batman adam west christian bale Modern audiences are looking for more from their superheroes
than in the 1960s, as the Batmans of Adam West, left, and
Christian Bale show.
Credit: Getty Images

Between the uber-sculpted uniform of today’s Batman to the bona fide god Thor having his own franchise, pressure is ramping up on Hollywood’s leading men to look capable of the feats their characters perform.

But while action stars talk up their grueling training and special diets, there may well be another kind of body-shaping professional whose work will go unacknowledged, says Dr. Brent Moelleken.


The Beverly Hills plastic surgeon took part in “Superhero Bodies,” a new documentary by RealSelf, the online community for elective surgery, about how the demands of modern superhero roles are pushing actors to their physical limits — and the effect that’s having on American men. The number of cosmetic procedures being performed on men has risen 273 percent in the last 16 years, according to theAmerican Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, with liposuction and ab-sculpting being the most common in 2013.

“The trend toward being ultra-fit is more so there than ever," he says. "It used to be a man could get by with a pot belly and graying sideburns and look distinguished. But now that’s not enough — in order to make it in Hollywood, you have to be cut. That really mirrors what’s going on in society.”

We asked Moelleken about where reality ends and fantasy begins.

How real is what’s onscreen?

“Celebrities are a fantasy. And the fantasy is not just one individual; it’s a company. These celebrities are companies, they have a whole entourage around them that depend on maintaining that image. Celebrities generally won’t admit to anything, and I think it is to continue this mystique of what it is to be a celebrity.”

When does plastic surgery come into the picture?

“As people enter their 30s and definitely their 40s, and with 100 percent certainty their 50s, people have to get work done to continue to look youthful and vibrant and natural. It’s inevitable. ...To be in that A level, the superhero level, you really need to be on your best game. But once people hit 35, your best game may not be enough — and that’s where plastic surgery comes in.”

Be realistic in your expectations.

“Sometimes people come in with that preconception, but then you talk to them and you tell them, ‘Gosh, no, that’s really not how it works.’We can improve on what you have, but we can’t make you into Hugh Jackman if you’re not already close to Hugh Jackman to begin with.”

For some stars, steroids and human growth hormone can also enter the picture.

“They’re willing to do anything to succeed, and that’s an important lesson for people who are aspiring to have bodies like the superheroes: There may be a price to pay for that, in degeneration of your health, kidney problems, hip problems. Long-term steroid use is very hard on you.”

What's driving ordinary men to get plastic surgery?

While the men seeking plastic surgery in Moelleken’s office tend to be the older partner in a relationship and want to look the right age, more commonly the answer is found at work: “Almost every job has a sales component to it. You have to sell something: You sell yourself if you’re a politician or a company president, if you’re an idea man or a film producer. You walk into a room and people are assessing you – and usually the people at the table assessing you are in their 30s now. They’re the ones who have worked as interns, worked their way up and now suddenly they’re in positions of leadership. And if you walk into the room looking old and irrelevant, you’re not gonna get that job.”

Follow Eva Kis on Twitter @thisiskis or email

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