In 2021 We Can Actually Talk About Plastic Surgery
A few months ago, I had a lower-face and neck lift. Before the surgery, a nurse called to give me a list of what to bring for my two-night recovery in a hotel. Along with a baby toothbrush and arnica tablets, she said, “Don’t forget a headscarf and sunglasses so no one will recognize you.” I politely declined. First of all, since I’m a noncelebrity, no one would care. Second, I’d already told all my friends what I was about to do. Three of them were also about to undergo procedures, and together, we’d traded tips and not-for-prime-time selfies.
Welcome to the new beauty transparency. Botox, fillers, liposuction, and even plastic surgery are no longer shameful secrets; they’ve become common fodder for dinner parties, group texts—and even celebrity interviews. Cindy Crawford and Vanessa Williams have talked openly about using Botox; Katy Perry and Kaley Cuoco have copped to getting fillers; Chrissy Teigen and Cardi B have candidly discussed going under the knife; and last summer, designer Marc Jacobs posted his facelift recovery on Instagram. None of these celebrities are advocating for others to get procedures, but they are unapologetically owning their personal choices, pulling back the curtain on what was, for years, a taboo topic.
The trend from shame to sharing may be part of a broader societal shift. Though it might seem counterintuitive, radical transparency about cosmetic work is not unlike women proudly flaunting their gray hair during quarantine. It’s all about creating your own narrative, particularly for Gen Xers and older millennials who are beginning to face the reality of aging and are redefining the rules. Any procedure is not only a deeply personal choice but also a medical decision that should not be entered into lightly. Whether women decide to opt in or opt out, though, most are rejecting the “Does she or doesn’t she?” construct as dated.
“COVID magnified the trend of people opening up about what they are doing, because it gave them time to reflect,” says Andrew Jacano, MD, the board-certified plastic surgeon who performed Jacobs’s surgery. “People want to live their truth. They are leaving their jobs and changing careers. They want to do the things that make them happy and share what they’re doing. They are looking for connection,” he says. “You have a right to be attractive and like the way you look. I think it’s so healthy to take away the shame factor. We are all affected by gravity as we age, and if people aren’t honest about what they are doing to look good, it can make the rest of us feel ‘less than.’ ”
Nadina Sieger, 50, a marketing executive at a global wellness company, is open about getting Botox, especially among the younger women she works with. “If someone compliments me on how I look, I feel like I’m doing them a service by telling them what I do. Creams and serums can only do so much. And it’s exhausting to pretend otherwise. Botox is just another tool in my makeup kit,” she says. “I don’t feel shame, and I don’t want to perpetuate a lie to younger women. It’s setting them up to feel bad about themselves. I wish someone had told me that earlier.”
Even before the pandemic, the growing ubiquity of cosmetic treatments, especially injectables, also contributed to a more open dialogue. After all, when even your dentist is offering Botox, the stigma is bound to lessen. “There’s been an evolution over time of awareness and acceptance,” says Robert Anolik, MD, a New York City dermatologist whose own Instagram feed is filled with well-known patients like Kelly Ripa and Olivia Palermo, who happily pose in his treatment room. “As procedures become more refined, and the results make you look refreshed and rejuvenated instead of deformed or inflated, it’s no longer embarrassing. All these procedures should be viewed as positive steps. As long as something can improve your quality of life, there’s no reason to be intimidated to talk about it with friends and family. You are addressing changes that happen as you age, not changing who you are.”
Howard Sobel, MD, a New York City dermatologist, has also seen a shift toward more openness. “I used to have a back door to sneak people in and out of,” he says. “Now people are coming out of hiding. If the last 20 months have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know what may be next. Life is too short to care what other people think. People want to look their best; it’s no longer seen as selfish or privileged. Even people who don’t have a lot of money are saving up for treatments and telling their friends about it.”
Piret Aava, better known as the Eyebrow Doctor, documented her facelift and rhinoplasty on Instagram, chronicling day by swollen day for her more than 62,000 followers. Aava feels her openness did benefit others: “People post before-and-after pictures, but no one posts what happens in between. It helps people to know what to expect if you show them what it looks like before you’ve healed.” But, she adds, “I’m not telling other people what to do, and you shouldn’t be influenced to do something because you saw it on Instagram. I shared things I found useful for my recovery, and I still get thank-you notes [for that].”
Sometimes, now, I forget I even had surgery. I think about my face a lot less often than I did before. When I look at myself on Zoom, I’m no longer fixated on my jawline or neck, and I spend more energy concentrating on what’s being said in the meeting. I am, quite literally, more comfortable in my own skin. I recently had dinner with a woman I’d never met. When the conversation moved to changes we’d made over the last year, I told her about my surgery. She looked at me, surprised, and told me she never would have guessed if I hadn’t mentioned it. She asked me a few questions about the procedure and how I felt after it. “More confident,” I told her. “I had something that was bothering me—and I fixed it.” She nodded in solidarity, and we moved on.
This article will appear in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of ELLE.
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