Real-Life Photoshop: How Cosmetic Surgery Resonates 10 Years Later

As a kid, I had small moles on my face. By the time I reached middle school, they were prominent and I hated them. I once took Biore pore strips and placed them strategically, only to cry my eyes out when they didn’t remove moles. I took pictures of pretty actresses and drew brown dots on their faces to see if they were still pretty and showed them to my mother. When she wasn’t hitting me, the woman was terrified of being anything other than my best friend, so she caved and throughout seventh and eighth grade, I had five moles removed from my face, in a series of outpatient procedures. I was too young to make this sort of decision, but I don’t regret it.

A half-naked 14-year-old who had never even been kissed, I was mortified by the instructions “bend over like you’re diving” as Polaroids were taken in the plastic surgeon’s office. I asked when I’d get the pictures back and teared up when I learned they’d be kept on file for insurance purposes. In short, I was waaaay too young to be getting a breast reduction.

child surgery

Despite this, my mother was a nurse and used her pull to find someone who would agree to do the surgery. The doctor tried to talk my mother into waiting a few years, or at least until I’d lost a little weight, but I insisted and she agreed. The insurance claim was sent after my fifteenth birthday, in September. By December, I was excited for my first ever surgery, which just happened to be both cosmetic and elective.

I had claimed shoulder pain and the insurance company decided they’d save money in the long-run to just nip (pun only realized during proofreading) this problem in the butt. I did not have shoulder pain. I was humiliated by breasts that nearly sagged to my belly button and was forcing them into a size DDD bra that did not even fit. Those monsters don’t come cute. I’ve never regretted the decision. I have scars and can’t feel the underside of my breasts, causing sores from broken underwires to go unnoticed until looking in the mirror… and I still don’t regret it.

In fact, these procedures changed my whole outlook on plastic surgery. Previously having been one of the many individuals who consider plastic surgery to always be fake and self-indulgent (at age 11?), I soon realized that it’s just about the person undergoing the changes in themselves, and no one else. It’s hard to say someone should be happy with who they are when you were purchasing granny bras at age eleven while tearfully declaring you “look like a chocolate chip cooke!” I had parents who were too busy screaming at each other to make sure I bathed properly or washed my clothes regularly; forget about dressing cute, listening to the right music, or you know being nice to people. Fitting in wasn’t really my thing and the self-consciousness that came with facial moles and Big Mama breasts did not help.

granny bra
For realz. Change into that in the locker room before sixth grade gym.

 All that having been said, my mom made a bad decision on both counts. Ell oh ellsies. My mom made a lot of bad decisions…

  • the time she offered to buy us beer at 15
  • letting me and other people’s children jump off the roof onto the trampoline at age 12
  • kicking me in the stomach when I didn’t clean the litterbox
  • using the knowledge that I was a cutter as leverage to threaten me with therapy when I argued with her
  • giving me the “just be home before I go to work in the morning” curfew at sevenfuckingteen 

memory lane

Today, I’m a relatively confident adult. I’m fairly comfortable with who I am and how I look. I’d like to be about fifteen pounds lighter, but I’d rather have hips and red gummy worms than no hips and no red gummy worms, so… meh. Whatev. I am of perfectly sound mind to make the decision that I’d like to have the mole on my back removed, because I’m generally kidding when I tell Gail I’m going to do so with a cheese grater… or a blowtorch like that scene from Sons of Anarchy. I’m also twenty-five. I cannot fathom letting a child choose elective surgery. Regardless of the fact that the insurance company considered the above procedures to be necessary, I wasn’t afraid of cancer, nor did I actually have any shoulder pain. My issues were all psychological. Rather than destroying my view of therapy for the rest of my life by threatening me with it to get her way, my mother should’ve acknowledged the whopping self-esteem issues I had and arranged for me to speak with someone every couple of weeks, while putting me in social groups that were relatively free of teasing and judgement, like a church youth group. If, by age 16, building my confidence still did not fix my issues with the moles on my face, fine. She could schedule a consult with a dermatologist. If, by age 18, building my confidence did not fix my issues with the nipples at my bellybutton, she could schedule one with a plastic surgeon. Waiting three years seemed like an eternity at 15… which is why my mother should’ve helped me to see the big picture and made certain I could handle the decision I was making. Honestly, that time wouldn’t have changed my mind on either issue, especially the breast reduction (a pound and a half was removed from each), but it would’ve lessened the chances that I’d regret choices I made in utero.

