the upper lip, which gets rid of fine lines and wrinkles; a Juvéderm injection to the area around her nose, also to fill in wrinkles; and a little Botox around the lips. When the presentation—“A Sexy Smile & Fresh Lips”—was finished, the small audience applauded.