Danielle Staub is going back to basics.
The Real Housewives of New Jersey star, 57, is embracing a more natural look these days, after having her DD breast implants removed on Oct. 25.
It was her fifth breast surgery overall, and what Staub says she hopes will be her last.
“I regret getting them in the first place, 100 percent. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life,” Staub tells PEOPLE. “Nobody wants to look that way anymore. I haven’t wanted it for decades.”
“Do you know what it feels like to be stuck with a device in your body and look a way you don’t want to look?” she asks. “Mentally, I felt like I was trapped. I didn’t have a choice, I had to heal and couldn’t change it right away. And I hated them; hated the way they looked, hated the way people looked at me with them. I feel so relieved to have them out and to enter this new chapter of my life.”
Staub’s surgery wasn’t just cosmetic; it was also necessary for her heath.
The last implants she had — the ones she had put in right before season 2 started filming in 2009 — had led to various health problems.
“I had asked for a C when I went down, and I woke up with a DD,” Staub says. “And nothing felt right. My breasts, they immediately felt cold and numb. I literally had no body temperature on my chest for years. They felt impacted, I felt ripples underneath them. And my skin was so thin around my breasts, you could see through it. It was like a couple of pieces of paper. I did not enjoy them at all.”
“I thought it was normal, I thought everybody had that,” Staub adds. “And it wasn’t until I met Dr. Stephen Greenberg until I learned that wasn’t.”
Dr. Greenberg, who spoke to PEOPLE with Staub’s permission, is a cosmetic plastic surgeon with offices in Manhattan, Southampton, and Woodbury, New York, as well as Boca Raton, Florida.
He says when he gave Staub a sonogram the night before the surgery, it was clear to him that the surgery was long overdue.
“I’ve been working 25 years. I’ve seen everything, done everything, and corrected everything from others. And Danielle had a mess,” Dr. Greenberg explains. “She had a lot of scar tissue in there, deformed breasts, and one of her implants was ruptured, which caused a lot of pain. We had to take out all the old silicone, clean out everything — the scar tissue — and really reform her breasts. It just required starting from scratch.”
The in-office procedure took about an hour, and recovery only a few days.
In the place of Staub’s larger implants, Dr. Greenberg put in new silicone gummy bear implants. “These are a different type of silicone from the old fashioned ones,” he says. “They don’t ooze or leak.”
Staub says she had “a blind trust” with Dr. Greenberg “automatically” upon meeting him, and even allowed him to choose the replacement size implant.
“The way they treated me, I felt like family,” Staub said. “Other doctors, when I talked to them, they yes’ed me to death. Dr. Greenberg? He was very honest with me about what he could and could not do. My whole intention was not to have to put another implant in, but sometimes it’s irreparable. I don’t have any tissue left, so there’s nothing else to do. So we went from removing them for my health purposes, to having to put something in, and I trusted him when I was under for him to give me as small as possible.”
Knowing what Staub wanted, Dr. Greenberg chose a size B.
“You have to listen to the patient and then you can determine what fits best for them,” he says. “I do many many interviews with my patients. Danielle wanted a very natural look, so I knew that’s what would fit her best.”
Ultimately, Staub was thrilled with the final look. “I had tears in my eyes,” she says, of seeing herself for the first time. “I had so many years of complications and so many years of people overshooting what they would deliver. I’m so, so happy.”
But Staub says it’s been a turbulent road to that happiness, starting with her first surgery in 1992.
“They were saline. They looked like I was entering the room long before — my boobs entered before me,” Staub recalls. “It felt like my boobs were sagging, they were like water balloons. I hated them, even though that was probably the best of all the surgeries until now.”
Those implants remained for her two pregnancies (daughter Christine is now 26 and Jillian is now 21), and even through breastfeeding (which Staub calls “torturous”).
The next two surgeries, which were back-to-back, came 10 years later — after one of her implants popped.
Her doctor had mistakenly left gauze inside her chest, which resulted in a staph infection. Staub had to undergo another procedure. “I was at risk of losing my breasts,” she says.
Then came the DD implants, which she calls “a disaster from the start.”
Those, too, led to years of emotional trauma for Staub.
“I was under much scrutiny on RHONJ at the time and it was a very embarrassing for me because everyone was saying things about my body and my boobs,” she says. “If you remember, they were ignorantly saying that I had a ‘square t–‘ on the show, mocking me. And I’m not certain anyone understands what that does to someone’s self esteem. I felt shame and ridicule. It was vicious and cruel, to make fun of another woman and body shame her like that.”
Staub’s breast implants are one of several cosmetic procedures she’s had done recently.
“It’s one of the best, non-invasive procedures,” Grasso tells PEOPLE with Staub’s permission. “You usually get a round of 6, four times a year. It’s not a laser, but a natural, broadband light system that literally turns back the clock, deeply heating the cells. With it, we can remove age spots, freckles, redness, fine lines, sun damage, broken capillaries, rosacea and more. You can treat the lips with this procedure, you can bring the skin down and treat under the eyes. It’s like you stepped into a time machine.”
Grasso did the procedure on Staub’s face, hands, and chest.
“It’s beyond,” Staub gushes. “I don’t need to do anything. And it’s a super confidence booster. I wake up and I don’t even wear makeup anymore. It’s great for me because I really want to strip it down to nature as much as I can. This is helping me feel like my former self again.”
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All in all, Staub — who is single and “not interested” in dating after her divorce and recent broken engagement — takes responsibility for her past body choices.
“I blame myself for getting my implants in the first place,” she says. “I could have said no. I was fully capable of saying no, but I didn’t.”
Still, she’s glad all worked out in the end — especially with Dr. Greenberg, whom she met through Grasso.
“The universe kind of brought everything together to me,” Staub says. “It feels great.”
The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on Bravo.