The Journalist Joan Kron and the World of Plastic Surgery

December 27th, 2012

Joshua Bright for The New York Times

REFLECTION Joan Kron, an editor at large for Allure magazine, in her Upper East Side apartment.

IN her modernist Upper East Side co-op, Joan Kron talks enthusiastically about new ideas she has for Allure magazine, where she is an editor-at-large covering her chosen subject, plastic surgery. She wants to turn a couple into documentaries, a storytelling technique she picked up after recently auditing a film class. After a recent knee surgery, she looks forward to regularly climbing back into her favorite pair of black kitten-heeled Jimmy Choo’s.

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Joan Kron, center, with Dr. Fredrick Brandt, left, and Linda Wells at Allure magazine’s Best of Beauty Awards this year.

And then there are the preparations for her birthday; she’ll be 85 in January. “I am the oldest journalist alive,” Ms. Kron giggled as she hobbled slightly as she headed into her living room. “And I cover plastic surgery.”

Her upcoming birthday is purely another marker of time. She has outlived two husbands, a daughter and dozens of friends from the journalism and art worlds, including her friend Andy Warhol. Her mother subscribed to Allure until she died at 106.

“I never lie about my age. I tell everybody about my age because I don’t think women have enough role models,” Ms. Kron said as she leaned back into her living room couch. “Maybe, because I’m getting like these old ladies who just don’t care and tell the truth.”

It’s not just Ms. Kron’s age that makes her stand out along the supple-skinned halls of Condé Nast, where few reporters, editors or executives — except perhaps for 85-year-old Si Newhouse and the 92-year-old New Yorker contributor Roger Angell — appear to have passed the threshold of midlife. Ms. Kron has chronicled how the plastic surgery industry has grown up over the last two decades from a cottage industry to a $ 10 billion one last year. “The field has exploded,” said Linda Wells, Allure’s editor in chief. “It’s an area that both fascinates and confuses readers.”

In the last two decades, Ms. Kron, a former reporter for New York Magazine, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, has written frank investigative stories about the latest research on breast regeneration following mastectomies, the benefits, costs and hazards of liposuction and abdominoplasty and the risks of butt lifts (they’re painful and can shift or sag). She can often describe in stomach-churning detail the painful risks these surgeries carry, like the burns and nerve injuries that come with liposuction or the scarring that follow abdominoplasties.

While television programs and the print media may mock the celebrities who have had too much work done or the dangers of disreputable doctors, Ms. Kron knows plenty of women who still want it. She cites in her book how even Queen Elizabeth I banned looking glasses in her court so visitors could not clearly see the signs of aging.

There is something dark about the articles she has written. Doctors are murdered by patients addicted to plastic surgery. Actors stick to a strict schedule of treatments during Oscar season and friends steadily die on operating tables.

Her sources have not been kind to her for her coverage. In 1993, Ms. Kron said she was locked in a room by officers of a society who did not want her to write about the argument on fat removal that Dr. Steven M. Hoefflin and Dr. Wallace A. Goodstein, both plastic surgeons, had at a conference. She survived a two-year legal battle after writing about Dr. Wesley Harline, a general surgeon in Utah with an expertise in cosmetic surgery known for his breast implants, who greeted Ms. Kron splattered in blood and let her tour facilities where recuperating patients had to share beds.

But plastic surgeons and dermatologists seem to have developed a grudging fondness for Ms. Kron. “She’s met with a little bit of awe, a little bit of fear and a whole lot of love,” said Adeena Babbitt, public relations director for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, who has known Ms. Kron on stories for the last decade. “She tries to make a point of respecting that the doctors are doctors. They went to school for this. They don’t think it is a joke.”

The catalog of procedures Ms. Kron personally had done includes three face lifts (she chronicled the first two surgeries in her book “Lift: Wanting, Fearing and Having a Face-Lift”) as well as Botox, Reloxin, Restylane and Juvéderm treatments. She paid for all the procedures and said that she does not accept free trial treatments of devices. If she thinks that a surgeon or dermatologist discounted a procedure for her, she sends expensive ties and once even custom-made alligator boots. Sometimes she uses her pacemaker as a polite excuse.

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