More Than Skin Deep

Why Plastic Surgery Is No One’s Business But Your Own

I’ve stood in front of a mirror with my hands around my waist as tightly as I could grasp more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve also pushed up the tip of my nose ever so slightly a few times, meeting my eyes in the mirror, observing, thinking. Just a little bit off the tip, just a little lift. That would make me . . .

Pretty? Attractive? Sexy?

This is vulnerability. Admitting that some people might think you’d look better if you didn’t look like yourself is kind of really sad, if you think about it.

But once you move past dwelling on what it really means to change the way you look and all the lectures you know you would get from your family, there’s a weird sense of peace and serenity within yourself associated with realizing you are strong enough to make a change that drastic to the very body of your being.

Because it’s not like you get plastic surgery and everything is okay. It’s like you get plastic surgery and it’s obvious and everyone knows you were insecure enough to change your body.

Plastic Surgery and Why It’s Personal

Plastic surgery doesn’t mean literal plastic going inside your face or body. It is derived from the Greek word plastikos, meaning to give shape or form. Plastic surgery is the art of reconstructing one’s body for improved function or appearance, as pointed out by the University of Rochester Medical Center.

I don’t think I would ever get plastic surgery. Do I think I would look better if I did? Yeah, 100 percent. If I had a nose job, I know, as everyone on Twitter says, that it would be over for you all. But my entire life I have lived with being insecure with who I am and what I look like. I’ve finally reached a point where I’m okay with what I look like. I don’t want to lose all the work I did on myself by getting work done on myself. Because then it’s like, for what?

That being said, I would not be opposed to Botox and facial fillers. The difference between Botox, fillers and plastic surgery is that Botox and fillers don’t permanently alter the construction of your body, and they are not inserted surgically, but instead with a needle. Botox is an injection filled with a liquid that cuts off the signals from the nerves to the muscles. This causes the muscle to not move as much and wrinkles to reduce. Fillers are essentially injections that add volume to your face. A common example of this would be lip fillers. They sit under the skin and plump everything up, creating a young, fresh look. These also reduce wrinkles due to the skin tightening around the added volume. Botox and fillers have become increasingly common. A study by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) said that from 2012 to 2018, there was a 40.6 percent increase in Botox procedures.

I am scared of growing old, which is funny to say because I’m only 22. Well, not really growing old per se, but, rather, looking old. Growing old is only natural, and I understand that, but growing up insecure of my looks and then finally accepting them seems almost worthless to me if my whole face is to change yet again with age.

I can guarantee that before I’m 30 I will have fillers. Honestly, I already want them. I have prominent smile lines, almost like two creases in my face. It’s my foundation’s favorite place to pile up and hide, and I cannot wait to get them filled and gone. Maybe if I wasn’t afraid of what people would say about a 22 year old getting face fillers, I would, but there is a certain stigma associated with cosmetic procedures. This is interesting to me, because the reality that the ASAPS study found is that 70 percent of people undergoing cosmetic procedures wanted to feel more confident and improve their mental health. This shows that contrary to what some may think, the motivation for Botox, fillers or even other procedures is not always purely to attain physical perfection. It is more intrinsic than that.

Based on the people I’ve talked to who are interested in cosmetic procedures or have had procedures done, one of the things that deters them is that people look down on you for getting work done. They think of you as weak, they think of you as unable to process the image of yourself so much to the extent that you have to change it.

I don’t think it makes you weak.

There are two motivations that I have come across about why people want cosmetic surgery through my discussions. One: they have lived their whole lives with insecurity and they want a weight lifted off their shoulders. Two: it’s not that deep.

Plastic surgery can be a deeply emotional journey, or it can be something you simply want because you want it. I think it is hard for people to wrap their heads around the fact that people want cosmetic surgery for trivial reasons, and that there is nothing wrong with that.

Katherine Kwak, an esthetician student at the John Amico School of Hair Design, agreed.

Although still in school to be certified as an esthetician able to perform microblading, eyelash extensions and waxing, she hopes to one day administer fillers and Botox, which requires a medical esthetician certification. When I asked her if cosmetic procedures like Botox and fillers are becoming more common, she responded simply but surely.

“Yes, definitely.”

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Kwak encounters clients on the daily for other cosmetic procedures she is able to administer, such as lash extensions. Although not the same as fillers, she believes there is a parallel because it still changes one’s face and there definitely is a level of trust that must be established between the person doing a procedure and the person receiving it. These people put their appearance in your hands, trusting you to make changes and not mess it up.

“Women should be able to enhance their beauty in any way that makes them happy and comfortable,” she said in response to the stigma associated with cosmetic procedures.

