At the 1993 conference of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, in Paris, a young doctor gave a speech with a provocative hook: What if liposuction could be used to give men six-pack abs? To the crowd of surgeons, the idea seemed foolish. “There was a little bit of uneasiness with the technique,” remembers the surgeon, Dr. Henry Mentz. He was largely ignored.
But Mentz had proof that this procedure could work. In 1992, he had been approached by a male model who, despite being in excellent shape, was never quite able to get a chiseled stomach. Could Mentz help? The model specifically asked if Mentz, who was just starting out in his practice, could use liposuction to carve grooves that would reveal his underlying abdominal muscles.
He gave it a shot. The results looked good. So Mentz did the procedure a second time, and a third, and a fourth. He co-authored a paper on this new technique, which he called “abdominal etching.” Now, 30 years later, he’s performed the operation over 3,000 times, and says the results have been “extremely durable.” Over the years, Mentz gave more speeches at more conferences. New technologies made the operation easier and available to more patients. Other surgeons embraced and evangelized the tech—some learning from Mentz, others cooking up similar ideas on their own. (Like agriculture and calculus, abdominal etching seems to have been invented in several places at around the same time.)
At plastic surgery conferences, ab etching went from fringe topic to headlining act; Dr. Daniel Markmann, a Baltimore-based plastic surgeon who independently began etching abs 20 years ago, says that at a 2021 conference it was “all anyone could talk about.” When Markmann started his practice decades ago, less than 5 percent of his clients were men. That has jumped to 30 percent, and, he says, “It’s all six packs.”
Now abdominal operations are everywhere. “If you look on almost any plastic surgeon’s website, they will have a section on men, and they’ll have a picture of a model who has zero body fat and really defined abs,” says Dr. Joshua Korman, a plastic surgeon based in Mountain View, California. He isn’t surprised by the rising popularity. The lure of a six-pack is obvious. “That’s what high school boys want,” he says. “That’s what college guys want. That’s what people of all ages want.”
And it is also what celebrities want. Fake abs might be the best kept secret in Hollywood. Dr. Gregory Lakin, another plastic surgeon who developed ab etching on his own, says that his patients include actors, singers, dancers, models—“even porn stars.” (He can’t disclose their identities for obvious reasons.)
You can understand why actors would be tempted—it’s not easy to replicate the abs of a Jersey Shore guy. Just ask a Jersey Shore guy. “I’ve always been a workout fanatic and I’ve always been in shape, but it also takes a lot of hard work to stay in shape,” Jersey Shore star Ronnie Ortiz-Magro said on E!s “The Doctors,” which devoted an episode to his ab etching transformation. Or take the Australian reality-star-turned politician, Darryn Lyons, who went public with his ab etching, saying “basically it’s the male version of the boob job.”