Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I'll never go under the knife looking for perfection or the proverbial fountain of youth

Yesterday a friend of mine dropped a WTF bomb on me. He's fed up with his imperfect midsection, and he's determined to do something about it. Liposuction to the rescue!

I felt like a liberal parent whose kid had just come out as a Republican. I thought about Dr. Kevin Brenner, a Beverly Hills-based plastic surgeon to whose blog my friend Lori recently introduced me. Despite my general wariness of plastic surgeons, Brenner seems like a decent, upstanding guy, the kind of doctor who first would do no harm. I remembered his post on body dysmorphic disorder in which he suggested that with the late Michael Jackson, who suffered from BDD (an obsession with real and imagined physical flaws), his addiction to plastic surgery and prescription drugs may have been linked.

I grabbed my friend's middle just to be sure that he wasn't under the influence of BDD. It's not just that I think my friend, who is the most dedicated gym-goer I know, has a perfectly fine body, but God knows what could go wrong during the lipo process. Didn't Kanye West's mom die on the recovery table after a routine tummy tuck and breast augmentation, and didn't one of James Brown's wives also expire after some form of reconstructive surgery? I began to imagine every worst-case scenario possible.

Aside from the potential complications, I've always thought that a fabulous body earned the natural way -- through diet, hard work, or, for the lucky few, genetics -- was the only kind worth being proud of. I've recently softened my hard-line stance toward Botox after seeing it work wonders for a female friend of mine -- though I still cringe at twentysomethings and their preventative Botox sprees -- but I still can't totally get behind liposuction, tummy tucks and most elective cosmetic surgery. It's one thing to fix a massive honker in order to make it more visually compatible with the rest of the face, or breast reduction to ease back pain, but I draw the line at fake boobs (unless made necessary after a mastectomy), chin, cheek and lip implants, and the sucking out of fat or the rearranging of it.

To me, it's a little bit like cheating on a test in school. You may get an A, but who cares, if you didn't earn it? The same goes for physical beauty. It's so much better when you're born with it, or you earn it -- not when you pay someone to carve an approximation of it onto your body or face. And few people I've seen look better after being nipped and tucked. I glance around the streets of Buenos Aires, one of the nip-and-tuck capitals of the world, and see so many faces that have been pulled within an inch of their lives, and I wonder how much more beautiful they'd be if they were allowed to age gracefully and naturally.

Liposuction may not leave one looking like an alien clinging for dear life to fleeting youth, but just the very idea of someone sticking any kind of instrument into my body and sucking out fat cells makes me sweat. My friend, who is one of the most practical and pragmatic people I know, came up with a convincing argument why his decision is a sound one, and after he told me a bit more about his background (his parents were both bodybuilders, and he once was dumped by a guy for putting on weight), I stopped giving him my WTF look. He might not get the six pack he's always wanted, but for US$2,400 (in cold, hard Argentinian cash), he could finally have the flat stomach he craves.

As someone who was overweight until the age of 18, I know how exasperating the fight with flab can be. No matter how thin and toned I get, I'll always be the fat kid whose siblings used to call him names like "fat pig," "tightwad" (because of the way my clothes clinged to my husky form), and "leviathan," the one who couldn't get a date and the one who always was picked last for team sports (though that may have had as much to do with my general clumsiness and lack of coordination on the sports field). Today, whenever someone compliments me, or when I get hit on in a club or bar, I still look around to make sure that the person is actually talking to me.

When I look in the mirror, like most people, I don't love everything I see. But through a lot of hard work -- almost-daily runs, weight training, pilates -- I'm probably in the best physical shape of my life. When someone tells me that I have a great body, I still think they might be pulling my leg, but I do know that whatever it is they see when they look at me is 100 per cent real.

No matter what the results of my friend's date with lipo turn out to be, I doubt that it'll ever end up on my own to-do list. Neither will plastic surgery of any kind. When I tell people my age and their jaws drop and they tell me that I look like I'm still in my 20s, I'm flattered and grateful that, it's all due to exercise, genetics, good luck, and Kiehl's. Ponce de Léon never did find the fountain of youth, and neither will anyone who thinks they will stay forever young by going under the knife. I'll skip all that and continue to age -- or not age -- gracefully and naturally.
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