Tag Archives: cosmetic surgery

Accepting A Once-Fat Body

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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.

Beauty and the Expression of Emotion: Cosmetic Botox

Debbie says:

picture showing points on the face where Botox is injected

Botox is botulinum toxin, and the reason you don’t eat food from a can that has swelled or been broken open. It’s an extremely dangerous poison, which also has some substantial medical uses, generally relief of nerve pain. It functions by paralyzing the nerves in the skin, so it limits skin motion and skin feeling. It is hugely popular for managing wrinkles and face changes in aging women. As you see above, Botox clinics are very precise about “fixing” a woman’s face.

Jean Marie at Millihelen has tried it twice:

I’d been asking various dermatologists for years if they thought I was “ready” for Botox. I never knew exactly what I meant, but hoped the experts would have an opinion, which of course they did not.

“Do you feel ready for it? What issues are you trying to address?”

I didn’t really feel ready for it. And the issue was aging in a society that cannot wait to toss me in a dumpster at the first sign of decline….

Long story short: the actual procedure takes about five minutes and a tiny bit of the type of pain we are all used to—that of a typical injection. In my hood, it costs anywhere from $200 to $500 a pop, give or take, depending on your proximity to Beverly Hills.

How much  a woman needs to worry about signs of aging varies based on lots of circumstances, but one of them is surely where she lives. As Jean Marie says, Southern California is an extremely looks-based area, and plastic surgery is common and comparatively inexpensive. As a beauty editor, she faces a different set of expectations than someone in another profession, or another part of the world.

All I really wanted was a little eye opener and maybe for that permanent, angry crease between my brows to be softened. When I smile, my crows feet are long and prominent, but they are also the signature ingredient to the outward expression of my happiness. The reverse is true of my scowl lines, or “the 11s,” as Botox marketers have rebranded them. I wasn’t interested in stunting my full smile capabilities, but maybe not being able to scowl could win me some new friends, or a promotion, or some sex, or something? …

The past few weeks have actually been not just physically odd, but emotionally trying. I’m severely self-conscious for the first time since high school. Not being able to feel a part of your body that you use constantly as a means of relating to other people is intensely frustrating. (Scarily, there’s evidence that not being able to express empathy through mimicry and mirroring inhibits the ability to feel empathy. Yikes.) … I can’t really explain to my two-year-old why her mom’s face doesn’t move the way it used to; why I can’t do any of this fun stuff she’s so fond of.

What interested me the most was Jean Marie’s conclusion:

I’ll present a half-baked theory to you here: I believe it is a tool of oppression, no less sinister and insidious for the fact that its users willingly self-administer. The primary function of Botox is to paralyze faces, locking our feelings and natural reactions inside stony facades. And it is overwhelmingly women’s faces being frozen…. And, yes, obviously, contrary to my experience, many of those women believe it does make them prettier (or have pursued it for reasons that aren’t strictly cosmetic). Fair enough. But hidden in that belief is the nefarious notion that stifling our ability to express emotion is a key ingredient of beauty.

Jean Marie is exactly correct. Despite the “you’re beautiful when you’re angry” cliche, our media-managed cultural definition of beauty doesn’t only depend on those dozens of specifics of face, hair, age, height, bodily structure, and so forth. It also depends on radiating a particular relaxation, calm, and balance. You might be thought beautiful when you’re a little bit angry, and your eyes sparkle and your cheeks brighten, but you are never going to be conventionally beautiful when you are in a fury and your face is beet-red and all your facial muscles are working overtime to keep you from crying with pure rage. You are never going to be conventionally beautiful in deep grief, when your eyes are leaking and your skin is blotchy from crying. You are never going to be considered beautiful in depression, when you can’t be bothered to manage those facial muscles the way you’ve been trained. “Beauty” of this sort is about being an easy object for the gaze (usually male) around you, and making no demands on the gazer. Emotions are demanding, and beauty can’t be.

I hope Jean Marie takes these thoughts into her work as a beauty editor; if she can find a way to write about beauty in the context of strong emotion, the ripples from that change could be significant indeed.