And if you think about it, why is there a stigma associated with something that is so personal and does not outwardly affect anyone else? Some people want procedures for a boost of confidence. Some people want to look the way they feel inside. Some people just want a change of scenery.

People have their own reasons for wanting and getting cosmetic procedures, but there is one connecting thread. It’s personal, and it’s no one else’s business but your own.

Meet Mia

“I spent too much time focusing on my appearance and I wanted to be able to wake up in the morning and feel like myself.” – Mia

Mia. My first memory of Mia was seeing her working at a coffee shop several years ago. She greeted me politely with a smile; her hair was a dark brownish-purple. I ordered a drink for my mom and watched as Mia prepared the drink with speed. No whip was the only important instruction my mom gave. I faced a sort of moral dilemma at this point. Mia put the whipped cream on my drink and was approaching me with a smile, ready to pass it off to me. The first thing to know here is, I have anxiety. I hate correcting people or asking for things. I took the coffee, whipped cream and all, and thanked Mia with a smile.

Mia was pretty even then. I didn’t know her, but she seemed a little shy and quiet in her demeanor.

Her presence now? Part of me wants to make a long list of nice things to say about her, you know, women supporting women, but the first word that comes to my mind is “strong.” She commands the room. She calls people out. She radiates confidence. And I’m not saying she wasn’t before, I’m saying her presence now has a power to it. And it has nothing to do with the way she looks. It’s everything to do with how she views herself. As I’ve followed her on social media throughout a few years, I’ve noticed she cares less about filtering what she wants to say and appears very confident and strong in her photos.

I asked Mia what drove her to get her procedures done. She has had five, consisting of rhinoplasty, otoplasty, breast augmentation, Botox and fillers.

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Rhinoplasty is essentially a nose job. It is used to change the shape of the nose, whether that is the skin, cartilage, bone or all of the above. Otoplasty is surgery of the ears. Oftentimes, people get this surgery if they feel like their ears are too big or stick too far off their face. A popular method of otoplasty is pinning the ears back towards the head so they don’t stick out as much, but can also be used to change the shape and positioning. Breast augmentation, or a boob job in common terms, is the insertion of implants in the breasts to increase size and fullness. It can also be used to prevent the sagging of breasts.

“I didn’t want to be afraid to be seen without makeup or dread having my picture taken. I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable in my own skin anymore,” she explained.

That resonated with me. If cosmetic procedures make people more accepting of their appearance  without having to mull over their insecurities, then that is good. It’s good for them. Mia didn’t get her procedures in hopes of impressing other people — she did it to be more comfortable with herself.

Some people aren’t always as understanding. They look down on those who get procedures done. Mia answers them with strength and poise.

“I ask them if they’ve had braces. If they say yes, then I ask, ‘Why didn’t you feel happy with your teeth the way they were? Do you feel better with straight teeth? Why?’ If they haven’t had braces, then I ask them if their hair is 100 percent its natural color. Are they wearing makeup? Questions like that make it kind of hard to argue against cosmetic surgery.”

Mia went on, leaving me with a statement that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

“Everyone has the right to feel at home in their own skin. [There is] no need to police other people’s choices with their own bodies.”

It is your body. It is your choice. It is nobody else’s decision.

Nobody’s opinion on your journey matters besides your own.

“Has it increased your confidence at all?” I asked.

“Absolutely.”

It was interesting to me because that single word, absolutely, was all Mia said to me in response. There was no long description, or story. It was just “Absolutely.” To me, that showed confidence within itself. She didn’t feel the need to explain anything or justify her feelings. She got plastic surgery; she owns it; she feels stronger.

My Woes With My Nose

Plastic surgery is personal. It’s still not something I’m 100 percent comfortable with talking about, to be honest. I told my dad I was writing an article on why plastic surgery isn’t bad and he asked me, “Why?” I tried explaining how it helps people accept themselves and be more comfortable.

“I hope you’re saying plastic surgery is bad.”

“I don’t think it is.”

“They all look like lizards.”

I laughed and shrugged it off before changing the subject. It didn’t hurt me, but it made me realize how little people close to you can know about the way you view yourself. Did he know that his own daughters have mulled over cosmetic procedures themselves? Probably not.

It was 2010, maybe 2011. My sister and I were doing our makeup together in the bathroom. The ground was icy cold and we could see snow piling up through the window. I don’t remember the details of what we were doing, but I remember it was the first time my sister Aimen told me she wanted a nose job. She never hated her nose; she still doesn’t. But that night she traced her nose from the tip up, stopping at the bone in the middle. She thinks it’s a bump, a little crooked.

“I wish I could change my nose.”

