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A Little Something

Elevate / March 2012

Longing for a nip, tuck or tweak but afraid of the stigma?

When it comes to plastic surgery, Hollywood gives us just two options. First, you have the haters: “I’d like to grow old with my face moving,” said actress Kate Winslet recently. She’s a member of the unofficial British Anti-Cosmetic Surgery League, along with the equally young and beautiful starlet Rachel Weisz.

On the flip side of this image, however, are the overdone, denial-is-futile faces of Heidi Montag and Joan Rivers—Rivers has famously declared “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can pay for the plastic surgery.”

Everyone else—the suddenly skinny, the just well-resteds and the did-she-or-didn’t-shes—fall silently somewhere in the middle. “Plastic surgery is like a big elephant sitting in the Hollywood living room,” Patricia Heaton once said.

But we’re not just talking Hollywood here. Most of us regular ladies, when it comes to esthetic improvements ranging from teeth whitening to photofacials to a full-on facelift, fall somewhere in the murky middle territory on the same spectrum—whether we’d like to admit it or not.

Take Michele, a 47-year-old who’s undergone a dozen cosmetic procedures in the last decade. “I tried Botox for the first time just before I turned 40,” she says, “and over the years have added a few little things: a fractional laser to get rid of dark spots and fine lines, a few microdermabrations, some Velashape treatments. Just subtle stuff.”

Michele’s in luck: if you’re looking for subtle improvements to go almost unnoticed, the cosmetic surgery industry today is miles ahead of its relatively primitive past. “Rather than trying to turn the clock back all at once,” explains Dr. Richard Rival, MD, FRCS (C), a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon practicing in Otolaryngology, head and neck surgery in Toronto, “the treatments we have now—Botox, fillers, lasers—can do a lot more with maintenance in the meantime. People are certainly still doing surgery, but maybe less so because there are so many more minimally invasive treatments available.”

Though Dr. Rival sees cosmetic enhancement as “almost normal now—as normal as having your hair done,” even the most mainstream of procedures still cause some people to recoil into judgment, and even disgust. “When I was younger, I said I would never put Botox into my face,” says Michele with a laugh. “I had a science degree and I was horrified that anyone would put botulism in their body.”

But, like many people do as time and gravity set in, at some point, she changed her mind. “I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘I really don’t want to look this old’,” she says. It’s a moment that surgeons often hear described by their patients, says Dr. Bryan Callaghan, MD, FRCS (C) a cosmetic plastic surgeon practising in Ottawa. “It’s very typical to have someone come in and say, ‘I look in the mirror and see my mother, but I don’t feel that old. I feel young, vibrant and active.’”

So how do you reconcile your inner beauty with an outer desire for fewer crow’s feet? For some,you move over on the spectrum and do a little something to make yourself look and feel better. Maybe you tell people, but probably you don’t mention it much. Maybe you claim you’ve lost weight or just got back from vacation, or that it’s all those organic fresh fruits and veggies you’ve been eating [wink!].

“I don’t think this secrecy stems from any degree of embarrassment or shame,” says Dr. Callaghan. While the stigma surrounding cosmetic surgery used to be large, he says, “that went away years ago.” Today, while most of us would forgive a friend’s nip or tuck (if we knew about it all), there are still sectors of people who can—and will, count on it!—be critical. “There’s still a section of our society that feels these things are frivolous and irresponsible and unimportant in a time when we should be worrying about health care and homelessness,” says Dr. Callaghan. To those people, whom he encounters often, Dr. Callaghan reminds them that it’s not one or the other: “Just because you’re improving your appearance and the way you feel doesn’t mean you’re denying anyone else what they need,” he explains.

Good luck changing someone’s mind at a dinner party, however, so maybe that’s not the best time to disclose how much you love your fillers. In fact, unless someone is rude enough to ask (at which point you might accidentally spill your wine on them), no need to disclose to colleagues or acquaintances at all. But friends and family? Dr. Rival’s seen it all—even “women who come in and pay cash so there’s no record of the account for their husbands to find”—but says most people feel comfortable sharing their cosmetic habits with the people close to them.

“We all have friends who we know will be very accepting and supportive, so go ahead and share with them what you’re thinking and feeling,” says Dr. Rival. “But we also all have those people who are totally against it, who aren’t going to be kind or supportive. So for those people, and you probably know who they are, I don’t think there’s any reason to mention it at all.”

Michele, lucky woman, has friends on both sides. Most important is her boyfriend—a young buck of 38—who’s very supportive and even recently saw Michele’s dermatologist for some subtle male upkeep. As for her gal pals, although Michele believes it would be helpful if people talked about this more, she saves her procedural details for a select few. “I just tell my very closest friends, and they think it’s fine,” she says. “Some of them do it too, some of them don’t, and some of them want to once they see my results!”

Others, however, aren’t quite so sweet about it. “One friend asked once, ‘what’s wrong with your eyebrows?’,” says Michele, relieved to know if she’s crossed the line, her friends won’t be shy to tell her. “Now, she says, ‘I’m so glad you’re not doing Botox anymore!’ But I am doing Botox; I just don’t tell her about it.”