July 17th, 2018, still remains a day that is painfully (and shamefully) etched in my mind.
I had breakfast with a friend that morning. I remember nervously picking at my avocado toast and sipped my coffee quickly. My friend had commented on how tense I looked and remarked that it was the most nervous she had ever seen me.
I let her in on my secret—I was booked in to visit a cosmetic surgeon later that morning to plan and hopefully book my liposuction.
A few weeks previously, I had visited the clinic and had received a free consultation (as advertised on Facebook) with a woman who had the role of clinic manager. I had become obsessed over the years with my back fat, the two pouches which formed under my bra, convinced that this was an unsightly flaw—I wanted it gone!
I had already visited other clinics and had been turned away, but this latest clinic had enthusiastically assured me that their surgeon could do the job. The clinic manager, a bubbly woman around the same age as I was, examined me by grabbing, pulling, and pinching the skin on my abdomen, back, and hip area. The sheer level of physical invasiveness had surprisingly startled me.
“You’ve actually got a good figure for having three children,” she remarked, “You’ve got good, firm skin—no stretch marks—and pretty good muscle tone,” she continued, “but…(I braced myself) you could still do with having lipo on your lower and upper stomach, hips, and back.” (I found myself nodding in agreement) “If we do just your back fat, then the rest of your body will look odd.”
I actually quite liked those areas of my body, but she was, supposedly, the expert—she knew what she was talking about, right?
She had confirmed what I had always felt about myself; that I wasn’t perfect, that I needed fixing, but hey, at least I still had good muscle tone, firm skin, and a relatively good figure for having three kids. But I still needed fixing, obviously.
At that moment, I actually felt excited—ecstatic even. At last, I was going to have the perfect body.
Originally, I had only wanted my back fat to be irradiated, but hey, let’s just do the rest of it—even if it did cost £6,000. I would get a loan, it would be fine.
She booked me in for a consultation with the surgeon, which would cost £100. She described him excitedly, “He’s a lovely man!” she gushed, “He has helped to rebuild children’s faces in India. He can be extremely blunt, but that’s just his way.” I had wondered if this was a warning.
A month later, it was finally the consultation day with the surgeon. My previous excitement had slowly turned into anxiety and apprehension. I was unsure what I was actually feeling nervous about. It was a long drive to the city alone, but it was nothing I hadn’t done before.
After breakfast, I said goodbye to my friend and began my hour-long journey to the clinic. I arrived with time to spare, so I found a little coffee shop on the busy street not far from the clinic. My anxiety had intensified by this point, and even drinking my coffee was a challenge.
A little while later, I checked into the clinic and sat in the waiting room, my heart thumped and my hands shook. I took some deep breaths to steady myself. The waiting room was spacious; adorned with sofas and large white coffee tables, glossy magazines neatly piled on top of them. The posters on the walls showed air-brushed, filtered individuals posing in swimwear.
The waiting room was almost empty, apart from three other ladies. It appeared to be two young women with their mother. Casting an inquiring eye, I wondered what they were there for, assuming it would be one of the younger women (or both)who was seeking cosmetic surgery (in my own judgment, they appeared perfect to me).
After what seemed like a long wait, my name was called, and I was greeted by a nurse who shook my hand and directed me upstairs. The nurse was different from the bubbly clinic manager who I had seen on my previous visit: less talkative, less smiley, and much more formal. Her uniform was navy blue with a belt. She wore her long hair loose over her shoulders, and I noticed her black stilettos—a far cry from how I dress for work as a nurse.
We didn’t talk as we climbed the spiral staircase. She led me into the surgeon’s office at the top of the building with large windows overlooking the busy street below. His desk faced the wall between the windows where he sat writing.
The nurse introduced me, and there were a few awkward seconds whilst we both waited for him to look up from his desk. I don’t recall if he shook my hand or even smiled, but I remember that immediately I felt tense as he gestured with his hand for me to sit down in front of him. The nurse, still blank-faced, sat down on another chair and looked at her notes.
The surgeon asked me to undo my jeans and pull my shirt up, and like at my previous consultation, my skin was grabbed, pinched, and pulled. But this time, it felt much more invasive, colder, even borderline undignified. There were no positive comments about my figure or great skin this time around. The room was uncomfortably silent as he poked and prodded—I started to feel vulnerable. There was something breathtakingly uncomfortable about being that exposed.
