elevated

emina gamulin

Everyone in my best friend’s family has had plastic surgery except her. Her dad alone has had more than 15 procedures. I tell people this and the questions inevitably start. Are they loaded?

Yup.

What does she look like?

A devil-may-care, half-Japanese heart breaker.

The father?

. . . Surprised.

And the others?

They’re a good-looking bunch.

“It’s really embarrassing,” she once told me. “Like, I’d rather have an alcoholic in the family or something.”

Sure, I feel a tad guilty for all the times I’ve opened her family closet as a gateway to Q and A, but what other topic could bring wealth, desire, artifice, secrecy, risk and transformation together into such a delicious juxtaposition? Plastic surgery is interesting. Grouped together it’s fascinating.

What I found to be a conversational goldmine is the stuff that has made Elevate, Canada’s only cosmetic enhancement quarterly, a thriving publication. Maybe not everyone likes it, but you can bet they’re paying attention.

Boasting a circulation of more than 37,000 readers, it’s looking to up those numbers with its current expansion to the West Coast. A few of those readers are getting copies at Indigo or via subscription, but the vast majority are, like Allison McGrath, 25, picking them up as they wait to get their hair done.

“I find it interesting, but sad,” she says of the magazine. “I guess it’s a sign of the times.”

“And it makes me realize how vain and horrible I am.”

With striking blue eyes and cheekbones that would put a rock star to shame, McGrath is a looker. But, vain creature that she is, she’s planning on getting some laser skin treatments done. Still, she sees the magazine more as guilty pleasure than research material.

“I go to my dermatologist to find out about that stuff,” she sniffs.

When the magazine started four years ago, it was like a pair of oversized breast implants on a stripper – a little cheap looking, a little obvious, but damn hard to take your eyes off. Under the subtitle “the promise of cosmetic enhancement,” free copies of the magazine went to beauty salons, gyms and skin clinics across Ontario.

With lines like: “While David Letterman might like that gap between his two front teeth, you don’t have to put up with yours” and “Your eyes are the windows to your soul. Don't let droopy eyelids get in the way,” it’s hard not to mistake some of the early articles for ad copy. Perhaps that’s because, as one Toronto-based plastic surgeon suggests, that’s what they were.

“I was told ‘If you pay for a full page ad, we'll interview you for an article,’” recalls Dr. Robert Stubbs of the time he was approached to advertise in the launch issue. “‘And if I don't?’ ‘Well there are lots of other doctors who will do that.’”

Stubbs has been something of a media darling for years, due to his expertise in genital enhancement surgeries and his potentially euphemistic name. However, he's also well known for his work on the more conventional body parts.

Stubbs says he was skeptical of the magazine’s apparent “kiss me and I’ll kiss you” approach to generating content.

“This is a consumer magazine that features doctors,” he says. “So they have to bend over backwards to be on the moral high ground, which they don't.”

Brian Light, Elevate’s publisher and president, says the magazine never had a policy of exchanging advertising dollars for editorial coverage.

“ I can't speak for the original publisher, and I wasn't selling the magazine at the beginning, but that was never our philosophy, ” Light says.

Reviewing the first issue though, nearly every doctor quoted in an article has an ad somewhere else in the magazine. Hmmm.

Young, pretty and, for the record, free of any nips and tucks, Chantel Simmons is the current editor at Elevate. Flat out, she says the editorial is not advertorial. “ I won't do one sided articles. Sometimes, in the past, it was more of just profiles, but I feel our readers can get that from an advertisment. ”

The magazine has had some enhancements of its own since that controversial launch issue, cosmetic and otherwise. The pep rally tone has disappeared, with articles offering more balanced opinions and stronger writing, covering issues such as complications and the dangers of reality TV makeover shows. A wide variety of sources are quoted, including American doctors who have little interest in putting their “ before and afters ” in a magazine north of the border. The list also includes one Dr. Stubbs, who still declines to advertise.

Coming from a consumer background at TV guide and Elle Canada, Simmons says she wanted to make the magazine more like other mainstream beauty publications.

In April, the magazine transformed itself yet again, making the break from “ cosmetic enhancement ” to “ anti-aging, enhancements and wellness .”

“I’ve always been unhappy with the word cosmetic. It’s thin and shallow,” says publisher Brian Light. “Your looking good can’t be separated from feeling good. And if you’re not healthy, you won’t look good.”

“It’s going to have more health and fitness, more fun things you can start with your friends like cooking clubs and stuff like that,” explains Simmons.

Stubbs thinks they’ve come a long way, but still wants them to polish things. “A lot of stuff in this magazine is really experimental,” he says, pointing out certain procedures featured in the latest issue. “If you want to spend $10,000 because you’re a scientific-type lady who’s got money to burn, then okay, c’mon. But if you’re gullible, overweight, and tired of exercise, don’t expect a little vibration of your tush or whatnot to turn you into a model.”

The magazine comes with a disclaimer saying it can’t vouch for any of the doctors or procedures featured, but like most of its kind, the print is tiny, escaping the notice of most.

Robert DeAngelo, the original publisher, was quoted in the Globe and Mail in the summer of 2001 on the subject of cosmetic surgery. He said, "eventually, it will become the equivalent of going to see your dentist to get your teeth cleaned."

While this has yet to be a reality, whether you call it plastic surgery, cosmetic enhancement or anti-aging, it’s only getting more popular. Like it or not, Elevate got the premise right.

“I think they’ve got a winner,” Dr.Stubbs says.

Photos by Emina Gamulin