“Hey, you up there! This nose seems a bit squished. Schedule a rhinoplasty.”

 This problem, however, is not limited to youth. The “mommy makeover” has taken even the middle-class by storm. One plastic surgeon reports that mothers are his largest customer base. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS), 36% of the 9.9 million surgical and minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures performed in 2006 were on patients between the ages of 30 and 39; 29% of them were aged 20 to 29.*

I’m not knocking a tummy tuck if you just can’t fix it with diet and exercise. I will criticize the people who couple it with liposuction, without first losing the weight and keeping if off, though. What is the point of taking on thousands of dollars worth of surgical bills if you’ve no guarantee of an ability to maintain the results? I never wash my car. Like ever. So, despite the faded doors and banged up front bumper from my recent fender bender, I’m not paying to have it painted. I may as well light that money on fire, because I’m not going to suddenly start washing my car. Getting liposuction and a tummy tuck and then getting fat again is the same.

If you’ve done the sit-ups and counted the calories, joined that Zumba class, and bought the push-up bra, though, I get it. I do. That doesn’t even apply to just the mommy makeover customers, but also the women who hate that bump in their nose, or the skin hanging from their chin, or those paper-thin lips. I understand how they feel. Trust me. I’ve had breasts that swing.

However… ten years later, I’m acknowledging that I may not have been in the best psychological place when I made the decision to surgically alter my appearance foreverPerhaps, rather than flocking to have ourselves physically Photoshopped, we should spend some time trying to come to terms with who we are and consider that our issues may be psychological. Maybe it’s not so much the wrinkles in your forehead that make you uncomfortable, but rather aging itself. Maybe that loose skin at your stomach isn’t the problem, but instead it’s just that your marriage is lacking some romance and you don’t feel attractive. Maybe you’re just insecure and your nose makes you look unique and distinctive and changing that will just make you look bland.

jennifer gray

The constant photo altering and image filters we see on Facebook aren’t helping this body dysmorphia trend, either. Grown women are enhancing their own clavicles, presenting a slimmer vision to the world, only to be disappointed when they don’t see that in the mirror, even if the real thing is perfectly healthy. I fear for the generation of kids who grow up with “corrected” photos hanging on the wall. The real world will never be as colorful or as unblemished as that photo shoot and they will never actually look like that. If it’s fucking with the heads of adults who are doing it themselves, they… are… screwed. 

Also… maybe I’m completely fucking wrong. Maybe the sagging skin at your forehead is far more severe than you should be seeing at 35. Maybe your husband calls you sexy every day, but you just can’t find business suits that look right. Maybe you more resemble Tucan Sam than Jennifer Grey. I certainly know that I don’t miss the feeling of the underside of my breasts sweating on my stomach. I greatly prefer that barely noticeable scar on my face to the Austin-Powers-worthy mole. Isn’t it worth some introspection, though? Because if I’m right, those problems aren’t going away with a little visit to the doctor. I didn’t suddenly become the awesome and fucking hilarious gal I am today after the stitches were pulled, when I was fifteen. That took years of personal growth. If there are deeper issues that aren’t being addressed in addition to/instead of cosmetic surgery, you’re still going to be having trouble facing your own mortality and changing body. Your marriage will still be suffering. You’ll still be insecure and uncomfortable with the idiosyncrasies that make you who you are. Because, regardless of how content that makes you, that last bit is fact. We are exactly who we were in the womb. We, as a society, should take more pride in that and give serious consideration to its alteration. We should stop this constant catering to insecurity and discrimination with invasive procedures, “repairing” the slightest blemish. We should start practicing what we preach when we tell our little girls that they are beautiful just as they are


… and if, after trying to come to terms with our individuality, we still hate that fat around our midriff that just won’t fucking DIE, then thank goodness for modern psychology and modern medicine.


