“I want to not look like a marsupial anymore.”
My doctor stopped writing in his brown leather-bound journal and looked up, “Pardon?”
I said, “Marsupial. Animals with pouches on the front that they carry their babies in. I want to not look like one anymore.”
He blinked slowly then said more to himself than to me, “I don’t think I have ever had that word used in my office before.”
This conversation took place during the initial consultation for the elective abdominoplasty surgery that I was wanting to have done.
No one is ever going to look at me and say, “Someone needs to give that girl a cheeseburger.”
I am thick and curvy and, even at my heaviest, I had an hourglass figure. My grandmother used to say I was “big-boned.”
For many years during my first marriage, I compensated for my feelings of sadness and betrayal with food. And I got fat.
But as my marriage was ending and I began realizing that my personal health was worth it and even more importantly—that I was worth it, I started taking care of myself. This consultation for the surgery was following two solid years of being in the gym six days a week.
I’d listened to several personal trainers tell me I wasn’t working hard enough. Nutritionists told me I needed to eat more fat-burning foods. I counted calories. I weighed my food. I packed my lunch each day. I tallied points, weighed myself every day, and yes—I even graphed charts in Excel.
During those two years, I went from 230 pounds and a size 18 to 160 pounds and a size six. I, quite literally, worked my rear end off. The problem was that even with all my work, I still had what I referred to as my baby pouch in front.
It was a section of loose flabby skin that hung off of me. I didn’t even have feeling in it. I would stand in the mirror with my nose all wrinkled up in disgust and pinch it, lift it, then let it drop back into place. I absolutely despised this chunk of flesh that was quickly becoming the bane of my existence.
Finally, I decided to seek a surgical fix.
I felt unexpectedly guilty for choosing plastic surgery as a solution. I am not a vain person by nature. In fact, if you asked my friends and loved ones, I would wager that they would tell you I am exactly the opposite. But here I was, with most everything on my body fit and toned except for that damned pouch! I was at my wits’ end. However, during the consultation, something interesting happened that changed those feelings of guilt.
My then-boyfriend said to the doctor, “I don’t personally think she needs it.”
My doctor stopped writing and laid his pen down slowly. He said,
“Surgeries like this are not about you. They are about the woman wanting the surgery. It is about how they feel about themselves. And feeling good about a person’s outside, frequently leads to good feelings on a person’s inside. If you look good, you feel good, you are more likely to demand the treatment that you deserve—rather than accept the treatment that you don’t.”
It was our turn to blink slowly.
In a low voice, my boyfriend replied “I….never thought of it like that. I just meant that I love her exactly how she is.”
My doctor nodded and said, “I hear that all the time. But my reply is always the same. This isn’t about you.”
And with that statement, this man became my hero.
After I announced the decision for elective surgery to my family and friends, the responses were guardrail to guardrail. Many people were very supportive with comments like, “You’re my hero,” “I’m so jealous” and “You’re beautiful exactly how you are, but I get it.”
And then there were the other comments, many of which were downright disrespectful. A few of my favorites include, “That’s cheating,” “How old are you?” or “Aren’t you a little old to be worrying about having a bikini body?” and “I’m sure there are more useful things you can do with your money.”
Everyone is a critic, right?
On the day of the surgery, my friend came to drive me home and take care of me after the surgery. Sufficed to say, she was one of the supportive friends and was sitting there holding my hand.
My doctor came in, went over the process with me again, and told her he expected the surgery to take 90 minutes to two hours. They prepped me, drew different colored lines on me, measured me, and much to my friend’s amusement—they used a Black and Decker laser level to make sure that I would be even when they were all done. Finally, with a kiss from my friend, and a quick snuggle with my new pet dragons (the Dragons of Strength and Healing) they wheeled me into the OR.
The first memory that I have after waking up, was of my girlfriend holding a straw that led to a cup of apple juice in front of my face. My mouth was really dry and I was in way more pain than I expected.
My friend looked at me and said, “You scared the crap out of me.”
It turns out the 90 minutes to two hours that we were quoted, ended up being over four hours. When they opened me up, the doctor found that it was not actually as much flab and extra skin as he had originally thought.
The “pouch” was actually my lower abdominal wall that had come loose following my C-section. So what started out as a routine tummy tuck, ended as a complete abdominal wall rebuild. When all was said and done, they removed less than five total pounds of excess skin and fat from me, which included the liposuction down into my hips to help conform and shape my midsection.
The healing process sucked.
My friends built a “care calendar” and rotated coming to take care of me. It was months before I could stand up all the way.
That said, it is important to note that I would have that surgery a million times over. It is the best thing I have ever done for myself. And the doctor was right—as I began feeling better about my outside, I started feeling better on the inside.
It took my doctor telling me, “Stop buying clothes that are too big for you” during my follow-up before I finally bought clothes that fit. I started feeling more confident. For the first time in my life, I felt good in my own skin.
Since my surgery, I have had the most productive years of my career. I consistently receive stellar reviews, I’ve gotten multiple promotions, and have won over a dozen awards. I have found a peace and contentment that I’d previously only ever dreamed about.
A person can’t fix themselves physically or mentally without a lot of work. It takes time and effort.
You can’t just go under the knife and expect that with a poof and the wave of a magic scalpel, you’re going to be a highly-successful supermodel with great self-esteem. But here’s the thing that no one tells you: if you have put in the work and you still aren’t satisfied, that lack of happiness with your physical self, can seriously impact your overall emotional health.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t feel guilty about getting a consultation or ultimately going under the knife. And if, by chance, you do slide into feelings of guilt, examine them closely. Determine if, like me, you were feeling that way because you were “loved just the way you are.”
As a wise man once told me: Making this huge (and intensely personal) decision isn’t about a friend or a loved one—it’s about you.
Author: Julie Livingston
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Sara Kärpänen