Tag Archives: cosmetic surgery

Taller Is Better, Right? Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Debbie says:

Some days I feel like I’ve been writing the same blog post forever: it could be about weight loss surgery, it could be about skin lightening, it could be about body hair removal, but this time it’s about limb-lengthening surgery. It goes like this:

“[Men] feel that their lives would be better if only their [height] was more [taller].”

“They feel this way because of the barrage of media, both commercial and social, telling them there’s only one way to look good and feel good about yourself. They’re certainly not wrong about the social stigma attached to being [short]”

“They spend money, time, and often risk trying to change their body in this magic way that will solve their problems.”

“Some [doctors] specialize in this issue and make a lot of money helping them get what they dream about.”

“Sometimes it does solve (some of) their problems, but mostly it leaves them [taller], but still struggling with whatever it is they haven’t learned to appreciate about themselves, as well as other social expectations.”

So it’s hard to write a post about how the previously Asian trend for limb-lengthening surgery is catching on in America.

… height — a major source of anxiety for men — seems unsolvable. The struggles for short men in the dating world are well documented. To improve their odds of matching with people, men have taken to lying about their height on dating apps. This happens so frequently that the dating app Tinder once rolled out an April Fools joke about verifying height, and men got very upset. Just last week, a TikTok went viral for devising a plan to “fact-check” guys who say they’re 6 feet tall. Height is even an advantage in the workplace, where taller men are more likely to end up CEOs and shorter men are less likely to get access to career opportunities. Short men are mocked on social media. Some research suggests shorter men are more likely to be depressed.

It’s a long, detailed story. Abdelmahmoud covers a particular patient (whom he calls “Scott”) a particular social-media-star doctor (Dr. Shahab Mahboubian), some interesting pushback from people who are trying to change the underlying problem …

In summer 2018, comedian Jaboukie Young-White coined the phrase “short king” as a way to push back against the stigma of being short. The comedian tweeted that “short gave you donald glover. short gave you tom holland.” Now the term has taken full cultural hold as a way of expressing appreciation for shorter men. It’s a “short king spring,” TikTok declared.

The BuzzFeed article does make some comparisons to boob jobs and tummy tucks. But what makes it formulaic is that it doesn’t address the power behind the social forces that make so many people have Scott’s experiences with whatever it is that makes their body different. It mentions the financial costs (Scott has a, well, innovative way of funding his surgery) and the physical costs of successful surgery, but it doesn’t talk about the failed surgeries or the potential complications.

Like all these articles, it’s written when Scott’s surgery is fairly new. The pain is past and it’s working beautifully. He’s much happier. We’ll never see a two-year follow-up, in which it might still be great, or he might have discovered that his extra three inches of height haven’t given him something he was striving for, or he might have fallen down a medical well and be suffering.

Most of all, these articles almost never talk about the real connections, the fact that all of these standards stem from the same place. They may question the vilification of short men, but they don’t address our social willingness to accept a single overarching standard of beauty, attractiveness, femininity, masculinity, our cultural comfort with believing that people who look a certain way are better employees, better spouses, and better friends. In this increasingly diverse world, with so many images to choose from, yet we are addicted to believing that there’s a right way to look, and that for millions of people the changes are worth time, money, and risk.

I can’t fault Scott for making his decision, any more than I can tell someone they shouldn’t get breast reconstruction after cancer surgery, or anything else “cosmetic.” I’m just always aware that any cosmetic surgery is only desirable because of arbitrary rules and expectations — and someone is always getting rich from keeping those standards in the forefront of our hearts and minds.

I’m with Jaboukie Young-White, from the same tweet that Abdelmahmoud quoted above, “short kings are the enemy of body negativity, and i’ll be forever proud to defend them.” We enemies of body negativity are in a long hard fight, not stopping any time soon.


Thanks to Lynn Kendall for the pointer.

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Accepting A Once-Fat Body


Debbie says:

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.