“I’m the real one!”, I shouted to the spoon.


Mkay, y’all. Prepare yourselves. I’m gonna do something completely unheard of in this blog. I am going to cover issues so serious they should be the topic of a therapy session… only I’m not going to take them seriously in the slightest, because emotions freak me out.

Get it? It’s funny, because I do that all the time.

female soldiers

One hundred years ago, I met Gail at the Battle of Bud Bagsak*… wait. No. It was ten years ago at the Hometown Mid-High and we were in the ninth grade. It just feels like a hundred years ago, because… well, stay tuned.

* Yeah. I looked that up.

At 15, Gail wore the same grey sweatpants and oversized blue t-shirt with flip-flops every single day, rain or shine, and it was around this time I had begun my “overall phase.” Gail had fake teeth that she nervously clicked and neither of us wore make-up. We were social outcasts with smart mouths and rocky home lives. We met in Yearbook class, stereotypically enough.

Most days of high school…

Awkward 15-year-old Me: “What the hell happened to your teeth?!?”
Awkward 15-year-old Gail: “Well, I was at this party… and this guy had these piercings.”

We were fast friends.

As kids, our pastimes included telling Gail’s parents we were at Key Club meetings and taking photos in the middle of nowhere. We sat in her bedroom floor making collages of scantily clad women, because we thought it would be funny to convince her parents we were lesbians. I used to alter her report cards to raise the low grades and lower the high ones so her parents would never expect more than average and ground their strong B student for getting a low A. My mother never even asked to look at my 4.0 report card. We wrote blogs and did crafts. We fantasized about how we’d both meet country boys, get married early, and have babies. We’d escape our toxic parent/child relationships and our lives would be perfect. No matter what, though, we were always each other’s shelter from the storm and there was nothing we couldn’t tell the other.

Then things got… weird.

Neither Gail nor I had ever been kissed when we got our first boyfriends at 17… within months of each other. For realz, our first real dates were the same movie. Logically, we each lost our virginity around the same time, though Gail much sooner, due to the opposing magnets in her kneecaps.

I’m so funny. Fo sho.

We each got very serious very quickly in these relationships, so boys and sex were a brand new thing for us at the same time. Then came our second semester of senior year. You see, while most of our white middle-class classmates were excited for graduation day and the cliché Felicity college years, Gail and I were both just… uniquely lost. Her parents had made it clear that she was to move out if she wasn’t attending college and that they were neither going to pay for her college nor give her the information she needed to receive loans, because they didn’t want her taking on that kind of debt. My mother had… well, she was gone. She’d moved to a town about two hours away to live with her boyfriend and my ex-husband was living with me in her house. She brought by gas and grocery money, screamed about how messy the house was when she left a child alone for months, and then she’d be off. Gail and I both had zero guidance… no clear plans. So, instead of feeling elated when we threw our caps in the air, we were just terrified.

Who needs this…

lord of the flies
… when you could have this?

As summer took hold, Gail and I drifted. Gail was my maid-of-honor, but we both got so busy, we didn’t have time to maintain that high school relationship. About a year and a half later, though, I randomly called her and we chatted like we were 15 and stringing our own necklaces in the floor. It was then that we started to catch up… and realized the odd similarities in our lives.

Just a year after I married my ex, Gail married Shane, the rebound after her first boyfriend. She’d clung to him when her parents had made it clear she had to leave.

I’d clung to and married my ex-husband when my mother had left.

