Inside One Man's Quest to Achieve a Sharp, Chiseled Jawline
Robin was my gateway. The jawline of Batman’s sidekick wasn’t the squarest, but at six years old in my bedroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, I knew something was different about him. That led me to Batman, Superman, Thor, the Human Torch. I could draw dozens of their faces from memory even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began making gods out of guys named Chris. The one thing they all have in common? A jaw that looks like a block of granite. And I’ve wanted one ever since.
I’m a 34-year-old man with the facial structure of the Gerber baby, something that was adorable when I was an actual baby. But now that I’m an adult? It’s still adorable. I’ve struggled with my weight and body image my whole life, but my face has always been a particular problem. When I was at my heaviest, people couldn’t resist pinching my cheeks. When I was at my thinnest, and hospitalized for anorexia, another patient told me I had “chipmunk cheeks.” No matter what your body looks like under your clothes, do you know what you can’t hide? Your face.
“The sharper the jaw, the stronger the man” is such a natural way to think that we don’t even question it. A study in 2013 discovered a link between a wider jaw and higher levels of circulating testosterone in men. A Duke University study found that CEOs with stronger facial features were seen as more competent. Another study reported that voters preferred leaders with more masculine features in wartime. In comic books (and conference rooms and the Oval Office and, I don’t know, a Cheesecake Factory), a square jaw suggests power. And more men like me are looking for ways of getting one.
Nonsurgical approaches include Botox and fillers; Ultherapy, which uses ultrasound to tighten saggy skin; CoolSculpt, which freezes and kills fat cells; and Kybella,
which destroys fat cells with injectable acid. But a lot of surgery is happening, too. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 57 percent of chin–augmentation surgeries in 2017 were performed on men.
I might become one of them. After years of self-consciousness and a handful of noninvasive procedures, I’m not sure anything is off-limits if it’s going to make me feel more confident. If I’m ready for the knife, the question is: What exactly does that mean? What are my options? And, most important, will it be enough?
IMPLANT? NOT THAT SIMPLE.
“Look at Greek and Roman art and you’ll see strong chins,” says plastic surgeon Melissa Doft, M.D., in her office on New York’s Upper East Side. “Even in ancient times, this was an aesthetic ideal.”
I came to her wondering about a chin implant, something she said could be performed in her office under local anesthesia. Traditionally, she might suggest one as an add-on to a rhinoplasty to balance the proportions of the face, but many of her male clients are starting to ask for it specifically. Even without the nose job, she typically pairs one with liposuction around the neck to define the jawline and adjustments under the eyes to bring out the cheekbones. For me, even that wouldn’t be enough. Dr. Doft told me I would also need to remove my buccal fat pads (the fatty areas inside the cheeks). She would make tiny incisions just above the upper molars to remove them. Then she would use a cannula, a narrow tube attached to a syringe, to remove the fat under my chin.
A full surgical treatment like that would cost me around $6,000 but take only a few hours. Maybe it is just as easy as Dr. Doft made it sound. After all, she showed me that it’s more about subtle changes than a huge, sweeping redo.
THE LIMITS OF FILLERS
What Lisa Goodman, founder of the antiaging clinic GoodSkin Los Angeles, told me cut deep (and she’s not even a surgeon): “You don’t actually have enough cheekbone structure to handle the amount of fat that you have.”
Ouch. The secret to contouring a man’s face with only injectables, she says, “is really just about straight lines,” meaning that instead of making gentle curves that would feminize the face, the goal is to create angles. It’s achieved by weightier fillers like Radiesse and Voluma, which are injected deep and can visually enhance bone structure. Layering them with a lightweight filler like Juvéderm to plump the skin can rework your face in subtle but striking ways. In my case, Goodman said my “fat was falling”—and any remaining fat would too—so filler would visually produce more bone structure to help support the surrounding tissue.
A full treatment with only minimally invasive methods requires a big-picture view and a lot of patience. Kybella can be used to take away pockets of fat (like my buccal pads) without surgery, but it involves three to six treatments, each a month apart. I’d already gotten Kybella and had adverse side effects—my neck was completely numb for four months. (I would rather just go under the knife.)
USING THE WHOLE TOOL KIT
One of the few plastic surgeons in the U. S. to specialize in men, Douglas Steinbrech, M.D., told me that no matter what surgical options a patient goes for, adding fillers gets optimal results. In 2014, Dr. Steinbrech created what he calls the Male Model Makeover, which commonly includes enhancing the angles of the face. The jawline is his focus. “That a strong jaw is associated with respect and authority has become hardwired into our brains,” he says. “You see it more now because of the hypersexualization of superheroes.” Just look at Michael Keaton’s 1989 Batman next to Ben Affleck’s in 2016.
The problem is trying to go from Keaton to Affleck in one procedure. “It’s a game of addition and subtraction,” Dr. Steinbrech says. “The mistake is to put an implant deep on the bone underneath all this soft tissue assuming it’s going to make you a chiseled movie
star.” If a patient doesn’t already have a clearly defined bone structure (as I don’t), Dr. Steinbrech may advise getting a chin, jaw, or cheekbone implant but will suggest first taking away the fat (through procedures such as micro-liposuction and Kybella) or tightening sagging skin (like with a face-lift or neck-lift). Fillers are then added at the end for “refined detail.”
Dr. Steinbrech recommended almost the whole menu. He noted that I had “general subcutaneous facial fat” (meaning my whole face is fat, not just my cheeks), so even with the buccal fat pads removed, I would still need to manage my expectations. He also recom-mended a chin implant (“no-brainer”) and cheekbone implants. The “frosting on the cake,” as he put it, would be a generous helping of filler. Depending on how many syringes he used, this could run me as much as $18,000 per visit. To show me what this would all look like, Dr. Steinbrech used a computer program he calls virtual surgery.
THE “AFTER” PICTURE
The face that Dr. Steinbrech created as I watched looked as if someone had built the action–figure version of me. The goal, he said, was to generate a “Hollywood twin,” a more handsome version of my face that retained what made me, well, me. Even so, the me staring back from the screen was the ultimate selfie—a version of my face I was desperate for me to have and others to see.
About that desperation: I called Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School, who literally wrote the book on male body image. Since he and his coauthors published The Adonis Complex in 2000, he’s noticed a dramatic increase in men’s preoccupation with their face. “The everyday person has become the celebrity,” he says. “To have a picture taken these days, you have to look good, because with social media, everyone has access to it. This has heightened body image in a significant way.”
Photo-editing apps have too. “People can alter their faces very easily now,” says Olivardia. “They can see what they look like with a more angular jaw [for instance], and it’s sending people to cos-metic surgeons’ offices quicker.” A decade ago, patients would show up to their consultations with photos of celebrities. Now they come with their own doctored photos, a phenomenon Dr. Steinbrech calls “Snapchat dysmorphia.” It presents new issues to plastic surgeons, who spend more time adjusting a patient’s expectations because of things like basic anatomy and genetics. Facetune might be a magic wand, but surgery is not.
In the weeks after my consultation, I spent so much time playing with Facetune that my photos looked like they belonged in a fun house. I stared at my face in the mirror, lifting and stretching my skin like an aging starlet in an old movie.
I started to realize that my expectations were out of control. Even with extensive treatments, I would never look like the me I’d been imagining.
This story is not going to end with some body-positive realization—at least not one that leaves me happy with what I look like now. And is that so weird? We go to the gym to look different. We wear clothes to hide our bodies. I had an epiphany, sure, but the epiphany was: If I can’t be Batman, I’ll still take Robin.
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