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Plastic surgery gets plumped up by job stress

What's a little nip, tuck or 'tox among friends when your very job prospects are in peril?

As the recession punishes workers with more layoffs and the stock market cripples the finances of those in or near retirement, keeping a job or finding a job has become paramount. And plastic surgeons say that while the recession has hurt their overall business, they see sharp increases in the numbers of job-nervous women and men coming in for Botox injections, eyelid lifts or neck tucks as part of an aggressive strategy to stay competitive with youth in the roughest employment market in a generation.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons released results of a recent survey showing that U.S. women consider cosmetic surgery a competitive edge in the workplace. Doctors I spoke to say that men, too, are seeking help since the recession got especially nasty.

"Male patients are here because of the competition," says Stephan Baker, a Coral Gables plastic surgeon.

Seniors also are back in the job market, forced to seek work because of stock market losses to retirement savings. They, too, may prove an emerging market for plastic surgery.

The typical cosmetic goal is not a major rejuvenation but rather to "look" fresher to customers, co-workers and bosses. Or, as Tampa plastic surgeon Joshua Halpern calls it, "to stop looking tired."

New data show that fearful workers may be a big market. A Rutgers University survey, released Wednesday and titled "The Depressed American Worker," says that nearly half of the U.S. labor force (49 percent) is now very concerned with job security for those currently working, compared with a third (32 percent) in 2008.

Halpern, who has practiced surgery in Tampa for 20 years, tells the story of one patient, a "high-level banker" who was "asked to resign" from her job. She opted for surgery and soon found another job.

Cause and effect? Who knows? But it's likely that folks predisposed to seek such procedures feel more confident afterward.

A majority of people seeking a workplace edge via cosmetic means are in sales. "That's where first impressions are so important," Halpern says. One patient, a man in his 50s who worked in sales, was laid off and chose to have an eyelid lift before looking for another position.

Others still have jobs but believe that a more youthful look will make them less likely targets — keep them "off the radar" — in the event of another wave of downsizing.

If work-inspired patients are on the rise, overall demand for plastic surgery is down — in some cases by as much as 60 percent. It's not that folks don't want bigger breasts, facelifts and liposuction. What has slowed the pipeline is — just like at car dealerships — the credit crunch.

Firms that specialize in cosmetic surgery loans are more picky in lending.

Loans once meant to be paid back over four years often are now squeezed to as little as three months. Many aspiring patients delay cosmetic procedures so that they can save up to pay in cash.

An eyelid lift costs roughly $3,600 to $4,000, while a neck tightening typically runs $4,000 to $6,000. That adds up to a lot of mortgage payments if you're out of work.

But if it truly helps motivate some folks to find new employment, well, as MasterCard likes to brag, maybe it's priceless.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Plastic surgery gets plumped up by job stress 04/08/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 8:36pm]
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