The middle-aged exective had never quite seen himself in that light before.

"My God, I've gotten old-looking," he remembered saying to his wife as they both watched him on a television news show several years ago. "Look at my eyes."

The longer he thought about it, the more he became convinced that he looked a lot older than he felt. With his wife's concurrence and support, he visited a plastic surgeion who raised his eyebrows and eliminated the bagginess and crow's feet around his eyes.

"I looked a lot younger." he said, even though no one caught on that he had facial surgery. He did it before he took a long vacation, and as was the case with the character in the television commercial who gradually changes his hair from gray to dark, his colleagues and friends merely noted how "great" he looked.

Twenty years ago, or even 10, it likely would not have drawed on this executive, who requested anonymity, to do anything about his sagging face.

Until recently, the plactic surgeon's waiting room was peopled mainly with relatively affluent, middle-aged and older women who sought to ward off the signs of advancing age with the help of a surgeon's knife.

Oh, an aging matinee idol or two might seek out cosmitic surgery, but a man, a male corporate executive, was not a likely candidate for the plastic surgeon unless, perhaps, he was hurt in a automobile accident.

That is changing rapidly, according to Dr. Ralph L. Dicker, one of Manhattan's leading plastic surgeons and director of the New York Facial Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeon Group.

Older women are still the bread and butter of the average plastic sureon's practice, but increasing numbers of younger women as well as men are availing themselves of cosmetic surgery.

A decade ago, a man rarely showed up in his waiting room, Dicker said. Today, two of every 10 patients he sees are men. And many of those are corporate executives or professionals such as lawyers who are having surgery for business reasons.

As the society becomes increasingly youth-oriented - both professionally and socially - older men are seeking out the services of plastic surgeons, Dicker said.And while many, like the executive who was shocked to see himself on television, are reticent to tell their frinds and co-workers, other men and women do not care who knows that they have had plastic surgery.

Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), now chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, set Washington to chattering eight years ago when he showed up at a congressonal hearing sporting two black eyes that tattle-taled his eyelifts. Several days later. Proxmire began the first of a series of hair transplants.

Dicker said that Proxmire's surgery prompted many other men to seek out the services of plastic surgeons. In fact, he said, any time a public figure has cosmetic surgery (such as former first lady Betty Ford did recently), interest increases.

While it may take a month or more to recover from a complete face lift, it may take only days to recover from relatively minor procedures such as raising eyebrows or tightening skin around the eyes.

And such seemingly minor facial alterations can do wonders for an individual's appearance, Dicker said.

William J. Ziltzer, a New York area architect and businessman, agrees. "I decided to have my eyes done" two years ago at the same time his wife decided to have a face lift, he said.

"I am architect, and I meet with people all the time. I belong to a lot of organizations - social and charitable - and I'm on the board of a bank. I decided that appearance means a lot."

Ziltzer said his colleagues did not know he had the surgery but "they noticed a great change in me . . . they'd say to me, "Geez, what did you do?"

Ziltzer was an active 70-year-old before he had his first bit of cosmetic surgery, but many of the executives and professionals who visit plastic surgeons are in their late 40s and early 50s and are still on the advancement treadmill.

"He usually feels he's falling out of the picture because of advancing age, and he doesn't want anyone to know his age, Dicker said. "To disguise it, he goes to a plastic surgeon for an eyelift, a facelift or even a hair transplant.

"He returns to work with a greater vigor and buoyancy. It's a shot in the arm . . . He has experience and know-how but he needs to get rid of the look that makes him seem old and fatigued," Dicker said.

Dicker, who hasn't had facial surgery but has had a hair transplant, said a man or woman can have the surgery without anyone knowing.

"Everybody will say how terrific someone looks. But they won't think that cosmetic surgery was involved. Especially if the patient comes back after a vacation."

And because most men have plastic surgery for professional reasons, they often want to disguise the changes by getting a different haircut at the same time they get an eyelift, Dicker said.

Whether a man or woman has cosmetic surgery for professional or personal reason, the procedures are not cheap.

A simple eyebrow lift, which puts the brow above the orbital ridge where it was in youth, costs $750 to $1,000. A blepharoplasty, which removes the bags from under an individual's eyes, costs from $1,800 to $2,500. A full face lift, which gets rid of sagging jowls or the turkey goblet that hangs under a chin, costs from $2,800 to $4,200.

Most insurance companies will not pay for plastic surgery if it is purely for cosmetic purposes. Sometimes plastic surgery is done to correct a medical condition (such as difficulty with breathing) and leaves the patient with a cosmetic bonus.

At least one plastic surgeon who operates on a lot of men feels that the executive or professional man who has surgery does so for the same reasons of vanity and self-image that the steriotypical older female patient is supposed to exhibit.

The surgeon, who asked not to be identified, said, "They may tell you that they're doing it mainly for professional reasons but, as often as not, they do it just to look better."

Men may do it after a divorce, to give themselves renewed confidence with women. Or, if a wife has a face lift, the man may do it so he does not look substantially older than his spouse.

And whether it helps an executive professionally or not, cosmetic surgery often does give a social lift to life.

As one young (under 40) insurance underwriter who had a full face lift recounted, "I looked so rested, so good that I got a whole new feel for life. The surgery opened new fields, gave me a new confidence. I made a whole new circle of friends."

As Dicker - who co-authored a book on plastic surgery - put it in a pamphlet, "The aging process has tormented males through history, and we are all quite familiar with the attempts to halt or reverse the process from the time of King Solomon and his bedding down with young women through the search by Ponce de Leon for the Fountain of Youth . . . "