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.
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.
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
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.
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 forever. Perhaps, 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.
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.