Twenty-one-year-old FouriersAllDay has come to the PlasticSurgery subreddit seeking guidance and support. He fears his weak chin makes everything about him weaker and “ruins Facebook photos taken from the side,” despite his dieting and the fact that he spends “a TON of time at the gym trying to look exactly the way” he wants.
Fellow Redditor Coltis feels exactly the same. “My chin looks a lot like yours!” he exclaims, adding he also lacks a jawline, so he’ll be having chin liposuction later this summer to establish one. “Sure, it’s a lot of money that I could do a lot of things with,” he reasons. “But when I really think about it, this is what I want more than anything in the world.”
“Slow down,” cautions Iredditi. “It sounds like you both are making major plastic surgery decisions based only how you look from the side-and-three-quarters!”
Here’s the thing: A lot of guys today are making plastic surgery decisions based on how they look from all sorts of shitty and mostly virtual angles. There are a multitude of places where a man’s face might appear these days — Snapchat, Tinder, Grindr, FaceTime, Skype, Instagram and Facebook to name just a few. Together they shine a giant, hot spotlight on lifelong insecurities, and contour apps can’t fix everything.
While the most popular cosmetic procedures among men remain Botox (429,000 in 2015), laser hair removal (188,000), nose jobs (53,000) and liposuction for “man-boobs” (27,000), “chin implantation is definitely one of the fastest-growing facial surgical treatments among men,” says Michael Persky, a plastic surgeon in Encino, CA. The biggest increase came in 2011, when more than 20,000 Americans went under the knife to sharpen their jawlines, up from roughly 12,000 the year before, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “You can’t lift weights to get a stronger chin,” explains Manhattan plastic surgeon Darrick Antell. “Either you have one or you don’t.” And if you don’t, he says, “It’s hard for some guys to find confidence. Just imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger with a weak, soft chin. It wouldn’t be Arnold; it would be an oxymoron!”
Chin implantation isn’t just gaining popularity among men; it’s gaining popularity among younger men. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery polls its 2,700 members every year to spot the latest trends in plastic surgery. In last year’s survey, one-third of plastic surgeons reported an increase in facial cosmetic procedures directly relating to patients’ awareness of their appearance in selfies and on social media. “Guys go to a wedding and someone takes a picture of them at the buffet table and all of a sudden they see on Facebook that they have a double chin or that their chin is lacking,” Antell says. Neither will do for today’s millennial, whom two-thirds of plastic surgeons reported seeing more of in 2015. Of course, there are a variety of nonsurgical strategies. Some guys make sure the photographer is always taller than they are. Others avoid flash photography. “I stick my neck out as far as I can like a giraffe to make up for my weak chin,” explains Geo77 in the “Ask a Doctor” section of RealSelf.com.
American men have been reshaping their jawlines for more than 65 years; the first cosmetic procedures on the chin were actually performed during World War II. Poisonous gases, sniper rifles and trench warfare had significantly damaged Allied soldiers’ jaws, lips and noses. To salvage the jawline, surgeons made cuts in the chin bone, which was pushed outward and held in place with steel wires. “As most of my lower jaw had gone,” soldier John Bagot Glubb recounts in Reconstructing Faces: The Art and Wartime Surgery of Gillies, Pickerill, McIndoe and Mowlem, “I was shown an album of photographs of handsome young men and asked to choose the chin I would most like to have!” The advent of silicone in the late 1960s would lead to modern-day chin implants, of which silicone remains the primary ingredient.
Implants aren’t the only option, though. Some guys prefer to get a series of volumizing filler injections — Radiesse, Sculptra and Voluma being the most popular — which is a relatively easy and inexpensive procedure done in the doctor’s office under local anesthesia, allowing them to give a thumbs up or down as their doctor goes. Problem is, injections are temporary. For example, Radiesse only lasts a couple years — provided you go in every three months for touch-ups. As such, doctors agree that implantation is a far better option (and, after the second round of injections, cheaper).
They also insist the procedure is relatively simple. Persky explains that a 2-centimeter incision (about the length of a postage stamp) is made under the chin where most people already have some scarring from minor childhood trips and falls. Then, a small pocket is created in the lining of the jawbone. The v-shaped solid silicone implant stretches the length of the jawline, like a fortified chin strap, and can be easily removed if necessary. “Three or four dissolving stitches remain for about five days,” Antell explains; after a week, patients carry on with their lives. “This is a procedure that whispers; it doesn’t shout.”
Things, however, can get fucked up on occasion. “HELP!” shouted Dandanwell in the MakeMeHeal online forum, a kind of Yelp for plastic surgery. “Has my chin implant gone wrong? My face is so obviously not right. My surgeon remarked a few times that it was ‘quite a big implant.’ Here’s a photo — is it TOO big!?” It’s interesting that Dandanwell shared a picture; guys tend to be hugely private about this stuff. “Young male jawline patients are the most secretive of all cosmetic surgery patients,” wrote Barry Eppley, an Indianapolis plastic surgeon, in an email explaining why he was unable to connect us with a few of his patients. “They never want to talk to anyone — they’re unique that way.” Even in the online forums, guys use internet handles rather than their real names.