Gail and I struggled to pay the bills on our own as our husbands refused to work. Oddly enough, neither of us ever discussed our near identical marriages at the time. As close as we were, we still hoped that the next morning, they’d magically become good and competent men, get out of bed, go to work, and help support their families. In the meantime, if they could stop abusing the pets (mine) and looking at child porn (Gail’s), that would be super, too. Gail once told me that she didn’t mind that Shane was only working at Blockbuster, because at least he was working. I once told her that it didn’t matter if I didn’t trust my ex. You get different things from different people and there are other people I trust. I just needed him to work. Our best case scenarios involved minimum wage jobs they’d actually keep and no trust or security… ever. Once they grew up and stopped mistreating their wives, though, we couldn’t very well have our best friends and families hating them, could we? Besides, at this point we wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore, because we’d be pulling in millions harvesting fairy dust from a rainbow!

Remember that time we took a group trip to Candy Land with our wizard husbands?

So, as we’d done when we were kids, Gail and I clung to each other, sharing the occasional breakdown. Then Gail got pregnant.

Me: “So are things better with Shane now, or…”
Gail: “I don’t want to talk about my marriage. I want to talk about my baby.”

Okey dokey.

Then I got pregnant.

Me: “I’m not ready for this.”
Gail: “It’s good that you know that, because raising this little girl is the hardest thing I’ll ever do.”

Then I lost my baby in my late-first/early-second trimester.

Then Gail filed for divorce.

Then Gail lost Grace at eight months old.

It was at this point that we’d begun to think our life parallels were… startling.

Then Gail was raped at a party.

Then I woke up one morning, unsure why I was naked and the sheets were clean.

Man taking washing out of washing machine
Jeez… he was just trying to do something nice. Must I complain about everything?!?

Then I filed for divorce.

Gail ended her first relationship since her divorce.

We both took up dating again… navigated the treacherous waters of online romance, of boys who don’t call back…

Then we got jobs in our desired fields within months of each other.

What the fuck?

At this point, I could pretty much be attacked by a polka dot pink kangaroo and Gail would know to be on the lookout.

kangaroo attack

So, we decided some time back, that these similarities were just too bizarre. One of us has to be fake while the other is left rocking in the corner of a psych ward, eating her own lips, and mumbling about the other. The debate has now turned into exactly who is the real one.

becca convo without name

Every time we say something in unison, we’ll try to beat each other to the punch with “I’m the real one!”

I think I make a pretty strong case for why I’m real, though a good portion of that case is “I’m me” and that has yet to convince Gail. But I’m always first damn it. I had the boyfriend first, the abusive marriage, the miscarriage. I just inflicted these things on my imaginary friend Gail, so I would have someone who could relate to me. As I vomited on the side of the road on Thanksgiving night of 2010, weeping about my ex-husband leaving the dog tied up so long he dug a hole through the floor until his feet bled, Gail held my hair… in my imagination. I was really just projectile vomiting in a padded room, because the new medication didn’t sit well.

This is a party.

In the last two years, my life has completely lit up. It’s been wonderful. I have great friends and can financially support myself. I didn’t eat free popcorn from my job at the movie theater all through last summer. I know why the mattress is bare. Soooo… after I found a job with the library system, Gail got her job, which she fully intends to turn into a career. After I got an apartment that my ex-husband wasn’t breaking into to steal from me nightly (after the divorce was finalized), Gail moved out of her parents’ home, where she’d been living since Grace’s death. I’m not sold on the idea that having a man in my life will improve it, so I’ve inflicted one on Gail, in the form of Terry, to test it out. I’ve even sent us running in completely opposite directions in regards to gender roles, so I can experiment with both. I regularly say “the boy does that” while Gail changes a tire or pees standing up.

I actually did have an imaginary friend once. The Jolly Green Giant lived in my parents’ ceiling light and only visited me.

jolly green giant
Pictured: Gail.

I make a pretty convincing case here. I’d bet even Gail is starting to believe. In the meantime…

crazy buffy
See what I did there? See how I totally referenced Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this blog again?

