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How My Mother's Plastic Surgeries Affected My Own Self Image

First things first: I want to explain that I am choosing to talk about my mom with anonymity because I love her and refuse to hurt her.

Our relationship has been bumpy from the very beginning, and while there are parts of me that want to scream and yell at her to grow up already, the rest of me feels this overwhelming and intense desire to love her and care for her in a way she’s never been loved before.

She was never my grandparent’s favorite child, which has always been unsettling in its transparency. My grandparents were always disappointed that my mom was green eyed and brunette (just as she was always disappointed in me for being pale and round). There’s a lot about my mom’s past that I don’t know about or understand and I often wonder what single event or events made her into the vain creature she is. I was always curious why my mom took such good care of my grandparents when the emotional damage they had done to her was obvious, but as I sit here in my 30′s with two kids of my own, it’s clear to me now why my mom was always so loyal to my grandparents. They’re her parents. Simple as that.

There are certain parts of my relationship with my mother that were and are toxic and damaging to me, perhaps the greatest of them being her obsession with vanity and physical appearance. When I gained nearly 60 pounds within a year of getting married due to medical complications, the disgust on my mom’s face was evident. This was a woman who raised me to believe that I could get whatever I wanted in life as long as I looked good. She would come home from work each day and tell me about the praise and compliments lavished upon her by male coworkers. I began to believe that self worth really was measured in how members of the opposite sex viewed me.

When I finally became pregnant for the first time I was elated that my body had at last cooperated after years of surgeries and hormone treatments. I suffered from severe morning sickness and those first few months, my doctors were worried about my rapid and dramatic weight loss. When I told my mom about their concerns she replied with “Well, you still have so much to lose, would it really be so bad if you lost a few more pounds while you can?” Her comment was the proverbial straw, the one that allowed me to completely sever the way I looked at myself vs. the way my mom wanted me to look at myself. My job was to grow this baby and keep both of us healthy, not worry about when I’d be fitting back into a bikini. The fact that she would ignore the health of her daughter and unborn grandchild for the trivial reason of “losing a few more pounds while I was at it” proved to me that her motivations and intentions were driven by her own misery. I was furious that she couldn’t see past her own insecurities and expectations of me to see that I was going through something much bigger than myself.

I have been enormously happy while slightly plumped in places (in fact I’m currently happy as a clam but 15 pounds away from where I was ten years ago) and I have been in the absolute depths of misery while lounging around in my size 2 Gap jeans. If I had to pick? I’d take husky and happy over thin and miserable. It’s taken a long time to come to peace with my body, I’ve put it through hell — two pregnancies and a whole lot of substance abuse back in the day. However it’s never seen the sun without adequate protection and it’s never seen the inside of a tanning bed. Sure, it’s getting a little droopier in parts and it’s certainly softer around the middle, but it’s mine and it does wonderful things for me. I have to believe that all this sunscreen I apply, water I drink, and sun I avoid will eventually serve me very well in another 10 years and well into my golden years. My girls will never hear me say horrible things about myself and when the subject of personal appearance is brought up I explain to them that I’m exactly the shape I’m supposed to be and the world would be a pretty boring place if we all looked the same.

My mom underwent her first plastic surgery procedure when I was 14. I came home from school to see my sister walking her into the house. Her face was swollen and yellow with dozens of tiny blood-stained stitches surrounding her eyes. I’ll never forget seeing my mom lying there in bed looking as though Dr. Frankenstein had taken parts of her and sloppily sewn on new ones.  It was disgusting and horrifying to me, knowing that she had paid money to have this done to her in a desperate attempt to hold on to who she used to look like.

She’s had several more surgeries since and is constantly on the lookout for the product that will bring back her youthful glow and resilience. I finally had to break it to her on our last shopping trip that she’s well into her 60′s and spent her entire youth under the Southern California sun without a drop of sunscreen — no lotion is going to make her look like her 30-year-old daughter who has never tanned a day in her life. Part of me worried that my observation would send her
into a hysterical fit of Botox and laser resurfacing, but she seemed to understand that 60 will never, ever look like 30.

I come from some pretty good genetics, even if some of my gene pool has decided to have things nipped and tucked there’s no denying that I am perfectly capable of aging gracefully, something I have actively chosen to do. I once Photoshopped my nose down to a much more socially acceptable size and it didn’t look like me at all. Sure the girl staring back at me in the picture had an adorable button nose, but she wasn’t the same girl I had learned to love through the gawky younger years and in the early years of motherhood. The skin under my eyes is beginning to sag and darken and there’s an extra chin where there used to be none. I realize there are ways to make these physical flaws disappear but at what cost? The parts of my mom that remain untouched by a surgeon’s knife are aging and sagging at an appropriate pace, leaving her looking pulled and strained where she has been nipped and tucked.

And who said aging was a physical flaw anyway? My husband? My children? My best friend? Nope. No one that matters, that’s for sure.

The only thing more beautiful to me than a woman throwing her head back in riotous laughter is an elderly woman whose face has been imprinted with years of happiness. You know the ones, the ones who look as though they’re smiling even when they’re not? My mom stopped smiling in photos exactly seven years ago, I even have the photo to prove it. She said smiling made her wrinkles show up and she didn’t want to have to look at them. When I took her photo a few months ago I asked her to smile like she meant it, that she looks so much lovelier when she’s smiling. You know what she said?

“I forgot how to smile, it’s been so long.”

In my mother’s quest to avoid having to look at her wrinkles in photographs she forgot how to smile for them.

The only facial modifications I will ever be undergoing laughing with my whole face, making sure every wrinkle I earn points in the right direction, towards happiness and a life well lived. — Anonymous

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