Tommy11 hoped implants would correct a weak chin and remove fat that seemed to accumulate no matter how hard he dieted, but was unhappy with the result, explaining that the implants “squared my chin when I wanted it extended.” Also: “I can tell you this procedure is very painful.” Not during the procedure so much, since he was obviously numb at the time, but “definitely afterward. And there was a ton of LOUD cutting — a very strange experience since I was fully awake the whole time.” Tommy felt tingling and numbness until he had the implant removed a year and a half later. “It made it hard to pronounce certain words,” he wrote. He likened the discomfort to “having a mouthpiece permanently inserted in my mouth.”
Why would any guy put up with this? Likely because, “in the annals of time, there has never been a time when having a weaker jawline has been in vogue,” Eppley says. “You can go back in history as far as you want — in terms of male physical features, there’s never been a time when a smaller, weaker or softer jawline was viewed as favorable for a man.”
Centuries of thinking have been dedicated to examining the connection between the male jawline and masculinity. For David Puts, a professor of anthropology at Penn State, it’s simple Darwinism. Millions of years ago, “male primates tended to compete for mates in part via biting,” he explains, so fathers passed down their fortified chompers to their sons. Also, broken jaws in prehistoric bar brawls would’ve been catastrophic in the absence of modern medicine. Thus, “robust jawlines were probably evolutionarily maintained because thicker mandibles were less likely to fracture during fights over mates,” Puts says. In other words, when two males got in a fight over a female, the ape with the glass jaw lost not only a date, but also the opportunity to pass down his weak-ass chin to the rest of us.
It’s no different today. “A set of powerful-looking masticatory muscles certainly seems to add to male attractiveness,” says Nancy Etcoff, a professor at Harvard Medical School who has conducted more than 20 years of research on the perception of beauty, emotion, well-being and the brain. Related: humans have an evolutionary trait wherein it’s believed that the more symmetrical the male’s face, the more virile he is considered to be by the female, resulting in a higher percentage of orgasms. Explains Persky, “That’s because someone who appears physically healthier is theoretically going to be a better provider,” whether it’s securing a brontosaurus so your kids can eat dinner tonight or securing a job at Goldman Sachs so they can attend Andover. (Research says it’s the same for gay men: everyone is into a strong jaw.)
This is probably why some plastic surgeons like Gal Aharonov aggressively market what they see as the perils of underdeveloped chins on men (it doesn’t qualify as either coded language or dog whistling because there’s nothing subtle or coded about it). On his website, for example, he comes right out and says that weak chins “feminize” men’s faces and “result in unfounded presumptions about strength or character.” Defending his marketing strategy over the phone, Aharonov bottom-lined it for me: “Sadly, the field of plastic surgery has always been associated with helping people feel a little less insecure about themselves. How do you market to these people? You create need.” Da Vinci described the ideal natural proportions of the lower half of the male face by noting that “ideally, a plumbline dropped from the edge of the lower lip straight down would touch the chin.” If it doesn’t, says Antell, “you’ll likely have a weak chin. You can use your index finger to check.”
Somewhere along the way, television cameras, casting directors, comic book artists and the American voter decided square jawlines, protuberant chins and manly clefts were the defining features of macho heroes — even more so than biceps, broad shoulders and barreled chests. Think Dick Tracy and Buzz Lightyear; Ben Affleck’s Batman; Chris Pratt and Chris Evans from Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America, respectively; Joe Montana and Tom Brady; the American Dad; Tom Cruise; Ryan Reynolds; Taylor Lautner; Zac Efron; Robert Pattinson; Orlando Bloom; John Madden, John Kerry, John Wayne, Jon Stewart, Jon Hamm and Johnny Depp; Josh Hutcherson; Ashton Kutcher; Bill Hader; Aaron Eckhart; Jake Gyllenhaal; He-Man, Skeletor and The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull; and Barack Obama, along with every single other U.S. President.
A strong chin is also relevant to boardroom success, says Antell, who conducted a study in 2007 analyzing the chins of Fortune 500 CEOs. He found that 90 percent had non-receding or prominent chins, a trait held by less than 75 percent of the population. “Today, you wear your resume on your face,” he explains, adding that people with stronger chins were perceived to be a) more trustworthy and b) have better leadership skills — both highly-desired traits in a CEO. The only exception was the decidedly weak-chinned Bill Gates. “But he didn’t get hired for the job,” Antell notes. “He founded his own company.”
As for FouriersAllDay, he posted an update in the PlasticSurgery subreddit a couple of weeks ago. “For those who stumble across this, I decided to move forward with a chin implant and my surgery is tomorrow. I’m kind of freaking out at the off-chance it fucks up my face.”
In the end, it didn’t fuck up his face. It barely impressed, really.
“I HAD hoped for a bit more projection, but I’m still happy with the results because it looks SO MUCH better than before.”
His old pal Coltis was thrilled.
“So glad to hear that it went well! I’m excited to see the results… POST PICTURES when it heals! I only have one-and-a-half months to wait… :)”