There were far fewer people at the second annual Cosmetic Enhancement Expo than you might imagine, considering that Los Angeles is, after all, the home of the augmented tit and reduced ass. One exhibitor, an author hawking a tell-all book on The God Complex, supposed that attendance was down because a keynote speaker, the superstar doctor from Extreme Makeover, failed to show up. Me? As a consumer, Im supposing that surgery cosmetic or otherwise is a tough one to market. At least in public: Wanting an accessorized physique is one thing, wanting it in front of other people is another. All the same, various booths had been set up at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Cosmetic Enhancement Expo was running simultaneously this weekend with the Travel Expo. Thus, there were people interested in getting surgery, people interested in giving surgery, and people interested in booking flights to Tahiti. Mostly, there were women and bald men. I wandered into a tented-off area where a Dr. Katzen was showing some truly frightening nude photos of formerly obese patients who have gone through a procedure known as a total body lift, which yanks up the extra skin around the midsection and legs, then pulls it tight. Sort of the way a tailor trims off the extra cloth from a pair of trousers going from XXL to XS. After about the 15th slide, I could see how scary becomes amazing. I stole glances at the scattering of attendees around me. None of us was morbidly obese, but all of us were morbidly fascinated by what we saw on the screen. We were rapt. A railroad of stitches appeared at the seams of the thighs, genitals and waist, like crotchless underwear etched in skin. In another tent, a sexy woman in an ivory St. John sweater suit talked about her dermatologist husbands La Jolla medical spa. Medi-spas are the latest trend in elective-surgery culture, because who wants to be stuck in a waiting room with a bunch of sick people? Everything has been feng shuied, she cooed. St. John looked to be 35, but could easily have been 45. Or 55. It was impossible to tell. The men and women checked out her tanned calves and pink kitten heels while she went on about the spas Relaxation Room, Juice Bar and Auditorium available for book signings and bridal parties. Here is our fat freezer, she said, projecting slides. In the baggies are fat thats been lipo-ed out. We can re-deposit your fat in other areas. Like, in another part of town? At the Orchid Cosmetic Surgery booth, a woman explained how they can remove the fat from your butt and stick it into your lip. But doesnt the fat travel back to where it came from? I asked. No, she said, but then conferred with a colleague. Fifteen to 20 percent of the fat stays with you, said her colleague. It doesnt matter if you work out. Its your fat. At the MagicTan booth, two girls in bikinis were power-sprayed into a delicious, golden brown. At another tent, a woman who looked 55 but was probably 85, discussed Oprahs noninvasive lunchtime face-lift. This does not, as I had conjectured, involve Scotch tape, but polypropylene thread the stuff surgeons use for sutures. Lines of thread strung with little cogs are inserted into your face and pulled up, à la Roman shades, but with skin. An Asian doctor-type raised his hand. If the threads break, does your face fall down? By midafternoon, I took to playing with the assortment of fake breast implants at the Mentor kiosk. The saline ones were gushy, like salt water in a Ziploc bag. The textures of the silicone ones were trickier to diagnose. Theyre called gummy bear implants, meaning if you cut the implant in half, each half stays solid, said the cute girl behind the counter. They dont leak out. As she was talking, I tried to work out if it would be considered rude if I asked her if her boobs were real. After a while, the once-foreign idea of cosmetic enhancement seemed . . . still foreign, but less faraway an exotic locale within reach. But like most exotic locales, cost was the real prohibitive factor. A face-lift costs anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000. But even that had been taken care of. After narrowly avoiding the facial-rejuvenation acupuncture chair in favor of a cup of Fit & Slender green tea from the nice woman who got the tea into the Academy Awards gift baggies, I wound up at Surgery Loans. Hello, now. Are you thinking about having some work done? said the man. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. No, I said. At least, not yet.
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