Let’s be honest, it was my appallingly low self-esteem and delusional body image that had led me to this point in the first place. Here I was, in a dimly lit doctor’s office, with two unsmiling strangers, my body scrutinized and grappled like a piece of meat, only adding fuel to the fire of the historical self-loathing that ran through my veins.
Grabbing both my hips tight with his hands, “Yes, these are enormous,” he muttered to himself, thinking that he was saying it in jest. My eyes darted to the nurse, ready to share a smile with her, but she remained stone-faced and continued to take notes. I then realized that he wasn’t joking, “These are enormous,” his words echoed in my ears, and my heart sank a little bit more. When he was done prodding, he gestured for me to sit back down. “I think you should have liposuction on your thighs first,” he said blankly. No one had mentioned my thighs! Now my thighs too? I liked my thighs.
I can’t remember if I said this in my head or out loud, it had all become a bit of a blur by this point. Seeing my obvious confusion, he continued on, “Your thighs are the largest part of you, so I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to get those sorted before the rest of your body.” I looked down, “or” he continued, “You just go away and lose some weight.” By this point, I was unable to hold my emotions any longer, and tears started rolling down my face as large sobs fired out from my chest, “What are you crying for?” he asked, looking perplexed. With a wobbling voice, I replied, “Because I have never felt so disgusted with myself as I do now.”
The nurse, still stone-faced, handed me a large tissue, which I dabbed at my eyes and cheeks with. The doctor gave a hint of a genuine smile (the first one I had seen since I had entered the room) and said, “Come on, at least you’ve got a beautiful face.” Unsurprisingly, this failed to provide me with any comfort.
“You need to accept that you will never look like these women on these posters,” he said, pointing with his pen at one of the glossy, air-brushed, swimwear-clad models on the wall. Was that meant to make me feel better?
Leaning toward me and softening his voice slightly, he said, “I think you may have something called body dysmorphic disorder, and I think seeking some form of therapy will help you.” Still unable to speak through the tears, I blinked confused.
So first, I am told that I have a good figure, but I should have liposuction on almost my whole body, then I am told in the most insensitive way that my hips are enormous (I was a UK size 12 at the time). And now I am told to lose weight instead of spending £6,000 on surgery, and that I likely have body dysmorphic disorder, which also suggests that my own perception of myself is altered or inflated.
The consultation came to an end, but not without the final indignity. The surgeon insisted that he took photos of me first, just in case I decided to go ahead with the surgery, and then the photos could be used as the before images.
In hindsight, I should have refused to pose for these photos, but I was so upset and confused at this point, that I agreed to them. I had to stand once again, with my jeans undone and shirt pulled up, whilst he took photos of me from the front, the side, the back, and then bent forward, the worst part was that I was still crying.
The nurse showed me out of the room, her only hint of compassion was putting her hand on my arm and telling me that I had been brave. We made our way back down the stairs, and she walked me to the main door, “Thanks then,” she said shaking my hand, and off I walked back to my car.
I sobbed the entire drive home and hid under my sunglasses when I collected my children from school later that day.
I am the type of person who tries to stay positive and draw both strength and meaning from even the most horrid days. This whole consultation experience had left me feeling broken and confused. The only comfort was that I would not have to worry about paying a £6,000 loan off.
I needed to make some serious changes to my mindset and self-image. Maybe I did have enormous hips and needed to lose weight as the doctor had suggested, or maybe I did in fact have body dysmorphic disorder and wasn’t any of these things that I had created in my mind. As horrible as this experience was, I was now given a choice to try and find peace with myself, which did not have to include painful surgery or financial struggle.
I felt angry with the doctor, I felt angry with the nurse, I felt angry with the clinic manager for telling me that I wasn’t perfect, but most of all, I felt angry with myself for getting into this situation.
In time, I healed from this experience. I read self-help books on body positivity and self-love. I repeated affirmations, I meditated, and I had therapy. I switched to a healthier diet and finally found the exercise that I enjoyed (dancing, of course). I focused on reconditioning my mindset and irradiating those inaccurate and archaic beliefs about myself. I discovered the source of my issues, and I revisited and explored it.
I realized that being gentle with myself and taking care of myself not only physically, but emotionally, mentally, socially, spiritually were equally as important. My experiences at the clinic were incredibly painful, but they needed to happen. I would urge anyone thinking about having cosmetic surgery to seriously consider their options. We all have a journey in life, and any decision is a personal one, but I would not want anyone to feel like I did that day.
And finally, none of us are flawed. We are all perfect, we are all beautiful, we are all soulful, magical, and amazing.
Any size, any shape.
We all glow.