Of course I knew, as you probably do, that people who have lost large amounts of weight have major skin folds and similar issues, and that many of these people (usually but not always women) have plastic surgery to smooth out their skin and fit it to their new bodies.
What I didn’t know, even after more than three decades of doing this work, is how extensive and dangerous the cosmetic procedure is. I’m simultaneously grateful to Jamie Cattanach, writing at The Establishment, for enlightening me, and shocked by the issues she describes. Cattanach, who walked away from the surgery leaving her nonrefundable $1000 on the table, says:
My phone rang a week before my surgery date, which was set for early December. It was my anesthesiologist. He wanted to triple-check my health history for the many risk factors of general paralysis; I’d be under for at least four, and up to seven, hours.
I’d planned to take the four-week winter break of my senior year in college to get through the worst of the recuperation. Along with all the risks of the surgery itself, a full tummy tuck involves weeks of brutal recovery; patients can’t even sit upright, let alone walk properly, for several days post-op. Bulbous drains are inserted bilaterally into the wound to catch the lymph and blood the body weeps for even longer, requiring regular, stomach-turning maintenance. The incision site can remain swollen and tender for months after the procedure, all to say nothing of the basic, gut-level grisliness of the thing: a hip-to-hip gouge, a triangle of flesh lifted from the abdomen like making the mouth of a Pac-Man.
“Tummy tuck” sounds so casual I might have guessed it was outpatient surgery; I would have been so wrong. Cattanach also explains how, even with no medical complications, it can backfire:
Paradoxically, this surgery meant to make a body look “fitter” requires that body to give up fitness pursuits to properly mend. Many patients find that by the time they’re healed, they’ve gained much of their lost weight back. It’s not an uncommon irony in plastic surgery; breast augmentations, for instance, carry the risk of loss of nipple sensitivity. The sexually-objectified body part becomes a more perfect sexual object, but loses its sexual potency for the woman herself.
And there is the heart of Cattanach’s essay: as she makes so clear, cosmetic surgery is not designed for the person having it, but for the person looking at it. And because we are so conditioned to believe that who we are is how we look, tens of thousands of people go through this process. She opens the essay by recounting how the surgeon handled her to show her boyfriend how “pleasing” she would look after the surgery.
The remainder of the essay is somewhat more familiar to body acceptance activists: Cattanach supports her decision without sugarcoating its negative aspects, and has found — as truth-tellers everywhere find — unexpected benefits:
I can’t deny that excess skin has made dating somewhat challenging — sometimes more so than it was to date fat, when my partners knew what they were signing up for from the start. But in some ways, it’s actually a helpful elimination tool (or, as I like to think of it, an asshole barometer). Given that I look significantly different naked than one might expect when meeting me clothed, I’ve taken to having a frank and open conversation ahead of business time — and if that honesty and imperfection gives a would-be partner pause, I’ve gained an invaluable data point as to whether I really want to sleep with them in the first place.
Reading Cattanach’s essay made me long for truth-in-advertising cosmetic surgery ads and sites. How about:
Lost weight? Got those big, ugly skin folds? Wouldn’t you rather get rid of them? You can spend thousands of dollars, you can spend a month in bed, you can spend months unable to exercise, and you might gain back the weight you lost before you had the folds removed. But hey, you’ll have a better chance of getting assholes to sleep with you!
I mean, who wouldn’t take an offer like that?
Thanks to Melissa McEwen at Shakesville for the link.