Mushroom Cloud Over Madison


I’ve been feeling a bit agoraphobic for the last day or two. Gail tried to diagnose me with social anxiety disorders that she Googled* and I told her to shake her rat bones at someone else, insisting that psychology is a bunch of voodoo witchcraft. In actuality, I completely believe in the effectiveness of psychology, which is why it freaks me the hell out. I don’t want anyone cracking open my skull and taking a shit in it. Despite my discomfort, I went to Mass today, wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt, which I never do (dresses, usually). I huddled into my coat the entire time thinking about how if I transformed into a lion, I could run out. I’m not sure why that required being a lion, since I did, in fact, leave immediately after Communion.

*She majored in pyschology for the most annoying week and a half, so that’s an exaggeration, for which she’ll call me a bitch. As a matter of fact, she’ll call me a bitch for this side note too.

I’m just still not in a good place over my academic set-back. I’ve convinced myself, somehow, that this lessens my chances of ever being a librarian, regardless of my future success on the portfolio. The rational part of me knows that the job market hasn’t changed in the last week and won’t in the next six months. The irrational part of me, however, is still crying in bewilderment over a ridiculously large Old Chicago cookie about how the only life left for me must reside in the virtual world. Huh. Just made the connection from that to this blog. Ultimately, I know that I’ve been in worse places in life. Gail herself said “Hey. Look on the bright side. You’re not married.” Damn. Fucking. Straight. But it’s still a crushing blow for me. I don’t fail at things. I do a little less than expected and cry my eyes out over it, but I don’t actually fail.

ward - foot in mouth
Yeah. He did.

If it seems exaggerative, that’s a text from my friend, Ward, who has seen me in tears over a B or the infamous 98.5% assignment. I still haven’t told my guy friends about my delayed graduation. I kind of plan to avoid telling them and then just swear it was May the whole time. They’ll know something happened and that I can’t talk about it without crying and making them uncomfortable because they have penises. Win/win.

After a day of laying around in leggings and an oversized t-shirt, reading blogs and trashy supernatural romance novels, I got this super encouraging E-mail from my professor. He told me he looks forward to my re-presentation (word I made up) and that he’s sure I’ll do great. Either my portfolio defense wasn’t as bad as it seemed, or my instructors think I’m about to swan dive from the top of the college library after E-mailing to promise them that I’m going to re-read everything ever. It’s likely the latter, because I’m absolutely certain that a mushroom cloud went up over Madison as I gave that awful presentation. Then, first born sons mysteriously died. There was even a run on the banks for some reason. It was really bad.

Regardless, my professors don’t want to kill my spirit, and that’s what I took out assloads of loans for, am I right?!?! Honestly, I think they have faith I’ll do well. They wouldn’t be encouraging me to present in March if they didn’t, when I can have up to a year to prepare. Even I know I’ll fix this, deep down. But I still have these fits of “WHAT IF I DON’T?!?!?” Being a librarian is all I want. I went through so much to get here and I might lose it. I have no backup. I want no backup. The idea of not being able to do this job breaks my heart.

I feel like my whole life has stalemated until I pass this. I’ve decided to give up dating until I’ve graduated. That’s partly an excuse, just because I’m REALLY bad at it, but it’s still a distraction I can’t afford. I don’t have time for funny bad dates. Nor do I have time to hit it off with someone who demands a substantial chunk of my life. School. Career. Then boys.

That time I tried to be sexy…

I wish I could just cope with this adjustment and move on. I wish I could just get excited that I only have one more class left. I wish the stress would stop taking root in the form of feeling naked when I’m in public. Tomorrow’s the start of a new week, I suppose. At least I’ve come down from my promise that I’d only dedicate an hour a day to entertainment and the rest would be to studying. I’m too obsessive a person for this.

Gail: “Get out your laptop and fix this.”

I’m clinging to those words.