I never saw anything wrong with her nose. It was pretty and to be honest, I used to be a little jealous of it because mine looks like a structureless triangle.

“Me too.”

We both laughed, thinking about what we would look like with different noses, each of us telling the other that we wished we could trade noses.

I think about that a lot now, because my sister never saw anything wrong with my nose and I never saw anything wrong with hers. It was personal. It was a thought we shared, but it wasn’t something we could understand from either of our perspectives.

For a long time I tried to understand what she thought was wrong with her nose, but I’ve come to realize I never will, just like she never will understand what’s wrong with mine, just like my dad will never understand why someone would ever want plastic surgery in the first place.

And that’s okay, because it is personal. It is for nobody but yourself. And for that very reason, it is important to weigh whether plastic surgery is right for you.

Mental, Physical, and Emotional Precautions to Consider when Thinking about Plastic Surgery

While technology is advanced and plastic surgery is quite common now, there are still issues and precautions you should be aware of while considering going under the knife, or even getting fillers for that matter. “The Hidden Dangers of Cosmetic Surgery” by Jenna Goudreau is a Forbes article I found very useful during my exploratory research of plastic surgery. This article explains possible mishaps and problems people face after getting cosmetic procedures and is something I think anyone considering cosmetic procedures should read before getting them done.

The first thing you should consider is the pricing. The average national price for a nose job is $7,525, according to pricing data shared by physicians with RealSelf.com in February 2020. For a tummy tuck, the average is $8,200 and a breast augmentation’s average is $6,500. The average cost for one syringe of Juvéderm, a common face filler, is $644. The price you would pay depends on the procedure and how much filler it requires. Either way, both plastic surgery and fillers are not easy on the pocket and medical insurance does not cover most cosmetic procedures, as Goudreau points out. Additionally, fillers and Botox need to be reapplied every few months or their effects wear off.  If you decide plastic surgery is for you, be sure to think carefully about how much money you have to budget.

It is also important to be aware of the medical risks that come with cosmetic procedures. As pointed out in Goudreau’s article, when undergoing liposuction, people “. . . who suction fat from their thighs and lower abdomen ultimately destroy those fat cells. When they eventually put weight back on, it distributes unevenly — often to less flattering areas like the upper abdomen, back and arms.” This is important to realize because while liposuction might fix one thing, it could create future fat distribution problems that may result in you feeling more insecure about parts of your body that previously didn’t bother you. Possibly, this would create an unhealthy and obsessive cycle of correctional surgeries that would not have been needed in the first place.

Botox can also end up paralyzing certain facial muscles, causing the unparalyzed muscles to look strange due to their activity. This might result in someone finding themselves insecure about other parts of their face that they never used to worry about.

The Forbes article also points out that as with any procedure, there is the small chance that surgeries will not go as planned or produce the desired results. In this case, follow-ups and correctional surgeries could be needed. It is important to note that these errors would affect how you look until you correct them, and that the correction costs a lot of money as well. The weight of additional financial costs and dealing with undesirable results can create a lot of emotional damage for patients, said Robin Yuan, plastic surgeon and author of Behind the Mask, Beneath the Glitter, to Forbes.

The emotional toll cosmetic procedures can cause is not to be taken lightly and should be thought through before you decide if you want to get something done. When people initially get the surgery done and have bruises and pain from the procedure, it can cause a period of depression. This depression usually lasts until the results are visible. At this point, people either stay happy with their results, or end up being disappointed. The disappointment can arise when people don’t think the results are as good as anticipated or realize that their reasons for wanting the surgery in the first place were deeper than just a physical change, Goudreau wrote. While a physical change to your appearance might be made, a change to your underlying emotions might not be solved by going through with a procedure. It is important to think carefully about what you are doing, why and how it can affect you post surgery.

Plastic surgery can be a great way to feel confident if you weigh all the factors and possible emotional, physical and mental side effects. It is important, as it is with any decision, that one is aware of how getting a cosmetic procedure can affect them mentally as well as physically.

I am okay with how I look now, and that took many years of building up confidence. While I think plastic surgery for yourself is so cool and support people who get it, I know that even if I wanted to, it would never satisfy me. As someone with body dysmorphia, getting a nose job or fat transfer would never truly make me happy; I would still find something new to mull over. I recognize this as unhealthy and therefore know my personal boundaries. Cosmetic surgeries cannot always be the answer to deeper emotional and mental questions, and while you can support others that choose to go under the knife, it is still important to weigh all factors when deciding if it is right for you.

I think people often view plastic surgery negatively because of these possible problems and causes of emotional distress the procedures can bring on. It is valid to acknowledge them and learn about them, but at the same time, it is important to realize that for some people, plastic surgery is truly what they want and will not damage their mental or physical health. It is a personal choice and people have to weigh all factors and decide for themselves. And if they decide that is what they want, it can be empowering and uplifting.

