STEVE Carl used to be an ugly duckling. But after spending $10,000 on plastic surgery, plus another $15,000 on personal training, Carl transformed himself from a grumpy, 230-pound "big cake eater" to a muscle-bound 160-pound stud.
The other night, Carl strutted down a runway in Bethpage, L.I., for a fashion show with other surgically enhanced models, dressed in a Theory button-down and AG jeans from House of Style in Rockville Centre.
He is the male Swan.
"I figured it was about time to show what I've done," Carl told The Post.
"I was getting to be a middle-aged guy who follows the same pattern of a workaholic who eats all the wrong foods, is fairly lethargic.
"I decided to change that. You only get one chance in life."
His doctor, plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen Greenberg, said Carl is only one of many of his male clients.
"Twenty-five percent of all my patients are male," he said. "That number five years ago was 10 percent.
"What do men want? Tummy tucks and face-lifts. But the No. 1 procedure is liposuction. No. 2 is having your eyes done. And male chest reduction is one of the most common things."
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, men were 14 percent of the patients who had cosmetic surgery in 2003.
"Steve came to me and he was really concerned about his lower eyelids," said Greenberg as Carl posed and preened on the runway. "He had substantial fat pockets."
After the fat was sucked out from under his eyelids, Carl had Botox and Restylane injections, power facial peels and laser hair removal on his whole body. Come January, he's treating himself to an $8,000 tummy tuck to get rid of the extra skin on his stomach.
"Most guys don't do it because they're afraid," said Carl, 47, a twice-married father of four.
"I stepped up to the plate. I transformed myself and recreated myself. I'm not afraid to do anything. I'm a leader, not a follower. I'm the only one with the nerve to get up there [on stage]."
Carl - who eagerly bares his hair-free chest to the ladies - sees no shame in getting help from professionals.
"Why not be open and up front? It gives everyone the impetus. If you feel good about yourself, go and try to better yourself."
According to a recent GQ article, American men are getting more and more procedures these days - from hair replacement, breast reduction and otoplasty (pinning back of the ears) to penis lengthening, where weights are hung on the penis to stretch it.
"Men are never going to match the women's treatments at any given time, but I think in five years, it will equal the amount of women getting it now," says Robert Moritz, who penned an article in the October issue of GQ on the boom in male plastic surgery. "It's becoming just as acceptable [as for women]."
For men, says Moritz, looking your best is becoming increasingly important.
"Men associate it with success," he says. "Things are easier to achieve with a full head of hair. If you have a little glint in your eye or look younger, it's better for competition. On 'The Apprentice,' all the male competitors look crisper and cleaner."
Fifty percent of men, reports GQ, believe that looking young is important to professional success.
"I think all the reality shows are having the same effect on men as women but on a subtler level," says Moritz.
"Six years ago, it was five lines of upscale cosmetics for men - Clinique for men, Nickel for men. Now Botox and Restylane are just as acceptable for men as women."
Moritz, 38, even says he would consider getting plastic surgery.
"I would probably lipo the flanks," he says. "Why not? But it is pretty serious. You're beat up. Somehow it's sold to me as you go in and it's done."
Nely Galan, creator of the hit show "The Swan" and author of the new book "The Swan Curriculum," can't believe the amount of letters she gets from men requesting to be on the show.
"They tell me, I'm not going to just let my woman look better while I'm stuck here like the pits," she said.
"Men want to know more about nutrition, exercise and hair replacement. To men, hair replacement is what sagging boobs are to women.
"Next year, we have to do the male 'Swan.'"
Galan hopes that more men will start talking about coming out of the plastic-surgery closet, especially male celebrities.
"It's pretty obvious that Al Pacino has had plastic surgery - he looks good again," she says.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger has at least had an eye-lift. And Sly Stallone - he looks young, too."
Moritz has another name to add to the list: Ryan Seacrest.
"Odds are that he has probably done or is doing something," says Moritz. "Everybody is doing something. You can't really know because it's subtle changes."
But there's no shame in it, insists Galan. "What's the big deal? I'm of the school of, 'If it bothers you, then fix it.'"
Still, Eugene J. Masula, a good-looking, 35-year-old man who attended the Long Island plastic surgery fashion show to support his friend Debbie (who was strutting down the catwalk showing off her nose job), said he would never get plastic surgery.
"I don't believe in it - not for men," he insisted. "I can understand women, not men."
But Carl insists it has changed his life for the better.
"Everybody is thrilled - my employees love it," said Carl, CEO of the Carlyle on the Green in Bethpage.
"I totally changed over my whole lifestyle and persona."
And he's committed to maintaining his new look.
"At first, my trainer would call me three to four times a day to see how I was doing," he said.
Now, Carl gets up at 5:30 every morning and goes to the gym for three hours, seven days a week.
He's looking forward to the tummy tuck in January, but then he's done with surgery, he says.
"My butt's real good," he said. "I have a real hot butt."
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