Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have at least one thing in common, if you choose to believe the Daily Mail and The Sun. And why wouldn’t you? These world leaders, polarized in countless ways, have both (allegedly) dabbled in the delicate art of cosmetic intervention: hair plugs, cosmetic dentistry, Botox and filler, and perhaps a nip and a tuck.
Who knows if it’s true. Not me. Why bother bringing it up? Because the editors of Air Mail asked me to. In other words, this whole idea is not my fault. But a job’s a job, and I have 898 words to go.
They would also like me to mention Jared Leto because he’s 50 but looks 30. Jared Leto looks 30 because everyone who’s 50 looks 30. This isn’t an accomplishment, nor does it bear mentioning. Maybe he’s had quote-unquote work; maybe he hasn’t. I remember when I was 50, and I can attest that I looked 39. More or less.
Also, Jared Leto has done something every wise man might want to consider as he approaches his midcentury. He’s grown a beard. In Leto’s case, it’s a most luxuriant display of facial hair to go along with his luxuriant mane. A lush beard can hide anything: jowls, turkey neck, smile lines, a weak chin, snacks. Many men I know suddenly grew beards when they turned 50, and they look exceptional. I wish I could do the same.
Now, Tom Cruise, that’s a story—not that he’s going to tell it. The sheer will he exerts over everything he touches would lead us to believe that he’s done something to that 60-year-old astonishment of a face. He’s no stranger to cosmetic surgery if you count his role in Vanilla Sky. There is also a chance he isn’t human, which might explain why, in Top Gun: Maverick, he looks like a very fit 40.
Tom Cruise and Jared Leto are not world leaders. So we now return to Biden and Putin.
A lush beard can hide anything: jowls, turkey neck, smile lines, a weak chin, snacks.
When Joe Biden was a young senator, he was well along the road to baldness. Like many men in his predicament, he tried to compensate by growing his hair long in back, an unwise move. (See also: mullet.) The long hair made the sparseness more noticeable, as these efforts at subterfuge tend to do. (See also: Donald Trump.) And then one day, Joe Biden’s hair magically started to fill in on top.
It’s hard to imagine how alarming that was in the late 1980s, but let’s try. Hair plugs were a relatively new process, and few men in Biden’s circle were image-conscious enough to endure the pain, the time, and the expense of this nascent procedure. This was the era of cheap baggy suits, which politicians wore with pride. For a senator—the youngest senator—to approach his appearance with the diligence of a Hollywood heartthrob, well, people took note.
A reporter from The Washington Post asked the senator if he’d had a hair transplant. Rude! (Biden didn’t deny it, saying, “Guess. I’ve got to keep some mystery in my life.”)
Our president has a dazzling smile, even though he hasn’t had occasion to flash it lately. For that, I don’t blame him. But if you want to see a set of spectacular and perhaps not-real teeth, look at pictures from a few years ago of a smiling Joe Biden.
“He’s got the teeth of a 25-year-old surfer,” says Dr. Marc Lowenberg of the Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor cosmetic-dentistry practice, in New York City. “They don’t fit who he is.”
Dr. Lowenberg is just warming up. “The thing that makes his teeth a joke—and I hate to say this because he’s our president—is that they’re so opaque. The more opaque the teeth are, the faker they look. With veneers, there’s translucency; light flows through them so on-camera they don’t look so white and fake. In some pictures, you can see his bottom teeth, and they’re a different color. My educated guess is those [upper] teeth are not veneers.” His other educated guess is that they’re crowns.
When Dr. Lowenberg’s patients come to him for veneers, “1 out of 10 says, ‘I don’t want my teeth to look like Joe Biden’s.’ I’m not kidding.” He really isn’t.
At a political fundraiser years ago, my friend Carey met Vice President Biden, who asked her, “Who do I have to thank for those beautiful eyes?” She replied, “My mother.” But I wonder if he was fishing for the name of a surgeon, not that she has one.
Some plastic surgeons have speculated to the Daily Mail and The Sun about Biden’s more extreme measures. I spoke with Dr. Anthony Youn, a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Detroit, who, when prompted, did some speculating of his own. President Biden “does appear to have had his upper eyelids done,” Dr. Youn tells me. “He doesn’t have the excess skin of his upper eyelids that I’d expect him to have based on his age and how he used to look.”
Dr. Youn detects a face-lift in Biden’s past. “If you look at old photos, he does seem to have had a tighter neckline than would be expected. I don’t think it was within the last 10 or 15 years because it looks like it’s worn off a bit.”
Dr. Youn believes there are hazards for public figures who (allegedly) get cosmetic surgery. “TMZ or someone would have spotted him going into the surgeon’s office.” That’s why he dates the work to a time before Biden’s vice-presidency.
I suppose I must move on to Vladimir Putin, even though I’d rather not. His solution to aging, yellowing teeth is to never smile. In the words of a professional (Dr. Lowenberg), “He’s a miserable fuck.”
Dr. Youn adds, “I do think his eyelids have been done. It looks like he also had injections of filler. His face is plumper than it used to be. Or there’s the question that he could be on steroids, possibly related to cancer. He looks very puffy… Or maybe he used steroids because he enjoyed showing off his chest.” Remember when we could snicker as Putin posed shirtless on horseback, the Fabio of the K.G.B.? Nevermore.
I discussed Putin’s face with the daughter of an internationally known Russian dissident. She shared a conspiracy theory going around Russia that Putin is so cosmetically altered that some people suspect an impersonator has taken his place at public appearances.
Well-known figures have been accused of cosmetic surgery since the birth of the National Enquirer, but political leaders have been immune. No one’s immune anymore. All of these speculations and surgical Schadenfreude “help us feel better about ourselves,” says Dr. Youn. Do you feel better now? I can’t say that I do.
“The connotation, especially with men, is that [getting cosmetic surgery is] a sign of weakness, that it is not masculine. That they have insecurities,” says Dr. Youn.
Aren’t we all a little insecure, all trying our best, all wishing we could look a little fresher, a little tighter, a little more Jared Leto, without the world poking its surgically straightened nose in our business? Is that too much to ask?
Linda Wells spent 25 years as Allure magazine’s founding editor in chief, served as Revlon’s chief creative officer, and currently consults and sits on the boards of several beauty and apparel companies