Vulnerability As Strength

Looking at Mia now, I remember when I saw her several years ago. And honestly? She really doesn’t look that much different. It’s still very much her. Same smile, same face, just plumper lips and a slightly different nose. She doesn’t look like a lizard like my dad says. She doesn’t look like a Kim Kardashian knockoff like so many people think anyone with plastic surgery looks like. She looks like someone who is more confident and in tune with herself than she wasthen. She radiates strength.

And strength? That seems to be the reason women that are still looking into getting plastic surgery truly want it. They want to feel strong and confident without worrying about their own fears. Melyssa Guzman, a 22-year-old student, emphasized this. When I asked Melyssa why she thinks people look down on cosmetic procedures, she responded with passion.

“I know some people believe that we should love and accept ourselves as how we are, but their goal is the same as what I mentioned already, which is to feel confident and have great self esteem. If fixing something helps achieve that, then I do not see the issue with cosmetic surgery.”

Melyssa wants a few procedures herself, and she made it adamantly clear that they aren’t so other people view her differently or think of her more highly. They are all for her. She listed off the procedures she wanted rather quickly, showing that clearly they were things she has thought about.

“I would like to get liposuction and tummy tuck because my freshman year I gained a lot of weight and then lost a bunch of it without toning, so I have a lot of loose skin,” she explained. After putting in the work to lose the weight she did, a cosmetic procedure to take care of the uncontrollable side effects such as loose skin are something Melyssa thinks definitely does not deserve to be looked down upon. She also wants a nose job to make her nose just “a bit smaller,” and bone reduction surgery to change a little bump on her forehead.

After explaining the procedures she wanted, Melyssa’s tone shifted a bit, as if to justify her own words.

“These may sound like a lot, but I think they are just small procedures that help fix insecurities that I have about myself,” she clarified.

The thing is, her feelings and reasoning were valid, but the very fact that she still felt the need to justify her feelings towards her own body is what I feel is a major issue. Because it’s not just Melyssa. There are so many women who want to make little changes to feel more at home within their own bodies but feel as if their desires are invalid because other people think it’s weird or “goes against nature,” as my dad would probably say.

And sadly, that seems to be the reaction Bridey Jones, 21, gets when she shares the procedures she wants as well.

“When I point it out to people, they laugh,” Bridey said, referencing her left ear. She explained that it sticks out a lot and that she always has to wear her hair down to hide it. Bridey wants otoplasty, like Mia had done, to pin back her ears. That way, she thinks she wouldn’t always have to use her hair as a cover.

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Bridey also wants to get her hairline surgically fixed because she feels it is uneven. Both procedures are small and probably wouldn’t look too different to anybody but herself, but that doesn’t matter because they are for nobody but herself.

“People deserve to feel their best. Sometimes there is literally only one thing that prohibits one from loving themselves completely. If they can physically manipulate themselves into someone they can love, then I see no problem with that,” she explained.

I agree.

My waist isn’t as small as I wish it was. Sometimes I still want a nose job. I definitely want face fillers and Botox. One or a combination of these things would probably make me feel better about myself and I see no harm by that.

For a while, I thought I wanted these procedures so I could be more generally accepted by society. But thinking about things, talking to Mia, Bridey and Melyssa, I realized the root of my fascination with plastic surgery. It’s often easier to pretend you want to change for other people. That’s common. It is harder to admit you want to change how you look for yourself.

You’re supposed to love yourself. It’s 2020 and self love is everything. Admitting that you’re not happy with an aspect of yourself goes against that directly. That’s scary. But also, that’s okay. Self love is a journey, and it starts with comfort. Comfort with being who you are in the body that you have. Feeling comfortable in your own skin, if you want to be cliche. But it’s more than a cliche, actually. Finding comfort in your appearance is more than skin deep. It opens you up to deeper levels of yourself that you couldn’t previously access because you were too busy mulling over the shape of your nose or the measurement of your waist. If finding a way to love yourself and be comfortable with who you are means changing a little something to see yourself on the outside the same way you do on the inside, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The concept of vulnerability is something people attach so much strength to, and in a sense, undergoing cosmetic procedures is one of the greatest forms of just that. To be open with yourself about your insecurities, to want to change to be more comfortable with who you are, to open up to someone you don’t know and trust them with your body. That is vulnerability. That is strength.

And like Mia said, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just like getting braces.

Header illustration by Yusra Shah

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story included personal information about a source, which has since been removed out of request for the source’s privacy and safety.